One Perfect Night
by AC Arthur
Book 5 in the Temptation Series
Myles Donovan may be a trust fund, millionaire real estate developer, but his body still bends to the stress of his past just like everybody else. Now, the pressure of opening an equestrian resort in the small mountain town of Temptation combined with the clock ticking on his first committed relationship, is starting to take its toll physically and mentally. And eventually he finds himself circling back to the darkest moments of his life.
Hair stylist Gemma Taylor has been in a healthy—albeit long distance—relationship with the sexy and oftentimes brooding Myles, for the past six months. She’s elated that all is going well until a random act of vandalism closes her shop in Washington D.C. and sends her home. Temptation boasts a serene lifestyle which some of her siblings are enjoying but brings sultry passionate nights for Gemma and Myles. Has fate brought her back to her hometown to show her what happy ever after could look like?
Or will Myles and Gemma both realize their past was never far behind, as old wounds threaten the only happiness either of them has ever known?
One Perfect Night
Book 5 in the Temptation Series
One Perfect Night
Six Months After Six More Minutes
Someone had broken into Hair Matrix.
Gemma Taylor had gotten the call thirty minutes ago and she’d just brought her graphite gray Mercedes SUV to a screeching halt at a little after six on the first Saturday morning in June. Two police cars were already pulled into the spots directly in front of the Metro D.C. building where her salon was located on the ground floor. A third police car with its blaring siren and flashing lights, arrived seconds behind her.
She got out of her truck and ran to the front door, only to be blocked by the officer guarding the entrance. “This is my place,” she said, her heart still thumping as wildly as it had been when the security company called her to say that the alarm at the salon had gone off. “I’m Gemma Taylor. I own this salon.”
“Let her in,” another officer from inside yelled.
She stepped through the doorway, her tennis-shoe clad feet crunching over broken glass. The side window where “Hair Matrix” had been written in a purple script was completely gone. Guest chairs had been lined across the floor in that area. She gasped when she noticed the stuffing had been ripped out of the cushioned seat of each one. Along the lavender painted walls where black and white prints of Black women displaying the beauty of their hair were now splashed with red paint. Tears sprung to her eyes as she turned to look toward the other side of the salon where the stylist chairs were positioned. All seven chairs were overturned and broken. The mirrors at each station cracked and then splashed with more red paint.
She covered her mouth with one hand to muffle the sob that threatened to escape.
Turning slowly at the hand that touched her shoulder, Gemma cleared her throat and tried to pull herself together. “Yes.”
“I’m Detective Aaron Cox,” the older gentleman with the close-cut salt and pepper hair said. “I just have a few questions for you.”
“I have questions,” Gemma said. For starters, who would’ve done something like this?
Glancing over the detective’s shoulders she could see the reception area. The glass podium and shelves were all cracked. The hair products that had been on the shelves were busted open so that fumes filtered through the air and liquid pooled on the floor. Toward the back were the sinks, the faucets must’ve been turned on because the sinks overflowed and water covered the floor in that area.
“I’m sure you do,” Detective Cox replied. “But let me give you what I know so far.”
She nodded even though the last thing she felt like doing right now was to be compliant. What she really wanted was to yell and scream her frustration that this could’ve happened. She’d been in the salon late last night servicing a few of her regular clients who worked at the Department of Corrections and late nights were the only times they had to take care of personal things. They paid well and had been loyal clients for years, so she didn’t mind making the exception a couple times a month to accommodate them.
“The alarm service sent a message to the precinct at five thirty-two a.m.” The detective spoke as he started to walk in front of her. “A patrol unit was nearby and arrived twelve minutes after we got the call. I got here about ten minutes after them.”
She followed and tried to step over the glass but that only had her feet landing in the gooey product mixture.
“As you can see, there’s extensive damage for what appears to have been a quick hit, according to the timeline. Which makes me think there was more than one perpetrator.” He reached up to scratch the back of his head. “We’re waiting for the alarm company to send over the footage from the security cameras, but I gotta say this feels really personal. Which doesn’t lend itself to multiple perpetrators.” He wasn’t a tall man, maybe five ten or eleven, she knew because her three brothers were six feet and over and she was five ten. His back was broad, the material of his gray dress shirt stretching over his bulky form. He wore a beige shirt and tie; black slacks and his dress shoes made the same crunching sound as her tennis shoes had over the glass.
“Personal?” She shook her head. “How do you know it wasn’t a robbery?”
“Your cash register is intact,” he replied immediately as if he’d expected that question. They walked around what was left of the reception area to see the small register with a card reader attached. He was right, it was the only thing on the counter that hadn’t been trashed in some way.
What wasn’t broken was smeared with that same red paint. Her fingers clenched at her sides as she continued to survey the damage. Ten years. That’s how long it had taken her to build Hair Matrix. Truth be told it had taken longer than that. She’d struggled through hair school, not because she didn’t know what she was doing. Gemma was one of the first set of Black sextuplets to be born in the small town of Temptation, Virginia. Only a matter of minutes separated her from her two older brothers, Grayson “Gray” and Garrek. And after her came Genevieve, Gage and Gia. She’d been in charge of doing her younger sisters’ hair since she liked doing it and it had helped her mother, Olivia, who’d raised them all on her own. No, Gemma’s struggle had been more of a personal one, a war with herself that she’d been fighting for as long as she could remember.
In the last six months she’d thought she was getting better with reconciling her doubts and insecurities about who she was and her purpose in life, but today was putting a big crack in that armor. The moment the detective had said this looked personal the attack on her subconscious had begun.
“We’ll do an extensive investigation because right now the amount of damage isn’t matching with our timeline. But, in the meantime, you’re gonna need to contact your insurance company,” the detective said, his voice jolting her from her thoughts.
She nodded. “I will. What about the back room? The break room and the supply closet?”
The detective waved a hand for her to follow him again. “Same story back here. More red paint, everything looks to be destroyed.”
He was right. The stock room was a total disaster with all the tubes, bottles and jugs emptied of their contents. Here, instead of the paint, the culprit had splashed the different products all over the walls and floor. They’d broken the shelves and shredded the towels.
“This took time,” the detective said as he stood in the center of the room. He wasn’t writing down any notes, instead just looking around at everything with a frown marring his face.
Gemma stared at his deep umber complexion for a few seconds, trying to decipher whether he really had a clue who’d done this. She didn’t, that was for damn sure. He’d said it was personal, well she didn’t know anybody that would’ve done this to her. The few girlfriends she had were all well off in their own careers, destroying hers would have been of no benefit to them. Three of her siblings were now living back in their hometown of Temptation, Virginia and the other two—Gen and Gia—like her friends, had their own careers to worry about. Gen was a tech wiz who ran her own software development company and Gia was the executive chef at one of Chicago’s swankiest restaurants. There was nobody else in her life.
But wait, no, there was someone else.
She jumped at the feel of a hand on her shoulder, her gaze quickly finding the detective’s once more. “I don’t know anyone who could’ve done this,” she said and took a deep breath to try and calm the anxiety easing throughout her chest.
He nodded. “How ‘bout a disgruntled customer? A former employee?”
Gemma shook her head. “The majority of my clients have been coming to me for years so I’m pretty sure they’re satisfied with my services. There are three other stylists.” She waved her hand toward their chairs. “Simone Lane, Tyana Bryant and Cassidy Kramer. They’ve all been with me for the past five years and they have a good clientele as well.” She shrugged. “I guess having a thriving shop with talented stylists and great clients was just too good to be true.”
The comment was meant to lighten the mood, but it failed dismally as somewhere behind them glass crashed and someone cursed.
The detective acted unphased by the sound. “What about old boyfriends?”
He still wasn’t taking any notes, just staring at her like he assumed his intense glare would pull an admission from her lips. Well, that wasn’t gonna happen. Mainly because Gemma didn’t have anything to admit. She’d been seeing Myles Donovan exclusively for the past six months.
In the year prior to that she and Myles had shared a friends-with-benefits arrangement, meeting up in various locations along the east coast. Before her and Myles had become intimate, there had also been Shad during that same year. He was the tired ass liar who wouldn’t commit beyond sleeping in her bed and eating all her damn food. But Shad wouldn’t have done this. Last she’d heard—from one of Cassidy’s clients—Shad had been fooling around with a married woman who was now pregnant and didn’t know if the baby was Shad’s or her husband’s. The woman’s husband was a professional boxer, which meant Shad with his lean one-hundred-and-thirty-pound frame, had much bigger things to worry about than the fact that Gemma had moved on with her love life.
“None that would bother to go through all this trouble to get back at me,” she said.
“I’d like their names anyway.”
Of course, he would. Because if it wasn’t her friends it had to be her ex-boyfriend who’d do this. It couldn’t just be some random act of vandalism. A small part of her didn’t think it was random either. She huffed, trying to push the spark of fear that accompanied that admission aside.
“Shad Henry and Howie—” She paused and cleared her throat. “Howard Tucker. They’re the most recent in the last five years.”
“Were those break-ups amicable?”
Crossing her arms over her chest she shook her head. “How often are break-ups really amicable?” Then she held up a hand to stop the detective’s response. “I don’t hold grudges and I’d like to think the men in my past are too mature to waste time doing so either. Howie was fine with the break-up, moved to New York right after I declined to sign a new lease on the apartment we’d been sharing. And I’ve heard that Shad’s moved on too.”
A curt nod was the detective’s immediate response. Then he ran a finger over his jaw. “And what about a current boyfriend?”
It wasn’t a secret, not like the first twelve months they’d surreptitiously snuck off to see each other. And really, that wasn’t intentionally a secret, it was simply two adults doing their thing without broadcasting it.
“Myles Donovan,” she said holding the detective’s gaze.
He probably didn’t know him. Myles wasn’t from D.C. But he was a member of a well-known affluent Black family. The Donovans had their hand in oil companies, real estate, fashion design, casinos, television stations and more. Right off hand the detective didn’t strike her as someone who might travel in the same circles as the Donovans, but Gemma knew better than to take people at face value. It seemed like forever before the detective showed any sign of a reaction.
He dug into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a notepad. Gemma watched with interest as he found a pen in that same pocket and scribbled down what she knew was Myles’s name. In the entire time she’d been here with the detective dogging her heels, the guy hadn’t written down one thing. Now, evidently, he had something he wanted to remember.
“I’m going to my truck to call the insurance company now,” she said. “When you figure out who did this, you let me know.”
She walked away before he could respond. And while he could’ve easily called her back to ask more questions, he didn’t. Stepping outside she took a deep inhale of the stale summer air. Not even eight in the morning yet and the tell-tale humidity of a sweltering day in the city was on the horizon. Across the street a car pulled into a parking space, the man who climbed out of the driver’s side closed the car door and stared at her. It was Tom, the manager of the FedEx on the corner and he’d frowned five years ago when she’d moved into this upscale location. Over the years he’d made his disapproval of her clientele known with slick ass remarks and bogus complaint calls to the police. He was a coward and a chauvinistic racist, but was he a vandal too?
Shaking her head, she made her way to her truck. The last thing she wanted to do was start assuming someone’s guilt, the police were more than happy to do that for her. But the minute she was sitting in the driver’s seat, the door firmly shut and locked, Gemma pulled out her phone and hit one of her saved numbers.
“Hey,” she said when the call was answered after barely two rings. “You are not gonna believe what just happened.” Before he could reply, the recitation of the last hour’s events flowed from her mouth in a whirl of words and the heavy thumping of her heart.
“Are you okay?” Was Myles’ first question when she finally paused to take a breath.
“Yeah, I am,” she said and then sighed heavily. “I guess. I mean, for as okay as I can be after seeing everything I’ve worked for in shambles.”
“I came into the office this morning to get a few things done before I have to head to my mom’s house later, but I can be there in a few hours.”
She knew that was true. Myles had made the drive from Chesapeake, Virginia to see her plenty of times over the last six months and she’d done the same when it was her turn to visit him. They’d grown so much closer in these past months, closer than she suspected either of them had anticipated when they’d first met eighteen months ago. And his was the first familiar voice she’d needed to hear after all that had just happened.
“I don’t even want to be here,” she admitted, shaking her head. “I just feel so deflated and angry. I can’t believe somebody would do this to me. And that silly detective is in there asking me about enemies. I don’t have any enemies!” Trying to calm herself she nudged the phone between her ear and her shoulder and gripped the steering wheel. Closing her eyes momentarily, she opened them again and realized that instead of calming herself, her legs had begun to shake with nervous energy. “How would I know who’d want to do this to me?”
“Those are their go-to questions. Always look for the personal connection first. Don’t let it rattle you,” he said, his husky voice soothing even though he was a couple hundred miles away. “But I don’t want you to be alone. So, I’m gonna wrap up here and then I’ll get on the road.”
Hearing Myles’ voice was soothing, being held in his strong arms while he consoled her would be even better. But Gemma had another thought. “Actually, I was just thinking about going to visit my family in Temptation. I know you were planning to go back in a few weeks.”
“Yeah, the first of next month,” he replied. “But if that’s where you want to go, I’ll meet you there.”
I’ll meet you there had been something they’d said to each other so much that it had almost become their special phrase. Her chest warmed at the thought. When she’d left her family’s house in Temptation the day after Christmas and went to meet Myles at his cabin near the resort his company had built in town, she’d anticipated breaking up with him. Instead, once she’d told him she wanted more from their casual liaisons or nothing at all, she’d been pleasantly surprised by his agreement to see where a committed relationship between them could go.
“Yeah,” she said feeling like a combination of her family and Myles was exactly what she needed right now. “That’s what I want to do. So, I’ll meet you there.”