Authors: C A Vincent
“You would have if I hadn’t interrupted,” he interjected. She tried to think of a plausible excuse for her actions and came up empty. She was also deeply embarrassed. She tried to cover it up but Phillip knew her too well.
“Jerk!” she muttered. He chuckled.
“Go to him. Let him blow your mind, rock your world, whatever you want to call it. Contrary to the assertions I made yesterday, he looks like he’d be capable of it.” Phillip stopped walking then and looked into her face. When he saw the deep, deep blush that blossomed up her neck and into her face, he grinned a self-satisfied, male grin. “Damn but I do like catching you off-guard like that. Now go. This is my stop. I need to check in and make it to my room before I pass out.”
“I can help,” she offered. The words weren’t completely out of her mouth before he was shaking his head. All of a sudden, for reasons she couldn’t put her finger on, she felt uneasy.
“I’ll be fine,” Phillip reassured. “Enjoy your life, Alicia. I promise not to meddle anymore.” Then he turned toward the front doors to the hotel. The concierge holding them open nodded a greeting as he passed through them then gave her a wave as he followed her friend in. Hopefully Phillip wouldn’t have so much pride as to keep the concierge from assisting him.
As Alicia watched Phillip’s retreating back, she had the overwhelming sense he’d just said his goodbyes. The urge to follow after him and stay with him was so strong, she very nearly gave in to it. Only the thought of how furious he would be if she came in behind him stopped her. She didn’t want him using up what little strength he had left being mad at her. Add to that the fact they’d resolved the unexpected issues between them and perhaps it was better to let things be.
Still, she was on edge as she walked oh-so-slowly away and headed back to her hotel. The appearance of James startled her a little, but didn’t really surprise her. If they did go back as far as he indicated, it stood to reason he’d be watching out for Phillip. Alicia nodded at him as tears threatened. He nodded back.
“I’ll stay with him,” he said, stepping away from the corner of wall he was leaning against. “Go and rest. You look done in.”
Alicia heaved a shaky breath. She would have said thank you, but her emotions were getting the better of her. With another jerky, bobble-headed nod, she took off.
Nate wanted to slam his fist into Phillip Ostlund’s face. If the man weren’t dying, he would seek him out and do it. That’s how angry and frustrated he was. Alicia’s soft moans and whimpers, the dazed, passion-filled look in her eyes as he started to undress her, made him feel like more of a man than he’d felt in a hell of a long time.
Then, to make matters worse, Liz showed up at his room, just as he and Alicia settled in to cuddle and watch a movie. She was ranting and raving about Alicia being a gold-digger and a whore. He’d almost slapped her, he was so furious. Raised to never strike a woman, the feeling was alien to him.
He rubbed the grit of a sleepless night out of his eyes and debated the wisdom of going out to find Alicia. He tended to be crude and obnoxious when he was this tired and he knew damn well she’d tell him to take a long hike off a short pier if he was anything but pleasant, especially after what Liz called her. He looked out across the beach, trying to spot her blonde ponytail and didn’t see her.
Maybe you should just go back to bed,
he thought to himself, stepping back into his suite from the balcony. Liz was sleeping fitfully on the couch, a deep frown creasing her forehead. After her rant, she’d kept him up, telling him she had something important to say then bursting into tears every time she started to say it. It wasn’t until she passed out from sheer exhaustion at six a.m. that he was able to lie down himself. Unfortunately, sleep eluded him, thanks to the little bit of information she did manage to get out.
It involved Jared somehow, and it wasn’t good. She kept repeating the words “hurt” and “not a friend”. He tried again to reach Jared on all of his numbers. Like before, every mailbox was full. Worried, he checked his watch then placed a call in to the office. His partner should be at work already. It was eight a.m. in Trinidad and nine a.m. in Miami.
Dana, Jared’s secretary, answered on the second ring. The normally unflappable fifty-something woman sounded like she could chew nails. Nate would have asked if everything was okay, but he wasn’t in the mood to hear someone else’s problems right now. He had enough of his own.
“Hey, Dana. It’s – ”
“I know who’s calling, Mr. Langston,” Dana cut in. Before he could respond, she continued in a mad rush of verbal diarrhea. “Jared is in jail and Accounting is going over his expenses with a
fine-toothed comb. There is a considerable discrepancy between what he’s submitted for recently and the receipts he’s provided. I’ve searched his office for information on the missing expenses and have come up empty. Otherwise, everything is status quo. Oh, and please ensure you’re home for the board meeting scheduled for next Friday. With Jared unavailable, your presence is mandatory.”
Nate did his best to get a word in edgewise, but Dana said her piece then hung up. If he heard the voice in the background correctly, Marcie from Accounting was in the office, complaining about the “desperate state of things”. There was no mistaking the woman’s nasally voice.
What the hell is going on?
he thought, pocketing his phone. He considered going home to get to the bottom of things and felt his stomach drop. Taking a moment, he examined the sudden unpleasant feeling and realized it had nothing to do with the warm weather and sunshine. There was plenty of that back home. No, it had everything to do with leaving Alicia. He wanted to see
her again, at least one more time. He would apologize to her for Liz’ behavior and get her contact information so they could keep in touch.
Maybe walking the beach instead of trying to see the length of it from his windows and balcony would help him find Alicia faster. If he didn’t spot her, then at least he’d get some fresh air. On his way, he stopped at her room to make sure she wasn’t just sleeping late. When she didn’t answer, he headed outside.
As early in the day as it was, the air was already hot and cloyingly humid. Given how tired he was, Nate debated going back into the hotel to stay cool, then decided he’d rather deal with the heavy moisture and heat than Liz. A tiny jab of guilt poked at his conscience at the thought but he ignored it. He would get her to spill her guts eventually, whether it was here or back at home.
It was time to concentrate on Alicia. The more he thought about her, the faster he walked. He missed her sunny smile and the sparkle of mischief in her sky-blue eyes whenever she teased him. Just spending time with her made him happy. With a jolt, he realized sex wasn’t a necessity. The promise of it, however, was a bonus; a blood-pumping, spine-tingling, mind-blowing bonus. He’d almost experienced all three simultaneously yesterday, and they hadn’t even gotten naked.
A short while later, Nate’s heart stuttered to a near stop then jackhammered into proper rhythm again when he recognized Alicia’s blonde ponytail in the distance. He also knew it was her by the way she was standing and staring out at the water, as still as a statue. It looked as though she was mesmerized by the waves. She’d told him the other day she could do that for hours if someone didn’t come along to distract her. Grinning, he started toward her, fully intending to be her distraction. With any luck, she would want to get out of the humidity and they could finally have some alone time.
He was almost close enough to call out to her without having to yell when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned to see who else was approaching her and stopped short. What the hell did Phillip Ostlund want now?
Nate waited to see what kind of reception Alicia’s former boss would receive. At first sight, she was looking defensive and angry. He heaved a frustrated sigh. Despite his feelings toward the self-important jerk, the nice guy in him knew damn well he should let the two of them talk. From the conversation he and Alicia were having before Liz interrupted, he knew she wanted an explanation for what happened yesterday. No, as much as he wanted to be with her, he wasn’t going to stand in the way of her getting one. It wouldn’t be fair.
His steps were slow as he started walking again, this time not so much toward Alicia as alongside. A slightly different shade of guilt poked really hard at his conscience. He felt like he was eavesdropping, even though he couldn’t hear them. He crushed the feeling and kept going. He justified his actions by telling himself someone had to be there for her if Ostlund pulled any stunts.
Alicia had no problem speaking her mind, if her wild gesturing and angry expression were any indication. Nate watched as Ostlund answered. Before he knew it, she was yelling and her gestures were almost violent. A few other beachgoers turned to look at them, curious to watch what probably appeared to be a lovers’ spat. The thought make him growl low in his throat.
Thankfully, he realized he was being foolish before he decided to storm up to them and stick his two cents in. He knew damn well it wasn’t a couple’s quarrel. She was probably giving Ostlund heck for trying to steamroll her life. That was another thing Nate didn’t like about the
guy; the fact he’d tried to play matchmaker the way he had. Alicia was quite capable of taking care of herself.
As suddenly as it began, the argument was over. Nate’s gut twisted as Ostlund pulled her into his arms. They hugged, which, in and of itself, didn’t bother him. He was all for reconciliation and mending fences with friends, but it was dragging on and on, much too long for his liking. Sure, the man was dying and Alicia had a huge, soft heart. It didn’t mean they had to stay like that for so long. He watched and waited as time slowly ticked by. His blood pressure rose with each passing second.
After what felt like ten or more minutes, but was likely only five, Alicia and Ostlund finally broke apart and continued walking. She was directing them now and it looked like they were headed toward the boardwalk. Nate followed at a discreet pace, feeling more and more like a stalker as they made their way to a nearby hotel. Blood roared in his ears as he saw them both headed for the front doors. Just as he was about to approach them, they stopped and started talking again.
Ostlund shaking his head “no” made Nate stand at attention. The stubborn set of Alicia’s shoulders and the gesture she made toward the doors to the hotel made him uneasy. He wished like hell he could hear them. He wanted to know if she’d decided to be more than just his former employee during his final days, weeks or months. After all, she did mention how they were “once upon a time” attracted to one another, but had decided to keep things strictly business. Was this it now, the end of “business only”? He stood there, feeling both angry and helpless at the same time as he waited to see what would happen.
His head and shoulders slowly went up as he saw Phillip walk into the hotel alone. Alicia looked – worried – sad – uneasy? This last emotion gave him pause for thought. What could she have to be uneasy about? Then she was walking ever so slowly away, her shoulders hunched forward slightly and her neck rigid. Her beautiful face was flushed with emotion. He didn’t have to be Einstein to see she was struggling to stay composed as she headed back to their hotel. All of a sudden, he wanted nothing more than to comfort her and ease her pain.
Neither of them saw James until they were right on top of him. She started, surprised. He stopped short, just before reaching her. He heard James say he’d stay with Phillip and understanding dawned. Alicia didn’t want to leave Phillip, but her former boss didn’t want her to stay. That’s what the shaking of the head had been about. Nate felt like a shit for thinking she was going to suddenly change the status of their relationship. Even though he didn’t know her that well, he should have realized she would want to help in any way she could, not throw herself at the man.
James acknowledged his presence as he passed but Alicia was oblivious to it. Nate followed for about half a block more before calling out to her. When he saw she was full-on crying, despite her efforts to stay in control, he felt the urge to take her into his arms and never let go. The intensity of the emotion scared him a little and he was slow to react as a result. Thankfully she was too upset to notice.
Alicia noticed the panic in Nate’s eyes when he saw she was crying. She saw, too, the hitch in his step as he closed the distance between them. For the briefest of moments, she considered turning and walking away. They really didn’t know each other well enough to make her being a wreck in front of him okay. But then he was holding her and telling her everything would be all right and nothing besides the comfort he was offering her mattered.
“I don’t want to be out in public right now, Nate,” she hiccoughed into his shirt. He stepped back and offered her a hankie. The fact he had one on him, even though he was dressed in cargo shorts and a t-shirt tickled her funny bone. She gave him a watery smile as she cleaned herself up.
“Do you what you have to,” he said when she only dabbed at her nose. She started to shake her head “no” but he took the cloth from her and held it to her face. His other hand was bracing the back of her head so she couldn’t move away. “Blow,” he ordered. Embarrassed, she did as she was told.