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It All Began in Monte Carlo
By Elizabeth Adler
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2010 Elizabeth Adler
All rights reserved.
Los Angeles. Christmas Eve.
Sunny Alvarez boarded the Air France flight to Paris. It had taken all her precious air miles and a great deal of money but if she was going to be unhappy she was going to do it first class. In style. And alone.
She wore no makeup, not even her trademark brave red lipstick. Tinted frameless glasses helped disguise her eyes, swollen from crying. Tall, slender with a fall of dark hair that swung over her face, she looked younger than her thirty-six years and somehow vulnerable. She wore narrow jeans stuffed into tall black sheepskin UGGs, a black cashmere turtleneck, a black peacoat that she now flung off and handed to the waiting steward, before flinging herself into the comfortable leather seat that could be made to recline, so that later she might sleep stretched out full length. If she could ever find "sleep" again. The flight was a long one. Eleven hours.
Eleven hours without Mac Reilly.
Her fiancé was TV's famous detective with his own program, Mac Reilly's Malibu Mysteries, handsome in his own slightly worn, casual, confident, way. ... No dammit! Mac was more than that. He was sexy, good looking, blue eyes that looked into hers with passion when he made love to her — No! Change that to when they made love together. Because making love with Mac Reilly, the feel of his hands on her body, the way his skin smoothed under her own hands, the way her own skin seemed to melt under his, the electric shock his lips on hers always gave her, hot-wiring her, sending tremors through her until all she could think about was sex, sex with him ...
She had met Mac at a press party for his TV show. He'd told her he'd noticed her across the room. "How could I miss you, in that outfit?" was what he had actually said.
She had on a black turtleneck and a tiny white miniskirt and her tough-girl motorcycle boots because she'd ridden there on her Harley. Mac tapped her on her shoulder and she found herself looking at this rugged guy in jeans and a T-shirt, whose deep blue eyes were taking her in like she was the best thing he had seen all night.
He asked her name, she'd said she knew his. Neither was drinking because they were driving, but both had that elated feeling of being on another planet where even the noise of the party seemed suddenly muted. Later Mac told her he noticed her clunky boots first, and she told him she'd noticed his muscular arms and had wanted to be wrapped in them right there and then, she didn't care who saw.
Of course they were total opposites: Mac, dragged up by his bootstraps from the streets of Boston and the Miami crime scene to the Private Eye and TV personality he now was. And she, the half-Latina wild child brought up on a ranch, beautiful and brainy and ditzy, but with a business degree from Wharton and the determination to be her own woman.
It had been, as they'd told each other so often since, love at first sight. Eyes across the room — or maybe a bit closer.
And that was the way it was. And had been. Until now.
Stop it! Sunny sat up straight in her airline chair, pushed back her long dark hair, skewered it in a ponytail and accepted the glass of champagne the steward was offering her.
She stared at the glass in her hand, not really seeing it. She was Mac's fiancée no longer. They had been together four years and were to have been married next month but he'd changed his plans yet again. Mac had also agreed they would get married last year, and a couple of times preceding that. Every time it got close something else came up. Another mystery he simply had to take on. He couldn't say no. Except, it seemed, to Sunny.
This time was the last straw, she had even bought the dress — cream — white didn't look so good in winter. And lace, although she was not usually a lace girl. Sleek, fitted to her rather good body, because even though she said it herself, it was a good body. A great body, Mac had always said that.
Sunny stuck out her long legs in the comfy sheepskin knee-high UGG boots, staring at them, but again not seeing them. She was seeing the heart-shaped pink diamond engagement ring she had left on Mac's pillow, with a little note telling him goodbye. I'm leaving your life, she had written. There is no room for me, only for your work. Good luck. She had signed it simply with the initial S.
A whine came from the Vuitton dog carrier. She looked at the small Chihuahua, peering mournfully out. Tesoro weighed all of three pounds. "A fiend on four paws," Mac called her, and he was right, the Chihuahua had sunk her teeth, and her claws, into Mac many a time, as well as intimidating Mac's own dog, the one-eyed, three-legged ragamuffin he adored and whose life Mac had saved, and who went by the name of Pirate. It was Tesoro's feud with Pirate that had kept Mac and Sunny from living together, though now Sunny thought maybe that wasn't such a bad thing. Leaving a home they had shared, Mac's funky little cottage on the shore in Malibu, would have been twice as hard.
They braced for takeoff. She strapped Tesoro in her carrier into an adjacent seat, leaned back, felt the thrust as the plane lifted off. It was over. She was gone.
A tear trickled down her cheek. She was on her way to Paris. Alone.CHAPTER 2
The man on her left was raising his glass to her.
"It is Christmas Eve you know," he said. "Even with the nine hours' time difference it's still Christmas Eve in Paris."
Sunny nodded distantly. She definitely did not want to talk. She couldn't even talk to a friend right now let alone a stranger. She had walked out on impulse, bought her plane ticket online, thrust a few things into a bag, packed up Tesoro, left the note for Mac, taken a cab to the airport. She had no idea where she would go when she arrived in Paris.
Panic set in. She wanted to get off the plane, go back to Mac. She didn't know how to be "Alone."
She pulled herself together. The man was still looking at her, a quizzical smile in his eyes. She managed to say, "Thank you. And Merry Christmas to you," but her lips felt stiff, as though she were unused to speaking. She took a sip of the champagne in an effort to unglue them.
"You're spending Christmas in Paris?"
This guy didn't give up. Couldn't he see she didn't want to talk?
"No," she lied.
"Me neither," he said, smiling and stretching out his long legs.
He looked so at ease, so comfortable with himself and with his life, Sunny suddenly hated him. She inspected him from the corner of her eye, behind her amber-tinted frameless Silhouette glasses. He was attractive. Tall, angular body, dark blond hair that flopped silkily over dark eyes. Were they blue or brown? Hazel, maybe? She couldn't tell because of the shadow that fell over them. Strong nose, full mouth — a sexy mouth — she wasn't so far gone in her woe that she couldn't notice that. And where did he get that tan? Not in California this winter, that was for sure. The weather had been cold and damp.
"Too cold for Paris," he said. "They're forecasting snow."
"Snow?" Sunny repeated, astonished. She had thought "cold" maybe, but not "snow."
"You're okay, though, you're dressed for the role."
He was smiling, looking at her boots. Sunny loved those UGGs. They felt like the warmest coziest of slippers, the sheepskin curled round her numb toes so gently, so tenderly. Godamit she would never wear anything else but these boots. Not even the gorgeous new ones she had bought just last week, anticipating a round of Christmas parties, jollity and holly; a tree; a log fire; perhaps even a kiss under the mistletoe.
She hadn't considered what to do once she got to Paris. She hadn't even booked a hotel, not given it a thought. Getting on the plane was about all she had been able to manage. Well, now she had about another ten hours to figure it out.
The stranger accepted a second glass of champagne from the steward, along with a small tray of hors d'oeuvres. Sunny did the same.
A large gulp of champagne did not make her feel any better. From the corner of her eye again she saw the man was looking at her, the amused smile now lifting the corners of his mouth. The sexy mouth, she thought bitterly. Why did he have to have a sexy mouth that reminded her of Mac? Why couldn't he have been some ordinary businessman with his nose buried deep in important business papers that he was to read to a conference in Paris tomorrow? Oh. She forgot. Tomorrow was Christmas Day. The "businessmen" were already home with their families. So why wasn't he?
"I see you like champagne." He took a sip out of his own nearly full glass. Hers was already half-gone.
"Sometimes," she replied, shortly.
He sighed, but his smile broadened. "It's meant to be a celebratory drink. Perhaps we can celebrate Christmas together?" She did not reply and he shrugged, glancing round. There were only two others in first class; a couple, heads together, several seats away. Sunny could hear their low laughter from here. She tried to close her ears to it. It wasn't fair that they were happy and she was dying inside.
"I suppose you're on your way home to see your family," she said, gulping down the other half of the glass of champagne. She immediately wished she had not asked something so personal. But she had. What difference did it make, anyway?
"No. I'm alone for the holidays."
She looked at him, full on, for the first time. He looked gravely back at her. "So am I," she said.
Sunny sensed that like her, this man had a backstory but he was not going to tell her. And nor was she. They were on an eleven-hour flight to Paris; temporarily, the rest of the world did not exist. For the moment, she was no longer "Alone."
Tesoro whined in her carrying case and Sunny took her out. She held the tiny chestnut-colored dog close, kissed her tenderly, smiling for the first time as she said, "This is Tesoro and she's quite fierce."
"I'll bet she is." The man held out his hands and Sunny put the little dog into them, heart in her mouth, knowing Tesoro's penchant for a fast nip. He held the small dog up to his face, eyeball to eyeball. Tesoro did not even wriggle. She didn't whine. She didn't yap. He put her onto his lap where she curled up, tail snugged over one small flank, eyeing Sunny as if to say, well what did you expect? You left me in that stupid carrying case for an hour, and now this man is showering me with attention.
Maybe she should learn something from the dog, Sunny thought, looking at the man with new respect.
"Are we going to tell who we are?" she asked, still looking at him.
He smiled. "Just call me your Prince Charming."
Sunny found herself smiling too. A watery smile, but still a smile. "In that case I must be the Princess," she said.
She hadn't thought of Mac in at least three minutes.CHAPTER 3
Malibu. Christmas Eve day.
Mac Reilly was still at the big, hangarlike TV studio in Santa Monica, California. He knew the shops closed early on Christmas Eve and he still had not gotten Sunny a gift. Or half-a-dozen gifts, which was his usual style. He loved to pamper her with the unexpected. He couldn't recall exactly what he had bought last Christmas, but he did remember being sorely tempted by a beautiful Siamese kitten, offered by a well-known breeder. The online picture had shown a cream and chocolate skinny little beauty with enormous eyes of such a bright glistening blue, that he, a dog-lover, had fallen in love. In the end though, he had been forced to be practical. His dog, Pirate, would no doubt also have fallen in love with the kitten, but as for the Chihuahua — forget it. Tesoro would have stood her ground against a grizzly if it came anywhere near Sunny. A bit like Mac himself. Eventually, he had bought her diamond drop earrings, as small and delicate as her beautiful ears.
Later this afternoon, the gift choosing and purchasing hopefully having been quickly completed, he and Sunny would rush to the Malibu lot where they sold Christmas trees and where no doubt she would, as she always did, choose a tree so tall he swore would never fit into his cottage. And as always, he would be correct and would end up sawing off the top, which Sunny would then tie onto the deck rails overlooking the beach, and fashion into a minitree with twinkling lights of many colors, none of this prissy all-white for his girl, and always with a star on top improvised from tinfoil. They'd hit the supermarket and pick up a turkey and all the fixings; he would haul a batch of logs into the car, and at the liquor store pick up a bottle of port for after dinner because somehow that always seemed very Christmassy to him.
Later, huddled under blankets out on the deck with the dogs, hopefully content and picking at the bones Sunny had begged from the butcher, they would share a bottle of champagne. They would hang their stockings over the fireplace, the dogs' stockings too. And, as the clock struck twelve signaling the beginning of Christmas Day, they would kiss. A deep loving kiss because God knows he loved her and he knew she loved him. They would go to the bedroom and snuggle deep under the down coverlet that always left her too cold and made him sweat and they would either make love or fall asleep in each other's arms. Or hopefully both.
A smile lit Mac's face as he thought about the pleasures to come. Once they had gotten these last few shots. Lord knows why they couldn't have finished yesterday, but somehow it always seemed to happen this way.
He checked the set but things were still being shifted around and the director was deep in consultation with the lighting guy, all longtime friends of Mac, and all, he knew, as eager to get out of here as he was. Bored, he checked for e-mail. Nothing important, which meant nothing from Sunny.
Mac understood how upset Sunny was at putting off the wedding — "one more time" as she had said in a tone half-disbelieving, half-saddened, in a way that had stabbed at his own heart, even while he was trying to get her to understand that he had commitments with all these people relying on him for their own jobs, as well as those with unsolved murders or disappearances of loved ones who needed him for their peace of mind. Except this time Sunny had not cared for anybody else's peace of mind, and in his heart Mac knew what she had said was true. He could just never say No to someone in need of his help.
The name Paris caught his eye on the news headline. Paris. A place that only last year had delighted both him and Sunny. He remembered the room at the Ritz she had talked the manager into giving them when all of Paris was full; the gorgeous bed, the bath for two, her beautiful body, her luxuriant long dark hair soaked from the shower where they had made love ... But this news flash was not about their Paris. This was about a daring heist at a fashionable jeweler's, three masked blondes and a sadistic act of violence that had left a young woman assistant with a broken face.
His own assistant called him back to the set. "Another half hour and we're finished, buddy," he said with a thankful grin, and forgetting Paris and the robbery, Mac headed back. Half an hour and he would be free to do his shopping, free to be with Sunny for Christmas. Maybe tonight, after dinner, they would even watch reruns of White Christmas on TV. Or was it Holiday Inn? Anyway, the one where Bing Crosby says something like, "Okay kids, let's put on a show," and saves the old inn from bankruptcy. It was one of his and Sunny's favorites, they almost knew the dialogue by heart. They watched it together every Christmas and he knew this year would be no exception.CHAPTER 4
The low drone of the plane's engines was drowned out by the voice of Leonard Cohen on Sunny's iPod earplugs, half-singing, half-talking his story of love lost; love remembered; love never to be regained. Sunny silently sang along with him. She knew every word of every one of his songs from back in her college days when he had been the soulmate of every girl she knew. They had all felt what he felt, been heartsick like him, emerged from the despair of love into the joy of love. He was, next to Van Morrison and, for those doing French studies, Serge Gainsbourg, their favorite. He knew them. He understood them. Why, they'd all wondered, did they never meet a man like Leonard Cohen?
Excerpted from It All Began in Monte Carlo by Elizabeth Adler. Copyright © 2010 Elizabeth Adler. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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