Read Carol's Image Online

Authors: Maryann Jordan

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BOOK: Carol's Image
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“Easiest first,” Carol laughed. “My choices. When faced with a new situation involving food, I can go online and look at the menu ahead of time. I can always go for a salad if I feel too out of control.” Looking at Ronda, she quickly added, “But being in a new restaurant does not mean I’m not in control. I can choose what I eat. I can choose to only eat the amount that fills me up. I can choose when to stop eating. I can choose to enjoy the food and not count the calories. And I will continue to make the choice to not purge what I eat.”

“How’s that, doc?” she said smiling.

Ronda, laughing, answered, “If you were a new patient, I would accuse you of just saying what you think I want to hear. But I know you,” she paused, looking fondly at Carol. “You have come a long way from that young woman determined to fight her way against her parent’s image.” Pausing again momentarily, she then asked, “So what makes you nervous about tonight’s date?”

Carol, looked down at her hands in her lap for a moment, trying to find the words to express what she was feeling.

“I don’t really know him at all. We met at the hospital when I was on duty, and he came in with other policemen. He’s a detective. I looked at him, and it felt as though all of the air just got sucked out of the room.” She spared a glance up to see if Ronda was laughing at her description, but Ronda was just nodding attentively.

“He chased me into the parking lot to ask me my name and to ask me to dinner,” Carol smiled at the memory.

“I get the feeling there is something you’re not telling me,” Ronda queried.

“Well…okay, here’s the crazy thing. The last time I was here, I told you that I met someone in passing. Well, it is him. But if he recognized me, he would have said something. So it must just be one of those crazy coincidences.”

“Or fate, if you believe in that sort of thing,” Ronda added, smiling.

Carol was quiet for a moment. “It’s been a long time since I have been on a date. I mean a real date. I’ve gone out some with friends of friends, but I never felt anything for them. This guy, wow he makes me feel…desired.”

“Is that a bad thing?” Ronda asked.

“No, not to most people, I guess. He is tall, well over six feet tall. Muscular, built like a huge football player.” Laughing at the memory, she added, “In fact he was standing with two other men built just like him. It was like a wall of gorgeous testosterone!”

“That’s a vivid description,” Ronda admitted, raising her eyebrows.

Carol couldn’t help but giggle. “Yeah, he is huge, muscular, very blond, handsome…and what on earth could he want with me?” she finished looking pensive. “I know what everyone says, Ronda. They say I am pretty. I know I am intelligent, and I think I am nice, but pretty? I still struggle with that. And he looks like the kind of guy who could get a woman to drop her panties just by the crook of his finger. He is also very controlling, but it doesn’t feel like my parent’s control. It feels like I’m the most important thing to him.” She looked down at her hands and blushed slightly.

Lifting her eyes back to Ronda’s face, she added, “I don’t have a lot of experience with men.”

Ronda gently prodded, “You want to tell me about that?”

“Ronald became my escort to the family events by the time I had graduated from high school, but it never felt like we were dating. We went out, we went places, but I got the feeling that he did it more out of expectation. Our kisses were not very exciting and other than some heavy petting, we never had sex.” Shrugging her delicate shoulders, she added, “I wasn’t interested in having sex with Ronald and I think he was getting some on the side.”

“How did that make you feel?” Ronda asked.

Looking out of the window for a moment in reflection, Carol then turned her gaze back to her counselor. “Honestly? I had no interest in having sex with Ronald but looking back, I am sure that I felt unworthy since he was not as discreet as he could have been about other women.”

“And later sexual experience?” Ronda probed.

Smiling, Carol shook her head at the memories. “Well, when I was finally out from under my parent’s thumb, I dated a little. Not much, and certainly not lasting. I gave up my virginity in my third year of college willingly…mostly to see what all the fuss was about.” Rolling her eyes, she added, “I didn’t think much of it. Kind of hurt. Sort of messy. A lot of groping, grunting, and then it was over. And I thought, this is what romance novels are all about? After that, I had a couple of more partners in the last five years, but nothing earth shattering.” Shrugging her shoulders again, “Maybe I’m just frigid and can’t get anything out of sex.”

“I think with the right person, you would find that you would relax and perhaps enjoy a sexual relationship. Perhaps you just needed to focus on you becoming healthy first.”

“You may be right. I definitely needed to focus on me. But now that this detective is interested in me, I wonder if I will be enough for him?”

Ronda looked at Carol, knowing how far she had come in counseling, but knowing that there were some body issues that still existed. “In our society, you are considered beautiful. But it is what you see when you look in the mirror that concerns me.”

Carol smile reached her eyes as she replied, “Oh Ronda, don’t worry. When I look in the mirror, I see healthy. Not too heavy, not too thin. But healthy.”

“That is the best thing you could have told me today,” Ronda exclaimed. “Well, that and then next time you will have to tell me about the handsome detective!”

Chapter 7

T
hat afternoon, Tom and Jake sat at their adjoining desks reviewing the case against the man who stabbed James.

“Looks airtight, Tom,” Jake said. “Protocol was followed, he confessed, got the evidence, we should be good to go.”

“I talked to Jen this morning. She said that James is doing great, and they may release him in a couple more days.”

Jake, ever the detective, looked over at his partner. “And…?”

“What?” Tom asked, trying to look innocent.

“Don’t think I don’t know you asked Jen about that angel nurse you couldn’t keep your eyes off of the other day. Don’t you have a date with her soon?”

Tom, uncharacteristically quiet, replied, “Yeah, tonight actually.” Looking up, seeing Jake’s confused look, he continued. “I don’t know, man. She is so goddamn gorgeous and yet doesn’t seem to know it. Most women I know flaunt everything they’ve got, and Carol just seems to feel very self-conscious.”

Jake agreed, glad that his friend was truly interested in this woman and not just looking for a hookup. “She seems nice.”

Tom nodded, “Hell yeah. Jen said she has come by every day to check to see how James is doing but that she always wants to know how Jen is doing as well. And she does that on her own time, when her shift is up.”

“So what are you thinkin’? You plannin’ on just havin’ a new friend with
your kind of benefits
?”

Shaking his head, Tom stared straight into Jake’s gaze. “Hell no. Carol’s a keeper. I know it. But she’s a mystery I hope to start unravelin’ tonight. I just hope I don’t scare her off.”

“Scare her off?” Jake asked in confusion.

“Look, I’m not like Rob, fuckin’ everythin’ that offers, and you taught me the good rule of findin’ my fuck-buddies out of town so I wasn’t runnin’ into them with every case we investigated. But Carol’s classy. She also seems skittish, like she could take off if scared.”

“Then just be a gentleman and not some dick that wants to take her to dinner just to bang her…you’ll be fine.”

Shifting in his seat nervously, Tom admitted, “Plus I like to be in control and she’s gotten burned in the past by someone who wanted to control her. Not like me. Not like I wanna take care of her.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, man. I haven’t met ‘the one’ yet. But I guess you’re gonna have to show her that our kind of control is about her, not the man.”

Standing up, Jake slapped Tom on the back. “Good luck, bro,” he said as he headed down the hall with their report for the chief.

*

Tom arrived at her apartment early, not wanting Carol to have to wait. He could not help but stare at her as she opened the door. Her halo of blonde hair was pulled back into a low ponytail, with waves down her back. Her modest emerald green dress showed off her athletic figure to perfection, and her heels gave her toned legs the impression of being long even though she was a full foot shorter than he was. The silky dress hung perfectly on her figure, allowing Tom to see her curves that the hospital scrubs hid.

The drive to the restaurant was pleasant, and he found that it was easy to talk to her. Small talk always irritated him, never really caring much about the woman he was with. But Carol? She was different. He glanced sideways, glimpsing at her profile. A glow seemed to emanate from her, a sense of peace surrounding her. Not flashy. Not in-your-face. A parade of past faces flashed through his mind, and he realized that he usually tuned out the women as they talked about fashion, movies, music, their friends, the bars they wanted to try. Carol? She was quiet, cautious. He realized that he had no idea what she was thinking.

He had chosen a restaurant on the outskirts of town, knowing that they not only offered excellent food, but also a quiet atmosphere so that they could get to know each other uninterrupted.
I hope she likes it. Why am I nervous?
It had been a while since he took a woman to dinner who actually interested him.

As she turned to walk in front of him toward the restaurant Tom stared at the back of the dress, where it dipped below her shoulder blades. Fighting the desire to lick from her neck down her back, he placed his hand on the small of her back to lead her inside.

Walking in, the hostess looked up with a huge smile on her face. “Why Tom, it’s been forever since you’ve been in to see me…us.” Her tight dress showed her ample cleavage, and she worked it to her advantage as her eyes cut over to Carol.

Fuck. I forgot Anita worked here.
Glancing down at Carol, he saw no change in her demeanor at all. But with his hand on her back, he could feel the slight tenseness. If his hand had not been on her he would have never noticed her tension.
How does she do that? How does she completely mask what she is thinking? No glaring, no frowning. Nothing.

The hostess stuck her hand out toward Carol, saying with a smile, “Hi. I’m Anita. I’m an old friend of Tom’s.”

Carol robotically reached for Anita’s handshake, feeling like there was more than just friendship between the two.
It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.

“He’s great isn’t he?” Anita continued to gush. “All us girls used to want to tie him to us, but you know Tom – always keeping one foot out of the bed and heading toward the door!”

At that, Carol jerked her hand back, suddenly feeling as though she had been dropped into a situation in which she had no control once again.

Embarrassed, Tom slid his hand from Carol’s back around to her tense shoulders and gently pulled her into his side. He could feel the tension radiating from her body while the smile plastered on her face did not reach her eyes.
Dammit.

“Yes, well as you can see, I have a beautiful date and we have a reservation. You may show us to our table.” Nervous, he hoped he was handling the situation correctly. The last thing he wanted was a former fuck-buddy to ruin his evening with Carol.

“Sure thing, honey. But listen, the next time you’re over this way, look me up. I’m always up for a night with you sugar, and I know you are always
up!
” Turning to Carol with a smile, she continued, “Normally I wouldn’t be so forward, but we all know Tom. He’s great with the benefits, but sticking around just isn’t his thing, is it? Oh well, enjoy him while you have him.”

By this time Carol body was humming with anxiety.
A player? A man with fuck-buddies all over the place?
Her palms were sweating, and a sick feeling crept into her stomach.
What am I doing here? This is so not me. He’s not even interested in me.

Tom growled, “Anita, show us to our table. Now.”

Eyes narrowing in confusion, the hostess turned and sashayed over to a corner table next to a window with a view of the mountains in the background.

Assisting Carol with her seat, Tom took the seat next to her instead of across from her. She still had no appearance of anxiety over meeting Anita, but he noticed that her hands shook ever so slightly as she picked up her menu.
Whatever is in her past, she has learned to hide her emotions.
He desired to take her in his arms and not only protect her from anything now, but also to wipe away whatever stole her joy in her past.

Looking over their menus, he noticed her subtle scent drifting his way. Ever so slight, with just a hint of floral. Noticing everything about her, he tried not to stare. Her hair that beckoned his fingers to sift through the strands. Her china doll face with delicate features. Slim hands, belying their strength. She took the napkin and gently unfolded it as she placed it in her lap before perusing the menu.
Most women are already draping themselves over me, and she seems completely unaffected.
Confused as to how to read her, he began looking over the menu as well.

BOOK: Carol's Image
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