Five months ago
Charlene Braddock slammed her laptop closed and hurled it across the bedroom. The hard thud as it crashed against the wall gave her no satisfaction or relief. Jealousy and bitterness sizzled and burned like acid inside her. After three years of trying and failing to regain her ex-husband’s affections, she was no closer than the day he’d shoved the divorce papers in her face and demanded she sign them or else. Remembering that look in his eyes always made her shiver. He had been furious. Those steely blue eyes of his had blazed with a passion and intensity she had rarely seen. Instead of dissolving their marriage, she had wanted to tear off her clothes and let him work out all that anger and aggression on her body. When Quinn Braddock got worked up, her libido went into overdrive.
Of course, she’d done nothing of the sort, since she wouldn’t have received the response she desired. Quinn’s control was legendary. Fury might envelop him but it would never consume him. He kept his emotions on a tight leash. Even their final argument before he’d walked out the door for the last time hadn’t produced any drama. Sure, there had been full-blown anger, but he’d never let himself get out of control.
Not that Quinn was a cold fish. Oh no, there was definitely passion in him. She had felt and tasted its intensity. Early in their marriage, he had been insatiable. Back then their apartment had been small and there hadn’t been a wall or flat surface where they hadn’t screwed like minxes.
His career had ruined them. Long hours of work had left her alone with too much time on her hands. Quinn was a gifted doctor with an excellent reputation. Nice for him, but her life had become tedious. When she had complained about her boredom, Quinn’s solution had been for her to find a job or do volunteer work. She had wanted to laugh in his face. She was the wife of a physician—she didn’t have to do anything so mundane or common.
That was the day she’d gone out and had her first fling. Getting back at Quinn that way had given her immense satisfaction, so she had continued—discreetly, of course—enjoying the pleasures that illicit relationships could bring. Down-and-dirty sex with a variety of men brought delicious danger to a whole new level. Unfortunately satisfaction from each encounter only provided a temporary fix. Charlene had still wanted more. More of what, she didn’t know. She had only known she wasn’t getting it from Quinn. It became a vicious circle. The more he pulled away from her, the more she craved his attention, which increased her need to screw around even more.
It was all his fault. She had hoped one day he would understand that and come back to her.
Charlene glared over at the ruined laptop. The local online news report confirmed what she had long feared. Quinn had a new woman in his life. One who was, no doubt, giving him everything he wanted in the bedroom.
Memories of some of their happier times went through her mind. Her eyes closed on a shiver of arousal. Vanilla sex with Quinn Braddock was better than the hard and rough stuff she got from all her other lovers combined.
Still, she loved the hard, often brutal sex play. Her newest lover gave “dangerous liaisons” a whole new meaning. He certainly had no issues with giving her all she could take. Sometimes he gave her much more than she could handle. Last time, it had gotten so rough, she’d been almost afraid she wouldn’t survive. She had begged him to stop. Not that he had. He had told her his loss of control was because of his desire for her and not because he liked to inflict pain. She didn’t care what his reasons were. As long as he provided the pleasure she needed, she would keep him. When that ended, so would their relationship.
But she wanted Quinn back, too. They could be good together again if he would just stop being such a tight-ass.
Charlene cursed the day he’d found her with that weasel Nate Lockhart. Not only had the bastard been a poor substitute for her husband, he’d been ridiculously unimaginative. Every time he did something to her, he’d ask if she liked it. Hell, he should have had enough balls not to care.
It had been a mistake to seduce Nate. Having her husband’s friend screwing her brains out had been fun the first couple of times. Quinn wouldn’t give her the attention she needed, so it had been another way to get back at him. She’d even gotten off on it when she had been having sex with Quinn, thinking how delicious it was to have him inside her where only hours before his friend had been pumping away.
She hadn’t expected Quinn to walk in and find them screwing in Nate’s office. It had been her little secret, exciting and dangerous.
Quinn’s reaction might have been the most humiliating part of all. He had laughed. Even now, years later, she could hear that abrupt bark of laughter. He had seemed genuinely amused and almost relieved. Dammit to hell, how had it all gone so wrong?
This new woman Quinn was seeing . . . who was she? Of course, Quinn had dated several women since they had divorced. He wasn’t a monk. But neither was he one to be caught on camera with a woman unless he wanted to be. Was this the woman who would finally take him away from her forever?
The photograph from the fundraiser had been frustratingly bad. The shot showed Quinn’s profile as he looked down at his companion. But even the bad picture made it look as though Charlene’s tall, gorgeous ex-husband was enamored of the woman. His half smile, with that sexy, quirky edge, had been only for the female beside him. The photo had just shown the back of the woman. Straight, thick hair fell halfway down her back. She was a blonde. Well, dammit, so was Charlene. And a real one at that. This bitch probably got her color from a bottle. And she was fat and wore frumpy clothes, too.
Charlene blew out a frustrated sigh. Okay, so she wasn’t exactly fat, but she was nothing like Charlene, who spent hours each week with a personal trainer, honing her body to taut, slender perfection.
But at least Charlene was right about the woman’s dress. It was definitely not designer made and was conservative by anyone’s standards. With Quinn’s talents, he was destined to move up in his career. He had a reputation to maintain. One would think he would be more careful in his selection of dates for high-profile events.
On impulse, Charlene grabbed her cellphone from the nightstand. She couldn’t let it go . . . she had to try one more time. They’d had some good times, especially at the beginning. If she could just get him to stop being so uptight. His straight-shooter Eagle Scout demeanor had been charming at first but had worn thin after a while. Living with such perfection could be damn irritating.
He answered on the first ring, his groggy “Braddock” telling her she’d woken him. She refused to feel any guilt for interrupting what was probably much-needed sleep. This was important, dammit.
“It’s me, Quinn. I need to see you.”
An explosive sigh came through the phone, making her glad she’d woken him up. The asshole!
“What is it this time, Charlene?”
Her eyes roamed around the massive bedroom, searching for some new hook to get him to the house. The necklace draped casually on her dresser caught her attention. She hated the thing. Her taste in jewelry ran toward bold and spectacular. The pearl-and-diamond necklace was a Braddock family heirloom, much too understated and old-fashioned for her. Quinn had given it to her a couple of weeks before they married. She’d never worn it, but when he’d asked for it in their divorce settlement, she had gleefully declined. Just one more twist of the knife. He’d been more pissed about her refusal to return the necklace than he had been about finding her screwing Nate. Yes, he would jump at the chance to get it back.
“I’ve decided to return the Braddock necklace to you.”
“Why? What’s the catch?”
Dammit, he didn’t even try to hide his suspicion.
“No catch. I hate the thing. But if you don’t want it, I’ll just—”
“Fine. I’ll come by this evening and—”
“No, I’m busy this evening. You need to come right away or I’m selling it to a jewelry store.”
The long pause that followed made her wonder if she’d played her hand too forcibly. She had tried to entice him over to the house before and had been successful only a few times. But this was something he really wanted.
“I’ll be there within the hour. Meet me at the door with it. I won’t come in.”
She smiled her satisfaction. We’ll just see about that.
“Of course, darling. Whatever you say.” She ended the call and raced to her closet. She had just the outfit for seducing a reluctant ex-husband back into her bed.
The cellphone in her hand rang. Charlene cursed, sure that Quinn was calling to cancel. She glanced down at the display. Recognizing the number, she sighed, part in relief, part in frustration. Phone to her ear, she opened her closet door as she said, “Darling, how are you?”
Her lovers were usually all about pleasing her. From the beginning, this man had been different. He never sugarcoated what he wanted. Sweet talk and flowers were not his way. And though occasionally he was too crass even for her, the things he did to her in bed made up for his inadequacies. Unfortunately this wasn’t a good time for him to be horny and demanding.
“I’m sorry, darling, but I have an appointment in a few minutes. Can you come by tonight?”
“An appointment? With whom?”
Though she resented his nosiness, she hesitated in not telling him. His temper had a volatile edge. A couple of times she’d pissed him off and he’d gone way beyond the pain-filled pleasurable lovemaking she enjoyed and into something intensely scary. The last time that had happened, she’d had to hide the bruises for days.
“My ex-husband is dropping by to discuss our divorce settlement.”
“I thought your divorce was settled a long time ago.”
“It was, but I kept a piece of jewelry he wanted. I’m redecorating my bedroom and came across it while I was putting things away for the workers to come in.”
She winced. Dammit, now she’d probably have to do some kind of decorating just to keep him from asking about it later. If he ever learned she had invited Quinn over to get him into bed . . . She shivered at the thought.
“I’ll be there tonight at six. Be ready for me.”
A different kind of shiver swept through her. After their first time together, he had set ground rules and expectations. One of those was preparing herself for him. He had given her a list of do’s and don’ts, including where to shave, what perfume and makeup to wear, what music to have playing when he walked in the door, and what food he required after their playtime had ended. And always, he wanted her naked.
“I’ll be ready,” she answered with her most sultry tone.
The line went dead and Charlene dropped the phone on the chair beside her. She only had a few minutes to get ready for Quinn. She pulled the lace-and-silk black negligee from its hanger and stripped out of her robe. Anticipation and nervousness made her normally graceful movements stilted. It had been years since she and Quinn had slept together. Would he notice that her breasts were larger and perkier? The plastic surgeon had done a marvelous job with them; Quinn had always been a breast man.
After slipping the skimpy gown over her head, she stood in front of the full-length mirror to assess her allure. Damn, she looked good. Though she had just passed her thirty-fifth birthday, she didn’t look a day over twenty-five. Her tits and ass were sublime. There was no way in hell Quinn could resist her. So what if she’d slept around? It was past time for him to get over that.
The doorbell rang. She glanced sharply at her clock. He was way too early. She hurriedly put on the necklace he was coming for and then took one last glance in the mirror. His timing didn’t really matter. Even with the too-demure necklace, she looked fabulous.
Running lightly down the stairs, Charlene almost laughed with sheer happiness. Things would work out, she was sure of it. Quinn would be enamored of her again, take her to bed and do all sorts of delicious things to her. And tonight her lover could take care of any remaining sexual needs she might have. What had begun as a lousy day might well be her best ever. Her nipples tightened in anticipation of the coming events.
She opened the door. “Darling, it’s so good—” Stopping abruptly, she stared. “What are you doing here? I told you I had an appointment.”
Eyes gleaming wickedly, he moved forward, giving her no choice but to retreat to the middle of the foyer.
He closed the door behind him and sneered, “Is this the kind of outfit you wear to greet your ex-husband?”
Charlene held back a huff of exasperation. The last thing she needed was for him to be here when Quinn arrived. She should have lied when he had asked about her appointment.
“I was just about to change into something more appropriate.”
“But he is coming over. Right?”
“Quinn? Yes, he’ll be here in just a few minutes.”
“Then there’s not much time, is there?”
“Time for what?”
He came closer. “For this.”
Charlene looked down at something gleaming in his hand. “What is . . . ?” She frowned, confused. “Is that my knife? Where did you . . . ? I’ve been looking all over the place for—”
The knife thrust toward her. So startled by the attack, she barely felt the pain in her shoulder. Frozen, she stared up at him in horror. Then, as realization hit, she screamed.
In a gleaming arc, it came down again.
“No, stop, please . . . Stop!”
She stumbled backward and turned to run. Too late. Agony exploded in her shoulder and back. This time the pain was intense . . . urgent. Twisting around, Charlene screamed as she raised her hands to fight back, slapping ineffectually as the knife descended again and again. Slashing, ripping, destroying.
Blood was everywhere. He was ruining her beautiful gown. The pain was excruciating . . . unbearable. Why, why, why?
The floor appeared before her, slamming into her face. She lay, panting, too tired to cry, too stunned to speak.
A voice from above whispered silkily: “How about it, darling? Was it as good for you as it was for me?”