This excerpt contains adult material and is intended for readers 18 years of age or older.
The intense sunlight through the window forces my eyes to open. Groaning, I roll over and reach out for Blake. His side of the bed still holds his warmth that lingers on the sheets. He hasn’t left for work yet. I arch my body making inarticulate sounds as a few unladylike yawns escape my throat.
I sit up on our bed and stretch my arms in front of me giving my vision a moment to adjust. The usual struggle with whether to get out of bed or curl back under the sheets is irrelevant today. The fact that Blake Mackenzie, my hot stud of a fiancé, is probably naked in the shower is incentive enough for me to get my shapely ass out of bed in double time.
As I tiptoe into the bathroom, the steam from the hot water smacks me in the face. Hello, instant facial. His throaty voice echoing in the shower singing about weary girls and trying a little tenderness with them forces a small snicker to escape my throat. Blake’s bath time concerts always make me smile. He can’t sing for his life, but it’s adorable when he does it with so much spirit. One time I caught him holding the bottle of body wash, pretending it was a microphone. The memory of that moment makes me grin.
My hand wipes off the fog covering the square mirror, and I settle into my morning routine. Finger-combing my long black hair, I twist the strands into a messy bun, thrilled that it’s cooperating today. My slinky nightgown slides from my shoulders, making a whooshing sound as it pools around my feet. The creamy natural complexion of my skin works nicely with the dark brown hue of my almond shaped eyes. When it boils down to fashion standards I’m an average woman – I’m 5’6” with considerable breasts, a medium waist and broad hips that sometimes have a hard time getting into jeans that aren’t stretchy. I’m a size 14, not runway model thin like every other woman in this city. It’s not a curse or a sin, God just graced me with extra curves and that’s never discouraged the male population; I’ve had my share of admirers in the past. If you got it, flaunt it.
Quietly opening the glass of the shower enclosure I slip in. Blake’s head is under the spray of water so I doubt he heard me sneak in. My arms reach out to embrace his lean, trim body. As my hands touch his skin, he turns around, startled. Hugging me with his muscular arms, Blake towers over me. His baby blues consider my naked body as a sexy grin lights up his face.
Gosh. That dopey smile of his drives me wild.
“Good morning, Catalina,” he whispers sweetly against my lips.
His gaze pierces into the deepest parts of my soul. Smiling, I move the wet strands of blonde hair away from his eyes. My hands trace their way down to his cheeks, and I stroke them affectionately with my thumbs.
“Good morning,” I reply lovingly. “How did you sleep?”
Using his thumb, he caresses my chin.
“Good. Very good, actually,” Blake purrs, causing my body to heat with yearning.
“I missed you,” I breathe.
Placing my hands over his heart, I feel it beating strong and lively; he’s just as affected as me. My eyes travel down his abdomen, admiring his well-defined lines. I bite the insides of my cheek trying to bridle the desire burning within me.
My eyes reach the end of his happy trail and a wicked smile plays across my face. Blake’s gorgeous cock is happy to see me. His manhood stands at attention, to my complete and utter delight. It doesn’t matter that we’ve known each other for more than five years. Our mutual respect and love has kept the embers of our sex life very much alive. I must’ve been objectifying Blake, because the sound of him clearing his throat twice shifts my attention.
My eyes meet his, which are full of mischief and want, smoldering with desire.
“Cat, I’m pretty sure you were taught that it’s not polite to stare,” Blake taunts as his tongue seductively flicks the corner of his mouth.
In the blink of an eye, he swings me around so that the curve of my back faces his chest. Blake closes the gap between us and trails kisses down my spine, gently nibbling over my sweltering skin. I can feel his erection at the small of my back: hard, thick, and ready. I bite back a moan of pleasure as his hands trap mine over my head against the slippery shower walls.
Attempting to turn around is futile, as Blake’s strength keeps me in place. His mouth reaches the bottom of my earlobe and nips at it. I feel his warm breath against my ear. “Wake up, Catalina,” he murmurs.
Facing the wall, my nose wrinkles in confusion. It’s enough to kill this moment. Huh? “Wake up, baby,” Blake whispers again. Turning around, I look at him, puzzled.
“Blake? Honey, I’m awake.” I mutter, slightly alarmed. When Blake doesn’t respond, I huff and squeeze my eyes shut in irritation.
Beep. Beep. Beep. What is that noise?
Beep. Beep. Beep. The sound won’t stop. Opening my eyes, I realize Blake no longer stands before me. I’m no longer in the shower but in my bed.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
“Fuck, I’m awake!” I shriek. I sit up in bed, breathing hard, unable to comprehend where I am. It takes me a minute to find my bearings. Closing my eyes, I clutch my comforter tightly. Slowly, the painful realization sinks in.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
My shaky hand reaches out for the alarm clock sitting on the night table, hitting it a couple of times for good measure until I turn it off. Taking a few deep breaths, I try to dispel the nerves brought on by my delusion. My hands cradle my head as the reality of this moment kicks me in the gut. Blake could not possibly be here. He’s dead.
Irreconcilable tears fall from my eyes, staining my cheeks. It’s been a long time since I’ve dreamt of him. Throwing myself back in bed, I close my eyes again, desperately trying to revive the dream. I beg God to bring him back, if only for a moment. Blake was as beautiful as I remember.
Completely shaken by the nightmare, I reach out for the sound system remote. Music is what I need. With one quick press of a button, Reptilia by The Strokes echoes loudly in my room.
I jump out of bed and walk straight to my bathroom. The cold tiled floor stings my feet. My reflection in the mirror disappoints me, tear stricken face, dark circles underneath my eyes, and my hair is longer and more unruly than ever. I’m older and to put things mildly, time has not been so kind.
With a deep sigh I brush my hair and pin it up, easing into my morning routine. Stepping into the shower, I set the water to the hottest setting I can tolerate. Soon, the stall is filling up with steam, the scent of lavender swirling in the air. I make a lather of the body wash and scrub myself clean, wishing it could wash away my sadness.
Yes, my body is feeling somewhat relaxed but my head is anything but. I abandon the stall, bundle myself in a terry cloth bathrobe, and stand in front of the vanity mirror. Music continues to play in the background as I prepare to put on make-up. My style has evolved since Blake passed away. I found comfort in alternative rock, and dark, rockabilly-meets-gothic outfits fill my closet.
I take my time applying the jet black eyeliner, making sure the wing tips are drawn to perfection. Accentuating the beauty mark on my left cheek, I complete the look with scarlet lipstick. I look nothing like the girl in my dream anymore, but I’m content with my image even though I’m slightly curvier than I was four years ago.
Losing Blake and our baby propelled me into a severe depression that took a toll on my psyche as well as my body. My change in style and image still turns heads everywhere I go, and I’m okay with that. I’m just a different person than I was back in the day.
I grab a pair of black leggings adorned with white skulls and pair them with a white long-sleeved tunic and my cherry red Doc Martens that lay strewn on the floor. One glance at the clock tells me if I leave the loft now, I’ll have time to stop for coffee on the way to work.
I grab my messenger bag and winter gear, and run down the stairs to the main floor. New York City winters can be quite dreadful, especially if you walk everywhere.
I live in SoHo, a relatively small neighborhood in Lower Manhattan. After Blake passed away, I sold the apartment we shared Uptown and moved Downtown. I love the vibrancy of the art deco district. From the shops and art galleries, to the restaurants near my loft, I feel completely at home in SoHo.
Placing my earbuds in, I listen to one of my playlists. I find that when I’m walking in the bitter cold, music makes the intolerable tolerable. Plus, it drowns out the incessant sounds of honking horns and screaming sirens that form part of the soundtrack of life in NYC. I just have to keep a close eye out for the cabbies. They’ll run you over in a heartbeat, and you would never know what hit you.
I sigh contentedly as I reach the coffee shop. For once the place doesn’t have a line out the door, probably because it’s too cold. I grab my coffee, light and sweet, and opt to take a cab to work in Midtown Manhattan. I work as a journalist for Xsports, a magazine that publishes articles about daredevil athletes and, occasionally, celebrities.
I’ve worked there for almost six years, and for the most part, I’m satisfied with my career. I have been lucky enough to travel to different parts of the world. My editor, Marcia Reed, has been one of the coolest bosses I’ve ever worked with. She understands my antipathy for snow, so I’m typically assigned to cover sky divers, jousters, base jumpers and arena events.
I walk into the building and head straight for my cubicle. Placing my coffee on my desk, I sit and peruse the never ending flow of emails that drown my inbox. I usually scan the subject lines looking for important ones first. My eyes stumble upon one in particular: PTO Policy Changes flagged as high priority. Without a moment’s hesitation, I click on it.
Our records indicate you have accumulated 450 hours of vacation time, the equivalent of three months. The company is gearing towards changes in paid vacation benefits. Starting the next fiscal year, all employees will be required to exhaust all accumulated time before June 1st. If not, all accumulated hours will be liquidated and dispersed in an off cycle paycheck. Our records also indicate you have not taken a day off in almost four years. We encourage all employees to take periodic vacations. I advise you take a look at your calendar and make arrangements. Your loyal service to Xsports is unparalleled.
This email is being forwarded to your department head. Should you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate in reaching out to me or Marcia Reed.
All my best,
Emelina James, Human Resources Manager
I smile as I read through the departmental emails about assignments given to my peers. This job never gets old, and the twinge of excitement has not left my gut in almost a decade in the sports journalism world. I see that Aaron and Becky Jacobson, a husband and wife reporter/photographer team, were assigned to a press tour for the reigning Olympic snowboarding gold medalist Jackson Reese.
I snicker inwardly, recalling that infamous streaking fiasco during the Winter Olympics. As I’m multitasking between sips of coffee and reading and responding to emails, David Collins, one of my colleagues, stops by my cubicle. He knocks on my nameplate and I look up.
“Good morning, Pardo!” David greets me with a smile, his lips turning up to display his insanely bright and perfect teeth.
“Same to you, Collins,” I reply with a grin. Collins is my closest colleague at Xsports. We have lunch at least once a week, assignments permitting.
“I stopped by to ask if you wanted a coffee, but I see you have one already.” Collins shrugs his shoulders and pouts like a sad child.
Lifting the paper cup, I wiggle it. “It’s almost gone. I could go for another one.”
“I guess that was a given, huh?” Collins retorts. “You drink too much of that stuff. Come on, Pardo, we don’t have all day.”
“Calling the kettle black now are we?” I counter, poking him on the chest. “I love you, Collins, but sometimes I wonder how your wife puts up with your shit. She must love you.” I fire back.
Collins puts his hands on his hips and chuckles. “I know, right?” He pats me on the shoulder. “Always keeping it real huh, Pardo?”
“Just calling it like I see it. Now enough with the chit chat. Let’s get some fuel. On our way there, we can talk about Andrea’s birth plan. I want to know all about it.”
Collins groans and rolls his eyes at me. He’s going to be a dad any day now and like a true first time parent, he’s freaking out. Does it make me evil that I tease him over it? No. It’s just how our work dynamic is. Apart from being office buddies, Collins and I share a love for coffee and good books. It’s great to have someone at work who understands you without having to ask too many questions.
“Okay, team. Before we wrap this meeting up, I want to introduce the athlete that will be gracing the cover of our magazine this upcoming April,” Marcia announces, during our weekly staff meeting.
“Xsports has been lucky enough to be chosen to cover the reigning Olympic gold medalist of Men’s Slope-style snowboarding. You’re all familiar with Jackson Reese, courtesy of the unfortunate streaking incident a year ago,” Immediately, groans and snickers fill the room.
I roll my eyes. I mean, who gets shitfaced, strips and snowboards in nothing but boots and a gold medal? I am not ashamed to admit I laughed my ass off at his bravado, but at the end of the day, it was foolish.
“His PR team has organized a six weeks long press tour that will grant us, along with two other magazines, access to Reese’s life on the slopes as well as off. Private jet, lush accommodations, you name it – all on his dime. I’ve selected team Jacobson to helm this project. I believe it’s a perfect opportunity to have a relatable face on the cover. Despite his little incident, Jackson Reese has always been a phenomenal athlete. Having Xsports tell his story will help us sell more units. Let’s face it. Sales have been slow.”
Everyone in the boardroom nods. Some of my colleagues begin to chatter, forcing Marcia to clear her throat and continue.
“I know Team Jacobson will be a perfect fit for Reese given their experience at the Winter Olympics.” She taps on a box sitting on the table. “This is the press kit Reese’s team has sent over. I suggest you all take a moment to review it and offer support to the Jacobson-s. The press tour begins in a month. Alright guys, if there are no questions, meeting adjourned.”
Everyone vacates the boardroom, except Collins, the Jacobson-s, and me. With purposeful steps I approach the box, curiosity getting the best of me. Perusing through the box like kids who’ve found treasure, Collins and I remove its contents. My eyes zone in on a DVD.
“May I?” I ask the Jacobson’s and they nod.
Walking over to the media wall, I insert the DVD. It plays a sizzle reel of Jackson Reese on his snowboard shredding the slopes, as well as a replay of the unfortunate incident at the Winter Olympics. The trailer ends with Jackson facing the camera. He challenges with those crisp azure eyes, “There’s more to me than what you just saw. Do you want to know more? Join me.”
Wow. I’m not even covering him and I’m intrigued. Scanning the travel itinerary in the box, I groan. “Whistler, B.C.? Never been there but it’s got to be cold as fuck,” I mutter to no one in particular. My body shivers at the thought of being in the freezing tundra. Quickly, I shove the documents back into the box as if they could give me frostbite.
“Just imagine if you were the one picked to cover Jackson Reese in the Canadian snow… You’d be shitting a brick right about now,” Collins smirks. I flip him the bird with a mouthed fuck you and Collins laughs, completely entertained.
“Good luck guys! Safe travels,” I call out to the Jacobson-s before walking out of the boardroom. Heading back to my desk, I decide to put in a request for time off. I think a vacation is long overdue.
Leaving work, I brave the cold and begin the trek home. My cell phone begins buzzing, and I smile when I realize Faith Mackenzie is calling. She has been my best friend for almost a decade now. We are the same age, thirty two, and among the many things we have in common, there’s Blake. Faith is my late fiancé’s youngest sibling. We usually hang out once a month but with the influx of out of town assignments this time of year, we haven’t seen each other much.
“Hi, Cat!” Faith squeals. “Guess why I’m calling?”
I shrug, not really knowing what Faith could be suggesting. “I don’t know…” I mumble, hoping she doesn’t insist on making me guess.
Faith lets out a loud shriek, startling me. I inwardly curse her with all of my being because I’m pretty sure she has left me partially deaf.
“Matthew proposed last night! We’re getting married!” she says in between giggles. Her excitement makes me smile. Matthew and Faith have been together a little over two years. Their love rivals those seen in romance novels.
“That’s amazing! Congratulations, Faith!” In a heartbeat, she begins to tell me how Matthew proposed. I am beyond thrilled he surprised the ever living shit out of her. Good for him.
Faith’s excited tone of voice changes into a serious one. She clears her throat and asks, “Catalina Pardo, will you be my maid of honor?”
My heart skips a beat; a mixture of bittersweet happiness taking over me. I cry over the phone – a little too energetically – “Well of – fucking – course!” I jump up and down in place, earning several awkward looks from passers-by.
“Hooray!” Faith cheers clearing her throat and speaking a mile a minute. “Mom and Dad will be hosting our engagement party at the house two weeks from now. You know Mom, she lives for organizing parties.” She pauses to take a breath. “I really need to see you. I think we need to rejoice and be merry tonight. What do you say, Cat?”
I don’t bat an eye. “Yes!” Blowing off steam with my best friend is definitely what the doctor ordered. “Velvet Box?”
“Yes,” Faith responds. “I’ll pick you up around nine. Sound good?”
Happy with my decision, we end the call. Feeling rather celebratory, I decide it’s time to buy a new dress. I hail a cab, “Where to?” the cabbie asks.
With a broad smile on my lips I reply, “34th and 7th.”
“Tell me, have you met anyone new and interesting?” Faith asks me while sipping on her gin and tonic. She is a little taller than me with porcelain skin and bright blue eyes. Her naturally blonde hair sweeps down past her shoulders in long cascading curls. Faith has a runway model-worthy body but absolutely refused to become one. Instead, she studied medicine and became a thoracic surgeon.
I inwardly roll my eyes because as much as I love Faith, she can annoy the shit out of me. I know she means well and cares deeply for me, but no matter how often she asks me, I’m just not ready to move on. I find it ironic that my late fiancé’s sister can’t wait for me to meet someone new.
I also know that if I don’t provide a satisfactory response, a barrage of questioning will ensue.
“No, not really,” I answer. “I haven’t set up that online dating account.” I lift my bottle of beer. “Thanks for the gift certificate, by the way.”
Faith smacks my arm playfully. “You know? I’m only watching out for you. It’s been four years and here you sit, gorgeous as ever, single. Why?! I get it, you loved Blake. But he’d want you to meet someone new. I hope you know that,”
“I know, Faith. I just need time…” I finish my beer and signal the bartender for another, bracing myself for the inevitable lashing.
“Four years is enough time. Stop pussyfooting and put yourself out there. Just saying,” Faith says emphatically. “Nobody wants to be lonely, Cat. Deep down you know I’m right.” She pushes her empty glass across the bar. “I want to see you happy again. That’s all.” Faith takes a sip from her fresh drink and raises her eyebrow. “Stop mentally rolling your eyes at me. Don’t think for one second I don’t know you’re doing it.” She raises her hands in defeat and says, “I’m done nagging.”
I giggle and roll my eyes at her. She breaks into laughter.
After talking about wedding planning for a bit and enjoying Faith’s retelling of Matthew’s romantic proposal, we sit back and enjoy the mellow jazz. I absolutely love music in all of its forms. It takes me back to the days I shared with my grandmother and how much she loved to sing and play the guitar. I guess you could say the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
Abuela taught me everything I know about life and music. Like her, I play the guitar and sing. I even dabbled in poetry and songwriting when I was a teenager. Abuela always told me that without music, the universe is an empty place filled with hollow souls. I smile wistfully remembering her, hearing her amazing voice still singing inside my head.
Abuela believed that music is a way of telling stories and expressing feelings. Blake loved when I sang for him. As I listen to the sultry jazz, I find my fingers in their usual spot, strumming against my left thigh while the other holds the neck of the beer bottle. I take slow, measured sips from it, enjoying the yeasty flavor. Closing my eyes, I allow myself this moment’s indulgence. My body is relaxed, at peace. I haven’t felt this at ease for a very long time.
After five rounds of drinks, Faith and I call it a night. Making our way towards the coat check area, we return our tickets to the clerk and wait for our coats.
“You know? I’m not going to miss being single,” Faith muses as she gestures towards the people in the posh club. “This is fun in your twenties, but when you get to be our age, it gets old pretty quick.”
I scoff at her words, and smile. My eyes take a quick survey of the patrons. It’s always the same faces. Young women wearing sexy outfits hoping to meet Mr. Right and men standing around like hunters waiting to catch the perfect prey.
No one ever approaches me and that doesn’t bother me one bit. I believe it will take a miracle for a man to keep up with the likes of me. But you sure as hell won’t see me waiting for that stroke of luck to happen. Life moves on – I’m simply taking special care of myself in the romance department. No one will ever be able to fill the void Blake left inside me the day he died. Ever.
Our coats are handed to us and we help each other bundle up, giggling. I feel a little buzzed but not drunk. Faith on the other hand, is tipsy and won’t stop laughing. Placing my hands on her shoulders, I push Faith out the door.
As we exit Velvet Box, the bitter cold of the night immediately hits us, both of our mouths chattering. Taking a few steps up the ramp, Faith smacks her forehead. “Shit! I left my clutch on top of the coat check counter. Give me a sec.” She back tracks and heads back into the building. I walk up the ramp slowly, giving Faith time to recover her purse. A few steps from the top, I pause and wait for her. A few seconds later, Faith walks out holding her clutch high in victory.
I resume walking but my head is craned at Faith, making sure she makes it up the ramp without twisting her ankle. Suddenly, something crashes into me, and I land unceremoniously on my ass.
“Shit, that’s going to leave a mark,” I mutter, rubbing my sore backside with my hand. Slightly embarrassed by my unsuccessful attempts at getting back up, I begin to laugh hysterically.
Two masculine hands take hold of mine and help me up. Without looking up at my rescuer, I brush snow and salt from my coat and dress. My body shivers as a breeze of cold air seeps through the unclasped buttons of my coat. I immediately button them up and pat the elbow of the man who helped me up.
“Thanks,” I mumble, slightly mortified, avoiding any type of eye contact. I recite a mantra in my head, praying I don’t look like a sloppy drunk. Falling on my ass like that was freaking embarrassing.
Copyright © 2014 by Imy Santiago – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.