Happy Release Day to Me! His Loving Caress Is Now Available

Dear romance readers!

I’m so elated that the official release day of His Loving Caress is finally here!

Elle Lauren is a resilient woman. The fact that Braxton Chase was a no-show on their wedding day made her stronger and realize that she could depend only on herself. She does miss him sometimes, especially when the orchids he sends after every fashion show or her birthday arrive. Elle never stopped loving Braxton. Instead, she’s learned to live without him. Now that he’s back in her life, buried emotions have surfaced, and she wrestles with the notion of trusting him again.

Being an accomplished jazz pianist and living life in the limelight isn’t all that Braxton thought it would be, especially without Elle to share in his success. He realizes his first love wasn’t music after all and vows to make her his once more, but this time forever.

I hope you enjoy reading Elle and Braxton’s second chance at their unforgettable love. Below is chapter one and little bit of chapter two as well! Happy reading!

Always,

Candace Shaw

 

His Loving Caress final coverHearts in harmony? 

Instead of falling apart when her childhood sweetheart chose his music career over marriage, Elle Lauren fled to Paris to study fashion design. Her stunning wedding gowns now give other brides the happily-ever-after she didn’t have. Ignoring Braxton Chase’s long-distance apologies has been easy. But seeing him once more stirs the deep longings and desires that a decade has not erased.

Braxton walked away from the pressure to marry at a young age, and he’s regretted breaking Elle’s heart ever since. From the moment he sees her again at his Atlanta jazz club, he knows he wants more than forgiveness—he wants a second chance at the heart-and-soul connection that they once had. Can he convince her to trust the sweet, seductive melody of their lost love?

His Loving Caress is the 4th book in the Chasing Love Series.

The past and present are skillfully given equal billing in Shaw’s latest. The emotional connection between the characters pours from the pages with every gut-wrenching, honest conversation. The love scenes in this Chasing Love offering will make readers squirm in their seats. 4 out of 4 1/2 stars review from RT Reviews.

 

Chapter One

“Are you sure he isn’t here?” Elle Lauren halted her steps on the sidewalk as tiny beads of perspiration formed on the back of her neck. “I mean…he does own the place.” She ran her turquoise-manicured fingers through her thick back-length curls hoping to suppress any more nervous energy. Her heart stopped beating as she entered the revolving glass door into Braxton Chase’s Jazz and Dinner Club, the hottest jazz club in Atlanta, which was owned by her ex-fiancé.

Megan Chase-Monroe bestowed a comforting smile as the ladies continued along the corridor to the mezzanine level. “Relax, Soror. My big brother is rarely here on Saturday mornings. It’s his only day to sleep in and I promise you I didn’t tell him you were coming.”

Elle remained silent as she made her way up the grand black-marbled staircase and gripped the banister tight for fear of falling. She could barely concentrate as knots twisted at a rapid speed in her stomach. Her legs hardened with each step as if they were filled with lead. She suddenly felt as though she were walking the plank of a pirate’s ship, and she realized she’d made a mistake. He may not have been there but his presence surrounded her and it began to restrict her breathing.

She hadn’t planned on attending her sorority’s scholarship fundraiser brunch once she learned of the location. However, Megan had promised that her brother would definitely not be present, and he wasn’t even aware that she was in town that week on business. Still, she felt uneasy as she perused the massive club that screamed Braxton wherever her gaze landed. From oversized portraits of some of his favorite jazz musicians such as Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk covering the walls along with pictures of Braxton’s band, to the black grand piano that sat center stage on the floor below. She’d tried to drag her eyes away, but it wasn’t possible as her mind conjured up the image of his fingers caressing the keys just as he used to travel them along her body in the same tender, loving way.

Elle ran a hand down her bare arm to repress the heated goose bumps that prickled her skin at the mere thought of being touched by him again. Luckily, Megan’s cousin Tiffani Hollingsworth approached carrying three flutes of mimosas and handed one to Elle with a warm hug.

“I had a feeling you’d need this, Soror,” Tiffani said, with a sweet yet solemn look on her angelic face. “Your expression is priceless but you look absolutely fabulous, love.”

“Thank you. So do you, as always. You’re definitely glowing with happiness.”

Tiffani blushed. “I am. Broderick is a wonderful man,” she answered, referring to her husband of four months. “But right now I’m concerned about you and your happiness. I know this can’t be easy.”

The ladies headed to an empty table and sat down. Elle set her untouched cocktail on the gold brocade tablecloth and slid into a chair. “I’m fine. Really. I know he’s not here, but just the thought that I’m in his club is kind of nerve-racking.” Plus, the fact that one of Braxton’s jazz songs played in the background didn’t help matters at all. She’d always loved the way he commanded the piano, and even though she hated him with every fiber of her being, she could never say he wasn’t a master on the keys.

Megan reached across the table and patted Elle’s hand. “Well, we’re glad you came. We haven’t seen you in ages. Now, I’m ready to eat. The chef here is absolutely wonderful. I purposely ate salads and fruit and drank water all week long so I can pig out today. I’m trying to get back to my prebaby weight, but with all of the events and cookouts I’ve been invited to this summer, that’s easier said than done.” Megan stood and smoothed down her flowing black dress.

Elle smiled. “You look fabulous, doll. No one can tell you just gave birth to twins two months ago.”

“Thank you for sending me this beautiful ensemble.” Megan twirled and Tiffani followed her action, wearing a short baby blue dress that showcased her long legs.

“Yes, me, too,” Tiffani said as the ladies made their way to the buffet table where two chefs were cooking fresh omelets and waffles.

“You’re welcome. They’re both samples from a new collection I’m working on that will debut next spring. I love designing bridal couture, but I’ve decided to expand with dresses that can be worn to other wedding-related events. We’re also working on another collection of everyday wear.”

Tiffani placed strawberries on her plate while waiting on her omelet. “Well, I’m glad to be friends with a world-renowned fashion designer and will be honored to be a guinea pig whenever need be.”

Laughing, Elle grabbed two strips of bacon and set them on her plate. “No problem, and as long as you keep sending me tasty treats from your bakery, you have a deal.”

An hour into the brunch, Elle began to feel at ease as she mingled and chatted with old friends. In the past ten years, she’d rarely traveled to Atlanta except to visit her parents. But once they retired from teaching five years ago, the Laurens moved to Destin, Florida, and bought a beautiful beach bungalow. The only reason for her visit to Atlanta now was to meet with an A-list celebrity who wanted Elle to personally design a one-of-a-kind wedding gown. Normally VIP clients met with her at her fashion headquarters in New York City, but the superstar singer was embarking on a mega tour for the summer and had rehearsals almost every day. Elle had designed evening gowns for the bride for awards shows and her client had always praised Elle Lauren Designs on the red carpet.

A loud screech in the sound system halted conversation and all eyes landed on the DJ booth. The guy mouthed out an apology before disappearing. Elle was somewhat grateful the music stopped because it was in the middle of a piano solo by Braxton. She’d never heard the song before but she knew his signature sound. She excused herself and turned to find Megan approaching her with an uneasy expression as she slid a cell phone from her ear.

“What’s wrong?” Elle asked with concern. Megan was always bubbly and whimsical no matter the situation.

“Oh…um…nothing.” Megan smiled and hooked her arm with Elle’s a little too tight. “I just hope the sound guy gets the music back on.”

“Yeah, me, too.” Elle stared at her puzzled. “I’m going to run to the ladies’ room.”

When Elle arrived, there was a quite a long line. Remembering there was a restroom on the bottom floor where she’d first entered the club, she jetted down the stairs to the empty restaurant area hoping no one else had the same idea. A movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention. Turning her head slightly, her breath wedged in her throat and her pulse sped up at the hallucination in front of her. That’s what it had to be, right? Braxton Chase couldn’t possibly be standing less than a few feet away wearing a yummy smile across his handsome mahogany face.

Elle tried to move but her stilettos were deep-rooted to the floor. She racked her brain to find what she’d always said she would do if she ever saw him again. Was it run the other way?She sure hoped not, considering her skinny heels weren’t made for such a feat. Was it slap him? Possibly but that would mean her hand would have to touch his smooth fresh-shaven face and then glide up to his shiny bald head. It definitely wasn’t to kiss him. Even though heat puddled in her center as her eyes rested on his delicious lips that used to drive her insane. Her thoughts drifted further to his erotic tongue that had a mind of its own whenever it was on her body. Was it to curse him out for not showing up at their wedding and humiliating her in front of their family and friends? Probably, but she was too terrified at the moment to even open her mouth for fear of being tongue-tied. That wasn’t it, either. Elle had promised herself that if she ever saw Braxton Chase again, she would remain composed. She could never let on to the fact that she hated but missed him at the same time. Though there was a part of her that wanted to run into his warm, comforting embrace and let the tears flow from having to spend the last ten years without him.

However, she didn’t have a chance to carry out any of her thoughts, as the DJ appeared at the top of the staircase and shouted down. “Hey, B. Stop flirting with the lovely lady and bring the cord up here so we can get the music popping again.”

Braxton jerked his eyes away from Elle for a moment. Taking a step back, she figured she could flee out of the revolving doors, jet down Peachtree Street to the parking garage, hide in her rental car and hopefully remember how to breathe again. Instead, Braxton tossed the cable up to his DJ and placed his focus on her once more. This time his stare was serious to the point it was almost sexy and commanding. The tension in her neck crept back again. She was supposed to be mad at him, not turned on, but he was the only man who had ever made her insides burn.

He hesitated for a moment before treading closer, displaying a confident smile as if he were in control of the situation. “Hello, Elle.”

His low, deep voice caressed her like satin on her skin as her name rolled off his tongue in a seductive manner. Braxton possessed a swagger he didn’t have before, and it was downright intriguing. It reminded her of the summer before their junior year in high school when he’d returned from music camp. He’d shot up almost four inches during those two months of being away and had a faint mustache growing in. When he’d hugged her, she was overcome with nausea and panic, which was odd, because she’d always felt comfortable and secure in his embrace. That was the first time she’d realized she had a crush on her best friend, and then she ignored him for the next few weeks until he demanded to know what was wrong.

Now she felt like that high school girl standing in front of her crush all over again. Except this time there would be no hug even though her heart longed for one. And she hated that.

“Hi.” Her voice was barely above a whisper, but she was relieved that the frog in her throat didn’t make its presence known. “I didn’t realize you were here.”

“Normally I’m not. But I had something important to tend to.” His eyes darkened, and he stepped toward her.

“Then I’ll let you get back to it.” She pivoted on her heel and headed toward the staircase before the perspiration forming on her hairline appeared.

“Wait.” He outstretched his hand as if he was going to wrap it around her forearm but quickly dropped it back to his side when she winced. “How long will you be in town?”

“Why?” Her tone was curt and abrupt as heat rushed to her face. If he thought she wanted to see him past this moment, he was dead wrong.

“So we can talk?” He closed the gap between them. “Maybe we can have dinner or something…”

The fresh scent of his woodsy cologne engulfed her senses making her forget for a moment her disdain for him. She gritted her teeth at his closeness and the fact that she had to restrain her body from nestling against his. Elle couldn’t believe her thought process or her mixed emotions over the man who had left her. She silently chastised herself.

“We really don’t have anything to discuss. I don’t want to catch up on our lives, or reminisce about our wonderful memories, which clearly meant nothing to you. And I certainly don’t want any explanations as to why you weren’t man enough to face me on our wedding day. I know exactly why you didn’t show up. I’ve known you since I was five years old. So unless you’re going to tell me what an asshole you are, we don’t having anything to talk about.”

She stormed up the stairs before he could answer. Braxton was never one for a scene in public and wouldn’t call or chase after her considering the music was still off and there were dozens of women upstairs. She made it back to her table and plopped into the chair next to Megan.

Elle let out a long sigh. “Your brother is here.”

“Yeah…I just found out and I promise you I didn’t tell him.”

“Me, either,” Tiffani chimed in. “Are you okay?”

“No. I’ll probably leave soon.”

Megan shook her head vigorously. “No. He can’t know you’re ruffled by his presence. You have to stay and appear unfazed.”

“Yeah. I guess so.” Elle shrugged and took a sip of her mimosa. “Besides, I left him downstairs.”

Megan’s face scrunched. “Mmm, no. Actually, he’s talking to the DJ but looking right at you.”

Elle turned her head slowly and right into Braxton’s intent stare. A cocky grin raised up his left jaw along with a sexy wink. Even though it had been years, she knew him well. They’d been best friends since kindergarten before dating off and on in high school and all the way into graduate school. He was determined, confident and focused. He was also a stickler for a schedule. If Megan said he slept in on Saturdays, he did just that, which meant Braxton had purposely ventured to the club during the brunch in hopes of running into her. And he had, just as she was alone on the first floor. But how did he…?

Elle’s eyes diverted to a security camera in the corner above the buffet table and there was another one she’d spotted in the bar area earlier. Well, she had her answer but that still didn’t explain how he knew she would be at the brunch. She believed what Megan and Tiffani had told her; they were aware of her disdain for him and would never betray her. And while she hadn’t had a chance to speak to Megan’s twin sister, Sydney, Elle didn’t think she’d told him, either.

Glancing at Braxton again, she saw him fumbling with cords on a subwoofer. She let her eyes roam over him momentarily. She’d seen him grow from a scrawny little boy into a handsome, six-foot-four young gentleman and now that he was thirty-four years old, he was all man. Tight arm muscles bulged as he lifted a speaker from a cart and set it on the floor. She remembered him working out, but his muscles had never appeared so tempting before, and she could only imagine how his chest and abs looked under the black golf shirt. His warm brown skin was flawless and smooth all the way up to his bald head. She liked the bald look on him; it complemented his big soulful eyes and his confident smile.

Grateful when Braxton disappeared through a door in the DJ’s booth, the tension in Elle’s neck relaxed, and she hoped that would be the last she would see of him. However, for some reason, she had a feeling that wouldn’t be the case. The fact that he was there wasn’t coincidental and since he’d stated he wanted to talk to her, she knew he wasn’t going to give up until it happened. After he was a no-show on their wedding day he tried numerous times to contact her, but her parents had prevented him from calling or seeing her. Over the years he’d sent white Phalaenopsis orchids—her favorite flowers—whenever she had a birthday, fashion show, or had won an award from the industry, and sometimes just because. There was never a note, but she assumed they were from Braxton because he knew of her love for the exotic plant and she had never revealed her favorite flower to any other boyfriend after him.

Just as she was starting to feel at ease again, Braxton reappeared. He pulled a keyboard to the ministage, then proceeded to hook the instrument up to a subwoofer. Her heart cringed. Hearing him on a CD or the radio rarely bothered her and if it did, she would simply turn it off and find something to do in order to suppress her hurt. However, this was different. She couldn’t run out of the room. Especially considering she noticed a few of her sorors, including two who were hostesses in the wedding that never happened, glance her way with whispers. Instead, she placed a pleasant smile on her face and prayed that Braxton wouldn’t dare play a song that held any special significance to them.

* * *

Braxton chuckled to himself as he glanced in Elle’s direction. He could sense her discomfort, but he also knew she was a strong woman and under no circumstances was she going to let him see her sweat. That just wasn’t in her nature.

When his sister Sydney had sent him a text message a few hours earlier that Elle would be at the brunch at his club, the wheels in his head had begun to churn. He needed to see her. He needed to apologize to her in person to clear his head of the guilt he’d felt for hurting her. Perhaps then he could finally be at peace with himself. Even though he’d tried on numerous occasions to see her after his no-show at their nuptials, her parents wouldn’t let him in their home, had even threatened to call the police for trespassing. Eventually he’d learned from his sisters that Elle had moved to Paris, France, to continue her education in fashion design. When she returned to the United States two years later, he’d tried again. However, she sent a message through Megan to please stop all attempts to contact her; she’d moved on and didn’t need him interrupting her life.

Braxton had respected Elle’s wishes even though he did continue to send her favorite flowers on every occasion. He probably always would. But he never got over the guilt of breaking her heart. He understood not showing up would hurt her but at the time he was at a crossroad, and the one that held marriage wasn’t the road he wanted to choose at that moment. They’d finished grad school a month before the day they were set to head down the aisle. It was all happening so fast, he barely had a moment to breathe. The pressures from both of their families to marry right after college suffocated him. It had been expected, and he thought surely he could go through with it. He’d loved Elle as his best friend and confidant since elementary school, and had fallen in love with her in high school. She was his soul mate and their connection had always been strong. However, whenever he wanted to discuss waiting a year or so, he couldn’t bring himself to tell her. She seemed so happy to finally marry him. He chalked it up to having cold feet because he never, even for a moment, doubted that he loved her. Having attended different colleges, they’d been apart for six years, with the exception of breaks, because they’d agreed to complete their master’s degrees before marriage. During that time they were off and on, dated other people, but never once did he doubt that she wasn’t meant to be his wife.

Seeing her pictures online from her fashion shows and red carpet events always made his heart smile, but seeing her in person nearly knocked him off balance. Elle was breathtakingly stunning. He’d always thought she was adorable but now she was an elegantly refined, classy woman. Everything about her screamed exquisite and graceful, from her beautiful dark brown tresses with subtle blond highlights, to her lavender fitted dress that glorified her hips and butt in a way that made him very happy to be a man. Even the way in which she spoke and her mannerisms were sophisticated and polished.

Her flawless brown sugar skin appeared edible and succulent, and it had taken everything in him not to grab her when she’d dashed up the stairs. He needed to feel her against him and kiss her delectable pink-painted mouth. He used to spend hours kissing, nibbling and biting on her lips and neck. If only to hear her soft purrs and cute giggles whenever his tongue would tickle against her ears or linger on the spot on the back of her neck that always sent shudders through her body.

Elle had been all his in heart, mind, body and soul. They’d been like one person for as long as he could remember, and he regretted the day he walked out of her life. However, now that she was in his jazz club, he needed to apologize. He knew in his heart she was still the only woman for him. When he’d learned she was in town he figured this would be his chance to ask for forgiveness in person. Seeing her now and the tiny sparkle in her warm chocolate eyes, made him realize that the unforgettable love they’d shared hadn’t died. He vowed then to make her his once more, this time forever.

Chapter Two

Elle studied her flushed face and glistening eyes in the mirror of the ladies’ room on the first floor. She wasn’t even sure how she’d managed to walk down there. She had been in a daze and the heaviness had returned to her legs and her heart. Braxton had played their song and it had taken everything she had in her not to turn on the tears. For years she refused to listen to the song. But after awhile, hearing “Adore” by Prince had gotten easier. Until now. Braxton played it with so much emotion and vigor as if it was only them in the room. Once he was done, he’d given her the most endearing look, one that elicited heat to her center and caused a rage-filled shudder to travel down her spine.

Upon reaching the ladies’ room she was flabbergasted to see the black wallpaper with orchids, solidifying the fact the flowers were definitely from him. In the plush ladies’ lounge area hung oversized portraits of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn, who were some of Elle’s favorite jazz and blues singers. Braxton had always been very detail oriented and even though Megan, who was an interior designer, had decorated the jazz club, it was his vision.

Exhaling to calm herself, Elle rustled through her purse to locate her keys so she could leave. The event was almost over, and she’d already given a sizable donation to the treasurer that would pay for at least two students to obtain their undergraduate degrees. She wasn’t sure if she could make it back up the stairs to say goodbye to Megan and Tiffani, but she knew they would understand when she called them later. Glancing in the mirror one last time, Elle exited out of the restroom and straight into the sight of Braxton who was casually leaning on the opposite wall with his arms crossed over his commanding chest, next to a portrait of his jazz quartet.

Elle sashayed straight up to him as his eyes widened. She was sure he wasn’t expecting her to do so. Her heels gave her a little height and confidence, because at five feet five inches, she’d always had to stand on her tippy-toes to reach him.

“What do you want?” she demanded through clenched teeth.

A sly grin reached his lips. “Is that a trick question? Never ask a man who finds you irresistible what he wants.”

“Your compliments no longer work on me. I know you’re not just standing here hanging out. You were obviously waiting for me. And how on earth did you know I was attending the brunch? Megan said you’re rarely here on a Saturday morning, and I know neither she nor Tiffani would’ve told you.”

“Syd sent me a text this morning. You know she always looks out for her big brother.”

“Good ol’ Syd,” she said sarcastically. Elle hadn’t had a chance to speak with Sydney, who, as a criminal profiler, was busy on an important case. But apparently she wasn’t too busy to rat out Elle’s whereabouts to Braxton. She wasn’t surprised Syd told her brother. She had always been the main person dropping hints that Braxton wasn’t over their relationship.

“She thought, perhaps, it was time for us to finally see each other. Finally face the music, and I agree.”

“I don’t need to face anything,” she said angrily. “I’m not the one who left.”

He nodded as if in agreement, with a solemn expression washing over his features. “I deserve that, and I know I messed up with you. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about just how much I effed up.”

“Yeah, you really did. I hope it was worth it, though. You got everything you wanted, right?” The question was laced with condescension as she stared straight into his eyes. “The platinum records, the awards, the accolades, the drop-dead gorgeous women and of course, the hottest jazz club in Atlanta. Am I missing anything?” Pursing her lips together, she folded her arms across her chest waiting for his reply.

“I don’t have everything I want. I realize now more than ever what is missing, and why I’ve never felt fulfilled or truly happy about my success. I’ve missed you, Elle.”

While he sounded sincere and she respected his honesty, he wasn’t going to knock down her brick wall. He couldn’t know that she felt the exact same way. She loved her career, but there was a piece of her that wasn’t truly happy because he wasn’t there to share in her success. However, she would never reveal that to him.

“Humph. It’s too late for that.”

Braxton closed the space between them and lowered his head to hers. “It’s never too late for something that’s meant to be. Did you enjoy the song?”

“What do you think?”

“Oh, I think you did. It was plastered all over your lovely face, Sunshine.”

Elle winced at the nickname he’d given her in high school. He’d said she brightened up his life. She used to love when he called her that, but now she simply loathed it.

She pointed her finger at his hard chest. “Don’t call me that. You lost those privileges.”

He then nestled his hand around her finger, and the feel of his skin on hers sent a wave of shivers through her body. She regretted being in his personal space yet she couldn’t move as he held her in a steady trance. He brought her hand to his lips and kissed it tenderly while studying her carefully.

“You are still the most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid my eyes on.”

Her lids fluttered shut as he kissed her hand once more and a long, relieved sigh released from her throat. Over the years, she’d dreamed of him placing tantalizing kisses on her body. They’d felt so real, as if he were actually there. But when she awoke, reality would sink in as she’d reach out to an empty pillow.

He rested his head on her forehead and took a deep breath. For a minute her pain was washed away and replaced with the strong bond they’d once shared. However, when his arms encircled her waist and drew her closer, her eyes shot open and she remembered this wasn’t a dream. He was there, in the flesh, and she wanted nothing to do with him.

Snatching her body away, she took a few steps back and leaned on the opposite wall to compose herself. Being in his arms again, though brief, reminded her of the heart and soul connection they’d once shared. It was still there, and she needed to get away from him as soon as possible before the waterworks turned on and she gave in to his request to talk.

They stared at each other for a moment. Even though the music from the mezzanine level reached the lobby area, Elle could hear her heart hammer rapidly against her chest over the upbeat song. Before her was the man she used to love and trust. She’d shared her deepest thoughts, fears and dreams with him. Now she hated him. Though a part of her was actually overjoyed he was there. At one point in time he’d been her best friend, and she’d missed that more than anything.

Sighing, she broke their uneasy silence. “I need to go.”

“I meant what I said earlier, Elle. I need to talk to you.”

“We just finished talking. You admitted you effed up, you miss me, and I really don’t care.”

“You know what I mean.”

“And I meant what I said earlier. We have nothing to discuss. You want to know how my life has been without you. Fabulous. Now I have to go check on a wedding gown for an auction. Goodbye, Braxton.” She turned on her heel and hoped he didn’t say anything else or follow her. She needed to jet to the car and fast before the tear in the corner of her eye rolled down her cheek.

“Oh, so you’re attending your sorority’s auction tonight, as well?” he asked in a pleasant, upbeat manner.

She cringed as she replayed his words. She really hoped he didn’t mean “as well” as in he would be there, too. Pivoting toward him, she laughed nervously. “You’re going?” she asked as calm as possible. Seeing Braxton twice in one day wasn’t on today’s schedule.

“Yep. I’m auctioning off an upright piano.” Approaching her, he swept a tendril of her hair from beside her eye and tucked it behind her ear before running a finger down the side of her neck. “So I guess I’ll see you tonight, Sunshine,” he stated in an endearing tone that was accompanied by an arrogant smirk.

The mere touch of his finger on her neck was enough to send a raw shudder through her body that she managed to suppress until she rushed out of the revolving door, down the sidewalk and somehow to the safety of her rented BMW. Crashing her head onto the steering wheel, she exhaled and let the tears flow. Seeing Braxton without warning caused overwhelming emotions to surface that she’d hidden over the years in order to move on with her life. She’d missed him dearly and every blue moon she’d find herself teary-eyed from the pain that still lingered. However, she was irritated for letting him unravel her that easily. Braxton knew exactly which buttons to push, or in this case, which spots on her body to touch that would make her instantly let down her guard. He’d been her first love and the first man she’d ever been intimate with. She hated to admit that after all these years her body and mind were still under his control as if he’d purposely programmed it that way. The few boyfriends she’d had since Braxton never knew what the hell they were doing, and she usually ended up sexually frustrated because she never felt fulfilled afterward. She’d never craved or longed for any of them the way she did for Braxton. They’d always been in perfect harmony and in sync while making love.

Once Elle entered her penthouse suite at the Pinnacle Boutique Hotel in midtown, she found her assistant, Mya Collins, steaming the wedding gown for the auction. Elle had forgotten she’d given her a key and at the present moment preferred to be alone with her thoughts and a glass of wine. Tossing her purse on the foyer table, she mustered up a smile.

“I see the dress arrived.” Elle walked over and eyed the princess gown carefully. She was a perfectionist and every intricate detail had to be on point. She ran her fingers along the crystals and pearls on the bodice that had been hand sewn in a basket weave design.

“Yes, Ms. Lauren. The delivery service dropped it off about an hour ago. It’s absolutely beautiful.”

“Thank you. It’s one of my favorites. Did the other dresses arrive as well?” Elle asked referring to a couple of evening gowns from her spring collection, one of which she would wear tonight.

“Yes, I steamed them and they’re hanging in the closet. I love the black one with the side thigh slit. Very sexy. I know you had your heart set on wearing the pink ball gown, but I bet the black one would look hot on you. You have the perfect toned legs for it.”

Elle tapped her chin. At first she wasn’t even sure she wanted to go to the auction. Now that she knew Braxton was going to be in attendance she’d contemplated sending Mya. But she’d promised the president of her sorority earlier at the brunch she’d be there. However, that was before learning that what’s-his-face would be present. Besides, the auction was just downstairs in the ballroom, which was why she’d chosen this particular hotel. She could make a quick appearance and jet back upstairs to avoid Braxton or she could stay for a while, completely ignore him, and agitate the hell out of him while wearing a sultry dress. And considering he’d always loved roaming his hands and tongue on her thighs, seeing what he hadn’t had in a decade would drive him crazy.

“Mya, when you’re done, help me try on the black dress to see what alterations I need to make. I think I want it cinched in more around the waist and stomach.”

“You’re going to turn heads in that dress. Maybe even find you a man.”

Ever since Elle had ended her relationship for good with the investment banker she’d dated off and on for two years, her best friend and Mya had been relentlessly suggesting she find a man.

“Not exactly.” Plopping down on the couch, she unbuckled her shoes and tossed them in front of her. “Just want to remind someone of what he could have had.”

Mya turned the steamer off and joined her boss on the couch. “Wait a minute…you aren’t talking about what’s-his-name? The piano guy?” she inquired. “He was there after all?”

Elle laughed even though this situation was far from being funny. “Yep, you were right. He showed up.”

“I told you he would be. He owns the place. Either someone apparently tipped him off that you’d be at the brunch or it’s fate, and it’s simply meant to be.”

“Not fate. His sister Syd told him. I didn’t have a chance to tell her not to do otherwise, even though I had hoped she wouldn’t. He’ll be at the auction tonight as well so I guess I would’ve run into him anyway. I haven’t spoken to the man since our rehearsal dinner years ago, and now I’ll have the pleasure of seeing him twice in one day,” she said sarcastically, running her hand through her thick tresses. “Lucky me.”

“You know your hair would look wonderful in a swept up, tousled style along with your diamond choker and diamond hoops from Harry Winston. Showcase your regal neck.”

“Mmm…that’s a great idea. Just make sure the makeup artist you set up has makeup to cover up this.” Elle lifted her hair up and turned her back to Mya. “Look at the fine print directly below my hairline.” She ran her finger along the back of her neck.

“BC? You had his initials tattooed? That seems so out of character for you. Don’t take this the wrong way Ms. Lauren, but you’re so conservative and reserved.”

“I was a freshman in college.”

“Aww, you were in love,” Mya said in a sing-song voice.

“No. I was young, immature and head over heels in puppy love. That’s all.”

“And yet you still have it. You know you can have it lasered off, right?” Mya teased.

“Well, not before tonight. Just call her and also the hair stylist with the change of hairstyles. I’d told him I wanted it straight down my back.”

“No problem. I’ll call them now.” Mya swiped her cell phone and iPad from the coffee table and retreated toward the bedroom door. However, she halted and turned around with an inquisitive expression. “Does he have one with your initials?”

“He had my first name intertwined with a treble clef over his heart. We got them together during spring break.”

“I wonder if he still has it.”

“I’m certainly not going to find out.” Even though now she was slightly curious. However, he had numerous girlfriends over the years including one that seemed quite serious according to the tabloids. There was no way he’d kept it with all those women chasing after him. The only reason her boyfriends hadn’t asked for the removal of hers was because she lied and said the initials meant “bold and confident.”

“Bring all of the evening gowns and shoe choices out when you’re done.”

“Will do.”

Resting her head on the back of the couch, Elle closed her eyes and let out a long sigh. Yes, she was fully aware she could have had the tattoo lasered off and had gone in twice to have it done. The first time she chickened out because she was told it would hurt and would take a couple of sessions for it to be fully removed. The second time, she was in one of her melancholy moods over Braxton and simply couldn’t go through with it. It was one of the few reminders of him she had left, along with a CD he’d given her in college. Everything else was packed up in a chest at her parents’ home, including her engagement ring that he’d refused to take back.

She rarely thought about covering the tattoo because she usually wore her hair down and very few people were aware she had it. If Braxton wasn’t going to be in attendance at the auction, covering it with makeup wouldn’t have crossed her mind because the diamond choker was more than likely wide enough. However, she didn’t want to take any chances that Braxton would see it and assume she’d kept it because she still had feelings for him. But deep down she knew her reasons, even if she hated to admit them to herself. She’d never stopping loving him no matter how hard she’d tried, but she had been able to move on with her life without him. He rarely crossed her mind except the times when the orchids would arrive, and she’d withdraw for a day. But she’d bounce back every time and keep living. Now seeing him again had rustled up buried feelings. While she was curious as to what he needed to say, Elle feared the longings she had for him over the years would resurface, and she’d cave in to her desires just to feel his loving caress again.

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