Authors: Amanda Heger
A Division of Diversion Publishing Corp.
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New York, NY 10016
Copyright © 2016 by Amanda Heger
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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First Diversion Books edition April 2016
I love you and I like you.
It had been a peanuts-for-dinner, vodka-for-dessert kind of flight.
Annie stumbled down the plane’s narrow steps into the sweltering night air. The humidity weaved spider webs in her lungs, and a film of sweat coated the back of her neck as she trotted into the brittle chill of the air-conditioned airport. Inside, she fell into a crush of recently deplaned passengers, their elbows and quick-clipped Spanish jostling first her bags, then her mind. She found an empty corner, pulled out her phone, and sent a text to Marisol.
I’m here! Can’t wait to see you.
She put the phone away and waited at the crowded luggage carousel, straining to make out the conversation around her. But the Spanish flew by faster than anything she’d heard in her classes, each misunderstood word threatening to chip away at her excitement.
I’m tired. I’ll understand more tomorrow
Please let me understand more tomorrow.
As she tapped her foot to the feisty music playing on the airport’s speakers, a large, nondescript black bag shot onto the conveyer belt, followed by a small blue duffle. Next came Annie’s beautiful crème leather suitcase, barreling down the carousel, wide open and overflowing with its once carefully packed contents. She scrambled forward to snatch a stray t-shirt from the belt before pulling the bag to the ground. Her belongings scattered in a wide arc at her feet.
She shoved shirts, skirts, and bottles back into her suitcase, pushing piles of underthings beneath the heavier items. Finally, she pulled the zipper and dragged her luggage behind her to the nearest bench, all the while praying that no one had witnessed her underwear raining down from the conveyor belt.
She scanned the crowd for any signs of her friend and jotted off another text.
Where are you
Annie was certain she’d recognize Marisol, even if she hadn’t seen her in person since they were fifteen. They’d spent a single year together in St. Louis, gossiping about teachers, the other girls in their freshman class, and what it would be like to French kiss boys. But in that year, they’d bonded for life. And even though their communication became sporadic after Marisol returned home to Nicaragua, Annie knew there was no way she’d miss her friend’s impish grin.
In the month since Annie had decided to take this trip, they’d Skyped a handful of times. During their chats, Marisol rambled on about her job as a nurse and the men she dated, dodging all but the most basic questions about what Annie would do as member of the medical brigade—teach a sex ed course and shadow Marisol’s brother, Felipe, the doctor in charge of the clinics.
The phone buzzed in her palm.
Am late. Sorry. Meet in bar.
“Which bar?” she muttered, craning her neck to see over the crowd.
The airport was small but full of flickering, buzzing fluorescent lights—an open room with lines of weary travelers zigzagging across the floor. Dusty yellow letters above the entrance to the only restaurant in sight proclaimed “El Bar.”
Inside, she sank onto the nearest stool and pulled out her phone. Her fingers itched to send another text, this one to America—to Mike, the solid, blond fraternity boy in Missouri. It had been two weeks since he’d dumped her. Fourteen days, three hours, and two minutes since he told her he didn’t want to sit around waiting for her to come home.
I made it.
She shot off the message as she ordered a beer.
Several bitter swigs later, the phone buzzed with Mike’s reply.
She knew she should let it be, cut her losses and save her precious air time for someone who mattered. Like her father. Or the woman who took care of her bikini waxes. Anyone mattered more than this asshole.
Annie suspected he spent at least half an hour in front of the mirror each morning, adjusting every strand of his stupid, perfect hair to look like he rolled out of bed and walked straight into class. And he’d always pretended to be some kind of Scotch aficionado. But Annie knew, away from the bravado of his frat brothers, he’d choose a glass of Boone’s Farm over a pricey single malt any day.
I should call him. Let him know how great I’m doing. Let him hear how I’m not missing him. At all.
She plugged in his number.
One ring. She ran a finger along the outside of the bottle, tracing an M in the condensation.
Breezy. Be breezy.
A second ring. She took a long drink to calm her nerves.
He’s ignoring me
. She set her bottle on the glass bar top, took a deep breath, and put on her best carefree, I-don’t-give-a-damn-about-how-you-dumped-me voice. “Hey, it’s me. I know—”
“Welcome to Nicaragua,” a low voice interrupted.
She swiveled to discover a man smiling at her, revealing a deep dimple in his right cheek and a few crinkles around the eyes. They left Annie unsure whether he was twenty-four or thirty-four, but the tilt of his chin was so familiar. She stared into his face, her forehead crinkled with confusion.
Don’t be one of
people, Annie. Not all Hispanic people look alike
“I think this is yours, yes?” He slid onto the stool next to her and held out a small wad of purple polka-dotted fabric.
As soon as the soft cotton hit Annie’s palm, she knew it was one of the many pairs of underwear she’d strewn across the baggage claim. She couldn’t hit end on the voicemail to Mike fast enough, and she shoved the boy shorts into the nearest bag. “Thanks. Uh, I mean
.” His eyes stayed on her as he scooted his stool closer. “How was your flight?”
She shrugged. “The usual. Hot, crowded, only peanuts to eat.” Her stomach grumbled at the thought of food. The tiny bag of peanuts was the only thing she’d eaten all day.
“Do you want to order something to eat?”
She shook her head. Marisol would be here to whisk her away any minute. “No thanks.”
“A drink? We should celebrate your arrival.”
She shifted her focus between the bottle in her hands and his face. He was cute, with his short, messy black hair and squared jawline. A pair of sunglasses hung from the neck of the simple, white V-neck he wore. The starkness of the shirt set off his copper skin. He smiled, bringing out the dimple again, and her world shifted. That smile transformed him from cute to
He’s already seen my underwear
“Sure.” She pushed the hair from her face, wishing she’d bothered to wear something better than yoga pants and an old Tri-Delt t-shirt.
Found cute guy at the bar
, she jotted off another text to Marisol while he ordered.
He turned back to her, a shot glass in each hand. “
“What’s this?” She took a glass from his wide, dark fingers and wondered what those fingers would feel like against other parts of her. Parts not accessible in this tiny airport bar.
.” He pulled a phone from his pocket, and his eyes locked on the screen. A second later, another universe-wrecking smile lit his face.
Taking “surprise” shots from strange men in a foreign country wasn’t Annie’s modus operandi. She was the mother hen who steered her sorority sisters away from creepy middle-aged men at the bars. The one who patrolled her friends’ drinks when they went to the bathroom, keeping away guys with roofies and beer bellies.
supposed to be having an adventure.
“Cheers.” She knocked her glass with his and took the shot. It tasted like key-lime pie and burned on the way down. It was almost enough to make her forget she was about to spend the next month without access to electricity or running water. Maybe another would let her forget Mike’s face altogether. She looked at her phone. Silence, but she was certain Marisol would arrive at any moment.
And in the meantime…
This time the bartender poured a single shot, and Señor Smile set it in front of her. “I have to drive,” he said.
“Where?” Annie opened her throat and downed the alcohol. Her eyes were slow to focus, but she thought he was trying to look down the V of her shirt. At home, this would be enough to send her tearing in the opposite direction. But something about the thrill of a foreign place and a cute, interested guy made her a little reckless.
. Her insides fluttered as she leaned forward.
He shifted in his seat. “I have to take you back to the hotel,”
God, that dimple
. She rested a hand on his knee and bit her bottom lip, wanting nothing more than to forget her ex. “That’s forward.”
He blinked at her.
“A friend is supposed to pick me up,” she said.
being picked up, no?”
Through the fuzzy glow of the shots and the beer, Annie laughed at his bad pick-up line.
I’ll let that one go. Language barrier.
She teetered forward on the stool, her cross-shoulder bag throwing her off-kilter. He put a hand on her arm, and she used his thighs to find her balance. The way his muscles tensed under her fingers made anticipation gurgle in her chest.
“I think we should go,” he said.
She wasn’t about to leave with this sexy stranger, but she scooted closer, until her upper body perched between his legs. Each bit of stubble in his five o’clock shadow stood out in infinite detail, and her eyes shifted from his full bottom lip to his dark eyes.
. She let her left hand slide further up his leg. For the smallest second, he leaned into her space, and she was certain their lips would meet. But then Señor Smile sat back, concern muddling his features.
“Annie, this probably is not a good idea. I—”
“Wait, what?” She pulled away, shaking the rum-fog from her brain. “How do you know my name?” It took her two tries to stand, weighed down by her bag and the booze. “Are you some kind of creep who picks up American girls at the airport and sells them into slavery? I saw that episode of
Law & Order
.” She stumbled away from him, yanking out her phone.
“I think you are a little
“What?” She didn’t know what
meant, but disappointment was written all over his face.
Sorry pal, but I’m not about to star in some twisted, ripped from the headlines abduction tragedy.
“How do you know my name?”
“How do I…You know who I am, yes?”
“I just met you.” She took another step away, and her fingers jabbed at the screen.
Where are you?
The man grabbed his own phone off the bar, typing furiously.
Annie’s phone buzzed, and she glanced at the message.
In front of you.
Her eyes scanned the crowd, searching for any of sign Marisol. Any trace of a petite, raven-haired beauty. Nothing. Her gaze landed on Señor Smile, who still stared at her, his head cocked toward his right shoulder.
Annie’s hands went ice cold. The aftertaste of the shots still lingered on her tongue, now stale and sour. Her mind raced, searching for an answer. Any answer other than the one glaring back at her. “Felipe?”
“Mari did not tell you I was coming?”
“No.” Annie wanted to sprint across the airport and onto the closest plane. She didn’t care about the destination—it had to be better than here. “Where is she?”
“She had to work. I thought you knew.” He shook his head. “Because of the text messages.”
Marisol had sent the number just before Annie left St. Louis.
Just in case
, the email said. That was it. No further explanation.
Annie had a few vague memories of Felipe, with his floppy dark hair and perma-scowl. During the year his family had lived in St. Louis, he mostly stayed in the basement, blaring the television and playing guitar while the girls got ready for parties and football games. Annie never suspected that, six years later, he would look like some kind of sex god.
“Are you ready to go?” He took her suitcase and beelined for the exit, not waiting for her answer.
Annie slunk through the parking lot behind him, all her pride left behind in El Bar. When they reached the car, she opened her mouth to apologize, but both her mind and her mouth felt packed full of cotton. “Thanks for the ride.”