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Authors: Hillary Kanter

Tags: #Romance: Fantasy - Historical - Time Travel - Humor

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BOOK: Hillary Kanter - Dead Men Are Easy To Love
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With that, Ernest threw me over his shoulder and ran down to the ocean. I threw my arms around his neck, and he lowered me into the surf. We swam a little, and I came up to him, stopping with the water at my waist. The sun blazed behind us, and his wet chest glistened. I was practically naked in his arms, and there was no stopping “the kiss.”

The man knew
how to
, no doubt about it.

It was the kiss to end all kisses!

But when he slipped his hand into the top of my suit, I moved away as if touched by a hot poker.

“I’m sorry, Ariel, but I can’t seem to help it. I can’t keep my hands off you. Do you feel anything for me at all?”

“Yes, I do. Come on, you know I do. We both know the looks we’ve been giving each other. But you’re married, and I like Hadley.”

“I know, I know. But I want you to understand something. I
need
for you to understand something: The marriage is on the rocks, and it’s been that way for a long time now. I’m telling you the truth, I swear. Didn’t you know that?”

“Well … I do know that Hadley loves you.

“And I love her dearly, but I am not ‘in love’ with her.”

“What does that mean? You married her, didn’t you?”

“Yes, I did. And I was in love with her then. But something changed.”

I tried not to roll my eyes. I had heard this stereotypical, married-man script before.

“It just isn’t the same now,” he continued. “Hadley and I … We don’t make love anymore. She hasn’t wanted to for a long time. And then in March, well, I met someone. In New York. It wasn’t serious, but I’m a man and … Frankly, I just couldn’t take it anymore. That’s over now, of course. And that’s not the point. Until I met you, Ariel, I didn’t know that I was truly alive.”

“Oh, Ernest, I’m drawn to you. How could I not be? But how can this end any way except badly?”

He kissed me again. “And how can anything that feels this good be that bad?”

I laughed then. “You’re such a big silly,” I said, splashing water in his face. Uncomfortable with this conversation’s direction, I turned and headed for deeper water—and was I ever getting into deep water.

“So you think you can get away from me?” he called.

I was a good swimmer. Though he tried to catch up, I stayed ahead of him. Suddenly he stopped short.

“Don’t move, Ariel. Stay right where you are.”

Was this some lousy trick to catch me? I hesitated, came to a halt. When I turned around, I saw it: a steel-colored fin, cutting through the water like the fear through my heart.

“Don’t worry,” Ernest said. “Just stand still. He’s more scared of you than you are of him.”

Yeah, right!

I sure hoped the shark was scared of me, because it was small like a hippopotamus. I didn’t move a limb as it circled. I was afraid to even breathe—which explained my sudden rush of dizziness. Next thing I knew, I was lying on the sand with Ernest poised over me as I coughed and blinked salt water from my eyes.

“Darling, you’re just fine.”

I tried sitting up. “What happened?”

“You fainted. It was a bull shark, but it left me alone while I brought you to shore.”

He explained that bull sharks, unlike the tamer nurse sharks, were more apt to attack, and I knew it was a good thing I had not been aware of that as the thing circled me. I was still shaky, vulnerable, and grateful for my masculine rescuer. It was a dangerous combination of emotions.

“Thank you, Ernest. You’re handy to have around when a girl is swimming with sharks.” Then again, he was probably as dangerous
,
if not
more
so.

I stretched out on the sand, and he smiled at me, caressing my hair. In that moment I knew I was crazy about him. I was falling in love, and knew I would deny him nothing.

He tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. “Are you okay to walk back home? If not, I can go get the car and pick you up. Or, I can carry you.”

“I’m fine, I can make it.”

Back at the house, he fixed us daiquiris, and we talked and even laughed about the fact I had almost died that afternoon. I commented that it was time for me to get my things and check into the boardinghouse down the street.

“We can check you in later. You must have dinner with me tonight. C’mon. You don’t want to make a man eat all by himself, do you?”

He would not take no for an answer.

And I had no intention of saying it.

“Let’s go for a walk before dinner. The sun’s almost down, and it’s my favorite time of day,” Ernest said. “I never miss a sunset in Key West.”

I was happy—no, make that deliriously happy—to be anywhere with him, go anywhere with him. He was as manly as a man could be, and I drank him in like those damn daiquiris; yet,
he
was more intoxicating. I had never felt a stronger connection with anyone, and had no idea what force of nature was drawing us together. I was helpless in the face of it, scared and confused and ecstatic—and somewhat ashamed to be feeling all these things.

We strolled down to the pier, where we were alone except for the pelican perched on a marker. Ernest pressed up to me and kissed me, against the backdrop of a tequila sunset with a sky the color of ripe tangerines. I gazed into his eyes as he cupped my face in his hands, and the water sparkled.

“My dear Ariel, I’ve known many women in this life, but I’ve never known anyone like you. There’s something so … so … I’m finally at a loss for words, and I’m never at a loss for words.”

“Don’t speak. Don’t speak. I feel the same way.” I sighed, touching his lips with my finger. It’s true. I had never had a connection quite this strong with anyone before.

This time I initiated the kiss, and it was long and luxurious. When I eased away, I watched gentle waves lap along the barnacle-lined pilings, and saw a small fiddler crab poke its head in and out of one. I stared at that crab, feeling hypnotized.

“There are so many things I want to do with you,” Ernest said, “so many things I want to show you. I’ll take you to Spain, to the bullfights. You would love Pamplona and Valencia. It’s a whole other world over there. We’ll get together with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. And we’ll go to France, where I’ll introduce you to one of the goddamn best writers in the whole world, Gertrude Stein. She’s fascinating—strange, but fascinating. Then in the winter we’ll go to Gstaad and I’ll teach you to ski, and we’ll drink wine and hold each other by the fire and make love all night and—”

“It sounds wonderful,” I cut in. “But you’ve got to slow down. I want to be with you too. But is this just a crazy dream? Could we really hope to do all these things? Or is it even possible to be as happy as I’m thinking we could be?”

“Yes, darling. I swear with all my heart that the love I feel for you is as true as the truest thing I know. I’ll love you till the day I die, Ariel.”

“Let’s go back,” I whispered, suddenly not caring about dinner.

We headed to the house on Whitehead Street, his hand wrapped around mine. At the front door, his favorite cat, the six-toed Boise, greeted us. Ernest scooped him up and placed him by a bowl of food on the kitchen floor.

We kissed our way up the stairs, pulling clothes off in a heated rush. In his arms, I was trembling so hard I could barely catch my breath. I breathed him into my soul as our mouths touched. I pulled the air from his lungs into my mine. He became the air that I breathed, and I wanted to be a part of him, as real as his heart or his hand, so that he would never want to be without me, never want to live without me.

“My love, my love,” he whispered in my ear. “Tell me you’ll marry me, and we’ll be like this forever.”

“But … aren’t you already married?”

“Don’t,” he said. “Please, Ariel. Don’t say a word.”

We climbed past his writing room with its scattered piles of typewritten pages, up another flight to his bedroom—except we never made that far.

The jangling of the phone interrupted us.

I begged for Ernest to ignore it, my fingers brushing his cheek.

“It could be Hadley,” he said. His eyes grew dark.

As I watched his broad shoulders turn away, I gathered my skirt and started putting it back on. What was I thinking? How could I betray Hadley’s trust? And yet every fiber of my being ached for this man, for the warmth and security I felt in his arms, for the pleasure I imagined us sharing together.

I heard Ernest in the other room, softly saying “Yes … I understand. I’ve been busy, very busy … Look, it’s only eight-thirty. I can meet you in half an hour. That’s not so bad, is it? … Okay, I’ll see you soon.”

When he returned, he saw me dressing, then grabbed and kissed me. “A friend of mine is in some serious trouble. I’ve got to out. Just for a little while, I promise. Will you be okay?”

“Sure,” I said. “I’ll be fine.

“I love you.” He touched his lips to my forehead, as though I were a small child. “I won’t be long.”

After he had gone, I wondered what sort of problem Ernest’s friend had. My mind ran over that question the way one might run a finger carefully over a sharp blade. I was sorry I hadn’t asked, but I hadn’t wanted to appear nosy. I paced the house, tired, although not tired enough to sit still. Should I go check into the boardinghouse? Was that the smart thing to do? I needed time to process what had happened.

Still restless, I went out for some fresh air. It’d been a pretty evening, but I was halfway across town when lightning lit the night sky. Thunder cracked, and the wind began to howl, plastering my skirt to my legs. By the time I decided to head back, I was completely turned around with no idea where “back” was.

In the darkness, I searched for a landmark. Anything. The wind grew stronger, and sharp rain pelted my face. Going in circles, I recognized nothing.

Then … a familiar building.

Sloppy Joe’s?

Oh, thank God. I had to get out of this storm. The place was not too crowded, and I sat at one of the small tables near the bar. The waitress, staring at my drenched hair, asked if I wanted anything besides a towel. I was tempted to say, “Yeah, a new, less conflicted brain.” There was no point in asking for a blow-dryer, since this was 1926.

Instead I ordered—you guessed it—a strawberry daiquiri.

I drank one, then another, waiting for the rain to end. I had to use the restroom. Glass still in hand, I moved down a long, dark hall, and turned into what I thought was the ladies’ room, stumbling through the doorway before realizing it was a storage room.

As I turned to leave, I heard low voices speaking in hushed, intimate tones. Curious, I followed the whispers to the back of the storage room. A man had his back to me. His hands were pressed forward, propped against the wall, as he talked to someone facing him and chuckling. My brain took a moment to register that these were two
men
.

I gasped and spilled my drink on the floor. The men heard me, and the closer one turned around.

It was Ernest!

“Uh, oh … I’m sorry,” I stammered.

“Ariel,” he said. “What are you doing here?”

Even if I’d had a response, I would have choked on the words before they left my mouth. I was on the brink of coughing something up, from vocal chords that failed me, when the room started to spin.

Feeling sick, I slouched to the floor and closed my eyes. I grasped the chain on my crystal heart so hard that I feared it might break. My heart sunk like the Florida sun, somewhere so deep in my chest that I doubted I would ever find it again.

***

Ernest had vanished. Key West was gone like a ghost, as were the tamarind trees, the coconut palms, the house on Whitehead Street, the salty taste of him on my lips, and Sloppy Joe’s …

All of it, gone.

Pulling myself up, I realized I was back in my bed in Sun Valley, Utah, with an emptiness like I’d never known.

My heart pounded, longing for the dead man, the soul mate, I had just met. My passion was mixed with pain and disappointment. As the empty feeling burrowed through my soul, I vowed to myself that I would never drink another daiquiri as long as I lived.

Then, something caught my eye.

On the plush lodge carpet, glass glistened. I blinked twice, but it was still there—an overturned martini glass, seeping strawberry-colored liquid from its mouth like a bloody river.

 

 

 

Chapter Four

IMMORTAL BELOVED

 

 

Daylight broke, suggesting no difference between this or any other day back in the Big Apple. By now, Hemingway was only a dream long gone. It was Monday morning, June 7, and I stretched out one hand to silence my alarm clock, while the other pushed the black sleeping mask from my eyes. I stretched, then stared out from my apartment at the Manhattan skyline, where it looked like rain. Again.

I uttered my usual morning prayer: “Please, God, let this day be good.”

Lately, the days had been long, the nights even longer. This Monday my mind was on the man responsible for my current, downward, dating spiral, and for every loser I had seemed condemned to meet since.

No, not Hemingway. I’d left him in the … well, the past. Had our days together been real? I couldn’t be sure. Since then, some new twists and encounters had come up, enough to occupy my heart and mind.

Today my mind was fixed on Jake, AKA: Mr. Sociopath.

Jake was a loser, although that is not
all
he was. It took me longer than it should have to figure out he was a bona fide sociopath. If one could make a living by telling lies, he would be a billionaire. And I’d spent about a billion myself on therapy, undoing the damage he had wrought.

Yes, I take responsibility. I allowed him to do those things, before realizing that becoming a stark raving mad bitch did not become me—though, in the infamous words of Stephen King’s Delores Claiborne, “
Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has to hold on to.”

These thoughts should have been secondary this morning, since I was facing a deadline on an article. I do not write for women’s magazines because I love it, but because it pays the rent. What I really wanted to do was spend my hours seeking a publisher for my first novel. For today, however, I would be that much closer to getting nowhere with that plan. It was frustrating. I had been turned down more times than I cared to admit, and in the words of the late Sylvia Plath, “Nothing stinks more than a pile of unpublished writing.”

BOOK: Hillary Kanter - Dead Men Are Easy To Love
12.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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