Play My Game (Stark Trilogy, #3.7)(9)

“It’s okay, Mrs. Crane,” I say. “I’ve been expecting it.”

I yank open the door, probably terrifying the skinny guy standing there in a delivery uniform. Once I have the package and have sent the guy on his way with a tip, Jamie and I take the box back to my desk. I sit in my chair and she perches on the wooden desktop beside me.

“Well?” she says. “Open it.”

Since I’m not sure what I’m waiting for, I nod, then use a letter opener to slice through the tape that is holding the decorative pastry box closed. It’s only slightly bigger than a cupcake, and when I open it, I’m surprised to see that it holds exactly that—a cupcake.

Specifically, a lovely cupcake with green fondant icing and the numeral “4” printed perfectly across the top in blue icing.

I glance at Jamie, who looks just as baffled as I feel.

“That can’t be all of it.” I reach for the cupcake. “There must be a message underneath.”

But if there is more to the message, it’s not on the box beneath the cupcake where I expect it. So when Jamie very reasonably suggests that the clue might be baked into the cupcake, I use my iPhone to snap a picture of the treat—just in case—and then I use the letter opener as a knife and carefully cut the cake in half. There’s nothing hidden inside. No secret message baked in the cake.

But as soon as we’ve both picked up our halves to feast upon, I see the carefully printed website written on the bottom of the paper muffin cup.

“I knew it.” I am feeling so smug and triumphant that I have to battle the urge to call Damien and gloat. I don’t, though. I’m not home free just because I’ve found a website.

“Well?” Jamie sounds impatient.

“I’m on it.” I pull my laptop closer to me, then type in the URL as she comes around my desk to look over my shoulder, then mutters, “Well, f*ck,” when all that pops up is an input box for a username.

I echo her sentiments as I lean back in my chair, thinking. “This has to be it,” I say. “Somehow, this leads to the next clue.”

“I adore Damien,” Jamie says, “but couldn’t he have just taken you out for dinner and a movie like a normal guy?”

“I thought you loved the scavenger hunt idea.”

“Well, sure. Until it got hard.”

I laugh and shake my head. Not only is Damien a far cry from your average guy, but I’m so delighted by this game—which plays to both my romantic and geek sides—that if I weren’t already full-up with love for my husband, I would fall even further.

“Four,” I say, even as I type the numeral into the box. I glance at Jamie, hit enter, and cross my fingers.

A moment later, the screen changes, and I feel a little tug of glee:

Welcome, Nikki Stark

Please Enter Password

My glee fades when I realize there is yet another hurdle.

Once again, I meet Jamie’s eyes, but she’s already on it. She’s snatched the box and is examining every last inch of it and the muffin cup. “Nothing,” she says. “Do you think we ate it?”

I don’t answer. I’m too busy typing a four into the box. I hold my breath, hit enter, then both laugh and curse when I hear Damien’s voice saying, “Try again, sweetheart.”

“Oh my god,” Jamie says. “You so have to figure this out. Like right now.”

I agree. I can picture Damien at work today, doing whatever master-of-the-universe thing is on his agenda. But even while he’s buying Argentina, he’s secretly smirking about the fact that he has befuddled his wife.

The image only makes me more determined to figure this out. And fast.

“Paris?” Jamie suggests.

I try. Nothing.

I try “Stark,” “Wife,” and “Malibu.”

And then, I realize.

“I know what it is,” I say, then type in “Sunset,” the safe word that I picked my first night with Damien. That’s sort of like a key, after all.

I hold my breath—and then smile with satisfaction when the log-in screen disappears and text fills the screen.

Congratulations, Nikki, you solved clue number two,

Interpreted the hint just right

Now that you know what to do,

I’ll tell you that this clue,

Is only available at night.

Are you enjoying this game, please say that you do,

And know that I’m exceptionally fond of you.

“Fond of you?” Jamie wiggles her eyebrows at me. “That’s got to be the key. Because that man is so beyond ‘fond’ it isn’t even funny.”

I don’t disagree, but neither have I got an inkling about where this clue leads. And a solid minute spent staring at the screen isn’t helping any.

I’m about to close my laptop and offer to walk Jamie to Starbucks for a good-luck-at-the-audition latte, when my email pings.

“I bet he knows you got in,” Jamie says, looking over my shoulder at the name of the sender: Damien J. Stark.

I realize it must be a new account, because Damien has never used his middle initial on his emails, and I assume it’s one he set up for this game.

I open the email—and immediately go cold.

The subject line reads Mine.

And under that, filling the body of the email, is a grainy photograph of my husband with his mouth on Italian supermodel Carmela D’Amato’s breast. They are both naked, and the look of ecstasy on Carmela’s face is one that I have seen and felt on my own.

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