Home > One Exquisite Touch (The Extravagant #2)

One Exquisite Touch (The Extravagant #2)
Author: Lauren Blakely

Part I



The Masquerade



If you’ve already read the prologue, AN EXTRAVAGANT TRYST, go ahead and skip to “After the Masquerade” to read the full novel for Sage and Cole! If you haven’t picked up AN EXTRAVAGANT TRYST, start here and enjoy a scorching, red-hot romance!









Tonight, I am my opposite.

First, I start with my makeup.

I smooth on foundation, dust on powder, then set to work on my eyes. I turn them smoky, seductive, lined with black, winged at the corners.

They’re cat’s eyes, and seeing them like this sends a dangerous thrill through me.

A thrill I want to feel.

This is not how I look in the boardroom. There, I am subtle, all beige and nudes, blouses and suits.

After-hours, on nights like this, I become midnight and shimmer.

Next, I run the mascara brush through my lashes, over and over, making them thick and long, and transforming them into a look-at-me style. When I’m done, I dip another brush into a shiny powder and slide the faintest dusting of glitter across my shoulders, making my skin glow with gold.

I shiver, picturing lips on my shoulders, hands on my back, fingers on my waist. Briefly, I close my eyes, my imagination running wild, escaping to places I haven’t traveled in a long time.

Visiting far-off lands rich with pleasure, and islands teeming with bliss.

I open my eyes and let out a long exhale, settling back into the moment.

Blush comes next, as I highlight cheekbones I’d never dare to make so noticeable during the day. Sure, the blush won’t be visible, but it’s necessary like this as I change from day to night.

As I peer into the mirror, I check my reflection from the right, then the left.

Do I look like the co-CEO of one of the premier hotels on the Las Vegas Strip? I ask that question to the woman in the mirror, and with a devilish grin, I answer out loud, my lips quirking up. “I better not look like the owner of The Extravagant, and I don’t think I do at all.”

I run an old-fashioned silver brush through my hair, and the smoothing sensation gets me into character too. Everything about this evening belongs to a character.

A character who craves.

A character who didn’t crave for a long time.

Tingles rush through me as I slide further into the seductive world of make-believe, pinning up my blonde hair on one side, leaving it long and wavy down the back.

Yes, this too is the opposite of my workday self.

By day, I wear my hair up in a French twist or a low knotted bun. Those are my daytime styles because they say business.

Tonight, I personify pleasure. Or at least the pursuit of it.

That’s what I need desperately. Need it for my heart. Need it for my mind.

And so I RSVPed to the invitation my friend Eliza sent me to a fundraiser for a local charity we both support, one that provides scholarships for female athletes who can’t afford college otherwise.

You are cordially invited to a black-and-white masquerade. Elegant attire required. Don’t forget your mask.

As if I’d forget my mask.

The mask is my permission slip. The mask will let me be this other self, the one who’s only now discovering the delight of this late-night masquerade.

And I’m nearly ready. But I need my good luck charm. My silver hair clip.

I glide through my suite in The Extravagant, finding it on the marble coffee table in the spacious sunken living room, when there’s a rap on the door.

Three raps, a pause, followed by two.

It’s Eliza.

Smiling, I head to the door, check the peephole, and nearly squeal when I see my friend.

I yank open the door and gasp, the only suitable reaction to her costume. A white strapless dress clings to her trim frame, hugging her breasts, her waist, her hips, her thighs. The skirt stops at her knees, but the bustle flares out behind her all the way to the floor. The white dress is etched in black lace. A butterfly mask adorns her green eyes. She is a vision in black-and-white.

“Guess who it is?” She’s all coy and playful, jutting out a hip.

I tap my chin. “Hmm. Could it be the sexiest woman at the ball tonight?”

She laughs, a smoky sound, as she sashays into my suite. “Flattery will get you everywhere. Except, well, my chariot. I gave Johnson the night off. Any chance we can use yours?”

“Of course we can use my . . . carriage,” I say, letting the door fall shut behind her as I beckon her into the place she knows well, since we’ve been best friends for several years.

As the door snicks shut, her eyebrows dance, and she waggles her fingers in my direction. I’m wearing only my underthings. “You do know ballroom attire is required, right? You’re not just showing up in your lingerie?” Eliza asks.

I feign surprise. “No! Really? I thought a white lace bra-and-panty set would highlight my mask so perfectly. You think not though?”

“Oh, well, if you’re aiming to complement the mask, then surely a bra made of feathers and a thong made of gems would be a better ensemble,” she says, faux serious as she flicks a strand of her chestnut hair.

I cringe. “Ouch. That hurts just hearing it.”

“Imagine wearing it.”

I shake my head. “Never. Thongs should be abolished,” I say as we cross the living room, returning to my dressing room.

“I’ll sign that petition. Hell, I’ll start the movement.”

“You have my full support in the anti-thong crusade.” I gesture to my white lace bra. “But don’t worry. I have the perfect costume for the theme of the party.”

Tonight’s masquerade ball is themed “Imagine,” something I’m particularly skilled at lately. My imagination is a fertile ground for so many things. “I just haven’t slipped into it yet. The hair always goes first. It’s a rule.”

“You love your rules. You have rules for so many things,” Eliza says playfully.

“And rules for fun are good too. Especially this one.” I stop in the dressing room and raise a making-a-point finger. “Always leave them wanting more.”

Eliza nods, a wise look in her green eyes. “Those are indeed words to live by.”

I peer into the mirror, then click open the silver hair clip with an inscription on the inside, reading it once more. Brilliant for brilliant. The words tug on my heart. They always do, from the very first time I wore this years ago.

I slide the silver pin into the side of my hair, then clip it, loving the way it catches the light just so, loving, too, how it’s another way to remember those I love.

“Gorgeous,” Eliza proclaims.

“Thank you,” I say, and I want to feel gorgeous. I crave lushness.

And lately, I’ve needed it.

It’s become necessary to be able to live this life, to balance everything. To take over the reins of my parents’ hotel as I’ve done, and run the financials. To strike deals, to negotiate, to crunch all the numbers.

The world I inhabit all day is oak and chrome, numbers and sums.

For a while, that pin-striped, spreadsheeted world soothed the ache in my heart.

Profit and loss statements were my balm.

And they worked well enough.

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