15th AffairBy: James Patterson
ALISON MULLER WASN’T classically beautiful, but she was striking, with swinging blonde hair and peekaboo bangs brushing the frames of her wraparound shades. Her black leather coat flared above the knees of her skinny jeans, and her purposeful stride was punctuated by the staccato clacking of her high-heeled boots.
That afternoon, as she cut through the golden-hued lobby of San Francisco’s Four Seasons Hotel, Ali checked out every man, woman, and child crossing the floor, on the queue at reception, slouched in chairs in front of the fireplace. She noted and labeled the tourists and businesspeople, deflecting the stares of the men who couldn’t look away, while on the phone with her husband and their younger daughter, Mitzi.
“I didn’t actually forget, Mitz,” Ali said to her five-year old. “More like I lost track.”
“You did forget,” her daughter insisted.
“Not completely. I thought your big day was tomorrow.”
“Everyone wanted to know where you were,” her daughter complained.
“I’ll make it up to you, sweetheart,” Ali said.
“When? With what?”
Ali’s thoughts ran ahead to the man waiting for her in a room on the fourteenth floor.
“Let me speak to Daddy,” Ali said.
She passed the stunning exhibition of modern art and reached the elevator bank at the northwest end of the lobby. She stood behind the couple in front of the doors. They were French, discussing their dinner plans, agreeing that they had enough time to shower and change.
Ali thumbed her phone, checked her e-mail and the Investors Business Daily headlines and the text from Michael asking if she’d gotten lost. Ali’s husband came back on the line.
“I did my best,” he said. “She’s inconsolable.”
“You can handle her, dear. I’m sure you can do it. I’ll order her something online when I get home.”
“Which will be when?” her husband asked.
God. The questions. The never-ending questions.
“After dinner,” Ali said. “I’m sorry. I wouldn’t blow you off if it wasn’t important.”
The elevator doors opened.
Her husband said, “Say good-bye to Mitzi.”
She said, “Hang on a minute. I’m losing reception.”
Ali stepped into the elevator and stood with her back to the corner, her jacket parting to reveal the butt of a gun tucked into her waistband. The doors closed and the car rose swiftly and quietly upward.
When Ali got out at the fourteenth floor, she spoke to her daughter as she walked along the plush carpeted hallway.
She reached room 1420 and rapped on the door, and it opened.
Ali said into the phone, “Happy birthday. See you soon. Kiss, kiss. Bye-bye.”
She clicked off, stepped inside the room, and kicked the door closed behind her as she went into Michael’s arms.
“You’re late,” he said.
MICHAEL CHAN TOOK off Ali’s glasses and sucked in his breath. He couldn’t get over this woman—and he had tried. She smiled at him and he put his hands on both sides of her face and kissed the smile right off her.
One kiss ignited a string of them: deep, telling, momentous. Michael lifted Ali and she hooked her legs around his hips and he walked her into the luxurious blue-and-bronze suite backlit by the watercolor sunset over San Francisco.
Chan didn’t notice the view. Ali smelled like orchids or some exotic musk, and she had her tongue at his ear.
“Too much,” he muttered. “You’re too damned much.”
She was panting as he lowered her to the bed.
“Wait,” she said.
“Of course. I’m a patient man,” he said. His blood was surging, narrowing his focus. He put his hands on his hips and watched to see what she would do.
She looked up at him, her warm gaze flicking over his body and his strong features as if she were memorizing him. They met infrequently, but when they did, they pretended they were strangers. It was a game.
“At least tell me your name,” she said.
He pulled off her boots, tossed them aside. She sat up, shrugged off her coat, and shoved it over the edge of the bed. He plucked the gun from her waistband, looked through the sight, smelled the muzzle, and put it on the nightstand.