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Sweet Sinful Nights(10)

By:Lauren Blakely



She cringed remembering what she'd done.

But she reminded herself that she and her brothers had risen above their roots. They'd refashioned themselves into upstanding citizens, business owners-successful adults. As the Paige-Prince kids they'd grown up lower class and hadn't known anything beyond the outskirts of their dangerous Vegas neighborhood. Now they were better than that. They were the restrained, sophisticated, and successful Sloans.

"Call me tomorrow," he said, pinning her with wide blue eyes until she nodded.

"I will report back," she said with a crisp salute, then hugged him goodbye, feeling more centered and calm than when she'd pulled into the gym.

But as she drove the final blocks home, that feeling vanished and a deep shame washed over her. She couldn't believe she'd slapped Brent. What was wrong with her?

She parked and walked into her condo, then slammed the door hard behind her. The loud crash it made in the doorframe was mildly satisfying in the way that throwing a hairbrush or chucking a phone at the wall after a frustrating conversation could be. That was what she should have done instead of slapping him.

A picture frame on her kitchen counter had rattled and fallen over when she shut the door. She picked it up and repositioned it. An image of sunflowers. She brushed it lightly with her fingertips, then slumped into a chair at her kitchen table and untied the crisscross straps from her heels, heaving a sigh as she tossed one red suede shoe across the cool tiled floor, then the other. A heel smacked into the wall, thumping along the wood.

She muttered a curse. She didn't need to maul a good pair of shoes because she was pissed at herself. She rose, padded to the wall and picked it up, inspecting the heel to make sure no damage was done.

Safe and sound.

Unlike her heart.

Unlike her ego.

Unlike her stupid brain that was tricking her

She and Brent had gone from zero to sixty in mere seconds, it seemed. One minute he'd been holding her in the hallway asking if she was safe. The next she was grinding against him by the window. She was ready, so damn ready to have gone home with him, to have tossed out the past, ignored the hurt, and just let him take her. He was her good drug-when they were younger, one hit and he'd washed away all the anger and shame.

She'd been practically addicted to sex with him when they were together. Brent had been the only thing that had felt good after far too long spent feeling nothing but bad. Nothing but the black mark of her family that trailed behind her all through her teenage years. Nothing but being the Paige-Prince kids.                       
       
           


///
       

Before him, she'd only had dance and her brothers. Then he came into her life, and she had something pure and unsullied by the cold, cruel world. Brent was her sweet, sinful addiction, and she rationalized that it was much healthier to need him than the bottle or a needle. But it wasn't just the sex that had burned brightly between them. It was everything. He'd made her laugh, he'd made her smile, and he'd brought her so much happiness. She'd hadn't been close to anyone like him since. While she hadn't turned into a nun when they'd split, she hadn't been busy fornicating during the last ten years, either. Her list of lovers was remarkably short-no one had compared to him because no one could compare to him.

She'd spent the last decade mostly alone. She'd had dates here and there and a few longer-term relationships. But sex and love residing in the same person? That had happened to her once in her life, and it had been with the man she'd wanted to go home with tonight. That moment in his arms had reminded her of how much she'd needed him, relied on him, and healed because of him. And how she'd cratered when he took that away by leaving. Thinking of his departure was like punching a hole in her chest. It was turning off her gravity.

That was why she'd snapped in the lounge.

She hated wanting him so much.

Shoving a hand through her mussed-up hair, she spotted the mail she'd brought in earlier. On the top of the pile was a letter from her mother. Maybe because she felt like she deserved punishment tonight, she picked up the white envelope. It bore the same return address her mother had had since Shannon was fourteen.

Dora Prince. Inmate #347-921, The Stella McLaren Federal Women's Correctional Center, Hawthorne, Nevada.

Shannon took a deep, fueling breath, steeling herself for the latest round of unstable, needy, borderline insane words. With a hard stone residing in her gut, she pushed her finger under the flap and ripped it open. She took out the letter and unfolded the lined paper, girding herself for what lay on the page.

Baby,

How are you? How are your dance shows? Are your dancers as talented as you were? Sometimes at night, when it's quiet, and everyone's asleep, I close my eyes, and I swear I can see you on stage, with a smile so bright you light up the whole recital hall, like you did when you were my little girl in her candy pink tutu, up on the stage with your pirouettes.

I know it's different now, but in my mind you're still dancing. You'll always be dancing. Just like someday I'll be free. You'll get your knee fixed, and I'll get out of here, and life will be as it should again.

That's what I hold onto when it gets all dark and black in my head, because I swear, it gets darker every day. It's been more than seventeen years now, and the light is fading. I thought by now I'd be out of here. That they'd see I didn't do it. I didn't. I swear. I wish someone would find the people who did.

Can you come see me again and help me please? I'm not that far away. It's less than a five-hour drive. I had my visiting hours cut-I'll explain why when I see you in person-but they can't take away my rights. The law allows me four hours per month, and they're granting me two to see family on June 30th. You are my family, baby. See me. See me. See me. I'll write to you for a thousand years if I have to. I swear, baby girl, I swear.

Help me.

Your loving mommy.

Years of practice didn't ease the heavy knot in her gut. Letter after countless letter didn't make the words hurt less. Every note she read was a piece of her flesh being sliced.

You couldn't hide from that kind of hurt, she'd learned. You just had to let it bleed, and hope it didn't bleed out what was left of your heart.

Folding up the letter, she slid it back into the envelope, then tucked it away in a kitchen cupboard. She walked into her bathroom, washed her hands and face, brushed her teeth, then stripped off her clothes. As she removed the silvery wrap, she was tempted to bring it to her nose, to catch a final, trailing scent of that man who turned her on.

Instead, she resisted, letting it fall on top of a pile of black, shimmery fabric.

Sliding between the cool sheets of her bed, she reached for the photo album she kept in her beside drawer, then traced her thumb over the pictures from years ago. Some color, some black and white.

She turned the pages.

The ending was the same every time.

She shut off the light and flipped onto her belly, hating that she still ached between her legs. After everything in between touching Brent and falling into bed, she still wanted him. Even after she'd seen her brother. Even after she'd read the note from her mother. Even after she'd looked at the photos.                       
       
           


///
       

Still, she longed for him. Still, she felt the same damn pull.

Bodies were stupid things. Lord only knew, hers didn't work properly anymore. She was supposed to be dancing. Supposed to be doing so many things.

She'd remade herself though. She'd shrugged off who she used to be. She'd risen anew from the ashes of her family.

From her mother, who had killed her father in cold blood.

But some days, she wasn't so sure if she could ever outrun her history.





CHAPTER SEVEN


Mindy clutched her belly, the sound of early-morning slots soundtracking her laughter as they waited to be seated at breakfast.

Brent stared at her with narrowed eyes. "It's not funny," he grumbled.

"Oh, it's funny. It's completely hilarious," she said, poking him in the chest.

"I beg to differ. Other things are funny. Dry humor about politicians. Jokes about hipsters. Comedic bits about waxing gone wrong," he said, that familiar urge to start a riff taking over.

She shook her head. "No, this is funnier. The way you put your foot in your mouth is the height of comedy," she said, as the hostess at the Allegro's breakfast cafe walked up to them.

"Right this way," the hostess said. "We've got your regular table for you, Mindy."

"You're royalty here. That could be a good bit. The security chief who's treated like a queen," he whispered to his friend, who swatted him.

"Stop it," she said, but she was laughing.

The hostess led them to a green upholstered booth in the classy breakfast spot in the middle of the hotel on the Strip. Mindy ran security at the Allegro and had for several years now. One of his closest buddies, they had one of the rare male-female friendships where they truly were just friends, maybe because they'd known each other since high school. Maybe, too, because they'd had that obligatory moment that kyboshed the prospect of anything ever happening between them. At a high school graduation party, over beer and quarters, and truth and dare with their group of friends, someone had dared Brent to kiss her.

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