Excerpt for The Eleventh Hour by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


The Eleventh

Hour





APRIL MARIE LIBS

Dedication:


For

my daughter, Lexie,

a brilliant shining star in

my life.

The Eleventh Hour


Copyright © 2017 April Marie Libs


All right reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information retrieval and storage system without permission by the publisher.


Names, characters, and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination, or are used in a fictitious situations. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, incidents, or persons- living or dead- are coincidental and beyond the intent of the author.


Acknowledgements


I’d like to thank my editing team, as always. They are the spokes in the sphere of my writing wheel. I couldn’t do it without you guys! Rita Schueler, Shelly Pearson, Dawn Durbin, and Shelly Haworth, and also my content cronies, Tracy Loi and Jill Finnegan. Thanks for letting me pick your brains 24/7. Lisa Kaelin deserves an extra special shout out for being such a valued and appreciated editor, but more importantly the best friend a girl could ask for.

Contents


Prologue

Hour One

Hour Two

Hour Three

Hour Four

Hour Five

Hour Six

Hour Seven

Hour Eight

Hour Nine

Hour Ten

Hour Eleven

Hour Twelve

Epilogue

Meet Me in Heaven

Other Books

Prologue



SHE NEVER INTENDED on becoming the other woman. In fact, Addison loathed the backstabbing adulteress that ripped a marriage to shreds, tore the once faithful man from the clutches of his one true love, watched their well-intended vows crumble to the ground, with no hope of ever being resurrected.

The thought of someone that vile, that despicable, to stoop so low to steal another woman’s loved one made Addison’s stomach clench with nauseating disgust and her skin crawl with infuriating revulsion, but yet here she was on the brink of making that very decision -- to leap over that moral threshold into adultery-hood, a land that sucked you into its cavernous, black hole; one that you could never, ever escape, no matter how high you scaled, or how hard you tried to scratch your way back to the surface.

Once you made that decision to become the other woman -- no matter how long the relationship lasted -- you would from that point forward, for the rest of your life, be “The Adulteress.” There was no going back. Once you slept with a married man, you couldn’t wipe the act clean from your slate. You couldn’t erase the moment from your timeline. You were forever marked with the dreaded scarlet letter. You could hide it with shady lies and manipulative half-truths, push it so far into the back of your brain that it collected cobwebs and mountains of dust, but you, and you alone, would forever know the truth. The decision would be etched into your soul for eternity.

Was Addison willing to mar her inner being to slide into the shadows with a man, whom she’d only met weeks before, knowing full well he had a beautiful, unsuspecting wife waiting in the wings to welcome him home when they parted?

Was she capable of the contemptible act, knowing she could potentially ruin the sanctity of a marriage and cause erectable damage to another human being that did absolutely nothing to her whatsoever?

Was he worth throwing away her moral compass, her elevated standards, every ethical value her parents took years upon years to instill?

When Addison viewed the situation with only her cerebrum, the resounding thought that immediately popped into the confines of her brain, which reverberated like a hammer being slammed into a steel drum was, Absolutely not!

But then when he was in the same room with her, her straight-and-narrow judgement that manifested itself into her trusted moral compass that had guided her thus far throughout her twenty-four years always lost direction, the magnetic needle wavering, making the line between right and wrong lose its boundaries. It was as if the world slipped off its axis in his presence, the motion of the sphere slowing in a counterproductive pattern, causing her to look at everything that she had thought and felt for her entire life differently.

He seemed to have some type of bewitching power over her that she couldn’t refuse. The jaunty charm, his bright smile, those adorable dimples flanking his wide lips, the way he made her giggle like an adolescent school girl. He never failed to make her heart skip a beat and her palms bud in sticky moisture whenever he stepped into the room.

This had never happened before -- this loss of breath, the palpitating heart, the warmth gathering in the center of her core -- over a man.

Does this fact make the decision that she was about to make any less deceitful and incriminating?

Or maybe, just maybe, this whole debacle wasn’t Addison’s fault at all. Maybe Fate made a horrendous mistake and accidently paired the wrong two people together.

Maybe something, or someone, altered Addison’s course of life and she wasn’t where she was supposed to be at the exact moment when divine intervention happened, lightening sparking, making the ground under her feet quake. Maybe the real victim in their scenario was Addy because some other woman was living out the life that she was supposed to be living.

This was the thought swirling through Addison’s mind as she perched in her car, for the umpteenth billionth time, while stuffing Pringles into her mouth as she watched Dawson arrive home from work in his shiny silver Infinity, swinging open his car door, unfurling his long, lean legs, his dark brown hair curling at his starched white collar as his wife greeting him at the door in a sunny-yellow ruffled blouse, a huge thank God you’re home smile slung across her face as she ushered him inside, quietly clicking the door shut in his wake.

Seeing Dawson’s wife with her beautifully-wild, kinky red hair, spattering of freckles, and tiny frame, always caught Addison right in the gut with a mind-blowingly hard sucker-punch right to the ribs. It made her gasp for air as she wondered what in the heck was she doing here, her moral conscious stomping her feet, screaming at the top of her lungs, You haven’t stepped over that line yet….Leave now while you still can!

But sometimes you don’t have a full depiction of the entire circumstance, and until you do, your conscious allows you to proceed forward, but reminds you to advance with extreme caution as the thought lingers in the back of your mind like a malevolent premonition, If you play with fire, you will get burned.


Hour One



ADDISON MAYNIRD SLUFFED her carry-on bag further up her shoulder as she yanked her rolling luggage along the blue, matted carpet of Southwest Regional airport in North Bend, Oregon, then glanced down at her wrist for the time, realizing she had a full two hours before her flight embarked for Las Vegas.

Luckily, she asked her business partner, Emily, to drop her off at the airport early, assuming the security line would be atrocious on a Friday afternoon, and she was right. It had already looped around ten different turnstiles, with twenty feet of forward momentum in between. Thankfully, she cushioned her arrival by the additional hour so she could stand in line without worry.

She considered stopping for a jolt of caffeine before she stood in line, but nixed that idea, not wanting to have to use the restroom on the flight. Instead, she followed the deluge of travelers herding toward the security check point and took her spot behind a middle aged couple at the back, who seemed to be bickering quietly amongst themselves. Wanting to give them some semblance of privacy, Addison took a few steps back, yanked the cell out of her jean pocket, tucked a chunk of milk chocolate hair behind her ear, and buried her nose in her Facebook app, but she couldn’t help overhearing the couple bark agitatedly in harsh whispers.

“No, you’re the one with the attitude problem, not me.”

“Me?” the man shot back. “You’re the one that’s been snapping at me since five a.m. this morning.”

The woman fell back a step then bent at the waist to inch closer, sneering, “That’s because you’re constantly an ass.”

“I’d rather be an ass,” he huffed, “than constantly having a resting bitch face, like you.”

Addison couldn’t help it but she chuckled out loud, then bit down on her bottom lip, chagrined at her outburst. She peeked up at the line winding in the opposite direction to see if anyone else caught the conversation. Sure enough, a tall, dark-headed man grinned at her, his eyes slicing to the couple arguing, then enlarging, as if to say, Can you believe this? his crystal blue eyes dancing in mirth.

In reply, Addison pulled up her shoulders and shook her head, replying back silently, Unbelievable.

As the line shuffled forward, the couple continued with their argument, which had now become more than malicious whispers, inching over to loud, angry insult slinging between the two. When Addison caught the tall stranger’s eye for a second time while shuffling through the turnstiles, she had to laugh when she saw him hold up a pair of ear buds before stuffing them in his ears, then pointed at her to do the same.

Not a bad idea.

Addison released her wheeling luggage and dug around in her imitation Coach handbag for her ear pieces. Once she found them hiding among her wadded up receipts and empty candy wrappers, she situated them in her ears, before scrolling through her Pandora stations for a calming, yet alternative, mix. Once the melody floated into her canal, she immediately felt her tightened levator muscles unhinge and her anxious knots unfurling. She closed her eyes for an instant, pulling in a deep breath, letting the tangle of multi-sized bodies swarming her on all sides melt away.

When she reopened her eyes, she found the stranger watching her intently. When he saw her notice him, he gave her the thumbs up signal with a tilt of his head.

She flattened her lips and nodded, conveying that she most definitely felt better after blocking out the negative banter. In reply, he winked at her, and then concentrated on the task at hand, stepping out of his shoes, lifting the black leather satchel over his head, and unbuckling his belt, placing all items into the grey plastic tub to be pushed onto the conveyor.

This was when Addison had the time to fully take him in. His wavy dark hair looked to be at that odd length while growing out -- not too short, but not yet to his shoulders, either -- that curled around his ears and at the nape of his neck. There was no distinctive style to it, other than disheveled, probably due to him raking his fingers through it -- which he was doing right at that very second. He wore pale pink hipster pants that molded to his hips and hit right at the ankle, and a black t-shirt, bolding sporting the phrase, Real men wear pink across the chest. His eyes could only be described as crystal-clear, cobalt blue, his complexion a natural olive with a warm caramel glow. There seemed to be no lines around the eyes or mouth, giving him a youthful appearance, maybe in his early twenties.

And he had no gold or platinum band adorning his left ring finger. Addison knew because she checked -- twice.

Addison slipped off her sandals and dropped them into a scuff-marked bin, stuffing her purse on top. After heaving up her rolling bag to nestle behind it, she eased them both onto the conveyor belt simultaneously. Once she felt the belt catch, she released her items and stepped in front of the scanner, waiting for the attendant to wave her through.

As she was slipping back into her sandals on the opposite end of the conveyor belt, she noticed the stranger being patted down by a female officer, his stance wide, his long arms extended, while another security member tossed several small bottles into the oversized trash can to the left.

Addison couldn’t help herself when she glanced over her shoulder while walking by, and unintentionally caught his attention. His full lips gingerly curved into a sly grin, revealing his straight white teeth, as well as a few laugh lines that materialized at the corner of his dancing blue eyes, which upped his potential age, while somehow making him even more appealing.

She grinned back, hitching her thumb into the strap of her purse, swiveled to look straight ahead, and kept walking.

As expected, the gate was packed with a mirage of travelers, some obvious business voyagers with their computers glowing on their laps, while others were headed to Vegas for an exhilarating weekend filled with free drinks, city lights, adrenalin-filled gambling, and whatever else Sin City was willing to offer.

Too bad Addison wasn’t one of those passengers.

This year it was her turn to attend the National Pastry Convention, and although Addison loved traveling, having to spend hours upon hours pounding the pathways of the convention hall sifting through venders wasn’t her idea of a good time. Especially having to do it solo to help conserve funding for her budding new bakery, specializing in cupcake pastries. Through hard work, determination and plenty of sweat equity, Addison and her business partner, Emily, have become the go-to bakery when wanting a unique, easily eaten, scrumptiously delicious cupcake sculpture. Since they had opened their doors eight months prior, they had been hired to design full-sized teddy bears, fantasy castles, life-sized puppies and everything else imaginable, all made of individual cupcakes that party goers could just pop off the display and eat with their hands. It was all the craze on the west coast, almost completely replacing the traditional pastries at birthday parties, bridal showers, and even weddings. And since Emily graduated from The Institute of Culinary Education, and Addison with a degree from The Art Institute, they were a pair made in pastry engineering heaven.

Addison laced through the rows of occupied seats, coasting around bags, stepping over sprawled legs, and found an empty chair close to the terminal, facing the window toward the Boeing 717 jet liner perched on the tarmac. The sun’s rays bounced off the aircraft’s front window, reflecting back into the airport, making Addison want to cover her eyes from the scalding rays. Instead, she ducked her head and busied herself inside her purse, searching for a piece of gum or a mint of some sort.

That’s when she heard the ruckus of men shouting behind her and swiveled in her seat to find the source. She turned to find the man from security sauntering up to the gate, a wide grin on his face as a troupe of men greeted him with excited shouts and boisterous whistles. He replied back by pumping both fists above his head in a victory stance, making the crowd go even wilder before they swarmed him, swallowing him up with smacks on the back, handshakes, and man hugs.

Within five minutes, another man entered, getting the same warm vibrant welcome from the group of men. Obviously, a guy’s trip was about to ensue. No telling what kind of trouble those men were about to dive into.

A flight attendant then announced over the crackling speaker that group A was to line up according to their boarding pass specified number. The gaggle of rowdy men headed to the front of the line and were close to the first passengers to board the aircraft. Addison, who was at the tail end of the A boarders, followed behind a large man with a shock of silver hair. Even from outside the aircraft, she could hear the loud banter, lots of laughter, jokes, and jabs being tossed between the men.

As she entered the craft, she found the group a fourth of the way back, standing in front of their seats, bending over the back to converse with their friends behind them. Addison continued shuffling behind the congested line, but could see the man from security sitting in an aisle seat. As she neared, he disengaged himself from the conversation and locked eyes with her. She could feel her body tingle with electric charged energy, and knew her face had to be flushing. She dropped her chin, shielding herself with a wave of dark hair, hoping the line wouldn’t stop right beside his seat.

As she passed, her eyes flitted back up as he pulled his bottom lip between his teeth, grinning at her impishly. She could feel his heated gaze follow her back as she chose a seat four rows down on the opposite side of the aircraft, and hoisted her carryon luggage over her head to jam into the top compartment. Buckling her safety harness, she kept her chin tucked as she reached into her purse for her Kindle e-reader, and then bent to shove her bag under the seat in front of her. When she straightened, she took a glimpse in his direction, but noticed he had turned back to his friends through the gaps of the oncoming passengers.

Flirtation over.

The handsome stranger would disembark and be long gone before Addison even retrieved her bag from the overhead compartment. Another beautiful man drifting out to sea without Addison having the guts to clutch onto his shirt and drag him back to shore. It was the story of her life. Men sent her signals all the time, but she never had the gumption to follow through with the flirtation. In a bar, when a man seemed interested and headed over in her direction, she would high tail it off to the restroom, tossing out random excuses, mortified with thoughts of what to say or how to act during initial contact. It wasn’t that she was shy, per say, she just didn’t like that first round of small talk that obviously had to ensue for a meeting to take place.

And this situation was no different….she practically ran through the aisle when passing the cute stranger, so she wouldn’t have to communicate. She dug her head into the headrest, miffed at herself for not speaking to him. Obviously, she did fine while communicating nonverbally. Why couldn’t she just throw out a simple, Hi, to open the conversational door?

Maybe she should learn sign language and pretend to be deaf. This way she could communicate with her hands, and once she and a man had established a comfortable rapport, she could miraculously be healed and speak from that point forward.

Addison wished she’d just grow a spine for a change and make the first move. This man was single, good looking, and obviously interested, right? She should just jot down her number, sashay over to him, and hand over the slip of paper with a flirty smile, miming the call me signal.

Who was she kidding? That would never, ever happen, even if her life depended on it.

She watched the slim, male steward in a maroon pants and vest demonstrate the evacuation procedures with flowing hand motions, while attempting not to have her vision slide off to the intriguing man on the left. When the male attendant made his last pass through the cabin, checking to make sure all passengers were securely fastened, Addison was about to absorb herself in her book, when out of her periphery she saw the man holding up his phone, angled toward her.

On the white screen was the word, Hi, scrawled by hand in red ink.

Her stomach curled with anticipation. Was this message for her?

When she saw him turn in his seat and lift a hand with a slight smile, she realized he was most definitely trying to communicate with her. She watched him turn back to his phone, rub his hand across the surface, and then write with his index finger. After a few seconds, he held back up his device.

White board app.

Pretty cool stuff.

Then more hand erasing ensued, before she read, You should download app, and then a shake of his head and more wiping.

Never mind.

No Wi Fi.

Addison grabbed her phone and typed in her IPhone notepad, Will this work? And blew it up to eighteen point text.

He gave her the thumbs up signal, erased his words, scribbled something on his screen, and then held up his cell.

Las Vegas?

She nodded, then sent, You?

Yep. Bachelor party. He erased his words and then sent, Bachelor, with an arrow pointing to the stout, blonde man sitting across the aisle from him.

She wrote back, Sounds fun.

How about you? Business or Pleasure?

She typed back, Business, adding a frown face, but then deleted it, not wanting to appear too cheesy.

Are you a gambler? he asked.

Feeling bold, she typed back, Depends what the reward is, and then felt her cheeks heat as he grinned devilishly.

She could only imagine what was running through his mind so she quickly added, If it’s the spa, then I’m all in, so she didn’t look like such a tart.

He laughed.

Addison grinned back at him. She loved this way of communicating. She could write down her thoughts and then edit them if needed. This was even better than sign language!

Feeling gutsy, she asked, What hotel are you staying in?

The Wynn. You?

Venetian.

That’s close, he shot back, and then, You should come party with us.

Maybe…she typed back, attempting to tease, which awarded her another boyish grin, the crinkles at his deep blue eyes only adding to his allure.

At least it’s not a no, he sent back.

But then the friend sitting next to him stole the phone out of his hands. He attempted to get it back, but the guy tossed it across the aisle to another friend. There was no way he’d get it back now without unbuckling his seatbelt and causing a scene.

Addison couldn’t help the disappointment that flooded through her at their conversation coming to a close. Tucking her phone beside her leg, she tried with all her might to get engrossed in the book that she was reading, but her eyes kept involuntarily darting up to watch the group of men order cocktails, tease the female flight attendants, and harass one another with comfortable comradery.

When the plane eased onto the runway, the tires bumping along the concrete path, Addison thought for sure she would see a message from the seat up ahead, but as far as she could tell, he never received his phone back.

As the plane came to a final halt and the overhead speaker announced it was safe to move throughout the cabin, all passengers unclicked their seat belts and stood as they gathered their belongings, the aisle immediately filling to capacity. Hurriedly, Addison reached down for her purse and accidently dumped half the contents on the floor underneath the seat, bonking her forehead on the tray table in the process. Pushing her sun-streaked, brown hair behind her shoulders, she inwardly groaned, plopped back into her chair, and fumbled around, collecting her lip gloss, her wallet, her keys, along with all the spare change floating around on the floor. Once finished, she stood, craning her neck to see further up front, but was shielded by towering frames, as well as lowering luggage pieces, and was now officially barricaded in her row, completely stuck. Finally, she asserted her authority and stepped out into the pathway. Jimmying her suitcase overhead, she yanked and pulled, but the luggage wouldn’t budge. Finally, the man behind her helped dislodge the suitcase and eased it down to the floor. After thanking him profusely, she shuffled up the aisle as quickly as the line would allow, hoping with all her might that the man she had flirted with would be waiting.


Hour Two



ADDISON FELT LIKE she was swimming through throngs of limbs and torsos, weeding through the mass of bottlenecked passengers tugging their carryon cases behind them. Multiple times, her bag got wedged between two moving barriers as she pushed her way to the right, before weaving to the left, all the while craning her neck, reaching to the tip of her toes, searching for the tall, dark-haired stranger. When the flow of traffic swelled, before releasing into the open air, she moved off to the side, once again on the balls of her feet, her head swiveling from one side of the terminal to the next, but didn’t see anyone even remotely resembling the man she was searching for. She picked up her pace, practically jogging down the congested hallway, zipping through families, swerving around children, excusing herself over her shoulder as she trotted further up the pipe. Not her proudest moment, but she even shoved a teenager aside, who was strolling gingerly while ogling his phone, to make sure she ducked onto the tram before the doors skated closed.

As the tube coasted toward baggage claim, Addison reached in her navy handbag for her compact, clicked it open and checked her reflection. Not too bad, she decided. Although her rich caramel hair was a touch on the wilted side, and her lipstick was nowhere to be found, she still looked halfway decent. Her almond shaped eyes still held the emerald shimmery shadow, and her lashes -- her most cherished trait from her Asian linage -- were still long, dark, and full, almost touching her eyebrow bone. After patting her slender nose and cheekbones with a touch of translucent powder, she flipped the compact shut and shoved it back into her purse.

When the doors smoothly glided open again, Addison power walked over to baggage claim, even though she hauled her only luggage behind her, her eyes scanning the passengers as she paused at each protrusion in the conveyor belt. When she hit the end of the line, she paused and listened intently. Although she heard the hum of the moving belt and a murmuring of multiple conversations happening simultaneously, she didn’t hear the loud raucous group that she so desperately desired.

It was official.

The cute stranger had disappeared in a puff of allusive smoke.

Once again, Addison let a captivating man slip right through her fingertips. She knew she had him tentatively hooked, but was never strong enough, never bold enough to set the lure, the coveted fish releasing from the bait to be snagged by another, more proficient woman.

Deflated shoulders slumped, she headed in the direction of ground transportation. As soon as she pushed through the double doors, the Nevada heat slapped against her chest, seeping into her lungs clogging her airway passages. She swallowed the thick cotton air, along with the lump of regret as she shuffled over toward the taxi line.


Although Addison had been to Vegas several times, she had never stayed in this ritzy of a hotel before, and wouldn’t be now if it weren’t for her college roommate’s father having an excessive gambling compulsion. Her father had withered away so much money at this particular resort that he and his family were offered unrestricted, free hospitality whenever they were in the city, from executive suites, to elegant dining, to luxurious spa treatments, to front row sought-after tickets to any show available on the strip. And since Jessica was coming to the city for the weekend to visit Addison, she would be a beneficiary to his gambling addiction.

Jessica, a tiny ball of fire who had energy oozing out of her pores, was waiting for her in the expansive, gilded, intricately painted, domed lobby. When she caught sight of Addison, she squealed, her small hands fluttering in the air by her cherub face as she took off in a sprint toward her and didn’t stop her high pitched squeak until she had vaulted herself into Addison’s arms, wrapping her child-sized legs around her waist.

“Addy, Addy, Addy!” she shrieked as she peppered her cheek with woodpecker kisses. “You’re finally here!”

“I’m so glad to see you!” Addison squeezed her juvenile frame, breathing in her heady, exotic scent. Jessica did nothing half mast, and that included her layering of perfume. “It’s been too long, my friend.”

“Way too long,” Jess agreed as she released her legs, slipped to the floor, her platinum blonde pixie cut dipping over one eye. “You look amazing.”

“You’re full of crap, but thanks.”

Latching onto her suitcase, multiple bangles jingling, Jessica called, “Come with me. I’ve already checked us in.”

Feeling like she was in an Italian cathedral, they swept past one marbled pillar after another, the floor underneath so shiny that it reflected the worn soles of their shoes, the ceiling so intricately detailed that it would take hours upon hours to fully appreciate. They wound through the outskirts of the casino, the glass chandeliers dimming as they neared the belly of the gambling hub, hearing the ching, ching, ching of slots and cheers from lucky winners, breathing in the trail of lingering alcohol, intermixing with the aftermath of stale smoke.

This city never failed to uplift Addison’s spirits. Even though she wasn’t a gambler herself, the promise of reaching toward a dream, hoping with all your heart that the risk would be lavished with reward was something that she wished she could do, but couldn’t. She’d learned the hard way that when something looked too good to be true, it usually was, and gambling was no different. Sitting in a lavish hotel, with never-ending complimentary sparkling wine, while money rained down on you, just for pulling a shiny silver lever, wasn’t realistic….and if anything, Addison was realistic. Some even called her grounded beyond repair, which took that nice humble word and twisted it into something completely negative, but she was who she was and she couldn’t change what was engrained in her soul.

Addison’s maturity probably stemmed from having to grow up much too fast, since becoming parentless on the eve of her eighteenth birthday. Her father died during a covert military operation in Iraq, her mother, heartbroken, fled back to her home country of Beijing, demanding that Addison come with her, but for once in her life, she refused. It was the pinnacle in her high school career, at the cusp of her senior year. She wouldn’t leave the only country she knew and flail around in a foreign land, chewing through a new language, only to return to the states six months later, when she turned eighteen and could officially emancipate herself.

Thankfully, Emily’s parent’s agreed to take her in. Without having any parental guidance at her fingertips, Addison knew her teenage years could veer off in one of two directions. She could fall under the radar and make one bad choice after another, or she could eradicate that theory altogether and become an adult herself. By the time she walked the stage of her graduation with no blood relatives there to support her, she already had a full academic scholarship to the Art Institute in New York City and never looked back.


Their suite at The Venetian, of course, was top of the line with the exterior wall a solid sheet of tempered glass, monogrammed fluffy white robes and towels, his and her separate, floor-to-ceiling marbled bathrooms, and the most beautiful bouquet of salmon-hued orchids, permeating the room with a rich, sultry fragrance.

Dumping Addison’s suitcase on the couch, Jessica strolled over to the crystal-glass brandy canisters sitting on the desk and poured two fingers into separate glasses. “Are you too exhausted to go out tonight?”

Addison plopped down in a Queen Ann’s chair. “You would think I would be after traveling, but actually I’m kind of wired.”

Handing over her glass, Jessica, cheered, “That’s what I like to hear.” She took a seat next to the luggage, curling her short legs underneath her. “What are you up for? I know you don’t like gambling.”

Addison took a sip of the amber liquid, enjoying the burn as it slid down her throat. She eyed her friend over the rim of her glass coquettishly. “I think we should check out The Wynn hotel,” she suggested with a sly grin, hiding her curved mouth behind the transparent barrier.

Jess’ chin tilted. “O-kay. Any reason?”

Addison shifted diffidently in her seat. “Maybe…”

Her friend’s eyes bulged. “Addy! Who’s there?”

“I don’t know,” she replied back honestly.

Jessica’s brows furrowed. “What do you mean, you don’t know?”

“Well, I don’t know his name. I met him on the flight out….well, not officially.”

“So, you met a hot guy -- or you just drooled over him from afar?” her longtime friend inquired with a knowing smirk.

“We actually conversed,” she answered, “I swear,” but left off the tidbit about doing it from across the plane over a hand-held virtual white board.

“Finally!” she squealed. “Tell me about him!”

“I don’t know much, other than he’s really cute and he’s here with some friends on a bachelor party. He asked me to come over to The Wynn and hang out.”

“Excellent! Has he texted you about where to meet?”

“That’s the problem. His friend stole his phone before we had a chance to exchange numbers.”

“Pfft,” Jess scoffed. “You call that a problem?” She dropped her glass down on the table and plucked Addison out of her seat. “You go get all dolled up and I’ll take care of the rest.”


Within the hour, Jessica had her parading through the rich, burgundy-carpeted casino at the five-star hotel, clad in her dressy jeans, shimmering gold camisole top, along with the four inch heels that Jessica insisted she purchase from the overpriced boutique before heading over. Since Addison was just in town for the convention, she had only thought to pack sensible shoes, comfortable flats, well-worn flip flops, and her trusted tennis shoes, but did throw in a couple of cute tops and her bathing suit, thank goodness.

After the fifth loop around the entire casino, Addison’s ankles were aching and the balls of her feet were screaming with pain. When she traipsed by the Player’s Lounge for the umpteenth billionth time, Addy shuffled into the bar and collapsed into a high topped chair, exclaiming, “Put a fork in me; I’m done.”

“Ah, come on, Ad. We can’t give up now. He has to be here somewhere.”

“He’s the one that’s supposed to be wading through the crowd at our hotel looking for me.”

Jessica pulled out a seat and dropped into it, saying, “Sometimes men just need a gentle shove.”

Addison laughed. “A gentle shove? I think you wallop them over the head and drag them back to your lair.”

One shoulder elevated to her ear. “What can I say? I’m a true feminist.”

A man caught Addison’s attention in her periphery, due to him walking backwards, literally. It didn’t take but a split second for her to realize it was the guy from the airport. He was still dressed in the same pink pants and black t-shirt, but now sported a black baseball cap, slung low, the curls of his hair escaping behind his ears.

When they caught eyes, he paused, a slow grin saturating his face. “I thought that was you.”

Feigning surprise as her heart skipped a beat, she gripped Jessica’s knee and squeezed, attempting to sound casual. “Oh, hi! What are you doing here?”

And then mentally slapped herself in the forehead for being so stupid.

“I’m staying here, remember?”

She blinked in rapid succession. “Yes, yes. I remember now.”

He held out his hand. “I don’t think we’ve officially met. I’m Dawson Preston.”

She latched onto his hand, hoping he wasn’t disgusted by her sweaty, moist palms. “Addison…” she fumbled for her own last name, which made his smile widen, “…Maynird.”

Jessica cleared her throat as Addison clung onto his hand, still pumping his arm. Breaking through the fog, Addison continued, “And this is Tink.”

He removed his hand with a chuckle. “Tink? Like in Tinkerbell?”

Addison shut her eyes and shook her head. Why on earth did Jessica’s college nickname just pop out of her mouth?

Thankfully, Jess took it in stride, claiming, “The one and only, but you can call me, Jess.” She linked her tiny hand in his. “Nice to meet you.” She stepped back into her chair. “We were just getting ready to order a drink, would you like to join us?”

His hand disappeared in the pocket of his jeans, removing a handful of colorful poker chips. “Just let me cash these in and then I would love to.”

As he sauntered out the wide opening of the bar, Addison exhaled her bottled breath as she wilted into the chair. “I’m totally screwing this up, aren’t I?”

“Look, you just need to relax.” She waved over the bartender and ordered two cherry tootsie pop shots. Once the stubby glass filled to the brim with orange liquor was set in front of them, Jess pushed one in front of Addison, and then lifted hers in a toast. “To dropping inhibitions and letting people see your true beauty.”

Addison lifted hers in reply. “Easier said than done.”

After they threw back their drinks, Jessica looked to the door before leaning in. “Addison if only you saw the beauty that we all see; You. Are. Gorgeous. I just wish you could see it yourself.”

“Pfft.” Addison waved off the thought, just as Dawson peeked around the outskirts of the bar.

“Ask him if he came out ahead,” Jessica whispered.

Thankfully to have an opening remark, Addison smiled at Dawson as he neared. In turn, his lips quirked up, the warm crinkles at the corners of his eyes making an appearance.

“So, how’d you do?” Addison asked him as he pulled up a seat and relaxed into it, his ankles casually tucked under the metal railing at his feet.

“Broke even, which in my book is definitely a win.”

“Are the rest of the guys still playing?”

“They met some girls at the craps table and took the party upstairs.”

“Not the bachelor, I hope,” Jessica chimed in.

“Definitely not the bachelor. He’s head over heels in love with his high school sweetheart and would never do anything to jeopardize that, no matter how intoxicated he gets.”

Jessica nodded. “Good for him. How do you two know each other?”

“We’ve been best friends since grade school. Most of the other guys here are buddies from high school, as well.” He leaned up and reached into his back pocket. “What would you ladies like to drink?”

“I’ll take a gin and tonic,” Jessica threw out before asking the bartender, “Where’s the closest restroom?”

“Around to the right, past the sports book.”

“Great.” She dug in her clutch for money, but Dawson lifted his hand. “This one’s on me.”

“Okay, great. Thank you,” she says before scooting off to the right.

Addison didn’t want the conversation to die out now that Jessica was gone, so despite the fear gripping her lungs, she asked, “So, do you live in the North Bend area?”

“No, but close. I have a place on Coos Bay.”

“Oh, I love that area,” she genuinely cooed. “Are you on the water?”

“Not on the main sound, but my house does back up to the goose neck.”

Addison assumed that was the finger of water funneling to the larger body, but didn’t want to ask.

He startled her out of her reverie. “How about you?”

“I rent the main floor of a little house in North Point. It’s not much to look at, but it’s a place to rest my head and has a great location. It’s not by the water, though. Do you have a boat at your place?”

“Actually, I just bought one from a neighbor who’s transferring to the Midwest. I’m looking forward to putting some miles on it.”

“I can imagine,” she replied, obviously with longing, because he asked, “So you’re a boater yourself?”

“Used to be…”

Their drinks were then delivered. Addison was glad to have something to do with her hands. She picked up a red stir straw, dunked it into her drink, and clinked the ice cubes in circles.

“Will you hand me one of those, please.”

Addison plucked up another straw, handed it over, and was surprised when he tucked it behind his ear.

She tilted her chin with flattened lips at his straw’s destination.

He shrugged. “I figured I’d better keep track of my drinks with being around this crowd.”

“Just one drink then?”

He grinned devilishly as he retracted four more straws from his pocket and tossed them onto the counter.

Addison was laughing as Jessica saddled back up to the bar. She was so short she had to climb the rung to sit back in her seat. “What did I miss?”

“Dawson’s keeping track of his drinking by hording cocktail stirrers.”

She nodded slowly. “Not a bad idea.” She tugged one out of the container, tucking it between her barely-there breasts. They all laughed when it slipped right through the material and landed on her seat.


After another beverage, Addison was thoroughly enjoying the evening as she eased into her flirty girl persona that she so wished would become a continuous part of her repertoire. Dawson made it easy, though. He was a great conversationalist, and she was really appreciating his company. She loved the way his eyes danced over to hers when something funny was said, and how they seemed to linger there, making her stomach curl with anticipation. She wasn’t quite sure if he was flirting with her or not. Who knows? Maybe he was just that super nice guy who wanted to make everyone in the room feel comfortable.

Feeling bold after her second cocktail, Addison stepped it up a notch and laid her hand on his knee. “Don’t feel like you have to stay here with us, Dawson. We know you have a party to get to.”

“Speaking of that, how about you two come on up and meet the rest of the guys?”

She leaned back, waving him off. “We don’t want to intrude.”

“Yes, we do,” Jessica chimed in with a grin.

Dawson stood, offering Addison his hand. “See, now you’re stuck, because you can’t let your friend run off with a man she just met, now can you?”


The Presidential suite at the Wynn was twice the one at the Venetian, with a separate master bedroom and bathroom, sparkling kitchen with stainless steel appliances that opened to a vast living area, occupied by a cream leather, wrap-around couch, pristine glass and mirrored butler-style coffee table, and sixty inch flat screen TV anchored to the shimmering, striped wallpaper.

The area was alive with approximately thirty or so bodies, all of which had smiles slung across their faces, a cocktail in their hand, as George Ezra soulfully crooned from the dock station. As soon as they entered, Dawson placed his thumb and forefinger in his mouth and whistled sharply. When all eyes were on him, he made the introductions as he held a pointed finger above their heads.

“This is Addison.” He paused for a round of waves and greetings. “And this is Tink.”

“Tink!” they all jeered, obviously loving the nickname.

Jessica lifted her hand in a wave and immediately headed for the throng of men circled around the coffee table playing some type of card game. Their bodies parted ways on the couch so Jessica could take a seat.

If only Addison had the gumption to take life by the reigns, like Jessica did.

She glanced over at Dawson, hoping he didn’t see her inferiority complex, like a lighthouse’s yellowed beam slicing through the darkened night.

When he smiled down at her, offering her a beer, her kinked shoulders released slightly. “Sure, I’d love one.”

She followed him through the room into the kitchen, thanked him for the Bud Light after he twisted off the top, and then again when he plopped down on a bar stool, pushing one out for her.

Her eyes scanned the room. “Which of these guys is the bachelor?”

He pointed to an oversized chair on the far side of the room. There was a short, stalky blonde man slumped in the seat as he deliberately studied the beer bottle he held in his hand. He opened his mouth wide before necessary, watching the bottle with intensity as he lifted the drink upward. It wobbled from side to side and then up and down, but eventually landed at the corner of his mouth as he tipped it upside down. The majority of the alcohol tumbled onto his face, trickling down his chin to saturate his red shirt, but he seemed pleased with his feat, grinning into his empty bottle as his head swayed in a circular motion.

Dawson chuckled. “That’s Shawn. Can you excuse me for a second?”

“Sure.”

She watched as Dawson returned to the refrigerator, pulled something out, and then crossed in front of the bar, moseying over to his friend. He leaned down, speaking to him for a moment, and then withdrew the empty bottle from his hand and replaced it with a bottled water. After chucking the beer in the wastebasket, he returned to his seat.

He pointed to the tall dark-haired, muscular man sitting beside Jessica on the couch. “That’s Moose.” His arm moved to the other side of the sofa. “And that’s Terrance,” he said pointing to a black man with the magnetic smile. “And that’s Jimmy,” he finished, referring to the large framed man kneeling in front of the table. “All the rest of these guys are college friends of Shawn’s that I don’t know very well.”

“And what about the girls? Do you know any of them?”

“Nope. Those are the women from the craps table. I was playing black jack.”

“Tink! Tink! Tink!” chanted from the men on the couch demanded their attention. They both watched as Jessica brought her drink to her lips and chugged the rest of her beer, finishing with a swipe of the back of her hand and huge grin as she slammed her empty bottle back onto the table. All the men hooped and hollered, throwing a hand up for high fives across the board.

“Jessica seems to be fitting in just fine,” Addison observed. “What are they playing?”

“It’s called In Between. Have you heard of it?”

“That’s a poker game, right?”

“Yeah, but instead of betting money, you wager with drinks, instead. If you win, you divvy out the drinks to whoever you want. If you lose, you take them yourself.”

They watched Jessica slam another beer, making Addison comment, “Looks like my friend could use a few pointers.”

“Either that, or the new kid is getting picked on.”

Addison smiled as she ogled Jessica further. “I have a feeling Jess will give them a run for their money….as long as she sticks to beer.”

“She’s so small. I can’t believe the alcohol doesn’t go straight to her head.”

“I’d say it was the years and years of practice in college.”

“Is that where you two met?”

“Yeah, freshman year, actually. She lived down the hall from me.”

“And did you hit it off right from the start?”

“Not in the slightest. Jess was the continual party girl who had her parent’s platinum credit card stuffed in her bra to use at her discretion, and I was the stressed-out student freaking out about losing her scholarship. We didn’t even talk until finals week when I was knee deep in books and she had a banger going on in her dorm room down the hallway. Eventually I lost it and stormed to her room to beg her to keep the noise down, when she unexpectedly swung open the door and jumped into my arms, giving me a spider monkey hug.”

Dawson chuckled. “A spider monkey hug? Exactly what does that entail?”

“It’s where someone jumps up on your body and wraps their arms and legs tightly around your frame.”

“Huh. I bet it’s kind of hard to stay mad at someone who does that.”

“Exactly. I couldn’t help but laugh, and when she invited me in, I accepted.” Addison picked at the label on her beer. “How about you and your friends? Did you know them in grade school, or did you meet in high school?”

“Shawn and I grew up together. We went to the same school from kindergarten on up to our senior year. We hooked up with Jimmy and Moose the first week of our freshman year, and Terrance transferred in our sophomore year.”

“Did you all attend the same college?”

“Nope. All went to different universities.”

“Wow. It’s amazing you haven’t lost touch through the years.” Where did you graduate from?”

“West Virginia. You?”

There was a loud rap at the entry door, interrupting their conversation. Jimmy stood, lumbering over to the foyer. He came back with a woman swathed in a black trench coat, platform heels, a fully made face, platinum blonde, poker-straight tresses, toting an outdated jam box by the handle. Addison could smell her spicy perfume wafting through the air from the kitchen.

Jimmy announced boisterously, “It’s stripper time!” as he threw both hands in the air triumphantly.

The men responded with cattle calls, raucous whistles, and over-energetic clapping as the woman found the nearest receptacle and squatted down beside it.

“Do you want to get outta here?” Dawson asked.

Addison’s eyes sliced to Jessica, and when she found her perched on Moose’s lap with her arm draped around his shoulder, she accepted. They made their way through the room as the men removed the coffee table, lifting Shawn, still sitting cockeyed in the furniture, to takes its place. As they walked past the stripper, Dawson paused, removing his wallet. He slipped some bills into her palm, murmuring something that Addison couldn’t hear.

He then cupped Addison on the small of her back, escorting her to the door. Once outside, Addison paused.

“So, where to? The casino?”

“Actually, there’s a bar on the tenth floor that overlooks the city. How’s that sound?”

“Perfect.”

They strolled down the corridor to the bank of elevators flanking both sides of the hallway, Addison trying her best not to hobble on her sore feet. These new shoes were a complete disaster. She gritted her teeth through the pain, trudging forward, attempting not to look like a knobby-kneed, newborn fawn taking its inaugural steps.

When they finally reached the lounge, strung with twinkling outdoor lights, Addison gimped over to the overhang, selecting the closest table. She pulled out a seat and melted into it. Immediately, her feet throbbed with relief, a sigh escaping from her parted lips.

Dawson, who took the seat adjacent to her, ordered, “Give me your foot.”

“What?” she asked, confounded.

He answered by pointing to her foot and patting his thigh. Against her better judgement, she eased her aching foot up into his lap. He latched onto the ankle strap and gently tugged it over her heel, releasing the shoe from her foot.

Addison couldn’t help it, she closed her eyes, sucking in a relaxing breath, her toes wiggling freely in the balmy night air. When she reopened her eyes, he was grinning at her with a one sided smile. He crooked his finger in her other foot’s direction, making her readjust in her seat as she changed legs. This time when he unleashed the sandal, he trailed his thumb from the heel of her foot all the way to the tip of her toe, making her shiver involuntarily.

She pulled her leg out of his lap. “Thank you for that.”

Dawson handed her the shoes by the straps. “I don’t understand why you women put yourself through that kind of pain, just for a pair of shoes.”

“Believe me, I usually don’t. Jess talked me into these contraptions,” she said as she studied her heels while dangling them from her fingers.

“I think you should do yourself a favor and retire those things after tonight.”

“Sounds like the best idea I’ve heard all day.”

As she tossed the heels onto the floor beside her chair, the waitress arrived to take their orders. Once she trotted back off to the bar, Addison asked, “So, are you the best man at your friend’s wedding? Is that why you got stuck paying for the stripper?”

“I didn’t pay for the entertainment,” he explained. “I picked up the tab for the room.”

When Addison’s brows dropped in question, he said, “but I did give her a tip to keep it PG rated with Shawn.”

“Wow. That was nice of you. I’m sure his fiancé appreciates that.”

He shrugged. “Shawn and Dana have been together forever. In that time frame, she also became one of my best friends, too.”

“Well, she’s lucky to have you.”

His lips tugged upward slightly, before asking, “What do you do back in Oregon?”

She paused while the server delivered their drinks, then took a tentative sip of Baileys on the rocks before explaining, “A friend and I started a bakery together.”

“Nice. How long has it been open?”

“Two years now. Emily’s parents were gracious enough to front us the money so we could get started right out of college.”

“Where did you graduate from?”

“The Art Institute in New York.”

He took a swig of his beer, before inquiring, “So you use your artistic talent on cakes?”

“That, and I sell my paintings in the store, as well. We were hoping the people that come to see my work will end up buying a pastry and vice versa.”

“So how’s that working out for you?”

“We’re selling more cakes than artwork, but I’m hoping that will balance out in the next few years.” She swiveled her drink on the table, creating wet ringlets. “So, how about you? What do you do for a living?”

He crossed one ankle over his knee, her eyes automatically dropping down to the curly, dark hairs peppering his lower leg as he rested his hand at the cuff of his pants.

“Furniture…concrete furniture, actually.”

Concrete Furniture? That sounded dreadful. She scratched at her neck and replied back, “Oh, nice,” her eyes darting off to the side.

He laughed. “That’s the reaction I get ninety percent of the time when asked that question.”

She feigned confusion. “What?”

“Not couches or chairs, or anything like that. I design concrete desks, end tables, bases for glass coffee tables and things of that nature.”

“Interesting. How did you get involved in that industry?”

“My father had a concrete business. When I got involved after college, I needed a desk for my new office. I wanted a concrete top, so I designed a metal frame and had our shop pour the slab on top. A decorator friend of my mother’s got wind of it and began peddling them to her clients.”

“So do you still work for your father?”

“No, we sold the company after he passed away.”

Her heart ached with that familiar pang of loss. “I’m so sorry.”

His eyes glazed over before slanting off toward the glittering lights of the strip, casting a shadow over his face as he murmured, “Thank you,” and then tilted his drink to his mouth. When he turned back in her direction, his wave of heartache seemed to have dissipated. “So, you said you were in town on business?”

“Yes, headed over to the convention center bright and early tomorrow morning.”

The waitress reappeared asking if they needed another round. Dawson looked to Addison.

“One more, but then lets head back downstairs,” she answered. “I hate that I’ve taken you away from your friends.”

Dawson turned to the server. “We’ll take another round and then our check, please.”

As the waitress trotted off, Dawson continued their conversation. “Is this convention an annual thing?”

“Yes, but it’s not always in Vegas. Sometimes it’s Orlando, other times it’s in Denver.”

“Which is your favorite city?”

“I’m not really a gambler, so I’d say hands down, Denver.”

“Do you ski?” he asked.

“Not unless you call the bunny slope skiing. How about you?”

“I hit the slopes whenever I can. It’s actually kind of a passion of mine, but I don’t have the time needed to consider myself any good.” He leaned his elbows on the table, eyeing her curiously. “So, you don’t gamble and you don’t ski. What is your passion?”

Her stare inverted to the table, trying to come up with something exotic and thrilling to say. When her brain came back empty handed, she spoke the truth, no matter how boring and mundane she sounded. “Painting, reading, long walks at nightfall….and people watching.”

Oh my God! Did I really just say that?

He grinned. “People watching, huh?”

She laughed nervously. “Um, yeah. It’s actually kind of fun.”

He leaned in closer. “So how do I get started?”

Addison couldn’t believe she was having this conversation with anyone, much less the man she was attempting to flirt with. She knew her face had to be filtering through fifteen shades of red.

“You just pick someone out in the room and come up with their story.”

“Their story?”

“Yeah, why they’re here, who they’re with. That kind of thing.”

“Okay, then.” He nodded seriously. “Why don’t you go first so I get a better idea of how it’s done.”

Addison chewed her bottom lip as her eyes darted around the perimeter of the bar. When they landed on two men in crisp suits, one older and grey, one younger with gelled, jet black hair, both looking to be of Italian descent, she said, “Look at those guys over there.”

Dawson swiveled in his seat, taking in the two men holding neat whiskeys in one hand, with a cigar perched between two fingers with the other, a cloud of smoke billowing above their heads.

Addison leaned in conspiratorially. “The older gentleman is a mob boss and he’s teaching the kid the ropes to the organization.”

Dawson grinned as he nodded his head, conveying his understanding of the game. His eyes then scanned the room before pointing to a younger couple who seemed to be in an intense conversation across the room. “Honeymooners who just lost their entire house payment at the roulette table downstairs.”

Addison laughed. “I think you’ve got the hang of this.”

He continued further, “And those people over there,” he motioned to the left at a couple who were both staring absently at their phones, not communicating in the least as the man jiggled his leg nonstop. “That guy just quit smoking and he wants to rip everyone’s head off, including his wife’s.”

Laughing, Addy nodded. “You may be right on that one.”

“Are you an author, too? This seems like something a writer would do.”

She waved off the thought. “I’m absolutely horrendous with anything to do with the English language. I hate talking, much less writing.”


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