If Max Montgomery ever had to commit to monogamy to save his wife’s life, she would just have to come back and haunt him from the afterlife.
Max rested his forearm on the registration desk as his eyes anxiously crisscrossed the lobby of the Beverly Hills Ritz-Carlton. He watched as people milled about, dressed in tuxedos and evening gowns. He made eye contact with a short, brown-skinned cutie who sashayed by in a dress so tight he could see the faint outline of her thong. Max smiled. She smiled back. Too bad he was already about to get laid. Otherwise, he definitely would’ve taken the time to follow up on that.
“Here’s your key, Mr. Montgomery,” said a cherub-faced girl with a shrill voice. “You’ll be in room 502. One of our most elegant suites.”
When he reached for the key, his fingertips accidentally brushed her hand and she nervously looked away. She wants me, Max thought. But she was way too young for his taste.
He thanked her and headed for the bank of elevators in the rear of the lobby. Max tapped the elevator button and the car to his left instantly glided open. Some of the tension eased from his body once he was safely inside. He had waited nearly a week for this night and his wait was almost over.
The anonymous invitation to a “private evening of intimacy” had intrigued him and he had immediately decided to accept. No questions asked. A man like Max didn’t make hasty decisions very often. On the rare occasion that he did, it was only because he was banking on a huge payoff.
Max stepped off the elevator, studied the sign directly in front of him, then turned left down a long hallway. He walked with a distinctive, self-assured stride, like a male model taking a slow stroll down the catwalk. He stopped in front of a door near the end of the hallway and fished the plastic card key from his breast pocket.
A huge smile of anticipation spread across his face as he entered the lavish suite. The place was a classy ensemble of muted colors, luxurious fabrics, and calming scents. From the flowing silk curtains to the massive mahogany sleigh bed to the sleek suede comforter, everything in the room spelled class with a capital C. And that pleased him.
Max made his way over to a nightstand near the window, his feet sinking into the plush, caramel-colored carpet with every step. He examined a champagne bottle sitting near an antique lamp. Dom Pérignon, vintage 1995. Definitely his style. He only hoped his host was familiar with some of his more erotic personal preferences.
The sight of a red teddy hanging from the corner of the headboard triggered a twinge of arousal that warmed him inside. He rubbed the soft fabric between his fingers, smiled again, then tossed it onto the bed. On the floor near the nightstand was a large wicker basket with three packages of rose petals, twelve scented candles, two champagne glasses, and a book of matches. He set the basket on the bed and read the fancy gold card inside. It provided additional instructions for the evening.
Max glanced at his watch. He didn’t have much time. He scooped up the basket with one hand, began undoing his tie with the other and proceeded into the bathroom. It was just as dazzling as the rest of the suite. The marble floor, the shiny granite countertop, the extravagant gold fixtures were all symbols of an affluent lifestyle Max knew well.
As the card commanded, Max filled the oversized Jacuzzi tub with water, sprinkled it with the rose petals and positioned the candles about the room. He lit each one, then turned off the lights to admire his handiwork. Yes, yes, yes. He was about to have himself one big ball.
Max ripped up both the invitation and the card and flushed them down the toilet. A married man could never be too careful. Just as he was about to head back into the bedroom, the enormous mirror on the wall directly across from the tub stopped him in his tracks. Max grinned. He would get to watch.
Marching into the bedroom, he stripped off his Hugo Boss suit and draped it over the back of an armchair near the bed, making sure his pants were carefully folded along the crease line. After removing the rest of his clothes, he grabbed the champagne bottle and strutted naked into the bathroom, where he eased into the steaming hot water and waited.
All day long he had tried to figure out who his freaky little hostess might be. He had instantly ruled out Janice. A single parent with three kids didn’t have the time, not to mention the energy, to plan something this elaborate. She could barely escape from her solo law practice for their once-a-week lunchtime romps. That left Paula, a stewardess who had served him on a flight to New York three months earlier, and Natasha, the big-breasted Swede who was temping as a receptionist at his firm’s Newport Beach office. She had straight out boned him with her eyes when he walked up to the reception desk to find out her name. Yeah, both Paula and Natasha were kinky enough to plan something like this.
Max poured himself a glass of champagne and took a slow, satisfying sip. The air jets pelting his back with spurts of water felt great. He closed his eyes and slowly twisted his head to the left as far as it would go, then repeated the move on the opposite side. The muscles along the base of his neck felt like dense, knotted fists. Maybe she would give him a massage afterward.
At the sound of the hotel room door opening, Max bolted forward, causing rose petals to splash onto the floor. He could feel his pulse racing as he waited for his mystery date to appear, and when she did not, he settled back into the tub and tried to calm himself down. She was probably just slipping into that sexy little teddy. He was so hard now he had to fight the urge to jack himself off.
Max reached for the champagne bottle to refill his glass just as a sharp, searing pain attacked his left temple. He hoped it wasn’t another migraine. There was a time when he could almost will them away if he concentrated hard enough. But that wasn’t working anymore. He sat the bottle back down. He would wait and share the rest with her.
Max leaned back, sucked in a long, deep breath, and closed his eyes for several seconds. When he reopened them, he could not focus. A thick curtain of haze had suddenly filled the room. He tried to sit up, but his head felt heavier than a bowling ball and fell backward, slamming hard against the tiled wall. He was now blind, dizzy, and in excruciating pain.
By the time the bathroom door opened, Max could feel the presence of someone else in the room. He could even hear a voice. A voice he was too dazed to place, speaking words he could not quite make out. Max had never had a migraine like this one before. He tried to speak, but his lips spewed nothing but gibberish. Had the champagne been spiked?
Without warning, a powerful jolt of pain pierced the right side of Max’s chest at the same time that his head seemed to explode.
His visitor, hovering over him now, plunged a knife deep into Max’s chest, then repeated the motion. A second time, a third time, a fourth time. The stabbing continued until the rose petals disappeared into a pool of deep, dark red.