Authors: Janet Nissenson
Even at 8am it was already warm and humid, and Nathan Atwood was glad he’d forced himself to rise earlier than he would have preferred to start his eight mile run. As he ran through Central Park at a brisk pace, he noticed quite a few other runners, walkers, and cyclists, all undoubtedly anxious to beat the heat of a mid-September day in Manhattan and get their workouts done as early as possible.
He left the park and headed back towards the Plaza Hotel, where he was staying to attend the American Institute of Architects convention. The streets were considerably more crowded then they had been close to an hour ago when he’d started his run, requiring him to slow his pace and often dodge around people hurrying on their way to work. About a block from the hotel it got so congested that he gave up and slowed to a walk, conscious of the sweat pouring from his face and soaking his clothes, and he was grateful he didn’t have to deal with this sort of weather on a daily basis.
Summers in San Francisco, where he’d flown in from yesterday afternoon, were much cooler and outdoor workouts not nearly so taxing. And while the streets around his office building back home could get quite crowded at times, they were nothing like the virtual mob scene that was Manhattan. This certainly wasn’t his first visit here, but somehow he was never really prepared to deal with the masses of humanity he encountered in New York City.
But even with all the people hurrying this way or the other, Nathan still couldn’t miss the extraordinarily beautiful woman walking his way. Heads turned in all directions as she passed, but she seemed oblivious - whether by intent or not – to the admiring male stares and jealous female glares sent her way, and she didn’t make eye contact with anyone. Until she happened to glance up and meet his own enraptured gaze.
Time seemed to stand still for what was very likely just a few brief seconds, but to Nathan everything around him seemed frozen as he stared into those beautiful mossy green eyes. The brisk pace she’d been walking at slowed until she was almost standing still as they continued to stare at each other, as if there weren’t dozens of other people rushing past them.
The beautiful stranger offered up a tentative smile, which he returned automatically, the sort of casual acknowledgement that people who find each other mutually attractive tossed out. But there was nothing casual about the instant and almost overwhelming reaction he was having to her, as he continued to hold her gaze steadily and her smile deepened. It wasn’t just the physical awareness of each other, though that was certainly off the charts. Instead it almost felt as though he recognized her from somewhere, had been waiting for her to appear and already knew her intimately. As they continued to stare at each other, the woman’s full, glossy lips parted, and he waited for her to say something.
And then just like that she was gone, continuing on her way, and he turned to watch her, wanting nothing more than to follow in her wake, find out her name, get her number, ask her out to dinner, fuck her senseless. But instead he merely watched her go, as he somewhat belatedly recalled that he was no longer free to do any of those things. Not since he’d become engaged to Cameron Tolliver less than a month ago.
But that recollection didn’t erase the image of that flawlessly beautiful face from his mind as the day went on. As he showered and dressed in a light gray Prada suit, he remembered the way her structured white dress clung to a body with curves in all the right places. When he was getting coffee and a bagel at the continental breakfast buffet set up for the convention attendees, he pictured her perfect facial features – high, sculpted cheekbones, small, straight nose, plush, pillowy lips glossed in a soft rose, and those huge green eyes. To distract himself during the really boring opening presentation, he thought of her long, curling hair that fell more than halfway down her back, a light golden brown shade that reminded him of melted caramel. And the mental image of how her high heels had made her legs look endlessly long caused him to develop a hard-on at a most inappropriate time.
By the time the convention meetings had ended for the day and it was time to head to dinner, Nathan was mentally kicking himself for not following his initial instincts and running after his beautiful stranger. Now he’d never see her again and would probably regret it for a long, long time. He’d dated and slept with a lot of women in his thirty three years, but had never reacted quite this way to one of them before.
But it was likely all for the best, he thought, since he wasn’t in a position to pursue this sudden obsession with a woman he’d passed on the street for maybe twenty seconds max. He did, after all, have a brand-new fiancée back home and it would have been really shitty of him to chase after another woman, no matter how gorgeous she was. Should he be worried that feeling this sort of strong attraction to another woman was a sign that perhaps he shouldn’t have agreed to this engagement after all?
He and Cameron had been dating for just over two years, and she had started hinting about getting engaged less than a year into the relationship. He had put her off each time she brought the subject up, not at all sure he was ready to settle down, or that Cameron was the right one to settle down with. Prior to getting involved with her, he hadn’t really done long term relationships, thoroughly enjoying a carefree state of unencumbered bachelorhood. He’d rarely dated the same woman more than a few times, and probably wouldn’t have continued seeing Cameron much longer than that if it hadn’t been for her persistence coupled with the fact that everyone else he knew seemed to be in a permanent relationship these days.
It has been a series of events that finally prompted him to get engaged. First, his younger brother Jared and his wife Brooke had had a baby boy earlier this summer, less than two years after they had married. Jared was a professional baseball player for the Colorado Rockies, and at age twenty-nine was a full four years younger than Nathan, who was the oldest of three sons. Not only was Jared the first of the boys to marry but now also the first to produce a grandchild. Nathan was quite aware that his parents had likely always expected him to be the first to do both given that he was the oldest. The marriage part hadn’t really bothered him, especially since he’d thought Jared too young to get married. But the part about the baby had given him cause for reflection, especially when he saw how taken his parents were with their new grandson.
Then his younger brother Greg, who was beginning his final year of law school back in Michigan, had moved in with his longtime girlfriend Emma and there was talk of a Christmas engagement. And then, just a few weeks ago, Nathan and Cameron had attended the wedding of Kyle Philpott, one of Nathan’s closest friends and former water polo teammates from their days at UC Berkeley. Kyle had been among the last of their circle of friends to tie the knot, leaving Nathan as practically the only remaining single one. He had started to feel like the odd man out, and to wonder if time was passing him by while all of his other friends were getting married and starting families.
Kyle’s wedding, in fact, had been the catalyst in setting the scene for Nathan and Cameron to finally get engaged. Nathan had been pleasantly buzzed from all the free flowing booze, he’d been having a great time with so many of his friends who were in attendance, and Cameron had caught the bride’s bouquet. She’d arrived back at their table clutching the flowers triumphantly, and quite boldly told him that he
to marry her now. To her utter delight, he’d agreed this time and she had immediately proceeded to call her parents, her sister, and half a dozen friends despite his pleas to keep the news to themselves for just a little while. But Cameron rarely listened to reason and frequently acted on impulse, and most of the time those impulses were ill-advised. He usually found her impulsiveness endearing but at other times – like the night of their engagement – it had been maddening. He had really wanted to keep the news to themselves for just a little while, especially considering how quickly the whole thing had wound up unfolding.
He’d been a little taken aback at the reaction – or, more accurately, the lack thereof – from his parents and siblings when he had called them with the news. Oh, they had certainly expressed surprise and offered him heartfelt congratulations, but he had sensed that none of them were over the moon about his engagement. He had received similar reactions from several of his friends, and in some cases – like Travis, his business partner – he had actually perceived a sense of disapproval. Small wonder, though, considering that Cameron and Travis didn’t really get along and neither made much effort to conceal their mutual dislike.
As he headed into the banquet room that had been set for the evening’s group dinner, he checked his phone for messages, sighing when he saw three missed calls and half a dozen texts from Cameron. He had called her during an early afternoon break, and the conversation hadn’t been especially pleasant. She’d been peeved at him for the flight arrangements he’d made for this trip, in particular his return flight home. Because the convention didn’t end until late afternoon on Friday, and he knew he’d wind up going out to dinner with a group of acquaintances, he had refused to get up early on Saturday to catch a flight back to San Francisco. Cameron had wanted him to escort her to one of those all-too-frequent high society functions that her parents always patronized, and often compelled her to attend as well. But his flight arrived in too late to make the charity ball, and she was none too happy about having to go alone. Nathan knew she still hadn’t completely given up on convincing him to catch an earlier flight, and he hoped they wouldn’t have yet another argument about it. He decided to wait until after dinner to call her back, wanting to enjoy the evening among old friends and business associates.
This convention was not only valuable for his career and business, but a bit of a getaway for him, too. Work had been incredibly busy this year, which was fantastic for the success of his firm but exhausting for him personally. The only vacation time he’d been able to scratch out so far had been a quick visit to see his parents in Michigan, and a couple of long weekends at Cameron’s parents’ second home in Lake Tahoe. He and Cameron did have a week’s getaway to Maui planned for November but this week in New York City was a little breather just for him.
The rest of the evening passed by relatively quickly, and he was able to temporarily forget about the gorgeous woman he’d seen this morning. But she featured prominently in his dreams that night, though he couldn’t remember any specific details when he woke up the next morning. Judging by the size of his morning erection, however, he figured they must have been juicy.
He chose to swim laps in the hotel’s pool that morning rather than run since it was raining outside. He liked to mix up his workout rotation anyway, rarely doing the same thing two days in a row. Besides running and swimming, he also enjoyed mountain biking, rock climbing, and weight training. He’d always been a strong swimmer from the time he was a boy, which had evolved into water polo during high school and college. His years on the water polo team at Berkeley were some of the best times of his life, and the friends he’d made on the team continued to be his closest pals today.
The rain kept up for a good part of the day, preventing him from going outside, but the possibility of seeing his beautiful stranger was slim to none anyway. Still, he couldn’t help but be disappointed when he ran again on Wednesday morning and didn’t see her this time. The rain had stopped but the weather was hotter and muggier than ever. During a mid-morning break, coffee and tea were served as usual but a hot drink didn’t seem very appealing given the rising temperature outside.
“I’m thinking of heading to the Starbucks down the street to get an iced coffee, “ said Nathan to Rick Marshall, an old friend and classmate from Berkeley, who was also attending the convention. Rick worked for a big firm in Chicago, and they typically saw each other at the convention each year.