Adam is convinced Morgan's fixation isn't healthy. Especially now that she's risking her life to unearth its secrets. But can Adam reach Morgan in time to convince her of their love before she walks willingly into a killer's twisted web? Perhaps what they discover holds more magic than they realize?
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"ARE YOU ABSOLUTELY certain this is the way to get the magic back?" Morgan Shaw whispered urgently into her slim black flip phone.
On the sidewalk outside the Grand Duchess, a fashionable boutique hotel located on Manhattan's Upper East Side, Morgan paced in the gentle breeze of an early September evening. In her estimation, she was dressed, to put it quite succinctly, like a hooker. Tight black leather miniskirt, stretchy red Lycra top with a plunging neckline and Julia Roberts" Pretty Woman thigh-high boots. She wore too much makeup, not nearly enough lingerie and an auburn wig that made her scalp itch.
And every time she stalked past the discreet front entrance of the Grand Duchess, the top-hat-wearing doorman shot her a one-wrong-move-doxy-and-I'll-sicthe-cops-on-you glower.
Morgan tugged at the hem of her miniskirt in a desperate attempt to make it look longer, to make herself feel less mortified.
"Stoking sexual desire is the first step in recapturing the magic," lectured her younger sister, Cass, who was on the other end of the cell phone conversation. "Ultimately it's all about the hot sex."
"There's hot sex and then there's —" Morgan peered down at her skimpy attire and shook her head " — just plain hot to trot."
"Hey, hey." Cass read her thoughts. "Those were my best going-out clothes before I met Sam."
"Exactly. That's what terrifies me."
"Need I remind you, sister dearest, that you were the one who came to me for advice?"
"No, you're right. I can do this," Morgan said, feeling as jittery as if someone had forcibly injected her with pure Colombian coffee-bean extract.
"Sure you can. Be bold, be brave, be bewitching."
"That's easy for you to say. You're already all those things."
"You can be, too."
"I don't know about that," Morgan mumbled. She stepped back against the wall of a nearby residential building to get out of the way of foot traffic. "Decking out like a Victoria's Secret model seems so overstated."
"You've tried understated and it really hasn't had the desired effect you were going for now, has it? Do you want the magic back or not?"
"Of course I do."
"Then for crying out loud, if you want to snag Adam's attention, you're going to have to do something big and dramatic."
The concept sounded so sensible when Cass vocalized it, but to Morgan it seemed the emotional equivalent of using a flamethrower to light a votive candle. Serious overkill.
"But exactly how do I go about doing that?"
"Come on, work with me here. Imagine that Adam is a lonesome cowpoke who aches to learn how to read and you're the new schoolmarm who's going to tutor him all night long. And I do mean all night long."
"Okay, so that's one of my fantasies. Pick your own. Pirate and captive. Biker dude and uptight socialite. Stable boy and countess. Whatever gets your juices flowing."
What did get her juices flowing? It was an important question to which Morgan had no immediate answer. She hadn't really thought about it all that much. As a practical woman, she wasn't big on unrealistic fantasies and she said as much to her sister.
"That's why they're called fantasies, precisely because they are unrealistic. Jeez, Morg, don't you ever just let yourself have a little fun?"
"But if I have to go to such crazy lengths to snag my husband's attention, doesn't it mean that he's no longer attracted to me? What if it's just the wig and the clothes that jump-start his spark plugs? Or worse yet, what if he resents me trying to seduce him?" That idea had Morgan pulling her bottom lip, painted Serious Scarlet, between her teeth in consternation.
"You're overthinking this. Men are simple creatures. Give 'em hot sex and cold beer and competitive sports and they're happy. Now go blow your man's mind," Cass said and hung up.
It was a sad state of affairs when you had to ask your unmarried baby sister for advice on how to revive your sex life.
Morgan's palms were so slick with nervous sweat she fumbled her cell phone, almost dropping it before finally getting the clasp open and slipping it into her vintage beaded handbag. She ran her palms over her hips to dry them.
A little over a year ago she'd been just like Adam, working eighty hours a week, reaching for the brass ring, striving to make their financial goals a reality so they could buy their dream home and start a family. They'd been a team then, both so enmeshed in their climb to the top of the corporate ladder that there had been little time to consider the personal sacrifices they'd been making in order to achieve their objectives.
And then two things had happened.
First, she'd driven by a charming antique store in Fairfield, Connecticut, where she and Adam were looking to buy their first home and spied a For Sale sign in the window. Excitement, fresh and unexpected, had pushed through her as a little voice in the back of her head whispered, buy it.
She ignored the voice, tamped down the excitement. Owning an antique store was not part of the plan. But still, she couldn't forget the unbridled joy she'd felt at the thought of it. She always had an affinity for both history and objets d'art and her mind spun cozy fantasies of finding just the right pieces for her customers who she would get to know on a first-name basis. She would make the shop homey and inviting, serve complimentary coffee and hot tea. She liked the idea of being part of a smaller community, of being connected to the past in such a tangible way.
The second thing that caused Morgan to revaluate her life in a significant way was a major accounting scandal that rocked the financial world. Her firm, where she managed multimillion-dollar mutual funds, ended up being probed during a federal investigation. Her company had been signing off on accounts without really doing the mandatory auditing work, allowing creative cheating to slip past unnoticed. Morgan was not involved, but some of her colleagues had been. Their excuse was that they'd been stretched too thin to adequately monitor every account. Her firm was levied a huge fine and several people lost their jobs. While her company hadn't done anything outright criminal, they'd been negligent in their practices.
The scandal affected her far more deeply than she realized. She had trouble sleeping and she spent hours questioning her morals, values and long held beliefs. How could she, in good conscience, continue to work for a corporation that didn't serve their clients with the due diligence they deserved?
She discussed her concerns with Adam and then she'd sprung the idea of buying the antique shop. She was heartened when he said he was behind her one hundred percent. His support gave her the courage to turn in her resignation, buy the antique shop and pursue her dream.
Leaving the job she'd held for nine years had not been easy. She felt scared and uncertain, especially in the beginning when she had a lot of money going out and none coming in, but ultimately the trade-off had been more than worth it. She'd grown in ways she couldn't have imagined and she'd come to treasure the extra time her new job afforded her.
But while the shop was now turning a profit and their new home in Connecticut was everything she'd ever hoped for, her relationship with Adam was faltering. They were no longer a team. Adam was still climbing. Reaching, ever reaching for that elusive dream of "enough" that Morgan had already discovered by giving up the chase.
She had wanted so badly to share her newfound sense of freedom and inner peace with her beloved husband, but no matter how hard she tried to tell him what she was thinking and feeling, he just couldn't seem to get it. She felt sorry for herself that she'd lost her teammate, but even sorrier for Adam because he was still running a race that could not be won.
They were drifting further and further apart and she longed for the carefree teasing of their early days. She missed the easy camaraderie of a lazy Sunday morning spent leisurely strolling hand-in-hand through Central Park. Or piling up on the couch together, legs entwined as they worked the NewYork Times crossword puzzle and fed each other tidbits of sweet pastries or sectioned fruit.
Morgan sighed. She was determined to bridge the chasm before it was too late.
To that end, she had scheduled a romantic two-week vacation in the Loire Valley in France for their tenth wedding anniversary, planning on returning to the country where they had honeymooned. Secretly she'd been learning French as a surprise forAdam. He'd always admired her thirst for knowledge and self-improvement.
But when Adam had called her that afternoon to say he would be staying in Manhattan because he had an eight o'clock business meeting at the Grand Duchess, Morgan realized she couldn't wait for the trip to revive their flagging love life. It was the second time this week and the twelfth time in the last month that Adam had chosen to stay in the city overnight.
No more wishing and hoping things would improve on their own or that Adam would have his own epiphany the way she'd had. She had to take action.
Which was why she was here, dressed like a trollop, treading a groove in Eighty-first Street and woefully second-guessing herself.
She checked her watch.
It was seven forty-five. Not much time. But she didn't need much time. She just wanted Adam to see what was going to be waiting for him upstairs in his hotel room when his business meeting finished.
"Hey, babe." A good-looking man in an expensive business suit stopped on the sidewalk beside her. "You interested in a little somethin', somethin'?"
Morgan blasted him with the coldest stare she could marshal, making a scalding laser of her eyes, and the guy slunk off like a cowed dog, palms raised and mumbling an apology.
Head held high, she swept haughtily past the portly doorman — who was still eyeing her suspiciously — and stepped through the revolving door into the lobby of the Grand Duchess. But then she went and ruined her staged bravado by stumbling in Cass's stiletto boots.
Aha, exposed for the fraud she was. No femme fatale, Morgan Shaw.