Ten years ago
Justin Sterling wrapped his arms around the soft, slim body of Vanessa Pryce, relaxing in the afterglow. The top-floor hotel suite was dark, mirroring the desert blackness that floated beyond Vegas’s garish lights. The AC was putting out cool air, and now that the lovemaking was finished, she shivered. He pulled a sheet over the two of them.
They’d been dating for almost five years. Justin had attended Stanford for his Masters in order to be close to Vanessa, even though his great-uncle had thought Harvard Business School would be a better option. Nobody knew they were seeing each other, though. She wanted to keep things low-key to avoid drawing attention to their relationship.
Justin didn’t mind if it made her feel better. Also, he knew his status as the Heir Apparent to one of the richest and most influential men in the world could destroy the privacy Vanessa wanted. There was a reason she tried to keep a low profile despite her own family’s considerable wealth and prestige, and she avoided talking about them as much as she could.
She pressed her cheek against his chest. “You know I’m going to start my job soon,” she said quietly.
He pushed his hand gently through her silky hair. She always dyed it apple red, even though her natural black looked stunning. She took after her mother, who’d been a renowned beauty in her youth. “We can probably accommodate each other’s schedules. Now that I have my MBA, I need to be in Chicago for awhile, but it’s not that far.”
“Justin…” She cleared her throat. “It’s probably better if we break up.”
His hand stilled. “What?”
She sighed softly. “Long
distance relationships never work.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I think I do. We’ll both be busy with our careers, and you’re going to be surrounded by beautiful women in Chicago. You’ll want to date them.”
“Ohh, the women in Chicago. They’re the problem. I guess all the handsome actors in L.A. won’t be a factor.” Justin said, keeping his tone light, even though the idea sent a fiery jealousy blazing through his body.
She laughed softly. “No, I’m not really interested. Besides, most of them want to date people who can help their careers, and lawyers don’t really count. Not enough studio connections.”
“Not if the lawyer’s worth fifty million bucks.”
She pressed her mouth against his. “Justin. Stop arguing. We still have until morning.”
“Oh. So our breakup starts in the morning?”
“Yup. Let’s not waste the night.”
When she fitted her body to him, Justin let his annoyance go. She’d change her mind.
Except she hadn’t.
* * *
November, one year ago
Ten years of on-and-off dating. No, you couldn’t really call it dating. The more accurate term would be booty-calling. A week’s conference in New York, a business trip to San Francisco, a secretly planned mini-vacation in the Bahamas. Two or three times a year, sometimes more, they’d find an excuse—or make one—to get together. Even though Vanessa’s prediction about their careers seemed to be playing out, they couldn’t really let each other go.
He stewed over that as he’d walked along the night streets of downtown L.A. after leaving his friend—and Vanessa’s brother—Iain at a club. Vanessa had been so odd
when he’d shown up at her firm, all uptight and aloof. Nobody, not even Iain, seemed to know what was wrong with her.
Instead of trying to figure out Vanessa’s inexplicable mood, he needed to leave for Houston. His great-uncle Barron would kill him if he didn’t show for Thanksgiving, especially since it was the first one he was celebrating with his girlfriend and her family…who also happened to be their in-laws now.
Then he heard the laugh that never failed to grab his attention. Throaty and full-bodied, it flowed over him, warming him from the inside out. He turned his head, and there she was.
Carrying a briefcase and a purse, Vanessa was striding along confidently in those crazy sexy stilettos of hers. Her red hair glinted as she tilted her head to look up at a man next to her.
Justin narrowed his eyes. The other guy was a bit too close to her for Justin’s taste. He undoubtedly wanted to sleep with her. Given the man’s conservative haircut and outfit, he was probably a lawyer. Maybe another associate at the firm where she worked.
Suddenly Vanessa stopped as though she’d felt something, then turned and saw Justin. Her eyes flickered for a moment, then a blank expression descended upon her face like she was looking at a stranger.
The persona-non-grata treatment scraped his already shot nerves. He could still hear her moans, smell the sweat and sex on her skin when she’d come with his cock buried deep inside her the last time they’d met for a hook-up. The memory of her sweet, baked-pear scent sizzled through him like a potent drug, and she was standing so close to the other guy that Justin knew her date could smell her.