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Hello!! Here are the first chapters of all my stories!!! Enjoy!!!!
“Rich, I’m pregnant.”
The last time I’d said those exact words to him, it had led to our breakup and my entrance to a dark and dreary pit of misery. This time, instead of a dumbfounded, confused expression, a huge grin formed on Rich’s face and he kissed me. We laughed and he told me how happy he was and how much he loved me.
“This is perfect.” He lay next to me on our bed and combed his hand through my hair. He found his way to the edge of my t-shirt--one of his I wore as a night gown. He lifted it and rubbed his hand across my stomach, then leaned down and kissed it. “Only one thing would make it better.”
“Yeah? What’s that?”
“You saying ‘yes’. Marry me, Lexi.”
My heart leapt into my throat and a chaotic flutter of butterflies on speed swirled through my stomach. I stared at Rich, his adoring eyes staring back at me. Was this for real? I’d never been proposed to before.
“Really? Are you sure? You don’t have to marry me just ’cause you knocked me up.”
His brow furrowed as his lips bowed in a half smile. “You’re kinda ruining this moment.”
He reached into the nightstand drawer next to him. The black velvet box opened with a pop and inside sat a princess cut diamond ring--not a small one, either. “I’ve been trying to find the perfect time for weeks now.”
My eyes immediately teared. How could I have doubted his sincerity?
“Will you marry me?” he asked again.
My body shook and I nodded.
“Is that a ‘yes’?”
“Yes,” I screamed and tackled him, covering his face with kisses.
“Wait,” he managed between smooches. “I want to make it official.”
“Didn’t we just do that?”
“Not yet.” Rich plucked the sparkly gem from its box. He slid it onto my left ring finger and I did what all newly engaged women do. I flexed my wrist and held my arm straight, admiring my hand and its brilliant adornment.
“Do you like it?” he asked.
“I love it!” And truly meant it. The square stone appeared flawless, at least a carat and a half, maybe more. I couldn’t have picked a more perfect setting myself--simple and elegant platinum, nothing fru-fru about it.
“I know it’s not as big as Abby’s.”
“Uh, there’s no need for it to be.” I didn’t care one bit what my sister had. “And besides, I’m sure your penis is way bigger than Daniel’s anyway.”
“Everybody knows big fat diamond rings are to make up for tiny dicks. Trust me--you have no need whatsoever to buy me a big diamond.”
I placed my lips back on his and my hands made their way to his boxers. Rich slipped a hand under my shirt in preparation of removing it.
Thud. Followed by high-pitched wailing.
Rich and I pulled apart. What the heck was that? Before my feet hit the hardwood, Marcus’s voice was on the other side of the door.
“Sorry guys. Preston got away from me.”
“It’s okay. Bring him in,” I yelled, still hearing my little man’s cries.
Marcus pushed the door open slowly and as soon as Preston’s teary eyes met mine, he smiled and reached his arms to me.
“He’s getting fast,” Marcus said. “I turned around to pick up some toys and he crawled off down the hallway. I think he crashed head first into your door.”
Marcus placed my pajama-clad baby in my arms, though I couldn’t call him a baby anymore. It had been almost a year since his birth and it seemed like he grew an inch a day. I’d always heard people go on about how fast time flies, but had never realized how true it was until I had my own child.
“Should we tell him?” Rich asked, gazing at Preston. I nodded.
“Guess what, my precious boy? Daddy Rich is gonna make an honest woman of me. See?” I wiggled my fingers at him.
He pointed at the diamond and giggled. He had no clue what it meant or how huge a deal it was, but I liked to pretend he did and was happy.
“Wow. Congrats.” Marcus smiled and shook Rich’s hand, then gave me a hug. “I’m really happy for you.”
“Yeah,” I said and turned back to my son. “Preston, you’re gonna be a big brother.”
“What was that I heard?” Kevin barged in.
“Yep, I’m pregnant.”
“Oh my God,” Kevin shrieked and skipped over to us. “This is the best news ever!” He plopped onto the bed and pulled Rich, Preston and me into a hug.
“We’re getting married, too,” Rich added, and Kevin dove in for another hug, shooting me with wedding questions.
“Come on.” Marcus playfully yanked Kevin toward the door. “You want us to get Preston out of here so you can, you know, celebrate?”
I looked to Rich, his blue eyes telling me exactly what I wanted to hear. We’d do our celebrating later. I turned back the other half of my new-age family--Marcus in his striped cotton pants and t-shirt, Kevin in silky red pj’s. “No. Let’s get dressed and celebrate together.”
* * * *
I checked my cell after having it off an entire day--a family brunch with Marcus, Kevin and Preston, then a romantic night with Rich, including a stay at the Luxury Inn and Suites for nostalgia’s sake. Rich no longer worked for his Uncle Walt full-time, but filled in when he needed someone. He’d worked there even after graduating from NYU, his administrative assistant’s job at Big Apple Records not quite paying enough to survive on. But with the step up to promoter, he’d been able to leave the hotel clerk job.
“You have fifteen new messages.” A robotic female voice spoke into my ear as we climbed into a cab. What the hell? Can’t I be left alone for one day?
“First message…Hey, Lexi! It’s Amanda. I got your text and I’m so excited for you guys. Congrats! Call me later.”
“Next message…Lexi, dear, it’s Mom. I’m putting together a dinner to celebrate your engagement. Oh, this is so wonderful--another wedding to plan! I’ve already talked with Pastor John and he’s ecstatic. He gave me a list of dates the church is available next summer. We can’t do May--that’s Abigail and Daniel’s wedding anniversary. June would be perfect. July and August are too hot--you know how the heat affects your father’s hyperhidrosis. So we should book this as soon as possible. Hate to have your heart set on a date and then--”
“Next message… It’s Mom again. Geez, they don’t give you much time to talk before cutting you off. But anyway, Pastor said many dates next summer are already booked, so we need to pick one soon so you get your first choice. And we need to book the florist and the band, too. Call me when you get this.”
I’d been an engaged woman barely twenty-four hours and already the drama had begun.
“Next message… Lexi, it’s Sheila. I need your last copy edit for Mama Drama ASAP, and we need to go over the schedule for the local book tour. We’re trying to book you in a couple other cities--Buffalo, Toronto, maybe Philly. Call me.”
I shut the phone off and rested my head on Rich’s shoulder with a sigh, not caring about the other messages.
“The real world beckons.” He kissed my forehead. “I checked my messages, too. One day away and shit’s falling apart at work.”
“My mother’s already planning our wedding extravaganza.”
He laughed. “Honestly, I couldn’t care less about the details. I just want to marry you. We could go to City Hall right now for all I care.”
“Don’t tempt me.” I snuggled into him tight, loving that he was just like me. “But don’t you want to see me in a gorgeous gown and shove cake in my face?”
“We don’t need a big fancy wedding to do that. I’d be happy with something small and intimate, the people who matter.”
“If I can wrestle my mom into submission, I’ll make it happen.”
The cab pulled up in front of the building where I’d been sharing an apartment with Marcus and Kevin for over a year. Rich had moved in right after Preston’s birth, and aside from the usual family spats, it had been complete bliss. Every woman should be as lucky--three men to cater to her every need.
The first few months of motherhood had been--for lack of a less profane phrase--pretty damn fucked up. As if cracked, bleeding nipples weren’t enough, throw in nights of minuscule sleep, shit explosions--the baby’s, not mine--and uncontrollable crying fits--mine, not the baby’s. And through it all, my guys were there. Marcus, the tough-as-nails lawyer and my BFF-slashbaby daddy, had morphed into a fluff of bright pink cotton candy when he became a dad. His live-in lover and life partner, Kevin, became the brother I never had, or even knew I wanted.
And then there was Rich, the man I loved and wanted to spend my life with. Our relationship until Preston’s birth had been pretty rocky. But once we’d sorted through our feelings, we couldn’t live without each other.
Okay, cue the harp music and toss some rose petals over our heads. I know--so not like me.
But never in my life had I found a man who cared for me--not my breasts, my tight ass, or my immeasurable talent for giving head. He did like those attributes, of course, but we had fun together and genuinely wanted the best for each other.
Rich and I held hands and stepped into the apartment amid chaos. Preston screamed, and crawled to the living room wearing nothing. Kevin ran after him, soaked from head to toe. Marcus appeared with a bloodied washcloth held to his nose.
So much for relaxing a bit longer.
“What the hell is going on here?” I picked Preston up and held him close.
“We were giving him a bath, and well, he whacked Marcus in the nose with his tugboat. Then he started splashing me.”
All of a sudden, my brand new Diane von Furstenberg maxi sundress got really warm…and wet.
“Son of a bitch.” I held Preston away from me by the armpits, pee still trickling from his little fireman’s hose.
“Let me have him.” Rich took him to the nursery while I headed to the bedroom to change.
When I came back to the kitchen, Kevin was cleaning Marcus’s face of all traces of blood. After a final wipe, he kissed him on the nose and the two smiled at each other. I found Rich in the living room with Preston on the couch, an episode of Sesame Street on the flat screen. Peace had been restored.
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A Bitch Named Karma
A Bitch Named Karma
“Finito!” I screamed, not caring if the entire building heard me.
I’d just typed The End on my latest manuscript and that meant another Lexi Marshall masterpiece was ready for the printers. Val would be ecstatic. As friend, confidante and editor extraordinaire, her job title usually included “nag” as well. But for once, I was two weeks ahead of my deadline.
Dressed in satin pajamas, I sprawled across my purple velvet duvet, marabou-covered slippers on my feet. My chocolaty rich curls were twisted on top of my head, held in place by a jewel-adorned clip. I stretched my arms above my head and pointed my toes, feeling a tingle throughout my body. The deep stretch loosened everything. Man, that felt great!
My laptop lay in front of me, glowing with accomplishment. She was my faithful friend who stuck by me through writer’s block and bad metaphors. Even when I’d threatened to pick her up and throw her across the room, she never gave me even a moment of spiteful malfunction. This was just as much her success as it was mine.
I clicked Save and copied the file to disc. This first installment, Marisol Takes Manhattan, was the beginning of a three book series. Book two would follow my heroine as she searched for Mr. Right. Of course it wouldn’t be easy. I’d throw all kinds of bumps in her road. And the final book, the piece de resistance, would be my first ever wedding-themed novel, a journey down the aisle complete with bridesmaids from hell and one wedding disaster after another. I’d been waiting forever for a three-book deal!
I closed the computer and hopped off the bed, pressing Play on my favorite 80’s CD. I did a happy dance around the room, belting out the lyrics at the top of my lungs. Not only was I delirious with joy, but the feeling of accomplishment put me in a horny mood. My boyfriend, Zak, and I had spent most of the previous month buried in our own workloads, rarely having the energy for a quick missionary, let alone any fun kinky stuff.
Finishing this book gave me a sense of uninhibited freedom and a delicious thought crossed my mind. I could dress in my black hooker boots—as Zak affectionately named them—and trench coat, absolutely nothing underneath. A little nookie in his office would be quite a surprising way to spend the afternoon. It sounded completely insane but also quite fun. I just had to do it. The sexy office tryst had to wait a bit, though. I shimmied into a black lace thong, classy pinstriped pants and said hooker boots, then finished the rest of my primping. Cha Cha, my Chihuahua, scurried after me as I headed toward the door. I gave her a little kiss on the nose before dashing out.
I found Val hidden behind a pile of manuscripts. She took one look at me and sighed.
“Please don’t tell me you need some coddling today. I’m drowning in alien love stories and super-spy dramas. And if I have to read one more teen vampire knock-off, I might just roll up the pages and fashion them into a noose!”
“Val, I know you thrive on drama, but isn’t this a little much?”
“If you had to read through as many of these as I did, you wouldn’t think so.”
“Well, I have great news! Marisol Takes Manhattan is finished.”
“You’re kidding. Please don’t joke with me, not today.” A pencil sat behind each ear and in her hand, another half-chewed one.
“No joke. Here she is.”
I handed her the disc, her eyes suddenly widening.
“I’ll leave you to your, uh, noose,” I said with a smile then turned to leave.
“Did I tell you I love you?”
I headed to Accounting to pick up my latest royalty check. After being handed a perfectly plain number ten envelope—something I had become quite infatuated with over the years—I carefully placed it in my purse. As much as I wanted to tear it open and kiss its beautiful figures, I had other needs to attend to.
Inside the bathroom at Smith & Roland Publishing, I shed my pinstripe pants and silk cami. After stuffing them into my silver metallic Fendi bag, I wrapped my sleek black trench around me tightly. Every button had been slipped through its corresponding hole while the belt sat in a secure knot at my waist. My lips were painted with a shade of M.A.C. lipstick appropriately named Eager. The twenty-dollar pout screamed “kiss me now.” My body emanated Zak’s favorite perfume, its sweet yet sensual mix of aniseed, violets, vanilla and musk. The day we’d bought it, a tester bottle in a Martinique gift shop led to hours of love-making in a tropical paradise.
I walked the five blocks to Zak’s office, the satin lining of my coat rubbing on my thighs. Riding the elevator to the tenth floor among businessmen in suits and secretaries in conservative blouses and skirts, I felt quite naughty. If they only knew what lay under my simple black coat—barely a square foot of transparent fabric covering only my most intimate body parts. Thoughts of what I could do when I walked into Zak’s office swirled through my brain and brought a goofy smirk to my face. Just thinking of my finished manuscript made me a little wet. If I thought of all the Kama Sutra positions we could do in his desk chair, I’d be dripping by the time I actually made it to his office.
Zak’s secretary Ruth sat manning her post outside his office picking at an over micro-waved lasagna in a cardboard tray. Her graying hair and decades-old wardrobe made her a prime candidate for a makeover show, one where the victim is ambushed at work, their friends and family waiting in the wings.
After wiping a spot of sauce from the corner of her mouth, Ruth buzzed Zak on the intercom and alerted him of my presence.
“Well, um, go ahead and send her in,” he said over the speakerphone. Even with a McDonald’s drive-through quality, the sound of his voice had added to my arousal.
“Tough day, baby?” I asked in my most seductive manner as I strutted into his office.
“Oh, yeah…crazy,” he said without looking up, his fingers fast at work on the computer’s keyboard. I watched them peck at the keys with precision, yearning for them to be on me instead. Looking back to his face, I saw a bead of sweat roll down his forehead and noticed his tie was loosened too.
“Ooh, it’s hot in here, isn’t it?” I untied my belt and unbuttoned my coat, then inched it down my shoulders and onto the floor, a seductive move I’d learned during a strip-tease class. Zak looked up from the computer as I leaned on the desk, cleavage pouring from my tiny transparent bra. His bottom jaw fell to the keyboard. I felt something scratchy under my hand and looked down to find an emery board.
“What’s this for?” I asked, stepping out of my starring roll in this office porno flick.
“Uh, nothing. I guess Ruth left it there when she came in earlier.”
Not really caring about the answer, I flung the nail file aside and got back into character. I walked around Zak’s desk and straddled myself around my man, grinding on his already hard protrusion. Just the sight of my half naked body excited him and I loved that. My hands yanked the tie from his neck and began opening his shirt. I pressed my lips to his, forcing them apart as I pushed my tongue deep inside. He tasted like cinnamon Binaca, his breath refresher of choice.
“We can’t do this! What if someone walks in?” he asked in a semi-panicked tone.
“Zaky, you know no one comes in here without Ruth buzzing you first. Come on, let Georgie Boy come out and play!” I unhooked my bra.
Zak’s eyes fixated on my erect cotton candy colored nipples—he was always a breast man. My lips traced a path to his ear and whispered my most favorite dirty line, “Georgie Porgie, put it in my pie!”
* * * *
Once I’d gotten what I wanted from Zak, I kissed him one last time and told him I’d see him at home. His labored breathing continued even as I walked out the door. The sun shone over the city on a beautiful Indian summer day and the warmth penetrated my dark long-sleeve coat. I wished I could take it off and soak in some Vitamin D but as adventurous as I was, I wouldn’t dare walk down the street in lingerie.
My mind replayed the fantastic orgasm I’d experienced, bringing a goofy smirk to my face and a flutter throughout my body. It reminded me of the euphoria I’d felt after finishing my manuscript a couple hours earlier. And the royalty check that had been shoved to the bottom of my Fendi bag when I topped it with my discarded pants and shirt. It stood next in line for my love and devotion and maybe even a hot kiss or two. I caressed its body first, then like a giddy kid in a candy store, ripped open the envelope. Staring back at me was a check for a quarter of the amount I normally received.
A glitch in the system most likely. There had to be a zero or something missing. I got on my cell and called Val, but was sent directly to her voicemail.
“Val, babe. I just opened my check and there must have been a problem in Accounting. I think someone needs to be fired!” I said in my silly diva tone. “But anyway, call me after you straighten it out and I can stop by for the rest of my money. Ciao!”
* * * *
After a shower and wardrobe change I made my way to my favorite shoe boutique, regardless of the figures on my check. A computer glitch didn’t scare me one bit. I wouldn’t let it keep me from a well-deserved treat.
Tristan greeted me as I walked in, and air-kissed both my cheeks.
“Daaahling! Where on earth have you been?”
“Oh, busy with the latest masterpiece. You know how that goes!”
“Can’t wait to read it!” He grinned at me. “Have a seat and I’ll be right with you. Some new little peaches just arrived and I know you’ll love them!”
Tristan returned a few minutes later with eight boxes of shoes, each one in my dainty size six and a half. Each pair he unveiled became my favorite. Making the decision on which to adopt would be excruciating. Each adorable twosome stared up at me with puppy dog eyes and pleaded, “Pick me! Choose me! Love me!”
Buying a pair of shoes is much more than strapping some pieces of leather to your feet and taking home the first ones that fit right. It is a commitment, a long lasting relationship—usually longer than most boyfriends. These shoes had to be sturdy, dependable and able to support me through anything. They’d show me off and make me look spectacular. These amazing little ego boosts did so much more than protect my feet from the rigid Earth.
I narrowed my decision down to red kitten heel slides and a pair of cheetah print stilettos with an open toe. Decisions, decisions! After mulling it over and modeling them for Tristan one last time, I still couldn’t make up my mind.
“You know, there’s only one solution to this problem,” he said to me with twinkling eyes.
“Take them both!”
“I like the way you think!”
Pleased with my purchases, I turned to leave the boutique, spying something cute near the
“Oh my God, those aren’t...” I turned back to Tristan.
“Yes, they are!”
Examining the minuscule hot pink doggie boots, I knew Cha Cha’s wardrobe couldn’t be complete without them. Leaving the shop with a couple treasures for myself and also something for my baby, I promised Tristan I’d visit again soon. I sent Zak a naughty text message, describing the newest additions to my shoe fetish collection and which sexual positions I’d be modeling them for him in.
* * * *
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The crash of ocean waves echoed in Shelby Saunders’ ears while a soft steamy breeze blew the chocolate-colored strands of hair trailing from her twisted up-do. Her body tingled and her stomach flip-flopped in a good way as she placed a cashier’s check written for the entire balance of her savings account on the table.
Mr. and Mrs. Espinoza sat across from her with their lawyer grandson, Gabriel, who’d flown in from San Antonio to assist with the real estate sale.
“Here is the rest,” she said as she placed another cashier’s check on the table, half of the loan she’d taken out for the purchase of the resort. The rest of the loan--the biggest in her life--would hopefully be enough to refurbish the twenty-room resort, its kitchen, dining room, lobby, and the concrete patio the four of them sat on.
Gabriel shook his head. Every button of his crisp white dress shirt had been secured and his tie sat firmly in its place. Who would wear that suit in ninety-degree weather? The jacket looked like it weighed a hundred pounds and just the thought of it draped across her shoulders made Shelby sweat even more. Her body hadn’t acclimated itself to the Cancun heat yet and even in a spaghettistrap sundress, perspiration dripped from her pores.
“I don’t agree with this at all, Papi,” Gabriel said to his grandfather. “This place is your life, my life. You raised your family here--your grandchildren grew up here. How can you sell it? And so cheaply? There’s still time to back out.”
Shelby understood Gabriel’s hesitation in letting The Paradise Cove go. The emotions she’d quickly developed for this quaint piece of Mexican heaven surprised her. When she’d first arrived more than two months earlier, its overgrown shrubbery, sun-bleached upholstery and the missing letters on the resort sign almost made her run away without looking back. Never again would she let Chloe talk her into booking a bargain trip online. But something about the place tugged at Shelby’s heart. She easily imagined the resort in its heyday: tanned bodies lounging, laughing, sipping on cocktails rimmed with pineapple slices and colorful parasols poking out of the frosty concoctions.
Heaven in a tropical paradise.
Well, except for Chloe’s incessant complaining.
Shelby’s feelings for the Espinozas came as a surprise, too. She’d watched the sweet old couple and could see they loved their work. The Espinozas welcomed guests like old friends, even if it was their first meeting, and cared for them as if they had known them their entire lives.
“Gabriel, she loves it just as we do.” A man who showed no fear in expressing his emotions, Mr. Espinoza put a hand to his grandson’s shoulder, eyes staring intently. “Shelby is an amazing young woman. She will do right by us.”
Shelby’s seven days of bliss with the Espinozas had elapsed in the blink of an eye. This couple filled a spot in her soul that had been achingly empty and the thought of returning to a life of nothingness a world away felt like a stroll down death row. She had no man. No real family. A couple of friends and a depressing job were all that waited in New Jersey. While sitting outside the resort for her ride back to the airport, a crazy idea had floated into her brain. Instead of getting in the taxi, Shelby had sent Chloe on her way, alone, marched back inside, and made an offer to the Espinozas. They’d accepted without hesitation. Together they’d taken the first step in reclaiming the glory of The Paradise Cove, and Shelby began a whole new chapter in her life, something she desperately needed.
“But Grandfather, why such a small amount of money? How can you live the rest of your lives on this?” Gabriel pointed to the checks laying in front of them.
Mr. Espinoza stood, walked to the edge of the cracked and crumbling patio, and looked out at the beach. When he turned back, Shelby watched his eyes pan over the rotted wood of the bar and the torn awning above them. “So much work to be done. She’s probably giving us far too much.”
“The memories, Papi. How can you sell our memories for such a small price?”
“You can’t sell memories, Gabriel. They’re inside you. No one can buy them, even for double or triple the cost.”
Gabriel sighed and turned his attention to Shelby. “Are you happy? You’ve swindled an old couple out of thousands of dollars!”
“No,” Mrs. Espinoza said, adding her two cents to the conversation. “Shelby is a wonderful girl. She made our last moments in this haven pure joy. She is the right person. She will return it to what it once was.” Mrs. Espinoza smiled. Her continuous stream of faith reminded Shelby of her mother.
“Find your dream world!” she’d always said, and encouraged Shelby to search out happiness and follow it wherever it led her. Who would have known that path to happiness would cause her to leave the safety of a one-bedroom apartment and bank teller job to buy a Cancun resort?
With Mrs. Espinoza’s wide smile and a gentle pat of her hand, the “what have I gotten myself into?” thoughts disappeared from Shelby’s mind. She’d left everything she’d ever known, but this venture would pay off. It had to. After the sudden death of her mother and step-father, she’d battled with her only step-sibling for her share of the life insurance policy. This once-inseparable pair of stepsisters had duked it out for months and Shelby had never expected to lose someone so close to her over something as trivial as money. She cursed her parents for leaving them without a will and creating the situation. In the end, she’d gotten what she deserved and wasn’t about to waste the chance she’d been given. She would make this happen.
Gabriel sighed. “I can’t change your minds, can I?”
The elderly couple shook their heads.
After shuffling some papers around and getting Shelby’s signature on about a hundred of them, Gabriel stood and hugged both his grandparents. He walked off without a single glance in her direction.
* * * * *
What were his grandparents thinking? It made no sense at all. Why they would sell the resort to a stranger? This girl had no idea what she was doing. She barely looked old enough to be out of college and couldn’t possibly know anything about running a business. Sometimes his grandparents let their hearts make decisions, rather than their heads. Gabriel had seen it a million times over the years, giving far too many discounts and complimentary drinks.
A free piña colada was nothing compared to this. Yes, the resort needed some major work, but with a sponge and bucket and a few coats of paint, it was a goldmine. They could have easily sold it for double or triple what they’d gotten from this Shelby woman. What were they going to do when their minuscule nest egg ran out?
* * * * *
Shelby woke the next morning, and after her eyes adjusted to the blinding sun, her gaze moved to the sliding patio door of the resort room she’d taken up residence in. She’d left the glass open to allow in the soft breeze and the lullaby of crashing waves. Was this for real? The tattered linen curtain danced as the salty scent of the ocean drifted in and she knew she would always enjoy these simple moments.
With the Espinozas having moved to their new casita, being alone at The Paradise Cove felt quite surreal. It was no longer a resort she vacationed at--it was her resort. Shelby stretched and sat up, recalling the events of the night before. She’d lit candles and played soft tropical music.
After a dinner together on the patio of The Paradise Cove at sunset, Mr. and Mrs. Espinoza took one last stroll to the ocean’s edge. They’d held each other and kissed, as Shelby had sat by, watching them give a tear-filled goodbye to the home they’d known for nearly five decades. Shelby hoped they were happy with their decision and vowed to make them proud of her and what she did with the place they loved.
Now it was time to get to work. She had given herself a two-month deadline to fix up the main building housing the lobby, kitchen, dining room and patio, and then the two buildings on either side, each with four guest suites. Her goal was to re-open the resort while continuing to work on the rest of the suites. After a quick and not-so-hot shower, her first order of business was stripping the guest rooms. She tossed every piece of thread-bare bedding, along with ancient lamps, ice buckets, and alarm clock radios that probably hadn’t worked in a decade. After moving one of the beds and finding a rat and her babies, she screamed and ran from the room. No wonder she had been the only guest.
Several hours of labor and eighty jumbo-sized garbage bags later, she grabbed a bottle of water and relaxed on the only remaining fabric-covered beach chair without a gigantic hole in it. As she twisted the cap on her water, she debated dumping the entire contents on her sweat-spattered body. Instead, she downed half of it in one gulp. She watched the tourists walk by--lovers with hands intertwined, playfully pushing each other into the water as it lapped at the sand. Jet skis zoomed past, along with a boat pulling a parasailer. Faint sounds of a steel drum band drifted out from one of the neighboring resorts--a typical day of sun and fun in Cancun.
The Paradise Cove’s beach sprawled out in front of her, rough and unkempt, and surely most people barely gave it a glance when they walked by. If they did focus on it for more than two seconds, they’d scrunch their noses at its random pieces of driftwood, some half-buried and pointing in all directions, and clumps of wet seaweed with miniature clouds of hovering insects. It wouldn’t win any “Prettiest Beachfront” awards, but this small piece of earth held much potential.
She stood and trotted toward the water, and as a small wave tumbled over her feet, her toes sunk like she’d stepped in quick sand. Oh, that felt great! After bending and splashing herself with the cool water, refreshing her body, she turned and looked back at the resort. A fresh coat of paint was a must and the awning needed to be replaced. There was a ton of work--no surprises there--but now that her name was printed on the deed, the pages of the to-do list seemed to grow exponentially.
Luckily for her, lack of a life back in New Jersey had lent her obscene amounts of time to watch do-it-yourself decorating shows. This favorite pastime gave her tons of information that she’d stored in her head precisely for this sort of situation. Even though she had never done it, she knew she could spackle and paint like a pro. And doing it herself was a must. It wouldn’t be easy, but she had a positive attitude and a vat of elbow grease. Surely it would equal the assistance of at least two, maybe even three more bodies.
If she wanted to cross off any of the items on her extensive list, she needed to get back to work. She entered the second guest building and began filling more huge black plastic trash bags. They accumulated one by one onto the walkway and in no time, an Everest-sized mound had been formed. She grabbed two bags and dragged them straight to the garbage Dumpster, which looked to be filling quite quickly. After climbing up on a rusted metal lounge chair, she reached inside to rearrange the bags and squish them in as much as possible.
Standing on her toes, she still couldn’t reach one of the bags. After carefully placing a foot on each arm rest, she leaned over the edge once again. The chair began to tip and before she could right it, it toppled over, leaving her balancing on the edge of the metal box. The weakness of her over-worked arms couldn’t take the strain and she fell head-first into the garbage.
Sinking between the bags, Shelby scrambled to gain some kind of footing, but the poking and prodding of random pieces of wood and rubbish hindered any kind of progress she made.
“Let me help you,” a man said.
She finally steadied herself on top of an archaic air-conditioning unit and when she peered over the edge, she found Gabriel Espinoza standing there in a dark navy suit.
Great. Her rescuer had to be the one person who hated her.
“I’ll be right back,” he said, and in what looked to be quite expensive leather shoes, he sprinted to the tool shed at the far end of the resort. He came back with a ladder, opened it and climbed up. Reaching for her hands without saying a word, he helped her onto the ladder.
The two climbed down as Shelby tried her best not to let on she had intense pain radiating through her right ankle.
When both of her feet were planted in the sand, Gabriel folded the ladder. “You should be more careful, you know. You’re lucky I was here.”
“Thank you for your help.” She avoided his eyes as she wiped her hands on her shorts, waiting for him to walk ahead. He couldn’t see her limp.
“Where do you want the ladder?” he asked.
“Anywhere is fine.”
He rolled his eyes and lifted the dull metal apparatus, then walked toward the main building. Suddenly he turned and looked at her.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“I can see you’re in pain.” His impatience came charging through. “Is it your ankle?”
Shelby sighed and continued to move forward. “Yes. I must have twisted it.”
Gabriel set the ladder down and stepped to her. “Come here.”
“I’m fine. I can do it.”
“No, you’re not fine.” He wrapped his arm under hers and supported her weight. A flock of butterflies and ice water surged through her body as his hand curled around her, every one of his fingers pressing into her side as he held her tightly.
They hobbled to the lobby, where he set her down on the rattan sofa, its floral patterned cushions devoid of fluff.
Gabriel retrieved a first aid kit from behind the front desk. First he surveyed the damage to her legs, which were riddled with cuts and scrapes. “I don’t think any of these are too bad.” He rummaged through the rusty metal box. “How is your head?”
“It’s fine.” Shelby ignored the throb at the back of her skull. “Um, thank you, again. For helping me out there. And for getting all this.” She motioned to the kit. “I didn’t even realize there was a first aid kit behind the counter.”
“Well, I’ve spent nearly my entire life at this resort. I know everything about The Paradise Cove.”
“I hope to learn.” She took the antibiotic wipe he’d offered and tore it open. He then handed her a few large bandages.
“You sure you know what you’ve gotten yourself into?” He took out a long stretchy bandage and wrapped her ankle with it.
“I think so. I’m putting everything I’ve got into this place.”
“You better. This resort is very special to my family and I’m not happy about it being owned by an outsider.”
Shelby sat quiet as she cleaned her wounds, Gabriel’s eyes burning her skin. If this place was so special to his family, why were Mr. and Mrs. Espinoza here all alone? Surely they’d needed help taking care of guests and doing repairs. Where was the family when the resort fell into despair? And if this place meant so much to Gabriel, why was he in San Antonio instead of Cancun? “Well, I care about this place enough to give it the attention it deserves, even if I’m not an Espinoza.”
“Are you implying that I don’t care?”
“If you did, why weren’t you here years ago, helping your grandparents take care of the place?”
His top lip curled and his voice rose a few decibels. “I was making a career for myself.”
Apparently she had nicked a nerve.
“If I had the sweetest grandparents on the planet, I would have dropped everything to be at their side when they needed me.”
“I was doing what I had to do. You have no idea what you’re talking about.” He slammed the first aid kit onto the table and the sweat beads on his forehead began streaming down. The constraints of a suit, dress shirt and snugly fitted tie had to be excruciating. “If you had minded your own business and left my grandparents alone, none of this would be happening right now. I’ll be shocked if you don’t run this place completely into the ground.” He stood up.
Shelby stood too, matching the fire in his ocean blue eyes, set off by his bronzed skin and onyx black hair. “You just wait. I’ll make your grandparents proud.”
He marched past her, got into his rental car and sped away.
* * * *
Damn that woman! Gabriel punched the gas, probably a bit harder than he should have. Dust and rocks sputtered from the back tires of the rental. That woman infuriated every last cell in his body. The Paradise Cove was supposed to be his someday, not sold off to some city transplant who had no idea how to run a business, let alone one in a completely different country. Why did this have to happen now?
In another year or two, he would have been able to take over and make sure his grandparents’ legacy flourished. He’d been planning it for years. But now it was too late. The resort had a new owner and he was not in a position to change it. He’d have to sit back and watch his birthright sink into the sand with Shelby at the helm. It was inevitable. She would destroy The Paradise Cove.
And the fact that she looked amazingly beautiful while doing it made it a hundred times worse.
* * * *
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Robyn Miller jammed her hands knuckle-deep into a mound of raw ground beef and egg.
“Mommy, Mommy, come quick!” her daughter yelled from the living room.
“What’s going on?” She hoped her four-year-old hadn’t spilled her milk or gotten her head stuck between the railing spindles--again.
After a quick wash, Robyn dried her hands on her black velour lounge pants and trotted into the living room, nearly tripping over Malibu Barbie’s Super Cool Scooter. Paige’s favorite TV show now resembled a nasty blizzard. The little girl stood with the remote control in her hands, volume rising, as the roar of static thundered around them.
“Oh, honey, the station must be having trouble.” Robyn tightened the ponytail at the nape of her neck, then took the remote, immediately lowering the sound. “Let me check another channel.”
After an exciting morning of picking up the dry cleaning, mopping every surface of the thirtytwo-hundred square foot home, and prepping dinner for a husband who may or may not be home to eat it, she used this opportunity to rest, and plopped onto the leather couch. Ahhh, relaxation! She flipped through a few channels and saw they were in perfect working order. After surfing past her favorite soap opera, she instinctively clicked back, despite having been away from it for years. Even as a stay-at-home mom--or domestic goddess, as she preferred to be labeled--there wasn’t much time for lounging or eating bonbons. Robyn sank into the couch as the drama on the screen sucked her in and soothed her. The messy kitchen, a basket of unfolded laundry, the windows that needed washing--all her distractions disappeared as the TV beckoned her.
It was a quirky roommate her freshman year of college who had lured her in--the perfect way to spend an hour in between classes. And the next semester, when the two no longer had their afternoons free, she’d snagged an extra VCR from home and recorded the show each day. Missing even one episode had no longer been an option.
Once again, Robyn felt the familiar seduction from the screen and the faces of the neverchanging characters she remembered. But there were many new faces, too. A hair-pulling cat fight broke out between two divas she didn’t recognize, and once their perfectly manicured claws had retracted, the scene switched to a young couple inching their way toward a bed.
“Um, honey, why don’t you go clean up the toys in your room,” she said as the woman’s shirt dropped to the floor, her pink satin and black lace bra on display.
Paige sat on the floor, playing, oblivious to the sexuality displayed in front of her. “Mommy, do I have to?”
The administrative assistant turned stay-at-home mom felt some guilt at shooing her daughter from the room to allow this steamy pleasure, but that feeling quickly faded. The TV couple caressed each other with a gentleness employed only by a man and woman in love. His hand brushed her cheek and pushed the stray hairs from her face. She smiled and took the hand in hers, pressing it to her heart as a sultry instrumental melody played in the background. He moved his hand and kissed the spot where it had been, inching his way toward his beloved’s mouth. The girl had starred on the soap for ages, but this tan muscled guy was new. He pulled apart the snaps of his shirt, one by one, revealing an admirable set of six-pack abs. And when the shirt cascaded to the floor it revealed a tattoo between his shoulder blades. The bold black ink gave him a bad-boy type of sexiness Robyn had never found attractive before, but a momentary tingle swept through her body. She studied his face and lips, his eyes, and realized they looked familiar. Could he have been on the show years ago and she hadn’t recognized him? Maybe she’d seen him on another show or ad?
The soap broke for commercial and she ran to the kitchen to finish her dinner preparations. Once her grandmother’s famous meatloaf recipe had been reproduced, she set the pan in the refrigerator and peeked in on her daughter. Seeing Paige was contently playing tea party in her bedroom with some of her most treasured guests, she inched the door closed and settled back on the couch with a handful of Oreos. When the show returned, the couple lay in post-orgasmic bliss, smiling at each other. The actor placed both hands on the sides of the woman’s face and kissed her. He pulled away as the camera panned in close.
“I love you.”
Robyn’s bottom jaw fell into her lap.
Those three little words, quite insignificant on their own, were some of the most powerful in the English language. Coming from some random actor’s mouth, they meant nothing to her. But these words had been spoken with a familiar voice, one she had heard before. Many times, actually. This tanned hottie on TV wasn’t some random actor.
She turned up the volume on the fifty-inch plasma and listened as the man professed his undying love for Cassandra Worthington, the spoiled brat heiress who everyone loved to hate. He told her he needed her and would move heaven and earth to be with her. His words floated from the top-of-the-line surround sound speakers and into Robyn’s ears. The familiarity made her shiver.
The scene switched and pulled her from a deep memory. She snapped back to reality. How and when had Derek Woodsen started acting? Last she’d known, he worked for a landscaping company in the same town she lived in--the same town where they’d both grown up. Her mother usually knew all the local gossip and passed it on to her whether she cared to know or not. How did her mother not know any of this? When had Derek left Springville? She could have sworn she’d seen him recently. Was this his first acting job?
And where did those washboard abs come from? He hadn’t had those in high school.
Robyn grabbed the phone and dialed Anna’s number. Before her best friend could even utter a simple “Hello,” she blurted, “Oh my God! You have to turn on channel seven!”
“Robyn, is that you?” Anna asked as a baby’s gurgles floated from the earpiece.
“Yes! Turn it on now!”
The TV clicked on, then the sound of channels flipping by.
“And? What’s so important about this?” Anna asked once her set rested on one channel.
“Now you have to wait. The scene is over.”
After a few minutes of casual chit-chat, Derek came back on the screen.
“Okay, this is it,” Robyn said.
“Yeah, and?” Anna asked sarcastically. “Half-naked guy, half-naked girl. I know you love this stuff, but what’s the big deal?”
“Look closer. Doesn’t that guy look familiar?”
The line went quiet, then a gasp.
“Oh my God! You’ve got to be kidding me! The bastard was never that hot in high school! When the hell’d this happen?”
“I don’t know. Usually my mother knows this stuff.”
“It’s kinda weird, huh?”
“I guess. I don’t know.”
“Your ex-boyfriend, well, no, that’s too nice. Your ex-shithead is on TV--practically naked.
“So how’s baby Amelia today?”
“Nice change in topic. She’s good--slept six hours last night.”
“Only two months old. That’s really great.”
“I’m hoping by three months she’ll double that.”
Anna’s baby girl began wailing.
“I better go. Smells like we have a problem here.”
“Okay. I’ll talk to you later.”
Robyn set the phone down and watched the last scene of the show--Derek’s character took a gold wedding band out of his pocket and threw it into the trash. She’d love to know what would happen next. Should she record it? Probably wasn’t a great idea to watch her ex half-naked on a regular basis. But it wasn’t really Derek she was watching. It was Cameron Calder, a random guy from Cedar Valley.
Before shutting off the TV, she set it to record each day indefinitely.
* * * *
“Robyn, dear?” her mother called to her while setting the table for their traditional Sunday dinner. She placed the last fork in its proper spot, then walked to the kitchen expecting to be handed a stack of plates. Instead, her mother gave her a full-color flyer. “I saw this tacked up on the community board at the market.”
In big bold letters it stated: Welcome home, Derek Woodsen!
Underneath was Derek’s head shot, complete with blinding white teeth and those piercing blue eyes that bore into her soul. She suddenly felt a little wobbly.
“Remember when you kids were boyfriend and girlfriend?” Robyn’s mother asked. “He practically lived here! But I didn’t mind. Such a little cutie he was! And so sweet. He was always sending you flowers and writing poems.” She reached for a stack of linen napkins and handed them to Robyn. “I was even smitten by him, but your father sure wasn’t as trusting.” She gave a hearty laugh. “Remember that one day--he’d dragged Derek over to his antique Civil War pistol collection, displayed on the living room wall. The poor boy shook in his sneakers when he asked if they still worked. I can still picture that devilish grin on your father’s face when he answered, ‘Yes!’”
Robyn finished setting the table and returned to the kitchen, hoping the Derek conversation had ended.
“Did you know he’s on that show?” No such luck. “The one you used to watch.” Her mother paused to stir a pot on the stovetop. “I just found out the other day. Gloria down at the Beauty Stop told me Derek’s mother has been coming in regularly and having her nails done and even having her whole face waxed. I can’t understand why anyone would pay someone to do that, but I suppose when your son’s an actor. I hear all she does now is brag about him being on TV and how much money he gives her.”
Robyn thought of Mrs. Woodsen and the devastation on her face the day of her husband’s funeral. She and Derek had been long broken up by that point. But as painful as it was to face him--the memory of their horrible breakup smacking her in the face--she’d pushed it aside and supported the woman who had treated her like a daughter. With her soon-to-be husband on her arm, she had given her condolences to Derek, but not another word after. He’d moved back to Springville after the funeral, giving up his big football scholarship. His mother needed her only boy to take care of her.
She had seen Derek on occasion, in the pharmacy or somewhere else around town, never speaking and usually avoiding eye contact.
“Did you read here?” Robyn’s mother poked her finger at the flyer, jolting her back to reality.
“There’s going to be a big party at the Legion celebrating Derek’s Soap Opera Award.”
“He won an award already?”
“Yeah. Best New Man or something like that.” She hurried back to the oven to check her roast chicken. While she basted the bird, she added, “You should go to that party.”
“No, I couldn’t. I haven’t talked to him in years.” And aside from a soft “I’m sorry” at his father’s funeral, her last words to him included, “I hate you!” and “You ruined my life!” As far as her parents knew, the teen lovebirds had simply grown apart after going away to separate colleges.
“So what! I’m sure he’d love to see you.”
“Who would love to see you?” Robyn’s husband, Grant, entered the room behind her, eyes fixed on his Blackberry.
“Oh, no one. It’s nothing,” she answered. His gaze still focused on the tiny screen. She handed him a beer, most likely the reason for his trip into the kitchen. Little else would pull him away from the football game on TV.
“Robyn’s boyfriend from high school is a big-time TV actor now. There’s going to be a party for him next weekend.”
Grant thumbed around on his phone, then looked up briefly. “You going?” Nothing kept himfrom his Blackberry.
“No. There’s no reason for me to go.” Robyn immediately left the room as her heart starting beating a bit erratically. She didn’t want to see Derek. She saw him each day on TV. That was enough. She didn’t need to see him in person.
* * * *
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