Authors: Josi S. Kilpack,Annette Lyon,Heather Justesen,Sarah M. Eden,Heather B. Moore,Aubrey Mace
Tags: #Contemporary, #Anthologies, #Adult, #anthology, #sweet romance, #Romance, #clean romance, #Short Stories, #Contemporary Romance
Cover design by Christina Marcano
Edited by Annette Lyon
Interior design by Heather Justesen
Published by Mirror Press, LLC
Copyright © 2013 by Mirror Press, LLC
This is a work of fiction. The character, names, incidents, places, and dialogue are products of the authors’ imaginations and are not to be construed as real.
Released February 2013
Table of Contents
by Josi S. Kilpack
Clint: So, you got your room extended?
Sarah: I did, 2 extra nights.
Clint: Can’t wait to meet you in person.
Sarah: Me too!
They shared a few more exchanges before Sarah shut down the instant messaging program and promptly dropped her head on the desk with a thud.
“Don’t be so dramatic,” Brylee said with a laugh from the other side of the cubicle also known as the billing department for the Omaha office of Bowman and Skagg, Attorneys at Law. “We’re going to have a great time. Seriously, when was the last time you went on vacation? And I don’t mean using a vacation day so you can go to Rose’s school orientation?”
“I’m going to throw up,” Sarah said from her head-against-the-desk position. Having Brylee mention Rose made it all so much worse. “Probably throw up all over Clint. Why am I doing this?” The last part was said with a slight wail. But it was an honest question. Why
she doing this? She’d never done anything remotely like this in her entire life.
“Everyone has to start somewhere.”
“But a weekend with a guy who lives in Seattle? I’m not
“A guy you’ve been talking to for four months,” Brylee added, rolling her eyes. “You seriously need to chill out and just let yourself have this experience. Maybe it will lead to something, and maybe it won’t, but even if it goes nowhere, you’ll have some awesome memories when life gets dull, or, in your case, when life is already dull.” Brylee had turned to face Sarah’s side of the cubicle but Sarah’s head was still on her desk, her brown hair spread all over her workspace. When Brylee spoke again her voice was softer, with less teasing and a little more compassion. “There’s more to life than single-mommyhood, Sarah, and you’re thirty years old, not dead. You deserve to walk on the beach hand in hand with a hot guy who thinks you’re awesome. You deserve to be kissed in the moonlight.”
Sarah lifted her head and tucked some hair behind one ear so she could turn to look at her co-worker-slash-friend-slash-bad influence. “I haven’t been on a date in nine years. I haven’t been kissed in almost six. I live in my parents’ basement apartment and eat macaroni and cheese at least five times a week—sometimes cold.”
Brylee scowled at her and shook a finger in Sarah’s direction. “Don’t get all tragic on me. The goal of this weekend is to have a good time for a few days. You’re perfectly capable of doing that.”
“What if he doesn’t like me in person, or I don’t like him, or he thinks I’m looking for some kind of fling?”
“Has he hinted that he’s looking for anything sexual?”
“Well, no, but I watch enough TV to wonder if there are any guys left who don’t expect a first date to end in the bedroom, ya know?”
“But he didn’t ask you to share his room. He’s simply extending a vacation so you can get to know each other. Why is it so hard to look at it that way?”
“Because I don’t
this kind of thing. I don’t know how.”
“Which is why it’s so exciting!” Brylee threw her arms up in celebration and grinned widely. Sarah remained deadpan, unable to tap in to the excitement due to the looming dread that had been building since she’d extended her hotel stay. Brylee dropped her arms and her smile then stood and headed toward the copy machine down the hall, her narrow hips and slender legs moving like a Barbie doll in her pencil skirt. Brylee was twenty-three. She’d joined a sorority in college and spent her spring breaks in Fort Lauderdale. She was a natural blonde, and her own eyelashes looked like the ones Sarah had paid good money for last month. For the twelve
time, Sarah asked herself why she was taking advice from this girl. And yet, something about Brylee’s youthful optimism and YOLO—you only live once—attitude had rubbed off over the year they’d worked together.
At Brylee’s encouragement, Sarah had stopped wearing her hair in a French braid every day and had started wearing contacts. She’d discovered that she looked fabulous in purple and bought her first pair of high heels. When she wore them, her legs didn’t look like Brylee’s, and she had only dared wear them around the house so far, but she
them. Rose, her six-year-old daughter, had found them in Sarah’s closet one day and clomped around the house for hours after which Sarah hid them so that they didn’t end up in the toilet. Shoes tended to meet that fate more often than Sarah liked to admit. Toilet-seat locks were effective only if you remembered to lock them after every single use.
Sarah turned back to face her computer, and her eyes shifted to one of the photographs tacked to the cubicle wall. In it, Rose was smiling so big that her eyes were slits above her pudgy cheeks. She held a participation medal from her first Special Olympics race. It was one photograph of many, all showing the same bright smile, all reminding Sarah of her purpose, her role, and what made her life different from most women’s.
Brylee came back to grab the master copy she’d forgotten, then headed back out of the cubicle as a confession bubbled up in Sarah’s throat. “I haven’t told him about Rose.”
The clicks of Brylee’s heels stopped then slowly backtracked until she poked her head around the cubicle wall. “You haven’t told him you have a daughter? Or you haven’t told him about
“I haven’t told him I have a daughter.”
Brylee was back in her chair in a flash, the document she needed to copy back on her desk as she rolled across the floor and forced Sarah’s chair around so that they were facing each other, with their knees almost touching. She opened her mouth to say something but paused, furrowing her eyebrows. And then, to Sarah’s surprise, Brylee smiled. “That’s actually rather perfect.”
“It’s horrible,” Sarah said. “This whole time that I’ve been emailing and IM-ing Clint, I’ve never said a word about my
. What kind of person am I? I’ve gone and created a fantasy world that doesn’t include her. I’m a bad mother.”
Brylee was shaking her head before Sarah finished, causing the light to reflect off her shiny hair. She should have gone into modeling, not accounting. “
are built on trust and full disclosure but this isn’t a relationship. Clint not knowing about your particular circumstances gives you the chance to get to know him, unencumbered. You can then decide if he’s someone who deserves to know more about you.”
“But I haven’t been honest with him,” Sarah said. “That’s no way to start a relationship.”
“It’s not a relationship!” Brylee said, too loud for the office. She made a face and leaned in closer, lowering her voice. “The goal is to just have fun for a few days.” Brylee patted Sarah’s knee and stood again. She was beginning to sound frustrated. “It’s been such a long time since you had any fun that you don’t know how to do it anymore, so it’s getting overcomplicated in your head. Chill out and relax. It’s going to be a great time and if it feels right, you’ll tell him about Rose. If he turns out to be Mr. Right, he’ll be open to it.”
Brylee left the cubicle again. It made sense when she said it, but by the time the words worked their way into Sarah’s brain, everything felt jumbled. Sarah turned back to the computer but saw the picture of Rose again and felt another pinch of shame. Her eyes moved to her most recent family photo, which included Rose, Sarah, and Sarah’s parents, who watched Rose during the day and made up for the fact that Rose’s father couldn’t handle the reality of their Down syndrome child.
Because of her parents help, Sarah had been able to go to college, and once she graduated with her degree she got a job that helped offset the expenses of their expanded family. She could afford to move into her own place, and from time to time thought about doing so, but she needed the emotional support more than she’d ever needed the financial help.
It was through an online company webinar four months ago that Sarah “met” Clint. He was also an accountant for Bowman and Skagg, but in the Seattle branch. He’d contacted her following the conference for some reason she couldn’t remember anymore, and before she knew it, they were emailing or instant messaging almost every day. It had been a safe flirtation in the beginning—he lived four states away, after all—and she liked to think of it as a stepping-stone toward the day when she might date again, something that for many years had seemed impossible.
And then Clint had suggested that they extend their rooms after the annual accounting department conference being held in Cozumel, Mexico this year. In a panic, Sarah had turned to Brylee for help, and Brylee had taken advantage of Sarah’s shock to convince her that this was something she was ready for. Since agreeing to it last week, however, reality had set in. Sarah didn’t know what to do. She’d talked to her mother, certain that of all people, her mom would be the one to convince her against this folly. Instead, her mother had simply made her promise to remember her standards and to buy a new swimsuit before she left.
“Every journey begins with a single step,” her mom had said. Sarah wished she had a better idea of what journey she was on. She wanted to see the situation like Brylee did—an extreme opportunity to break out of her shell and have a good time—but when she dared to be truly honest with herself, she knew that what she really wanted was a partner, a commitment, a life with someone who would love her and her daughter.
Her cheeks flushed at admitting, even to herself, how much she wanted that. She stared more intently at the computer screen. Debits and credits and transfers and checks—that’s where her head needed to be right now. Yet just to the left of the family photo was a picture she’d downloaded of palm trees and white sand beaches. She would meet Clint at cocktail hour the night before the conference. After everyone else went home two days later, they would stay, along with Brylee—Sarah’s roommate and safety net for the weekend, and the guy from Clint’s office he was sharing a room with, Mark. The four of them would go snorkeling and parasailing and eat at nice restaurants together. Clint hadn’t said anything to make Sarah think he had expectations beyond that.
“Two weeks from now, I’ll be in Mexico,” she said and felt the tingle of those words all the way to her toes. “I just want to have a little fun.” And Brylee would be there to offset any awkwardness. Rose would be fine staying with Sarah’s parents.
Sarah grabbed her mouse, expanded the expense report she was proofreading before this afternoon’s meeting, and hoped that Brylee was right, that the memory of these extra days would remain bright and shiny even after returning to Nebraska. But in her heart of hearts, she hoped for more than that; she hoped that this trip would be a beginning of something far more than an extended weekend.
“So what do you think about Sarah?” Mark asked as he and Clint left the introductory session of the conference. Their flight had been delayed in Denver yesterday, meaning they’d missed the cocktail hour last night, and then they’d slept through breakfast. But Clint had texted Sarah when they slid into their seats—late—and she’d turned around to wave and smile, albeit a little nervously. The opening session had gotten out late and Clint was now in a hurry to get to a collaboration he was scheduled to lead on the other side of the hotel. There hadn’t been time for Clint and Sarah to shake hands or hug or whatever their greeting might have been. “Does the in-person view match her picture?”