Authors: C A Vincent
He and Justin both scowled at her. She glared back, realizing they were trying to handle her as she’d handled Phillip a week ago. After working together for five years, they all knew each other’s weaknesses.
“I’m not going to cave in, just because the two of you came at me in a united front,” she growled. Despite her statement, it took a hell of a lot of effort to stand her ground. She was known to cave in to their demands every time they came at her side by side with determined expressions on their faces. Phillip ground his teeth together, clearly unimpressed with her sudden back bone. Without a word, he took hold of her hand and forced her to take the envelope. He held her hand closed around it, silently daring her to drop it once he released her.
“You two need to drop the battle of wills,” Justin said wearily. “Otherwise Alicia won’t have time to pack before her flight in the morning.” Her jaw dropped.
“F-Flight?” she squeaked. She looked at the envelope in her hand, seeing only then the WestJet logo. Phillip snorted.
“She’ll barely have time regardless. The flight leaves at three thirty. After you,
The word “babe” was said in an ultra-sexy growl. As tired as she was, Alicia still couldn’t help the shiver of awareness which coursed through her. She and Phillip had somewhat of a history and now wasn’t the time to dredge it all back up. So when Phillip moved to put a hand on her lower back, she gave a squeak of surprise and bolted for the front door. Something worried her about the departure time of her flight but she was too busy avoiding physical contact to let it sink in.
“I told you she wants me,” she heard her now former boss declare loudly behind her. Then, in a mock-hurt tone of voice, he added, “And even though I’m a dying man, she still won’t give in to her feelings.”
“Smart woman,” Justin countered. “She has enough sense to realize you’ll chew her up and spit her out, even in your weakened state. Your track record with women precedes you.”
“Precisely,” Alicia muttered, pressing the ‘close’ button in the elevator. The doors slid shut on the image of Phillip Ostlund and Justin Mager grinning broadly and waving ‘Goodbye’ at her. It was a sight she likely would never forget. As the carpeted metal box started its descent, she realized not only did she have a mere four hours to pack and get to the airport, but she’d just been handled one last time.
“Damn it anyway!” she yelled. She could swear she heard them laughing from the floor up above.
Nate scrutinized the teary-eyed woman in front of him. Women’s waterworks, especially Elizabeth’s, usually set him on edge. Not this time though. Not after she shredded his heart while it still beat in his chest then ripped it out and handed it to him. He ground his teeth together. While the thought seemed violent in nature, the core of it was about her having broken him. Because of this, he considered it to be excessive and weepy, even for him, the so-called “sensitive guy”. He revised it to end with “dripping blood” and felt slightly manlier. Just slightly.
He knew his sudden lack of male pride and bravado was directly linked to the fact his girlfriend of four years had just sprung on him the news she was leaving him for her pilates instructor,
, sneered that smarmy voice at the back of his mind. He wanted to violently crush it. Being that it was not a physical thing, it was impossible.
“Well? Are you going to say something?” Liz asked, her voice thick with emotion. Nate briefly envisioned her choking on her tears. The moment he saw her gasp and splutter in his mind’s eye though, his kind-hearted self valiantly jumped in to save her. She ended up professing her insincere gratitude but not her undying love. He was too damn nice by half, he realized. Even though his whole world had been turned inside out, he still cared.
He rocked back on his heels and considered his response. The words “selfish bitch” and “two-timing whore” came to mind, along with a few others. He managed to hold them in check because name-calling was juvenile. No matter how pissed off he was, he was better than that. Instead, he settled for a non-committal shrug.
“What do you want me to say?” he asked quietly. Liz hated when he answered a question with a question. Before she could hiss and spit at him, he added, “You’ve been all smiles and girlish giggles lately and I’ve been so busy working, it’s clear I’m not the reason for them. If you want out, I’m not going to stop you.”
Nate was amazed at the evenness of his tone, considering the snide voice at the back of his mind had suddenly turned wimpy and was begging her to take him back. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to pack. This disagreement, fight – whatever it is – will not keep me from taking my vacation as planned.” Then, before he did something foolish like drop to his knees and promise to do better, he turned and left.
Lucky for him that small part of his ego which wasn’t averse to begging caused a hitch in his step. That little pause enabled him to see out of the corner of his eye the heavy crystal ashtray hurtling toward his head. When he dodged it, Liz screeched at him at the top of her lungs. Nate would have turned back to try to calm her but the ashtray was quickly followed by the next nearest thing, an equally thick crystal coaster. He ran for cover. When she followed him, hurling the rest of her fragile yet heavy knick-knacks, he decided to head for the front door rather than the bedroom.
“Jared was right. You are a psycho,” he yelled, dodging a half-full decanter. It hit the door frame just right and shattered, spraying vodka all over him. Too busy trying to avoid being pegged by more missiles, he only paid half a mind to what she was ranting and carrying on about. Something about “taking forever” or “waiting forever”, he wasn’t sure. All he knew for certain was that he had to get out, and quickly.
With a muttered curse, he slammed the heavy apartment door behind him. It cracked loudly as a final item was hurled toward his head. Nate didn’t take the time to stop and wonder
what the heck it could have been. The last thing he needed was Liz following him down the long hallway and screaming their business for all their neighbors to hear.
“Damn! Those pilates workouts are working,” he muttered as he hurried toward the bank of elevators. He almost stopped to take the stairs instead given they were closer. Then he remembered Liz going on and on about the latest episode of CSI New York where the hapless victim ended up being shoved down a set of concrete stairs. He shuddered.
So much for packing
, he thought to himself as the elevator doors slid shut. His relief at escaping was shortlived as the steel box started to move. Panic surged through him as he frantically groped his pockets for his keys and wallet. Nate breathed a sigh of relief when he found they were both present and accounted for.
“Thank God for small favors!” he muttered, leaning against the elevator’s back wall.
“She what?” Jared asked. J was his business partner and friend. “I warned you, Nate. She’s crazy. Most women would bitch and moan about their men putting in long hours. You – ”
“You don’t have to give me the lecture, J. Not today. Not
. Besides, she was going on about waiting too long or something. Obviously my working so much does bother her,” he answered. He was half tempted to turn the car around and actually try talking to Liz. He said as much out loud.
“No way. Look, I didn’t want to have to do this, but pull over and check your email. Wait. Scratch that. Get yourself to the airport first. I’ll hold off on sending the files until you’re there. You can go through them when you’re in the air. Then you’re not tempted to go back to the apartment to confront her,” J suggested. The short hairs rose all over Nate’s body.
“Damn it, J. What the hell did you do?” If not for the fact he was in the middle lane on the 404 and traffic was moving at about a hundred and twenty clicks per hour, he would pull over. He went under the overpass just as Jared answered and the connection was lost.
“J? Jared? Son of a – !” Nate struggled for calm, realizing his turn was coming up and he’d yet to maneuver into the outside lane.
“Here are the headphones you requested, Mr. Langston,” the flight attendant said as she handed him the item he’d purchased. She made a point of rubbing his hand and looking at him suggestively as she handed them over. Lost in the desperate pits of “Why?” and “What Went Wrong?” he jerked away from her as though her touch burned him.
“Wear headphones and turn the screen away from prying eyes” was the subject of Jared’s email. The attached files were video footage. Nate’s stomach churned. What the hell had his friend unearthed? The cursor hovered over the ‘Open File’ command. All he had to do was tap the mouse pad. He hesitated. Though he told himself J couldn’t possibly have the kind of dirt on Elizabeth that would make him hate her, deep down in his gut he suspected the files would end up doing just that.
Nate wasn’t prepared, however, for the extent of the evidence against his so-called “sweetheart”. He was barely into the first highly pornographic video when seven more popped into his in-basket, all with the same subject line.
Alicia looked around her at the lush beauty of the resort, still unable to believe Phillip and Justin had bought her this trip to Trinidad. Her stay would be short and sweet, just a week, but she was still going to enjoy herself immensely. Unlike most women her age, she preferred to sightsee rather than sit on the beach and soak up the sun.
To that end, she’d struck up a conversation with a local businessman the night before and he’d suggested a few “must-see” places. He’d even offered to take her to them. She was leery at first, but he was very persuasive. Not only that, but he had others in the lounge confirm they were all very public places. So, she was throwing caution to the wind and was on her way to meet up with him now.
As she approached the restaurant they agreed to rendezvous at, she saw a couple exchanging heated words. When she realized the male was her would-be tour guide, her pace slowed. The woman he was arguing with was wearing a super-tight, short dress and way too much jewellery. She looked so much like a hooker Alicia wracked her brain, trying to remember exactly what business the man said he was in. For the life of her, she couldn’t recall.
Suddenly he up and slapped her. Alicia stopped dead in her tracks, her stomach churning. What the hell had she been thinking to have agreed to meet up with a complete stranger like this? Terrified, she turned on her heel and headed back the way she’d come. As she went, she prayed he hadn’t seen her. Unfortunately, a shout went up behind her, making her heart lurch in her chest. She’d been spotted. Refusing to take any chances, she took off at a run.
Thank God I wore sneakers,
she thought rounding the nearest corner sharply. Her sprint for freedom ended suddenly as she came up hard against what felt like a solid male body. She couldn’t even manage a shriek of surprise as the wind was knocked right out of her. Together they went down in an undignified pile of arms and legs. Alicia fought to get away but the man seemed to be holding her in place. She tried to scream, but she could barely breathe, let alone talk.
“Whoa!” he croaked. “Hey, easy. I’m not a bad guy, I promise. Please. Stop!”
The desperation in the man’s tone broke through the terror in her mind. As suddenly as she’d barrelled into him, she stopped moving altogether. Together they lay on the ground for several long seconds, struggling to catch their respective breaths.
As their breathing regulated, Alicia became very aware of two things. The first was the chatter above them as people stopped to stare and comment. The second was the man’s very obvious and growing erection against her lower stomach. To her complete horror, her body responded in kind.
“Hey,” he said quietly as he carefully lifted her away from him and turned onto his side. “You okay?” He was so careful and gentle in his handling of her, she almost broke down right then and there.
Alicia shook her head, not trusting herself to speak. There were too many emotions warring for place of pride in her mind and heart. Fear was the main one. Even though her would-be tour guide was nowhere to be seen, she couldn’t help scanning the crowd. Then there was the sudden and wholly uncharacteristic attraction she had for the man she’d taken down.
Confused, she stayed where she was, sitting on her knees on the boardwalk with her arms crossed defensively over her chest. It was easy enough to hide that part of her body’s response, but her face was also burning hotter than it ever had in her life. Hopefully he’d think she was mortified over having bowled him over and nothing more.
The stranger, who was also kneeling by this point, leaned in toward her. It took all of her willpower to remain completely still. Part of her wanted to jerk away from him while an even bigger part wanted to tilt forward and meet him in the middle. The scent of cologne and clean man wreaked havoc with her already overloaded senses. There was a mischievous glint in his eyes as he whispered to her.
“At least yours isn’t as obvious as mine.” Out loud, he said, “Nate Langston. You are - ?”