Her breathing was regular and shallow, but her mind was electric. She felt the warm body snoring contentedly beside her. She had always wondered what it would be like, this intimacy—they were essentially strangers; she didn’t even know his last name. She was surprised she didn’t feel shame. He rolled over, and she looked into his face. Like her, he was in his mid-thirties. His skin was pale, and his black hair flopped over his forehead like a tired sheepdog. Sleeping, he looked younger than he was. Almost childlike if you looked past the stubble and worry lines, anxious even in sleep—like he badly wanted to join a schoolyard soccer game, but was afraid to ask.
Rachel was gathering the scraps of the night before. She hadn’t wanted to go to the party. Another work obligation that was supposed to be fun but was, in actuality, a way to get her to work overtime for cheap Chardonnay instead of money. She had decided to make the best of it. She wore her long black dress, a vintage piece she’d picked up years ago. She was thrilled it still fit. It was simple and elegant, with a plunging neckline that offered a glimpse of cleavage. She added her red clutch and plain red pumps. A simple gold necklace. She spent extra time on her hair and makeup. She was proud. She looked into her mirror with that smirk worn by all practical, beautiful women when eyeballing mirrors. But she still hadn’t wanted to go to the party. Two glasses of wine and some soft jazz had made the idea tolerable, if not exactly thrilling.
She had the slightest of hangovers, but it was nice—the warm body beside her; the sun beginning to stream through the gossamer drapes. She felt panic as well, but it was an adrenalized panic, like she was teetering on the end of a high dive platform. It was a time of day she loved, a time that promised hot tea and opportunity. The night before? The party had started out like every party. She’d sipped wine and kissed cheeks and tried to avoid looking bored. She couldn’t remember how it had happened … him. It was as if they had suddenly become partners. They sat in the corner and laughed while the party spun on around them.
He was handsome, dressed in a simple black suit. His black hair was neatly combed, and his green eyes shone. He was funny. Her cheeks were still sore from smiling, laughing. Years since she’d laughed like that. As the party began to thin out, they found themselves outside, standing awkwardly. She, dressed like she was having cocktails with royalty … he, in his black suit, looked like a CIA agent. They talked, leaning against her car, until it got cold. And then they were back at her flat. They had another glass of wine, she turned on the stereo … his kisses were tentative and gentle. His hands through her auburn hair were silk. She dove into the reverie of perfume and aftershave and stubble against her smooth cheek. They made love. It wasn’t “spectacular” or “amazing” or any of the superlatives people use. It was perfect.
Rachel remembered it all, now. Every touch. His shy advances. His warm, rough hands on her. He’d whispered in her ear while they made love. Not words, per se. Something. A steady murmuring that held her still, that smoothed the edges of everything. He was fit, but not gym fit. His chest was nearly hairless. He was tall, but she was not afraid … had not been afraid like she had in the past. His size was comfort. His size was protection. His caress was soft fire … a heat that belied the goosebumps on her arms. The tingling in her legs …
She was lost in thought, watching his fluttering eyelids, when they opened without warning. There was a moment of confusion, and then his eyes widened in horror. He rolled out of the bed, realized he was naked, and grabbed a blanket to wrap around himself.
“I’m sorry, I don’t do this.”
Rachel felt like she had been doused in ice water. She felt foolish, could sense her cheeks growing warm.
“Um … neither do I. Don’t worry about it. You can leave.”
His eyes were frantic. God, he looked scared.
“No, I’m sorry, I’m not making sense. It’s just … I haven’t been with anyone for a long time. Last night was wonderful …”
“It was. You’re going to freeze, get back in bed.”
Rachel smiled and her smile was returned hesitantly. Drake slid back into the bed like he was afraid it would swallow him. For a few minutes, they both lay on their backs and stared at the ceiling. Then they spoke simultaneously and laughed.
“Alright, Drake. So what happens now?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, is this just a good night and an awkward morning?”
“Well, I don’t know … honestly. This is new territory for me. How about we start with breakfast? If you let me raid your fridge, I’ll whip something up.”
Drake was at home in the kitchen, no doubt about that. Rachel cradled her coffee in cold hands. He even made good coffee: the right amount of sugar. And steamed milk. It was like his embrace—soft and sweet, but strong. They did not speak. Drake was wholly immersed in the eggs he was poaching, the bacon he was frying, and the oranges he was squeezing. He was squeezing oranges for fresh juice. Rachel’s mouth watered … she rarely kept food in the fridge, so the fact that there were the makings of a hot breakfast was a miracle.
She was dressed in a floral silk robe. It was wrapped tight, revealing her figure, but not much actual flesh. He was wearing the suit pants he’d worn the night before and a white T-shirt. Bare feet. The shirt was tight enough to show off his upper body. Slim, but firm. He did not have a six-pack. Thank God. Rachel had never trusted men who loved their own bodies too much. They were supposed to love hers.
She flinched when he looked at her, afraid that her thoughts were carved into her features. They both laughed.
“Lost in thought?”
“Just thinking about someone I met.”
He smiled and crossed the room, setting two plates down and returning with two glasses of juice. She stood and stretched, and then they were in each other’s arms. Rachel looked at him as if he were a map, as if she could find all the answers if she looked in the right places. There was kindness there. And a deep sadness. Fear. And a hint of joy. She closed her eyes and felt his hand, warm on her face. His thumb brushed her eyelashes. Then her lips. He pulled her body into his, and she wrapped her long arms around him. He kissed her gently, lips barely touching. Warmth spread through her. She opened her eyes and smiled. The smell of the bacon was agonizing. Drake squeezed her hand softly as he crossed to his side of the table.
Rachel was late for work. She ignored the smirks and jokes. The walk of shame! She was used to being around people she hated—she tolerated them because they made her sad; the pity trumped her loathing. They were merely people trying to be something they weren’t; working in PR will do that to you. She was content to remember the embrace that had come after breakfast, after their shower, both dressed sharply and ready to meet the day. It was like they had known each other for years. Silly? Maybe.
She opened her office door and turned on the light. She looked at the pile of press releases overflowing the fancy keyboard she hated and sighed. She turned at the sound of a throat clearing behind her. Jenny—her sanctuary amid the banal bullshit she was forced to grin through between the hours of eight and five. They had been friends for so long that both refused to count the years.
“Is there something you’d like to tell me?”
Rachel pulled her into the office and closed the door.
“You think I’m going to tell you?”
“Well, yeah … you tell me everything.”
“Well, we went back to my place. Things of an adult nature happened. We woke up, and he saw a ghost. Then he made me a fabulous breakfast and we went to work.”
“Really? Good for you, girl! So, how was it? Any broken furniture? Is he in the FBI? Why was he at the party? Does he have—um, how can I put this delicately?—a giant cock and a million dollars?”
Rachel laughed. Jenny was her closest friend. After decades, she had grown accustomed to the locker-room banter. She depended on it. She depended on Jenny, period. Tall and blonde, Jenny was the kind of woman who could say anything she wanted and get away with it, be praised for it, even. She was the perfect friend for Rachel, who sometimes thought herself too stuffy.
“It was … lovely. Comfortable?”
“Jesus fucking Christ, Rachel. We’re talking about a man, not an ottoman.”
“Fine! OK, it was great. It really was. He was gentle and slow and … talented.”
“Oh my God, I don’t know why I put up with your Pollyanna ass—”
“OK, fine, he had a twelve-inch cock.”
“Now we’re talking.”
“Really, he was just a nice guy. It seemed like I already knew him. But I don’t know him at all. I forgot to even ask his last name.”
“This is really why you should let me sleep with all the cute guys.”
“So, what’s the plan? You are going to see him again, right?”
“God, I hope so. He said he’d call tonight.”
“You’re still being evasive. Did he get the job done or not?”
“I’m hoping he’ll call, aren’t I?”
A knock at the door interrupted them. It was Helen’s knock. They both rolled their eyes. Jenny winked and then opened the door, sliding past Helen’s shoulder pads. She was a nice enough boss, but her wardrobe had stopped evolving about the same time Duran Duran ruled the airwaves.
For the next hour, Rachel pretended to take notes while she thought about Drake. A strange name. She hadn’t thought about it before. And why was he at the party? Most importantly, would he call?
She put her computer to sleep and rubbed her eyes. Another day of spreading meaningless information around to make rich people richer. As she stepped outside, she saw her Toyota. The irony was not lost on her. She spent her days hustling for people who wouldn’t be caught dead in a 2005 Toyota. But it didn’t matter today. Today, she would go home. And tonight, he would call. He had to call. She refused to think about what it would mean if he didn’t.
The drive home was an autopilot block of lost time. She didn’t even notice there was music playing, and music was usually her salvation. She was wrapped up in anxiety and anticipation; everything else was filler. She knew she would barely be able to function until the phone rang. And if it didn’t, it didn’t. Either way, the wait would be torture—a bittersweet torture, but torture nonetheless.
The front door slammed, and she kicked off her heels. She started undressing as she headed for the bedroom and was down to panties and a bra by the time she got there. She took a moment to fold her clothes—one of the little chores she hated—before slipping into pajama pants and an old sweatshirt, casting her bra away like some silken demon.
She turned on her stereo and dialed in the local college radio station. They were playing underground hip-hop, and she lost herself for a moment in the strong beat. She turned the music low and poured a glass of wine. She sagged into the old, white leather couch and looked out her window. She could never leave this place; she’d known that since she’d first seen the view. Her window looked out onto the water, and the lights danced on the slight chop of the bay. She sighed, made sure her cell was not on silent and closed her eyes.
The phone woke her. It was dark outside. A glance at the phone showed it was almost midnight.
“Hey … I was hoping you’d call.”
“Sorry if it’s too late … I’ve been sitting with the phone in my hand for the last four hours.”
“I’m not very good at this. I’m sorry. I should have called earlier … I wanted to. Then I started thinking … then all of a sudden it was late, and I figured I’d better call or miss my chance.”
“Yes. I don’t want to screw this up. I really enjoyed our time together.”
Rachel twisted a finger in her hair and smiled.
“Really … and what was your favorite part?”
“I know I’m supposed to say ‘the sex’, but it wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, that was great. But I really enjoyed eating breakfast together. Talking. I spend a lot of time alone.”
“OK, Mr. Mysterious. Now you have some questions to answer. One, what is your last name? Two, why were you at that awful party?”
“Ha! My last name is Hutchins. The party was awful wasn’t it? Would you believe me if I told you I don’t know why I was there?”
Rachel’s breath caught in her throat.
“Sure … I’d believe you.”
“Good, because I don’t. I was driving home, and I saw the lights. I’m a writer … I like to sit and watch people. I never imagined I would end up even talking to anyone, let alone … find you.”
“You’re a writer? I figured Secret Service.”
“The suit? I find a black suit can do amazing things. Like let you crash strangers’ office parties without being questioned.”
“So, what do you write?”
“I write fiction … novels.”
“Oh! I can’t wait to read one.”
“That’s going to be tough. I don’t use my real name … it makes things messy.”
“And you won’t tell me your pen name?”
“Not … yet.”
“I can wait. Would you like to have dinner with me?”
“Absolutely. How about Friday?”
“It’s a date.”
They talked for several hours, until bleary eyes and poorly disguised yawns made communication difficult. Rachel woke at seven, rubbed the sand from her eyes and looked at the calendar. Friday was three days away.
Drake did not wake because he never went to sleep. His mind was fevered and fraught with terror. He was torn between the idea that happiness could exist and the gut-shot pain of his memory. A car filled with blood. Cradling her beautiful face. A decade past, and still he could see it. Smell it. He had written the entire idea off. Love wasn’t worth the pain. And now this.
He hadn’t been with a woman since she’d died, hadn’t wanted to think about it. Now, he’d slipped up. But there was something about Rachel. All he’d wanted was to have a few free drinks, watch the people do their human things, and return home where his laptop was waiting. Instead, he had woken up next to a beautiful woman. And now, he was going on a date.
He poured himself a few fingers of scotch and drank it. Most people don’t drink before lunch, but it didn’t matter: he could write anytime, sleep anytime. After she was killed, he had removed himself from the “rules” of society. With the drinking, he did have to be careful, though; it had gotten out of hand and taken years to get under control. Bad years. He drank carefully now, but the synapses were firing—his brain was on overdrive. He could picture Rachel’s smile, her dark red hair. He could still feel her soft skin, still see the faint freckles on her breasts. He was full of her. He was terrified.
I hope you enjoyed the preview. If you'd like to purchase the book, I will not object. :) - JD