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“When love is not madness, it is not love.” – Pedro Calderon de la Barca
Chase Adams looked down upon us as he tried to instill hope. The room of half excited, half terrified eyes glared attentively back at him as he weighed his words. A high school graduation is a big moment in a person’s life, and we were just an hour away from forever passing ours. Some of us would go on to do great things. Some might even change the world. At least that’s what the teachers tried to drill into our brains for the last four years. Chase was much more upfront about it. “A young bird is flying south for the first time in its little life. It doesn’t know how long the journey is. It simply keeps flapping its tiny wings toward the horizon straight ahead.” He was trying to make us realize life is a big journey and we should accept it as such. To keep playing the cards in front of us and not worry about what’s at the bottom of the deck. Of course, life was easier for Chase Adams. He was smart, good looking, and pretty much a shoe-in for accomplishing something great. He always played in another league, one that was not anywhere close to mine. He didn’t have any doubts about where his journey would end up.
Chase was devilishly handsome. A star athlete, with his wide shoulders and big muscles, he had the attention of every girl at school from day one. He was totally cool about it too, his beautiful smile radiating warmth as he confidently walked down the hall, returning pleasantries each morning. He also had brains, unlike most of the other guys on the football team, and teachers would fawn over him as he’d step up and engage the class when it was needed, completely unaware of such trivial things as shyness or the fear of public speaking. I doubt many would believe I’ve seen him with his shirt off. Hell, I had trouble convincing even my best friend, but I have. And boy, did he look good.
We became friends by a complete accident when his car broke down in front of our house. While waiting for the tow truck, my mom convinced him to stay for dinner, and we got to talking. It turned out we had a lot in common: he was passionate about traveling and studying ancient cultures. We both dreamed of going to Egypt to see the pyramids and then going over to The Great Wall of China and the ruins of Athens. We talked excitedly about spending semesters abroad in college, making plans to meet up in Paris or Amsterdam to share stories of unusual new food tasted and strangers we’ve met who’ve turned into friends. Our friendship started to grow from that first dinner. Unfortunately, it was just friendship. No matter how hard I lusted over those beautiful baby blue eyes and his muscular, perfectly-shaped six foot two body, I never dared let him know how I felt. His always-cheerful face with the cute dimples would just smile back at me anytime I would hint at any sort of interest. I told myself I’d just wait for the right time to pour my heart out to him, but always backed out. One time I could have sworn the universe handed me a sign. My mom asked him to come over and help mow the lawn one hot summer day. Being the greatest guy ever, he drove over and told her not to worry about a thing as he started up the lawn mower. The muscles on his strong arms rippled as he pushed the heavy machine across the lawn. The sun shone brightly that day, so I knew he’d get thirsty. After fifteen minutes, I made lemonades and walked outside to look for him. As I turned my head toward the roar of the lawn mower, I saw him. A breath caught in my throat when I noticed he wasn’t wearing a shirt. Seeing his perfect body, a spark ignited inside me and rushed up my spine. I arched my back and almost lost the lemonade as my hands went limp. Holy wow, Chase Adams was a freaking sex god! His wide chest was moist with drops of sweat as it bulged with pumped muscles. The ripped six-pack danced in the light as he breathed in and out. His big shoulders and strong forearms ripped with power as he controlled the roaring metal beast. I hadn’t been this drawn to stare at a man’s body since the time I watched Daniel Craig come out of the ocean in James Bond.
“Is that lemonade?” He brought me back from fantasy, where I’d already managed to make his pants disappear too.
I slowly peeled my eyes from his perfectly positioned squares of six-pack and looked down at the drinks in my hand. Where was I again?
“Figured you were thirsty.” I composed myself and handed a glass to him, aiming my gaze in any possible direction away from his stunning body.
He took a sip, complimented my lemonade making skills, and then quickly finished the lemonade. As he did, he turned his torso to one side, his attention focused on the drink in front of him. The sun was behind his head and created the effect of a backlit Greek statue. I sneaked a peek at the culmination of thousands of hours of his work at the gym as my eyes grew wider. He was perfect. I mentally took a picture and filed it “For later viewing.”
“Hey L, let me know when you want to watch the travel show again.” A small smile lit up his face. “We’ll get a bunch of ice cream and do a marathon.”
“Sure.” I nodded, completely freaking out over how great that would be. Then, at the right moment, of course, I’d tell him how I felt.
Days went by, then a week, followed by another. While I waited for the perfect moment to invite him over, I ended up waiting too long. Stacy Clark, one the most popular girls in school, started dating him. When I heard the news I had to excuse myself from class. I walked, red-eyed and blaming allergies, the rest of the day. The two of them quickly became an item, and Chase didn’t come over much after that. Five months passed, and the school year was coming to an end with one last speech. Chase was once again in all his glory, bestowing advice to his peers, who respected him so much. As I felt that sinking feeling in my stomach, I started eating him up again while trying to hold back the tears. It was a strange feeling, to both admire something and be sad that you couldn’t have it. Chase saw me in the crowd and smiled as he looked up. I wasn’t sure if that smile was for me, but from the bottom of my heart, I hoped it was.
The excited graduates tossed their caps toward the sky. Everyone went outside for the commemorative photos.
“To a new beginning!” I heard behind me as someone took me by the arm. I turned back and saw him. Chase grinned his usual friendly smile and opened the door as the excited crowd gathered for the final picture.
“You can say that again.” I nodded. “I couldn’t wait for school to end.” I hit his arm. “Great job on that speech, by the way.”
He looked at me, the cute dimples on his cheeks lighting up his face.
“You really think so?” He lowered his voice and leaned in. “I thought I was laying it on a little thick.”
“I thought it was perfect.” I drowned in his beautiful baby blues. “We’ve been hearing so much hot air lately about high school being the ‘crucial time in our lives.’” I added the air quotes. “It was refreshing to hear someone tell us to take it easy and just enjoy the ride.”
“Thanks, L.” His lips curled up. “So what are you up to now?”
“Texas State, I’m staying local.” I shrugged. “Got in on a full ride, so as long as I keep my grades up, it’s a no-brainer. I think I’ll go for industrial art and design. It’s not really my top choice but who’s gonna turn down free tuition?” My mother had no money for college so I had to jump on whatever I could get.
“I’d be all over it.” He nodded. “I’m excited for you. It sounds like you know what you want to do.” His voice had a dash of uncertainty. I looked up in his eyes and thought I saw it just before he looked away.
Taken aback, I gently squeezed his arm. “Wait, are you scared too?”
He let out a quick, nervous laugh. “Damn, is it that obvious? I guess a leader sometimes can be the biggest coward.”
I furrowed my brows and smirked. “Come on Chase, what in the world could you worry about? You’re a smart, good-looking white man. Don’t you guys run the world?”
His lips stretched into a grin as he looked at me with those beautiful baby blues. “Thanks L.” He rubbed his cheek. “It’s just that I don’t even know if I got into Berkley yet. They’re taking forever to check out every little thing about me.” He winced. “It’s driving me nuts.”
“You’ll be fine,” I said. “Remember the bird.” My eyes ran over the crowd behind him. I saw Stacy somewhere in the front looking around, trying to find him. I leaned in slowly and kissed his cheek, inhaling his sweet musk deep inside my lungs as I closed my eyes. “And happy graduation to us.”
He stretched out his arms and wrapped them around me, then lifted me up as if I weighed nothing and spun me around, shouting, “College, baby! Bring it on!”
The following summer passed too quickly. Chase got the acceptance letter from Berkley and moved to California shortly after. I started school and we lost touch. A few years later I heard he got engaged to a girl from a good family and settled down. Chase had always been a mystery to me. Like an onion, I felt there were layers and layers to uncover to get to his heart. I wanted so badly to get close, and I felt that somehow, someway, destiny would make it so. I just never could have guessed how long it would take, and how intense that meeting would be.
The exquisite Rolls Royce glided effortlessly on the smooth country road. If I’d had to guess, I’d say we were about an hour outside of New York City by then. The trip was getting long, and I thought that it was a good thing I’d charged double for this one. The guy seemed like a whale, a high roller who knew exactly what he wanted. I’ve had a chance to meet a few before, but none were so agreeable as to send a personal car with a chauffeur. I started wondering who it might be. Royalty was definitely out-this wasn’t Dubai or London. Celebrities were unlikely too; they didn’t live this far from the city. Given the mansions growing in size along the road, I’d guessed this was a well-to-do financier. New York City had a long history of minting those and, typically, they ended up buying houses away from the chaos they worked in to maintain a piece of sanity.
I studied the car’s interior as it completely enclosed me in a soundproof box. This ride is spectacular. The large soft leather seats drowned me in comfort as soon as I sat down, making me feel like I was in first class on an airplane. The hand-crafted wood paneling radiated class throughout the salon. An opened champagne bottle cooled itself in the arm-rest next to me. I looked at the ceiling, which was my favorite part as I sipped from my glass, and watched a starry sky made up of hundreds of tiny LED lights dance over me.
“We are almost here, miss,” The chauffeur spoke up as I finished another drink. Poor guy hasn’t been able to take his eyes off of me since he pulled up in front of my apartment. I was wearing my favorite black-lace cocktail dress, the one with the low cut I brought out for special occasions. He almost tripped over himself as he rushed to open the door for me.
The car turned off the main road and into a private driveway. We drove for a good minute through a heavily forested area before arriving at the big guarded gate. There was a mysterious mansion surrounded by the woods beyond it. The gate opened and we drove past the carefully trimmed trees leading to the house. It stood out like a large mountain against the backdrop of the forest. Made of dark brown brick, it had huge windows and a giant front door which looked as if it was brought in from a medieval castle. The clock tower on top was a nice touch. Who the hell has a clock tower? It didn’t matter. Within an hour I’ll be on my way back home, ready to climb into my soft Egyptian sheets and forget about everything.
The chauffeur opened the door and gracefully pointed toward the house. “Miss, please head inside. The front door is unlocked. Walk up the main stairs and turn right into the study. Your host is expecting you.”
I looked at his poker face for a hint of what was to come, but instead saw a professional mask of forced indifference. I stepped out of the car and planted my feet on the road, which was made of huge stone blocks. Something felt slightly off in my gut, so I wanted to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. I turned to my suddenly cool companion.
“Aren’t you going to come in?”
“My orders were to bring you to the front door only,” he said, looking straight ahead.
“And wait for me, right?” I raised my eyebrow. There was no way I was going to leave that question unanswered.
He let out a laugh as he glanced at me, “Of course, what the hell are you thinking?” He pointed his chin forward, “Now scurry along, I got you here ten minutes late as it is.”
He turned around and got back in the car. The lights turned off as he killed the engine, surrounding everything in darkness. I figured this would have to work for me and started up the ancient stone steps.
The door opened without the expectant creak, and I found myself in the lobby of an expensive hotel. Well, that’s what it looked like to me anyway. The room was huge, with candle-like chandeliers on the walls, their lights dimmed to a soft warm glow. The large marble stairs paraded straight ahead as they dominated the room. The floor had a huge stone mural of a knight on a horse, slaying a dragon. My jaw dropped when I saw the dragon’s eyes sparkle with what appeared to be a pair of large rubies. I placed my foot next to the eyes to compare, and the rocks measured half the size of my foot. Jesus. If these are genuine rubies, this guy is beyond rich. I looked up and saw the ridiculously large chandelier carved with exquisite golden leaves hanging heavily over me. I never liked standing under those.
“He better be a great freaking tipper too,” I muttered under my breath as I made my way up the stairs. Reaching the second level, I stepped onto a lavishly decorated red carpet. It led down the hall, with various paintings hanging on the walls on either side. Each was mounted in a thick golden frame, the style used throughout the centuries to underline the wealth of the owners. I strolled down the hall, pretending to be at the Oscars, as I waved a brief hello to each portrait. The unknown men and women, decorated in the most extravagant attire, shot their confident stares back from the canvas. I stopped in front of the one I thought I recognized. I studied the small man on the horse. It’s been awhile since my history class, but I could have sworn it was Napoleon. “If this is Napoleon’s relative I’m dealing with, I’ll probably get paid in land. Maybe I’ll become a duchess.” I smirked to myself, trying to ease the anxiety that was slowly building inside me. “Where the hell was anyone?” I thought as I kept looking around. This mansion had to be cleaned and, god forbid, lived in. “Please don’t tell me it’s just one guy going crazy by himself in his old age. Hell, maybe I could pull an Anna Nicole,” I thought and immediately stopped myself. “No, anything is better than that. Anything.” I learned a few things in my life and, yeah, life could sometimes kick you and throw you around, but conscience could mess with you much worse. A clean, guilt free one allows one to be content no matter what you’re dealing with. But imbued with one marked by shitty decisions, one turns into someone like Madoff-just another guy who could buy half the world just to find no one wants to live in it with him. I knew who I was, and I knew where I stood. I’d made my choices. I wasn’t looking for recourse from my life. I remembered my high school graduation speech and was trying my best to play the cards in my hand.
The hallway ended and opened into a dark room. The lights were completely off. I walked down the red carpet through the heavy wooden door frame and took a step into the pitch black. I saw a fireplace in the opposite corner. It glowed and crackled, creating shadows on the walls. The room was so big that the light was quickly engulfed by darkness. I glanced at the shadows on the walls and saw books everywhere. There must have been a million of them as they climbed all the way to the ceiling.
“What is this, the national library?” I gasped. “Who has the time to read this much?”
I figured this was the study where I was supposed to be meeting the client. Only there was no client. It looked as if I was the only person around the whole place, so I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. I took a few more steps inside, trying to peer into the darkness.
As I waited for my vision to adjust, someone cleared his throat, causing me to tense up and hold my breath. I squinted into the shadows but couldn’t see anyone. Slowly I let the air rush out of my lungs and swallowed the lump in my throat.
“Excuse me,” I said boldly looking into the black.
Nothing but silence echoed back. My increasing heart beat resonated through my chest. Images of ghosts from the movies I’d seen as a kid conjured up in the darkest corners of the room.
“Hello?” I raised my voice again. There was no reply. I felt the goose bumps rush down my back as I took a slow step back.
A deep male voice pierced the silence. “Come over to the fireplace.” I paused for a moment and considered my next move. A few moments passed and the room was just as quiet as before. It looked like this was all the direction I was going to get.
I started walking to the other side of the room. As I did my eyes adjusted to the dark, and I could make out more details of the room. I saw desks, chairs, and a couple of statues in the corner. Mostly, I was interested in finding a window just in case things got hairy. I must have drunk too much champagne in the car because the next moment I shook my head at the absurdity of that idea. “A New York woman plays James Bond. Fails horribly.” I pictured the newspaper headlines in my head. As I walked toward the fireplace, I was taken aback by how large it was. It took up almost a third of the wall. Various gargoyles nested atop for decorations, as if luring you into the fiery hell below. I found it kind of cool. Next to the fireplace were a large leather couch and a very big chair that faced away from the fire. I guessed the stranger must have been sitting in it.
“Sit down, please.” The words resonated through the room. They definitely came from the other side of that chair.
I slowly sat down on the soft edge of the black leather couch.
“My wife will be in shortly,” the man said.
“Oh.” I felt my heart flutter as I peered into the back of the chair. “I don’t work couples.”
He chose to leave the words hanging in the air.
I started to think that I needed to invest in better protection. I had been gripping the bottle of pepper spray in my hand ever since I walked through the front door and felt like it would do exactly nothing. I’d never even had to use it before, besides the one time I sprayed it in a parking lot to see how it works. To my surprise it wasn’t a mist, but a single flaccid stream that fell to the ground just a couple of feet ahead of me. I doubted I’d have the time to use it if someone rushed towards me, never mind being able to hit them in the eyes.
“What’s your name?” The voice spoke up again.
I cleared my dry throat. “Tiffani.”
“With an i or a y?”
“An I,” I replied, wondering what the hell I was doing there. Suddenly a thousand dollars didn’t seem enough. I could already tell I would need to sleep with the lights on for a week to get this out of my system.
“Where are you from, Tiffani with an i?” I was eased a little by his sudden friendliness. After all, there were all sorts of people with their own quirks in this world. Those who commanded the most attention because of their status, one way or another, chose their own ways to deal with it. Some chose booze, some drugs, others work or family. Some preferred extreme privacy. This guy seemed to prefer scaring the shit out of people.
“Texas, born and raised,” I said, with slight pride in my voice.
“Texas?” he echoed. “Which part?”
“It’s a small town, you wouldn’t know it.” I was getting tired of waiting. My rate was $500 an hour and this guy had better believe his timer was running.
“I used to live in Texas,” he stated calmly. “Are you familiar with the city of Addison, just north of Dallas?”
My mouth dropped open as I heard my hometown come out of his mouth.
“No way.” I muttered under my breath. “What are the freaking chances?” A thought that he must have done a background check on me shot through my head. The sudden fear paralyzed me until I forced myself to think. No, I use a fake name, I lived in New York for years, there is no way he’d know who I really was. I calmed myself enough to resume breathing.
“Well in that case, let me say hello to a friendly Texan.” he said.
As I watched a tall shadow rise from the chair, I gripped the pepper spray tighter in my hand and switched the safety off.
The fire cast shadows around the room. First I saw shadows disappear from his shoes as their polished leather surfaced from the dark. Then I saw his belt buckle glisten and the white shirt came into focus. I sat tense and tight, ready to jump at any moment and bolt for the door. I stared into the darkness with intensity, waiting to see his face. Just give me one sign and I am blasting you. As the light from the fireplace slowly exposed his face, my eyes found his. Immediately I let out a yelp and jumped into the air. The pepper spray leaped from my hand, bounced off the bricks, and into the flames of the fire. I saw his eyes get wide as saucers and his jaw drop. The next moment my legs gave out and I dropped back on the couch, slid off it, and landed squarely on my ass.
He rushed over to me. “Hey, are you all right?”
With a blank expression I stared at the wall in front of me.
“Laura, are you all right!?” He shook my shoulders until I let out the tiniest whimper.
“What? Laura, say something!” his voice boomed.
I lifted my hand and weakly pointed at the fire. “Pepper…spray.”
“Oh Christ.” His eyebrows shot up. He rushed over to the fireplace and grabbed the tongs. “Shit, shit, shit,” he rattled off as he tossed apart the coals, fishing for the ticking bomb. Finally he found it, grabbed it with the tongs and ran over to the curtains by the window. He disappeared behind them as I sensed a cool breeze rush through the room. A minute later he returned, holding the tongs down by his feet. He placed them back by the fireplace and walked over to me. He picked me up with his strong arms as if I weighed nothing, and helped me back on the couch.
The taxi cab rocked Charlotte gently in the back seat as it hugged the curves. She pushed away the travel bag that slid across the leather seat and nudged her, then realizing she had still at least ten minutes more to go, reached for the iPad inside. “Let’s see what I’ve been missing,” she said under her breath as she typed in the name of the local news station. There it was on page one, in all of its HD glory. She tapped the glossy surface and a moment later the video filled up the screen. The voice of the anchor rang out, “And in sports, the motocross season is coming up full steam. This year is anticipated to be one of the most competitive in history as the last year’s champion Carter Evans is looking to defend his title. There will undoubtedly be those hungry enough to step up and challenge his status as the top dog, but this anchor has a pretty good feeling about the trophy remaining in his capable hands.” Charlotte rolled her eyes. The anchor could barely constrain her drool as she ogled the picture. “He’s just another guy!” Charlotte wanted to scream out. “The guy spends so much time on himself, he won’t have any time to pay attention to you!” The video ended with a picture at the podium after the last year’s win. Standing above everyone else else, Carter showed off his wide pearly grin, his face full of triumph as he dosed the paparazzi with champagne. The gigantic bottle was heavy causing his powerful shoulders to ripple with muscles. Onlookers got a good look at the muscular and well defined planes of his chest that transitioned into the perfectly shaped six pack below courtesy of the racing jacket he had unzipped down to his waist. What was he, a racer or a model? Charlotte forced the air out of her lungs and tossed the iPad back on top of the travel bag. Out of all the guys on Earth, why the hell did mom have to marry Carter’s dad?
No one answered the door so Charlotte let herself in. After a few unanswered ‘hello’s’ she went upstairs to her room. The cream carpeting with its familiar soft padding brought back memories of making this same trip thousands of times before. Her bedroom door opened with a familiar faint creak. Charlotte took off her sunglasses as she walked in and set her bag on the scratched, hardwood floor. She raised her eyebrows noticing that nothing she remembered remained – no posters, no photos, not even the sunlight coming through the blinds. The mirror on the wall reflected the only piece of furniture in the room — a small nightstand next to the bed that now looked a lot more foreign, having changed the color from purple to a sordid dark brown. “Mom sure managed to turn it into a creeporium,” she whistled while tucking her red-clay hair behind her ear. She brought the bag over to the bed, sat down and began unpacking, slowly and unenthusiastically. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to be back, but Christmas break looked like it was going to suck. Judging by the messages from her mom, her family was planning to drag her to at least three holiday dinners. She shook her head picturing it – the boring small talk and yapping about the ham, her Mom going looney-tunes over cooking and cleaning, her step dad being a snarky asshole as usual, and Carter acting obnoxious and full of himself as always.
Charlotte had already decided on the flight that she couldn’t deal with any of this. She spent the latter part of fall semester weeping like an infant over final projects, final exams, final papers, final everything. Going through the biggest breakup of your life during finals had to be one of the levels of hell.
“Hi Charlotte.” A voice interrupted her longing gaze. She looked up and saw her mom smiling at her from the doorway. The dark brown hair had been highlighted via the popular trend, yet the choice of clothing still revolved around flower printed blouses.
“Oh, hi. I didn’t know you were home.”
“I wasn’t. I had just come in when I saw your shoes by the door.” Charlotte accepted the obligatory hug. “How was the flight?”
“Fine. They gave us peanuts and then told us we couldn’t actually open and eat them because someone had an allergy.”
“Isn’t that nuts?” Her mother smirked. “And how are you?”
“I’m fine.” As long as no one notices my puffy eyes.
“Yeah, mostly B’s.”
“Well that’s not bad for the first semester. I hope you know we’re counting on you, someone in this family has to have letters next to their last name, and it sure as hell won’t be your stepbrother.”
“You mean beyond ‘RIP?”
Her mother drew in her eyebrows, “Whoa, that’s harsh, even for you. Are they teaching you cynicism in those writing classes already?”
“At least those classes are better than the mandatory ones.”
“OK, don’t be a smart ass though or you won’t find a husband.” Her mother’s lips curled up. “Speaking of which — did you talk to Zed lately?”
Charlotte’s heart kicked against the ribcage with a violent thud.
“He did?” She swallowed hard and turned away as she felt her face turn five hundred degrees.
“What did he say?” Charlotte nearly whispered.
Her mom shrugged, “Just said to tell you ‘hey’. I ran into him at the store a few days back and mentioned you were coming home.”
Images of her ex and her mom having casual conversations about her made Charlotte want to cry. “Mom, I told you we broke up.”
“I know that.” Her mother rolled her eyes, then put her hand on Charlotte’s shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. “He did seem to be genuinely happy to hear it.”
Charlotte felt her eyes well up. She was about to let go at any moment. The casual words reached deep into her heart and squeezed until she thought she’d sink to her knees in soul tearing anguish. “Are we…are we having dinner as a family tonight?” She finally mustered.
“I can’t.” Her mother said checking out her wristwatch. “I have to go to the Ladies of the Church meeting, so I won’t be home until nine.”
“Ok. Cool. I’m going to get some sleep.” Charlotte turned away and wiped the tears. I’m going to hibernate for like three days to gain some of my sanity back.
“I’ll let you finish unpacking.” Her mother headed for the door. “Oh, one more thing,” she said turning around, her index finger in the air. Charlotte raised her eyebrows in a weak attempt to look interested. “When you see Carter, please be nice. With the season coming up and those new big time sponsors watching him, he’s dealing with a lot right now.”
Charlotte pressed her lips in a thin line and fell backwards into the bed.
Charlotte laid in bed and counted sheep. After awhile, the flock got too big to keep track off so she gave up and let her mind wonder. Her thoughts traced back to the first time she’d met Carter. Just a few weeks after Mom started seeing Jake, she took her to the practice track. “He has a son! You’re close in age! That’ll be fun, right?” Charlotte wasn’t sure how to answer that question — at first the planned addition to the family looked hardly promising. Her mom’s boyfriend like another doughy guy who spent time in an office somewhere doing something no one cared about and then made up for it by acting important to everyone he met. His son on the other hand appeared to have been captured by hunters somewhere deep in the jungle. In an attempt to make the wild creature look more civilized, they’d apparently decided to dress him up like a Power Ranger. Upon meeting Charlotte, he ran up and attempted to give her a high five while doused in mud from head to toe. “Oh yuck, go take a shower, you bohemian.” Charlotte thoughts. “Mom can’t be serious about this.”
A year later, their parents got married and moved in together. A fifteen-year-old Charlotte had to learn to live with a boy. She was used to her quiet ways of existence, lost in reading and writing. Now some loud, sweaty, usually muddy seventeen-year-old was walking around in his boxers talking to his buddies about dirt bikes, new sponsor deals and uniform colors. Life went from the romantic what-ifs borrowed from the movies and romance novels to the very real, male specimen living with her. Charlotte found herself comparing the two as she watched her step brother and wondered if all guys were like him. Racing was Carter’s life and no one could convince him otherwise. Most people wouldn’t get it, but Charlotte had her own passion that made it easier to understand him. For her writing was what racing was for him. The desire to wake up and do nothing else but the one thing you feel great doing. Soon enough, his passion paid off as he crashed into the world of high level racing. He had the style and flare that earned the attention of some serious sponsors – Fox Racing among them. With the money and success came the reputation for his fearlessness of the track. He called himself Apex, named after the top predator — the one on top of the food chain who fed on all others below. The media loved it. Charlotte’s family started attending more of his races and she was surprised to find she actually enjoyed motocross once Carter filled her in on the details. Somewhere deep inside, Carter’s passion ignited Charlotte’s own desire for the wild excitement, for a chance to abandon her quiet life. They’d spend time together watching races on Tv and he’d pause and explain what was happening, intrigued to see Charlotte not faking interest. Spending more time with her step brother, Charlotte even picked up his signature Carter-speak, mentioning how ‘clutch’ something was and using it instead of ‘cool’. As Carter gained notoriety season after season, one thing remained constant — she still enjoyed giving him hell about his Power Ranger uniform whenever she had the chance. But now as she laid there and thought about the video in the cab, she seemed unsure if she was still talking about the same person. It was one of the last times she’d seen him before she left for school, and he seemed much more assertive then before. He’s always beamed with confidence, but fostered by success his energy became more potent, more unapologizing and direct. At times being around him would make something deep inside her warm up and spread through her body, making the heart drum up just a bit louder. When the heat would rise to her cheeks she would bite her lower lip and try to calm herself down, try to fight the strange feelings within her. He was her stepbrother, so why did it even matter?
“I could have sworn you just did this two weeks ago.” A voice startled Charlotte, interrupting her day dreaming.
Charlotte propped herself up with her elbows and saw her step brother standing in her doorway. His muscular frame covered most of the light coming from the hallway. “Time flies, the habits stay the same.” He smirked looking over the mess of clothes scattered around the bed.
“Sup, Carter,” she mumbled turning away from his smug face, and reached over her laptop on the other side.
“Latte!” His voice rang out, “Quit doing your weird, girly nesting shit and get over here.”
Charlotte rolled her eyes. Here I was naive enough to think he’d drop the stupid nickname for my coffee fetish. “You know I hate it when you call me that.” She tried to hide it but her lips curling up gave it away. She couldn’t admit to him or herself that she was jealous of the way Carter came up with that nickname for her. That she liked it when he called her that, because only he could. She watched her step brother walk in and noticed that indeed Carter was more muscular than before, his powerful forearms rippled with muscle below the rolled up collars of the white shirt.
“The nickname stays. You know it fits your name.” he said grinning, “so what are you up to tonight?”
“Um, sleep, probably.” Charlotte rubbed the back of her neck.
“Sleep on your first night back? That’s pretty lame for a college girl.”
“Whatever. Not super excited to be back in this town anyway.”
“Damn, how many times did I hear that before?” Carter chuckled. “Latte, that’s the crap everyone says when they come from school for the first time.”
His step sister let out a heavy sigh. “I’m just gonna stay in.” She stood motionless, every thought drowned by the feeling of something nipping inside her chest.
“You actually serious?” Carter drew in his eyebrows as he studied her slumped posture.
“Bullshit,” He raised his eyebrows. “I know what you need. Me and you, we’re going to Lou Cid’s tonight. There’s a cool rock band’s playing there, I checked them out on youtube and they’re chill as fuck.” Charlotte looked up and met his dark blue eyes. Set against his strong jawline, she could see why so many modeling agencies begged him to peddle their stuff. Something started to tingle in her abdomen, and Charlotte pressed her hands on her inner thighs to try and make it stop. It didn’t help. Her mouth parted open as the strange whirlwind of hunger slowly built up inside her. He raised his eyebrows. “So?”
Charlotte shook herself out of her trance. “Uhh, don’t you need to go practice riding a bike in a circle somewhere?”
Carter sighed. ”The season doesn’t start till January.”
“Yea. That’s, what? Less than a month away.”
“I got my shit together. You should know that.” He turned to check himself out in the mirror as he said this, ruffling his feathery brown hair with his fingers. Carter always liked that ‘just rolled out of bed’ look, and always cut his hair with a trendy faux hawk. Most guys looked silly trying to go for it, but Charlotte had to admit Carter made it work. “He sure did come a long way from a cavemen,” she thought looking at his perfectly fitted designer clothes.
Charlotte burned holes in his shirt with her stare, watching the muscles in his wide, muscular back ripple as he adjusted his cuffs. Images of digging her nails into that bag, of gripping it tight and pulling him toward her rushed through Charlotte. She bit her lip and shook her head back and forth. “Hell no,” she mouthed barely loud enough for herself to hear. This was all so wrong. She felt her cheeks begin to burn again.
Carter turned around. “What are you thinking?”
Charlotte lowered her gaze, then licked her lips. ”I’m thinking of how funny it is that everyone seems to be kissing your butt in this town. ”
“That’s because I’m kinda the shit.” He shrugged. “It’s kind of funny — remember when everyone pressured me to give up racing? No one respected that this was what I was born to do.” He said as his eyebrows drew in. “But you did. Now don’t be a player-hater. Be ready by nine, and wear something chic.”
Charlotte rolled her eyes, “Chic? Really? Didn’t we go over this before that you have no idea what that word means?”
“I know it means you won’t wear that stained tank top.” He winked back at her.
“I’m not coming,” Charlotte’s tone went up a pitch as she saw him turning.
“You will, for me.” His gaze pierced hers as he looked back at her. For a few moments, neither one spoke. Charlotte stared at her arrogantly confident step brother, feelings of irritation mixed with arousal rushed through her. The electricity in the air was building up and intensifying. She closed her eyes, pressed her lips tighter, and hoped the electricity would vanish in the dark. “Like I was saying,” Carter’s voice rang nearby, “this band – the lead guitarist is clutch. One cool babe who knows how to rock the crowd. Just dress chic, okay? There will be a lot of people there. I’ll swing by and pick you up in a couple of hours.“
Carter walked out and closed the door behind him. Left in silence, Charlotte rubbed her eyes so hard, she feared they would get stuck in the back of her head. That’s the last thing I need right now — to look chic so he can hit on some ‘clutch’ bitch while I fend off stares of those bike riding nutcases. She let out a groan as she looked in the mirror and sighed. “Chic my ass.” she muttered under her breath as she bent over and began sorting through clothes. She wasn’t allowed to take the spotlight from Carter either, he fumed if his buddies got too interested in her. He called it protective. She called it jealous. “I’m your older brother. That’s what we do,” he’d say.
Charlotte selected a long-sleeved black top that showed off her toned, trim stomach from countless hours of hula-hooping. She completed the look with a pair of motorcycle boots, her favorite leather jacket with silver studs and a pair of slender skinny jeans that showed off her ass perfectly. Silver hoop earrings, long, dirt-red hair down and lipstick red enough to set off a firecracker. Carter would appreciate this outfit, as he always went for the tough girls. Charlotte smiled to herself, “Being a step sister of a celebrity isn’t too bad, and Carter would be there for me no matter how big he gets. It’s a Rock and Roll band,” she purred to herself. “Here’s my Rock and Roll look.”
So close to escaping supervision for the first time, the girls could barely control themselves. The loud chatter, paired with the careful darting of the eyes, gave them away. They tried hard to hide the excitement until their parents left campus. The first year of college so much potential-the air of freedom and opportunity. This was a time and a place to find a date, a boyfriend, even love. Some could even, gasp, find a guy old enough to buy them booze. I shook my head and rolled my eyes. Sidestepping the loud, buzzing commotion in the hall I unlocked my dorm room and disappeared inside.
My eyes glanced over the three large boxes labeled Nikki Larmont. Two of them were filled with designer clothes I barely ever wore, preferring comfort and my favorite pink sweater. The third was more exciting, containing random stuff I poached from the unoccupied rooms at my house back home. This small, concrete square box was my home now, and I intended to give the plain room all the personality it could handle, even if it meant putting up things like Tiffani lamps. I didn’t really care what anyone thought, I just liked the look. And, I knew my dad would never even notice.
“Are those ballet shoes?” A voice startled me as I was busy digging deep, trying to find my favorite jeans. I turned around and saw a girl standing by my door, looking at the old ballet memorabilia I’d put up on the shelf. She couldn’t have been more than five feet tall. Her tan skin contrasted with the pink sweat suit. She was careful not to get too close to the fragile ornaments of my past.
She turned her head, and her big brown eyes met mine. “Are you a ballerina?” She stretched her mouth into a wide smile, showcasing a bright set of pearls. I swallowed a lump in my throat and narrowed my eyes. The intruder’s chest perked up as she anticipated my answer. The eagerness was so strong and real that I could instantly picture her watching too many fairy tales. Too many fantasies can keep you naive and believing in such things as successful ballerinas clinging to their old junk. Well, it wasn’t like I couldn’t use a friend.
“I used to be.” I cleared my throat. “Years ago.”
“What happened?” she drew her eyebrows in, causing a tiny fold to appear in between them. “Did you get injured or something?”
I wished it was that easy. At least then I’d have a good excuse. How could I explain that when parent A moves away and parent B doesn’t care, your life changes, whether you like it or not?
“Just didn’t have the time for it,” I muttered as I dug deeper in the box.
“Oh,” she said softly. “It looks like it was important to you if you still have the shoes.” I felt the muscles in my chest tighten as I looked for an excuse to drop the topic before it got too painful. Before it all came flooding back.
“My name is Bree. I live across the hall,” she took a step and stretched out her hand, saving me.
“Nikki,” I felt her elegant yet strong grip.
Her eyes ran over my bed and luggage. “Don’t you have a roommate?”
“No I don’t. This is a single suite.”
“Jeez, it’s really big for one person.” I could make out an accent, as she turned ‘Jeez’ into ‘Jeiez’. I turned my head and looked at her again as I wondered where she could be from. “I think I would feel a little lonely.” She bit her lip. “I guess it’s not too bad; we have many girls on our floor.”
“I think I’ll be fine,” I said coolly.
“You know, there is a dance group I signed up for,” she said as she sat down on the carpet, curling her legs under. “They perform everything from hip hop to salsa and need a couple more talented dancers.” She rubbed her chin. “I think I should introduce you,” My eyebrows lifted as I turned and saw the excitement in her eyes. This girl didn’t seem to have any issues becoming friends quickly.
“Maybe,” I shrugged. “I am taking sixteen credits so I’ll have to see how school goes first.”
“Ah, yes,” she dropped her shoulders. “I am taking 18. My parents want me to be a doctor.” She forced the air from her chest, “So much school ahead.”
“What kind of doctor?”
“One with mucho money of course!” her mouth transformed into a soft smile. “I am excited though, being the first of the family to go to college in America and all.”
“Impressive.” My eyes widened. “Where are you from?” I was confident my geography skills left much to be desired.
“Venezuela,” she beamed back. “You know where it is?”
“Latin America?” I stabbed in the dark.
“Yes!” she nodded excitedly. “Right by the ocean. Oh, it’s so beautiful, Nikki. Big mountains on one side, blue water on the other side. El paraiso.” She closed her eyes and sighed. “My country has been going through some bad times for many years, so my parents finally left eight years ago.”
My knees touched hers as I lowered myself next to her. “Do you miss it?”
“Oh sure,” she poked her tongue into her cheek. “I miss my friends, the beach, the food. But you know, here we have a good life, and we can always go visit, so it’s not too bad,” she added with a little more confidence.
I dragged a smaller box next to me and continued to unpack my stuff. I thought I finally found my jeans.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” she said, causing me to stop digging.
“Uh, not right now.” I slowly lifted my eyes to see hers focusing dreamingly above my head.
“There are so many guys here!” she smiled. “I walked through campus, and I had to be careful not to stare too much.” she lowered her gaze and shot me a playful look. “Where do you think we could meet some?”
Great, it looked like Bree already recruited me in the ‘boyfriends wanted’ club. I shook my head, thinking she was just the right amount of too eager, cute, and nice. It was different in a good way, but it also spelled trouble, and I could see it coming. I envisioned some crafty, experienced guy coming and drawing her in, not explaining that, in college, a lot of romance is superficial at best. I hoped she would be able to manage her enthusiasm until she could meet a good guy who was just as innocent as her.
My ex was twenty-three. We’d been together a year, starting the week before I turned eighteen. Jack and I met when I’d gotten busted with a fake ID and left outside the bar by my friend, Tracy. He’d known the bouncer and convinced him to let me sneak in as long as I kept it sober. Jack had been fun; he played guitar and rode a Harley. Tall with tattoos on his arms, he looked like a certifiable rocker. It sucked that he didn’t sounded like one. His nasally voice and short fingers forever blocked him from stardom. Only he wouldn’t let it go, at least not until life kicked him in the ass. My parents were ecstatic to meet him. Actually, they weren’t anything. My Mom divorced my Dad and moved across the country when I was twelve. My Dad was a big businessman and very busy with meetings all over the world. When Jack showed up at my house with his scruffy biker look, my Dad thought Jack was closer to his age than mine. It was great watching them try to make small talk as long pauses drowned the room while they searched to find things in common.
Our relationship lasted almost thirteen months. I didn’t fool myself with illusions of being in love with him. We’d had fun together while he worked on becoming famous so women would come knocking on his door. In turn, I wanted to be around someone fun and ambitious. Eventually, I realized I wanted to have something going for me besides sitting on my ass and going to music shows, and I applied for college. We went our separate ways a month before I left for school. Being excited to start a new chapter in my life kept the idea of meeting someone special on the back burner. I certainly wasn’t going to fool myself into trying to find him at the freshmen dorm.
I patted Bree’s leg. “The guys won’t go anywhere. Let’s just take our time and focus on school for now.”
“Sí,” she nodded. “I am so excited though!” Her lips curled up. Her eyes lowered to her phone. “Hey, there are students gathering downstairs to meet others from the dorms. Do you wanna go?”
I looked around at the things I still had to unpack. Somewhere in the back of my mind the thought of being surrounded by tons of giddy guys and girls a year younger than me turned me off. “I’m good. I still have to set up my room,” I replied, figuring I wouldn’t miss much.
Bree stood up. “Well, I guess I’ll see you at the floor meeting tonight. We get to meet our RA, and she’s going to explain the dorm rules. See you later, Nikki!” She waved and walked out.
I remembered the memo posted on my door earlier today. There was something about a mandatory floor meeting. I didn’t really want to go, but meeting the RA and seeing what she was like would help in figuring out how strict she would be. Not that I was planning to go Ferris Bueller, but it would be good to at least know the rules before I decided to break any.
A loud commotion jolted me from my dream. I opened my eyes and looked around the room I didn’t recognize. A few moments later, it came back to me. “Oh yeah, that’s right.” I cleared my throat and got up.
Two quick knocks rattled my door. “Floor meeting! Everyone to the study room!”
“Coming.” I groaned as I rubbed my neck. I swung the door open and immediately shuffled back a step. There were three girls waiting just outside my room. One of them was Bree. By far the shortest one, the other two towered over her. The brunette was the tallest. She had long, straight hair and a plain face that could pass for cute with her blue eyes and a small button nose. I could see she didn’t wear makeup. My eyes widened when they shifted to the other girl. Her beautiful, brown curls fell effortlessly down her shoulders. A pair of big, hazel eyes resonated warmth and playfulness, matching her beautiful smile. She was a shoe in for breaking at least a few hearts on campus.
“Hi, Nikki! This is Sophie and Whitney.” Bree gestured as she made the introductions.
“I’m Sophie.” The tallest one waved.
“Nice to meet you!” The curly one’s head tilted to the side and shot me a coquettish smile.
“Hello.” Taken aback, I couldn’t help but smile as I wondered what it would be like to be that pretty. I wasn’t complaining about my looks and certainly not about being naturally skinny, but for one day, I would love to have been in Whitney’s shoes just to experience how differently the world treated beautiful people. I was sure she would never have to buy a drink in her life.
“We should go so we can get seats,” Sophie said. “I saw only about a dozen chairs in that room.” We poured into the hall and started toward the common study area. It was a room barely larger than mine. A couple of tables were pushed to the wall to clear a space for the meeting. The chairs were lined up in rows on the other side. A few girls from our floor were already here, and we exchanged our quick and nervous hellos as everyone sat down. Excitement was building as more fresh faces poured into the room. Most saw their hall mates for the first time.
Once the chairs ran out, the newly arriving girls propped themselves against the walls. At last it looked like everyone had made it, and we waited for the RA to show up. I scanned the room; girls were smiling nervously as their heads swiveled around. I tried to spot a girl who had the look of understanding in her eyes that I hoped was reflected within my own, but instead, I felt like I was watching excited puppies bat their big eyelashes at me. Everyone seemed so young. I had to remind myself that I was only a year older, no matter how mature I might think I was. Biologically, I belonged right in this pond.
The door opened, and another girl walked in. She was dressed in black jeans and a black T-shirt with the name of a band emblazoned on it. The size of her clothes gave away the fact she didn’t care for working out. Her black hair fell on her very average face. The small, beady eyes avoided eye contact as she proceeded to the front of the room. There was a guy with her, and he towered over her. I only saw his wide back as he confidently made his way forward. They sat down on the edge of the table and faced us. I could hear the steady buzz around the room instantly drop off into complete silence. The girls held their breath as their eyes widened. Holy wow! Where did he come from?! Packed with well-defined muscles that bulged from under his T-shirt, this guy looked like a bona fide sex God. His smart and focused eyes were bright green. His dark-blond curls lay messy on his head. The playful grin displayed assurance while his eyes smiled along, giving out such incredible warmth that I felt it spread through my body and nest somewhere below my stomach. I usually had to turn on a TV to see a guy this good looking, and I couldn’t believe one was here right in front of us. I could tell I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Bree’s eyes were as wide as saucers as she stared at him. He oozed complete and utter confidence in himself as he looked over the room. Girls sat with their mouths half open as they waited to hear his voice.
“Hey everyone, this is Beth. She is your resident adviser. I am Dylan, the RA on the guy’s floor below.” His voice was confident and deep, yet mellow, as he effortlessly projected it through the room. So he is a gentleman, too, introducing our RA ahead of himself.
“We are going to go through some rules you should get to know while you are living here,” he said as Beth pulled out sheets of paper and gave some to him. I thought I could hear a very slight accent in his speech, barely noticeable. I suspected I could be just buzzing with endorphins.
“We will try to make it quick.” He smiled and nodded towards our RA.
She looked down at the list and started reading in a quiet, nasally voice. “One dash one: if your key is lost or if you have misplaced your key, temporary lockout keys are available at the residence hall’s main desk twenty-four hours a day. Upon confirmation of your identity, staff will sign out a key and expect you to return the key within thirty minutes, or staff will escort you to your room with the key and unlock the door.”
She paused and inhaled deeply before moving on, never once lifting her eyes from the paper.
“One dash two. Cooking and Appliances. Due to fire safety and electrical concerns, appliances over seven hundred watts are not allowed for use in student rooms. Microwaves and cooking facilities are available throughout the halls in provided kitchen facilities. Microwaves, coffee makers and popcorn machines over seven hundred watts are not allowed in student rooms at any time.”
My eyes started to glaze over as I wondered how much more there was to go. Judging by the stack in her hands, it was enough to keep us in coma for a while. Thanks to Dylan’s ridiculous looks, it wasn’t hard to tune her out. I watched him follow along as I let my imagination peel his white T-shirt off his muscular chest. I drew the outline of his abs, picturing the washboard squares nested tightly together. I followed his hip bones as his obliques shot down his lean, flat abdomen and into the waist band of his jeans.
“Section one dash three: each building is equipped with a ﬁre alarm system. If a ﬁre alarm sounds, you should quickly put on appropriate clothing and shoes. Grab a towel to put over your face to prevent smoke inhalation. Close your windows, if they are open. In case of-”
“Beth, I think we can safely speed things along a bit.” Dylan’s voice lit up the room, immediately bringing everyone back to life. You could hear a sigh of relief as girls perked up.
He ran his emerald eyes across the room, shooting us a playful grin. “You guys have these rules in your welcome package. Feel free to look them over if you have any questions. I’ll cover some stuff you absolutely need to know.” My lips curled up in a pleased smile. I could listen to his voice all day.
He studied the sheet in front of him.
“OK, so no pets except for fish. No loud music after eleven PM. Alcohol,” he paused and looked up. “You guys are in college; this is your life. Please be smart. Don’t get caught drunk in the halls if you aren’t twenty-one.” He looked at the next line. “Marij… Weed. Don’t get high in your rooms. It is very easy to smell. Basically, use common sense, and enjoy your new freedoms.” Girls started to giggle. He lifted his eyes off the page. “I think that covers it. Does anyone have any questions?” The girls were beaming back at him, their eyes glistening, but no one had any questions they would dare ask out loud.
“Beth and I are going to organize an inter-floor event this week so you can meet my guys. Let her or me know if you have any ideas.”
He folded the paper and put it away. “That’s all we have for you. Enjoy your night.”
Bree’s hand suddenly shot up. “I have a question!”
“Go ahead.” He nodded.
“Do you have an accent?” she said as she bit her lip. I could feel her feet drumming on the floor next to me. Girls quieted and turned their attention back to the front of the room.
His lips parted into a small grin. “An observant one. What’s your name?”
She melted into one big, happy smile. “I’m Bree.”
“Well Bree, I used to live in Europe for a few years when I was younger. I guess it rubbed off on me.” He faced the rest of the girls. “Any other questions?”
No one else was bold enough. “OK, have a good night girls.” The meeting was over.
Girls got up and filtered out the door. I snuck a quick peek toward Dylan as he turned to Beth, who looked slightly frantic. This guy could be trouble. I thought to myself. I wonder who he is dating, because there is no way he is single.
Kate Simms, a fashion planner, is ready to make smart choices in a new city. Finally over her ex, she is ready for the hot Chicago summer. The olive-eyed, hot as fire Jace Roland storms into her life at her most vulnerable moment. Strong, wildly successful, he is six foot three of pure walking sex and the most wanted man in town. He sweeps you off your feet and doesn’t care what you think. Kate can sense the wild inferno within him while he tries to keep his protective shell up just the way he likes it.
He can have any woman he wants yet it is Kate who get close enough to uncover what’s hidden deep inside. When old feelings clash with the newly found love, Jace is dared to make a choice that can expose him. Kate and Jace get caught in the whirlwind of fiery passion, unaware that Kate must also choose as she is pursued by a powerful man who isn’t about to let her go. What will our heroes uncover about each when it’s time to choose?
“Love isn’t something you find. Love is something that finds you.” – Loretta Young
Thick fog was making it hard to see anything up ahead. I measured every step, carefully making sure the footing was solid before taking the next. The forest was dense, and it was getting harder to navigate as I moved forward. My only hope was to stay on the road that kept on curving like a snake. Many times the thorny bushes caught my flesh, drawing tiny drops of blood. Eventually, the trees began to thin out and I found myself on a small strip of a lake bank.
Feeling the sudden pang of thirst I rushed to the lake. It had a strange bright yellow hue, tinting the heavy fog that rose from the water. I reached in with a cupped hand and was taken aback by how warm the water was. It was undrinkable. I sat down on the grassy shore desperate to calm the thirst building up inside.
A shadow pierced the fog ahead of me. Something was moving across the lake.
A moment later I could make the outline of a small wooden boat. It grew in size as it headed towards me.
Upon it was a man; he stood tall and confident as he held onto the mast.
I noticed that I wasn’t feeling any fear, but a strange curiosity as to whom this man could be.
The boat drew closer and the man jumped into the lake. For a few moments he was submerged under water and then appeared right in front of me. My eyes widened. He was very tall with a big muscular body, but I couldn’t make out his face.
Instead, I was immediately drawn to his bright eyes, their strange olive glow blurred by the thick fog.
He stepped closer and stood over me, looking down with curiosity.
He studied me, and as he focused on one part of my body, it started glowing with a yellow color. Intrigued by this I touched my skin, noticing it had become slightly warmer where the stranger brushed it with his gaze.
His bright olive eyes slowly made their way from my face down to my exposed neck leaving a warm tingling in their wake, that feeling spreading lower to my naked shoulders. The heat slowly crept down to my arms and wrists, and slowly back up. The warmth resonated through my nervous system, signaling to my body to release endorphins. Enjoying this, I chose to let go and let myself accept his intrusion. His controlled gaze moved down from my collarbone to my bare chest and the exposed breasts. He encircled my wanting knobs, as I edged my body a bit closer. I felt my pulse increase as the eager warmth pleasured my heated buds. It was like a hundred mouths caressed them all at once. I let out a soft moan and arched my back, ready for more. His olive eyes flashed brighter as his gaze traveled down my sides. Reaching my abdomen, the light split in two. My heart began to race as I felt the warmth travel down my thighs, slowly circling to my ankles and covering my skin with goose bumps as it moved back up. As the two beams drew closer together I felt the heat intensifying. I bit my lip as he moved them inch by inch toward my wet loins.
His eyes flashed again as the warmth started to pulsate under his gaze. I felt a tremor in my abdomen and let out a deep moan.
Unable to resist my desire I threw my legs open, baring myself for him. I watched the lights join into a singular beam right above my sensitive knob. With slow licks he slowly moved lower and engulfed it. I let out a yelp as the sensation rushed through me, igniting all nerve endings at once. I trembled as the warmth spread to my core. I laid back, closed my eyes and surrendered to it. The light pulsated against my pleading aroused flesh, circling and consuming it from every direction at once. “More…” I whimpered as I thrust my hips in the air to get closer to the source of this incredible feeling. A thunder of passion rocked me, the sensation so intense and sudden that I gasped for breath. I quivered with pleasure as it spread to my core. Overcome with desire I let out a loud cry from my very soul.
Over and over the waves of pleasure hit me, sparking the desire deep within. I could feel the intense orgasm build up inside me. As the currents of scorching passion shot through my body I cried out with pleasure and surrendered myself, letting each part of my body feel the delicious ecstasy as I rode the waves, each rushing over me harder than the one before it. I dug my fingers deep in the grass beside me. Unable to resist the powerful orgasm rocking my very being, I let out a deep moan and lost consciousness.
When I opened my eyes the lake had turned black, filling the forest with darkness. The trees started to fade into the black, then the sky and the shore. I turned my head to look for the stranger as a bright light hit me. I covered my eyes, waiting for the brightness to subside. When I opened them again I was in my bed. The sunlight was shining through the curtains on the window. It was moving across the room and had just reached my pillow. Still in a daze I sat up and shook my head. My cheeks were on fire and my skin still moist from exhilaration. The warmth slowly dissipated as I could still feel the wet between my thighs.
“Did you get laid last night?” Olivia knocked on my bedroom door.
“What are you talking about?” I scooted over my bed, surprised by her dead-on question.
Her lips curled up in a grin. “I heard you moaning through the wall. Either you had a guy over or those dreams are back.”
So it was a dream. Sometimes they’d feel so real I could hardly convince myself otherwise. I got them once in a while but lately they’ve become more frequent.
“I bet it was some sexy billionaire cowboy again.” She chuckled seeing my cheeks turned red. “Was he rushing up to you with some ‘Oh howdy, miss, I just happened to notice you while exercising my prized stallion. Can I offer you a mansion or three?’”
“You ass, I do like cowboys.” I smiled, trying to piece the dream together. “I think it was a pirate this time,” I muttered. I still felt in a daze over the stranger with those intense eyes. That was one of the most intense things I’ve ever experienced in my life. I bit my lip as I remembered vividly how my body quivered as if electricity rushed through me.
“Aha, so you did have one!” She clapped her hands and giggled. “You know, I’m kind of jealous. It would be fun to have wild dreams like yours.” She shut her eyes and curled her lips up, picturing what that would be like. “I would probably get addicted to sleeping pills in no time.” She laughed. “Let me know when you see me in one of them so I can invest in a big lock.”
“Don’t worry I won’t be coming for ya.” My eyes grew wider as I wondered if that might ever become the case.
I felt the warm breeze enter the room and brush against my still moist face. It was getting warmer outside. “Maybe I’m just excited about the summer and that’s what the dreams are for?” I said, hoping to rationalize away from ‘sex fiend’.
“From the sounds of it you are very excited.” She wiggled her brows. “Maybe this is something of a sign from the future.”
“I’m just trying to keep up with you, miss adventurous.” I grinned as I hoped deep inside she was right.
Olivia lived her life with a thrill for excitement, which was something I admired deeply. She made it an effort to see the bright side of things, making her a great person to be around. I’ve only known her for a few months since moving to Chicago for grad school and got totally lucky for my first roommate search to uncover such a gem. She worked as a travel journalist and decided that it would be nice to have someone at home when she returned from her trips. Her job allowed her to see the world through many lenses; in the process she had adopted a stoic, sort of “It goes on” perspective on life, which then translated to seeking more excitement both in and out of the bedroom.
“Everything in its due time, Kate. You are still barely out of recovery.” She was right. I wasn’t nearly that stoic and was still trying to get over my ex. He abruptly changed his mind about leaving Minnesota with me, instead declaring after our four years together that it wasn’t working out. I made it to Chicago on my last nerves and arrived a wreck. Olivia with her motherly instinct had been a godsend and guided me through my first broken heart. She helped me many times when I felt down about it and didn’t know where to turn. With her by my side, just three months later, I was almost over it and ready for a new chapter in my new city.
“You want coffee?” I smiled at her.
“Yeah, sure. I’ll make the good stuff I brought back from Europe.” She bit her lip as if wanting to add something, then just shook her head and smiled as she left the room.
I got dressed still tingling with the post orgasmic nerves. Olivia made us coffee and went downstairs to check the mail as I enjoyed the caffeine buzz and wondered what that man on the boat could look like.
“Wow, it’s getting warm outside!” Olivia raised her voice as she returned with the mail. “Your favorite time of the year is coming up quick.”
“Yes!” She always knew how to make me smile. “How long do you think until the lake warms up?”
“We’re still in the middle of May. I figure at least three weeks before we get into some real action.” She looked up from the mail and winked at me.
“Action, Oli?” I raised my eyebrows.
She rolled her tongue along her upper lip. “That’s right chica. Lake Michigan, boats, and the beautiful tanned men that come along.”
“I can’t wait,” I said, sensing it too. “It’s been almost eight months since I’ve been out on a boat.” My eyes narrowed. “Wait, do we know anybody with a boat around here?”
She shook her head. “Unfortunately not since my hook-up with Charlie ended. Silly boy had the silly idea to go and marry that flaky French actress. I don’t understand why he couldn’t see that she just needed someone around to shower her with attention.” She sighed. “Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.” She picked up a cup of coffee and looked at me with her lips curled. “We’ll be just fine Kate, I promise there are enough guys in this city who have boat keys somewhere around the house.”
“I just don’t know if I’m ready for another guy,” I muttered as I looked down at my coffee. Olivia tapped the table with her finger.
“Kate Simms!” She glared at me. “I love you, but if you think the plan to get through a breakup is to silence your heart and forgo any opportunity for another sun ray of love to warm it, then you are a silly little girl and I won’t have it.” She glared at me. “Chett was scared of commitment because he was still just a boy, remember?” She caught her breath. “Remind me again, how long were you guys together?”
“Since our freshman year,” I said. “We dated through college.”
She reached over and placed my hand in hers, speaking softly. “Well, what do kids know at that age? You guys went through the years without the opportunity to experience new things separately. To grow through those experiences, to gain more wisdom” – she looked out the window and then back at me, her mouth turning into a playful grin – “and of course to see who really makes you tick.”
“Tick, huh?” I narrowed my eyes.
Her eyes sparkled. “That’s right. I’m talking about connection and sex, the great revealers. It’s hard to hide yourself during sex, and it’s damn impossible when your body is in ecstasy of orgasm. You have to get through a few boys to find a man who can make you feel completely secure and hungry for that passion. One that will allow you to open up and let yourself be engulfed by real passion.” She accentuated the message by giving me a slight understanding nod.
“Oli, are you a journalist or a poet?” My eyes widened.
“A little bit of both.” She grinned as we both burst out laughing. She licked her lips. “All I know is that it will be a great summer.”
“Bring it on!” I cheered.
“That’s my girl.” She winked. “By the way, what time do you have to be at work tonight?” She poured us each another cup.
I bit my lip. “Nine; I have that Calvin Klein show starting.”
“That’s exciting, probably going to be a shit show,” she said. “How are you doing over there anyway, I noticed you’ve barely been home the last few weeks.”
She was right, I’ve been working so much that I barely saw her. The busy upcoming season’s fashion show schedule wasn’t the only reason though. For the last three weeks my boss had been steadily hinting at his interest in me. Xavier Fountain owned the fashion agency Bevy where I worked and was a very well connected man in Chicago. He looked younger than his late thirties. He’d enjoyed a fair amount of popularity with the women partially because of his status and in part due to his dark skin, piercing gray eyes and Mediterranean accent. He was certainly attractive but there was something I didn’t like about him. It seemed to me that he had let his success go to his head. With all the people kissing his ass he eventually started to assume everyone else would too. He believed that anything he wanted could be taken when he wanted it.
When I initially told him I had a boyfriend he didn’t even register it, or at least pretended not to. The last few weeks he has been coming up with excuses for me to attend various after parties for “PR purpose”. This usually involved being at some art gallery or club VIP section trying to entertain the designers or merchandisers while Xavier entertained his ideas of so far slow-but-steady approach. As the marketing manager I probably did have a reason to be there but I quickly learned that wasn’t even true. The after show partying was only that. I would try to find a good excuse and leave after a couple of drinks before things went from social to much more casual which I heard happened often with him. The money at this job was great though and I needed it for college so I stuck around for two months through it, secretly hoping someone’s pissed off boyfriend met Xavier’s face with a fist.
I looked at her and let out a sigh. “I know, Oli, it has been so busy with the shows for the upcoming summer. You know these are the crucial weeks when everyone is trying to present their new lines, rushing to be the first to deliver the fashion statements. Once the mags go out it will relax a bit.”
“It’s your job, baby girl, and you are doing just fine so don’t worry about me.” She waved it off. “Our girl nights can wait until the evenings turn nice and warm. By the way, how’s that boss of yours, the one with the wandering eyes?” She knew a bit about him from living in Chicago and from a few stories I told her about his eccentric ways.
“Still pushy. Seems he’s got the idea into his head that I can’t wait to get with him.” I furrowed my brows, causing a small vertical wrinkle to appear in between.
“That’s what happens when a guy gets his ass kissed all over town. He won’t change until they don’t need him anymore, and by then it will be too late.” She shook her head. “The only way to act is to keep it professional when he’s around.”
“As in?” I focused on her.
She tapped her index finger across her lips, “You could just tell him your boyfriend proposed and turn on the excited future bride mode. Tell him some incredibly detailed wedding plans over and over and he will get bored.”
I nodded and smiled. “That’s pretty good, Oli. I wonder if I’d ever be strong enough to just tell him to buzz off.”
“Only one way to find out.” She grinned. “Figure out what makes you tick.”
“Fuck GQ.” Jace grabbed the thick magazine by the corner and launched it across the room. It spiraled in the air before slamming into the wall above the trash bin missing the mark and landing next to it. It wasn’t anything personal against the publication, he’s enjoyed it for years. It was who was on the cover that was driving him wild.
The CEO of Monolyth Marketing leaned back in his big leather chair and took a deep breath. Looking to change his mood Jace picked up the latest investment report from the mahogany desk that dominated his home office. The numbers showed a sizable increase in his personal wealth from the last year. This was small change and he knew it. The way his business had been taking off, he would double these numbers himself within two years. At 28, Jace was hailed to be the undisputed marketing genius of Chicago. It took plenty of time and sacrifice and it paid off beyond his wildest dreams. At thirteen, he was just a shy kid who enjoyed learning about web design and the Internet. Then he moved to online commerce as his mind began to separate the idea of making money from working for an hourly rate. He became obsessed to figure out what made potential buyers buy specific items, and why. Over the next decade Jace perfected these ideas into a systematic approach. Now the biggest corporations were lining up to shell their marketing dollars for his systems. He registered his company name at nineteen and things took off fast. Over time Jace amassed nearly 60 million dollars and was easily one of the most sought after bachelors in the big city of Chicago.
At six foot three and carved with well defined muscles there was just two words for him – walking sex. His strong muscular arms were highlighted by the bulging biceps and big forearms. His wide chest made all his designer shirts look great as they hugged his rock hard abs. His wide back could easily be used to shield someone. His amazingly bright olive eyes complemented the deep naturally tan skin with his dark hair and played devilishly well into the dark and mysterious look. Every day women would openly stare in the street when he passed though wearing plain t-shirts. When he was out in town in his Lamborghini sitting behind the wheel draped in tailored Italian silk, their prying eyes showed desire that couldn’t be matched.
While he enjoyed the success, the celebrations and the parties, he was getting bored with all of it.
A man needs goals and his kept defaulting to his business aspirations. From cover stories in magazines to social obsequious crowds, he was surrounded by the mindset of “How can we make more money, and who do we network next?” This was boring to him, since his philosophy was that money is always a byproduct of doing something you excelled at. He simply wanted to be the best at what he did, and that fueled him, not the cash. Having already reached his goal of enough passive income off investments, he now could do virtually anything he wanted. However, the things he really wanted couldn’t be bought, which made him a little disappointed at the system that sold him the idea that total success meant everything is great across the board. A few years ago he dove into extreme car racing, ready to fuel his spirit with adrenaline and accomplishment that meant something directly. When you are first, you are first, there is no way around it. Racing was fair and clear cut, the opposite of the bullshit of the business world.
He looked up from the papers as someone knocked on his door. He wasn’t expecting anyone to show up at his penthouse, and only a handful of people even had the access. He watched the office door open and saw a smiling man’s face peering at him. Jace recognized the visitor and quickly rose from his desk. Ben Challem, the 29 year old surfer with the wild blond hair, bright blue eyes and a permanent smile waltzed in presenting his entire five foot nine worth of charm.
“What’s up, captain America?” Ben stretched out his arms for a hug.
“Holy shit, Ben!? When did you get back?” Jace’s eyes widened as he jumped up from his desk.
Ben patted his friend on the back and smiled, “Late last night, can you believe the Russians had finally let me go?”
Ben had been a longtime friend of Jace and one of the few people he truly trusted. His family had been heavily involved in yacht manufacturing and was one of the most reputable companies in the world. For over a century Ben’s family tree had designed some of the world’s best yachts and now it was Ben’s turn to take control at the wheel. In the recent years Russia’s financial growth reignited the ‘boat race’ for the super rich. The desire to own the biggest yacht had been generating billions of dollars for the industry from the newly rich Russian oligarchs who competed with the Arab Sheiks, and those in turn with the American finance and business mavericks.
Beside yachts Ben’s favorite thing was computer hacking. He had started creating websites and databases in his spare time while his parents sailed him around the world on boats. Given that there was only so much fishing and snorkeling one could do in a day, this was a perfect complimentary hobby. Eventually he managed to create the software for running the yacht’s navigation systems automatically, and with his father’s help, license it to the majority of yacht builders. His love for hacking and discovering ways to find and track information introduced him to Jace, who was meticulous about measuring his racing stats. The hobby also at one point attracted the attention of Interpol, which, thanks to his family’s reputation had agreed to place him in the status of a “consultant”, instead of slamming him in jail for a couple of years.
“About time you came back,” Jace raised his eyebrows. “How long were you supposed to be gone for, three months? And here you are six months later…” his lips curled up, “I clearly thought you’ve been kidnapped and gone for good.”
“And you didn’t even alert the press? No SEAL teams looking for me through the canals of St Petersburg?” Be retorted as he looked over Jace’s office.
“I’ve had my assistant put up a poster on the tree by my downtown office.” Jace nodded.
Ben’s mouth stretched in a grin, “You’re full of crap, there are no trees by your office.”
The two friends smiled at each other, happy to see each other at last.
Jace reached for a couple of beers from his office subzero fridge and handed one to Ben. “It’s great to see you brother.”
Ben looked over the clean office, his eyes studied the neatly organized papers next to the laptop. “What’s this working from the home deal anyway? He tilted his head, “Are you trying to escape the female attention?”
“Not really, I just concentrate better here.” Jace took a swig and looked away to his computer’s monitor.
Ben stared through the ceiling to floor windows at Lake Michigan in front of him. He watched the sail boats in the distance breeze through the blue water.
“How can you possibly concentrate with this view?” he shook his head. “Speaking of concentration, you won’t believe the women over there Jace. Russians are great people, they are so down to earth. I even considered going to the Moscow embassy to apply for citizenship, twice! Then I remembered I like it here too much.” Ben looked at his reflection in the window. ”I gotta tell you man, one of these days I will find me a nice girl and sail away.” He finished his beer in a few swigs and walked over to toss it. His eyes fell on the magazine laying by the trash can, his brows shot up as he recognized the model on the cover.
Ben’s eyes narrowed as he turned toward Jace. “Speaking of which, how are you doing?”
Jace knew Ben long enough to guess where he was intending to go.
“Besides business?” he avoided giving it away.
“Do you have to ask?” Ben grinned and stared at Jace.
Jace leaned back from the monitor and rubbed his eyes. “I am better but still at times feel in a daze. Since Giselle left the country I’ve just been working a lot. I couldn’t concentrate, shit I even stopped racing because I knew it would kill me in a state like this.”
Ben looked squarely at him, “Come on, man. It’s been half a year.” Jace looked up and looked at his friend. “Giselle wanted to be a model and she made her choice. She had you and the good life no matter if she stayed or went, so her choosing to go…”
“Yeah, I get it.” said Jace. “Still stings though.”
Ben nodded, “I know it hurts, but the only way to get over it is to meet other girls who show you that life is still a wonderful and exciting thing. Racing is good, and I know you’d kick ass as soon as you got behind the wheel again. And come on, Mr. Chicago’s finest, I am now here to help you rock this town!”
“Lucky me,” smiled Jace. “I am glad you’re back though, I’ve been working too much!”
“Well you can thank me twice,” Ben grinned, “because I managed to drag you into some fun already.”
Jace raised his eyebrow at his friend “Oh yeah?”
“You, my friend, have a date at La Rouge tonight.” Ben was giddy with excitement.
“Who with?” Jace said surprised.
“Oh, a sweet nice girl. A younger sister of one of my friends from Russia. We ran into each other in London’s airport and made plans while flying back together. It’s all taken care of, just show up at La Rouge around ten tonight, table four at their fancy steakhouse downstairs. Her name is Sasha. She is a blond, 167 centim… excuse me, 5”6. A very cool girl. Who knows, if you guys hit it off you could take her dancing to the club on the second level. I heard they just renovated and I know girls think you are a great dancer.”
“Let’s see how the dinner goes.” Jace said calmly. It has been a while since he went dancing anywhere.
“Great, I will stop by there a little later for a drink.” Ben shook Jace’s hand. ‘Right now I have to go see my folks.”
“Sounds good, we’ll have to catch up more soon.” Jace paused as Ben approached the door, “And thank you, brother.”
“You’re welcome,” said Ben as he walked out, “Consider it my welcome back present.”
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