Authors: Shane Morgan
I plopped down in my chair and finished
my coffee. Julian perched against the rustic hardwood desk as she continued
talking. “Not much. Oh, Aunt Bev wants to plan a fundraiser before she takes
off for her trip to Rome with David in a few weeks. They’ll be attending a
“Yeah, I heard about the trip, but
what’s this about a fundraiser?” I prodded.
She explained, “It’s actually a joint
venture between us and Wilcox & Co. They’re an advertising company that’s been
negotiating with Aunt Bev. It seems they’re interested in merging with us.”
I perked up at the news. “That’s great.
You know, I’ll be looking for a full-time position once I finish my classes
this fall. Do you know if there’ll be any openings once the merger goes
Julian searched her head for a moment.
“Um, not in event planning. However,” she mused, straightening off the desk,
“Mr. Wilcox did mention that he’ll need a new creative director.”
That wasn’t too far out from my major.
“I’d probably need years of experience to land that position, right?”
She twisted her mouth to one side,
contemplating. “Maybe Aunt Bev could put in a word for you.”
“Of course. I’ll talk you up to her.”
Julian gave my shoulder a light squeeze and then headed to her office across
It’d be nice to work at Vanderson
Publishing full-time once I finished school. If considered for that creative
director position, I wouldn’t have to spend the entire summer job-searching
I turned on the computer and nibbled on
my donut while checking email. Gina had sent me instructions on what to do with
the stuff on my desk. Apparently she’d be out for the day.
Time marched on while I drowned myself
in work. Whenever thoughts of Tyler snuck up on me, I’d tighten the lock on the
box in my heart and snap out of it.
The delivery guy stopped by the office
later on. I’d never received mail at work, so it baffled me when Beverly
Vanderson’s secretary pointed him in my direction. He came over and handed me a
small packet, then continued on his way.
There wasn’t a return address. The
packet only had my name and the address of the company on it. I ripped the seal
and looked inside, spotting a folded blue note and a silver bracelet with a
I shook everything out on my desk. The
bracelet was too glitzy for my taste. Tyler knew me better, so perhaps it
wasn’t from him. I moved the bracelet aside and opened the note, frowning as I
read the unfamiliar handwriting.
You are an untamable fire.
I want to feel every part of you.
“Huh?” I sputtered. It definitely wasn’t
from Tyler. He’d never write such cheesy things, much less buy me jewelry.
Feeling uneasy, I scanned the office.
Everyone looked busy, glued to their computers or talking on phones.
I glanced across at Julian. She was
typing away. The glass door to her office made it easy for us to be silly with
each other. I waved the note and bracelet to draw her attention, wondering if
maybe she or Amber were messing with me. When Julian caught sight of me I
mouthed, “From you?”
She creased her forehead, shrugged, and
mouthed back, “What’s that?”
It wasn’t her. I mouthed “never mind”
then went back to analyzing the note. I had a secret admirer, it seemed, but
who could it be? I wondered if it was the same person who’d left the rose
outside my door.
It was weird enough
that I’d received a suggestive note and bracelet at work, but when I arrived
home that evening, I found another rose outside my apartment door.
Swiveling, I stuck my keys back inside
my purse, scrambled down the stairs to the entrance, and went outside of the
building. I’d forgotten to check my mailbox, and I wanted to see if I had
received another packet.
I jabbed my key into the lock and opened
the box. It appeared to be only newspapers inside at first, but when I reached
in and took them out, I saw a note at the bottom. I snatched out the folded
blue paper. My eyes stretched and I scowled as I read the words written in the
same script as the one at work.
My sweet, you don’t deserve getting hurt like that.
You are a beautiful woman.
Your heart is fragile and must be nurtured.
If you give me the chance,
I’ll show you how a woman should be treated.
Let me love you.
This was starting to bug me. I wasn’t a
fan of love letters or sneaking around. I liked people who were upfront, and
that’s how Tyler and I had been with each other.
I locked my mailbox and was about to
head back inside, but then I glimpsed a familiar red Porsche pulling into the
Tyler. How ironic. Maybe it had been him
after all. He could have changed his handwriting to try and fool me.
He parked in one of the empty spots and
hurried out of the car the instant he saw me. I crumpled the note inside my
fist and threw it at his chest when he came closer.
The paper fell to the ground.
“I’m not flattered!” I hissed, not
caring about the two guys that had just pulled up. They noticed the tension and
didn’t bother to say hello as they headed past us into the building. I
recognized them as the couple that lived on the second floor.
“If anything, I’m annoyed,” I went on.
“Did you not hear me loud and clear? It’s over. Stop with the roses and poetic
I opened my purse and snatched out the
bracelet, tossing it at his chest.
He caught it before it fell and
scrunched up his brows. “What’s this?”
“No thanks,” I said, my tone biting.
“You can’t win me back with material things.”
Tyler scrutinized the bracelet for a
moment before looking back at me. “This isn’t from me. It’s not even something
you’d wear, so why would I give this to you?”
“Please, spare me the lies.” I crossed
my arms tightly at my waist while glaring at him.
He shook his head. “I’m not lying, babe.
I didn’t send you this or whatever else you’re going on about.”
I knew the look in his blue-gray eyes:
honesty. So it really wasn’t him.
Raking a hand through his sandy blonde
hair, Tyler closed the distance between us and said in a soft tone, “Babe, we
need to talk.”
I hated when he got all sweet like that. It did a number on my heart and made
my skin tingle. I wanted to rush into his chest like a wild animal and kiss him
“No!” I barked, snapping out of it. I
unfolded my arms and marched off.
Tyler hurried after me and gripped my
arm, slowing me down. He stepped in front of me. I stared at the ground so he
couldn’t see the truth: that a part of me wanted to give in and take him back.
“Please, Bristol,” he pleaded. “Look, I
mistake. She didn’t mean anything, I promise. Babe, I’m
sorry. I’ll do anything to fix this.”
The whole time he was talking I didn’t
meet his gaze. His voice rocked me to the core, and I didn’t want to risk
succumbing to my emotions. I refused to be weak. I had to get away from Tyler.
He’d hurt me. Now he wanted a second chance.
No. He would only cheat on me again, and
I hated that ‘fool me twice, shame on me’ thing.
Finally, I looked up, gritting my teeth
as I snapped at him, “If she meant nothing, then why’d you do it?”
Tyler ruffled his hair. His Adam’s apple
bobbed as he swallowed hard. “We work together. She knew it was my birthday so
she came over and…” He groaned in frustration. “It just happened.”
“Pathetic excuse,” I jeered. “Whatever.
You can go to hell. We’re finished.” I tried to walk past him.
He stopped me again. “Please don’t do
this, Bristol. I love you and I want us to work it out.” He brushed my cheek
with the back of his hand. A familiar haze of lust darted through me.
I slapped his hand away. “Go work it out
with your sex buddy. Apparently she took better care of you than I did.”
He knitted his brows. “What? What do you
“Ask my mother!” I stalked past him and
entered the dark brick building, hurrying up the wooden stairs to the second
floor. Tyler was close on my heels.
“Bristol, come on,” he implored.
“Go away! I’m not letting you back in my
Reaching my apartment, I hastened to
unlock the door. Tyler came up to it just as I slipped inside. He held the door
so I couldn’t close it.
“Baby, I’m not leaving until we work
this out. Tell me what to do—”
“There’s nothing you can do to make me
forgive you,” I spat at him, irritated.
Shocked, his jaw twitched. “You’re seriously
going to throw away what we have just like that? It’s as if you never loved
How dare him. “
what we had when you cheated on me. God only knows how many other times you’ve
cheated on me before.”
“Seriously?” He stared at me like a deer
in headlights. “I’ve never cheated on you before; this was the first time. It
won’t ever happen again, Bristol.”
believe you,” I said,
stressing my words. “I’ll never trust you again.”
Surprisingly, Tyler straightened and
moved his hand away from the door. “I’ll give you some time to stop being so
angry,” he whispered.
“I don’t need time. I’ll never stop
being angry at you. It’s over, Tyler.”
“We’ll see,” he replied,
matter-of-factly. He gave me a once over, then turned and walked away.
Relief flooded me. My heart was
hammering from trying so hard to resist Tyler. I started to calm down only
after he left.
Letting out a long sigh, I started to
shut the door but glimpsed the red rose still lying on the floor. I bent down
and picked it up then locked the door, making sure to fasten the chain.
Going into the kitchen, I tossed the
rose into the trash. I was at a loss as to who was leaving me roses, not to
mention the notes and the bracelet.
I leaned against the granite island and
rubbed my temples. I didn’t need this right now. I was having a hard enough
time trying to fight off going back to my cheating boyfriend. A secret admirer
would only complicate things more.
I wanted to forget my troubles
so I vowed to have a good time with Amber and Julian that night. We met up at
my apartment and primped in the bathroom before Amber drove us to a lounge
We were killing it in our sexy heels and
curve hugging dresses, and our hair and makeup were on point. I curled mine,
letting my long strands fall freely in my back, while Julian and Amber wore
theirs in ponytails.
The lounge wasn’t too packed, but the
dance section looked turned up. After ordering martinis, we sat at one of the
dark tables and chatted while enjoying the sophisticated ambience of the place.
I had to tell them about the shit I’d been receiving.
“You sure it’s not Tyler trying to win
you back?” asked Julian.
“Oh no, honey, that’s too sweet for
him,” Amber answered. She’d observed Tyler a lot while he and I dated. She knew
that ‘sweet’ wasn’t his thing.
A sneaky grin spread across Julian’s
face. “Then that means you have an admirer. That’s sexy, and it comes at the
perfect time, wouldn’t you say?”
She stared at Amber. They giggled with
each other, agreeing.
“I don’t do ‘secret’ anything,” I told
them. “All I want to know is who this guy is and why he’s hiding. By the way,
he knows where I live and where I work. That creeps me out.”
Amber slapped my arm playfully. “Honey,
someone’s trying to woo you before revealing himself. Just go with it.”
“Whatever.” I chugged the rest of my
martini, then slid off the cozy leather seat. “Let’s not talk about secret
admirers or guy troubles. I want to dance and have a good time.”
They stood and swayed with me over to the
smoky dance room. We moved through the lively crowd, rocking our bodies to the
hypnotic beat of Calvin Harris’ “Under Control.”
The three of us laughed and danced for a
while to mix after mix, until we started to feel hot and headed back to our
“Whew. I’m going to get a beer this
time,” I told them. “You girls want anything?”
“Coors Lite, please,” Julian said as she
wiped beads of sweat off her forehead.
Amber added, “Make that two.”
“Coming right up.” I strolled across the
flagstone floor over to the craftsman-style bar. Perching against the mahogany
counter top, I waited for the bartender to finish serving drinks to the other
people who’d been there before me. The music in that section was slow and
sensual. I swung my hips and hummed to the beat while admiring the sea stone
backdrop behind the whiskey shelf.
“Excuse me,” someone said shortly after
I put in my order.
I spun at the deep sexy timbre.
Amazingly, my heart fluttered when I saw the charming smile and the most
entrancing shade of brown. His eyes seemed to have lit up just for me.
He set his fruity drink down on the
counter and turned fully on the stool. The two guys sitting next to him
shrugged and continued talking to one another. Maybe they were friends.
“Yeah?” I replied, trying to refocus.
He skated over my face before he asked,
“Do you remember me?”
“Right,” I snorted. “If that’s the best
you can do, then I wish you luck.”
He raised a thick brow. I swiveled back
to the bartender and took the bottles from him. I was about to walk away when
the guy slightly touched my elbow to stop me. “Actually, it’s from Mr.
Bennett’s algebra class at Middletown High School. You were a junior at the
time. I was his student assistant. I did it for the extra credit.”
“Oh.” I bit my bottom lip, feeling like
“It’s Bristol Armando,” he said,
“Right,” I drawled and narrowed my eyes,
unable to place him in my head. “I’m sorry, who are you?”
. He remembered
my name but his didn’t ring a bell.
I snapped out of contemplating to
apologize. “Sorry. I thought you were...”
Mason smiled. “Don’t worry about it. Let
me guess, a bunch of idiots have tried that on you?”
“Actually, I’ve had a bad weekend and a
long day,” I said with a sigh.
He leaned his head to one side, studying
me. “Really? Looks like you were having a good time on the dance floor.”
A warm feeling streamed down my back,
and I suddenly felt like giggling.
He’d been watching me dance
aroused me somehow. Tyler hardly ever wanted to dance when we went out. He was
always busy talking to friends while I’d be on the floor alone or with my
Mason continued watching me. I couldn’t
help but take in his low-cut cinnamon hair as it shimmered under the glowing
light hanging over the bar. His sharp gaze, clean-shaven muscular face, and
sexy lips were all too enticing.
The way his lips turned upward caused a
burst of heat in my stomach and goosebumps erupted at the nape of my neck.
Perhaps it was slutty of me, but his grin alone made me want to drop my
must be the alcohol.
Collecting myself, I gestured to the
bottles in my hand. “Um, my friends are waiting.”
“Of course.” Mason turned to look at
Amber and Julian for a second, and then steered his attention back to me.
“Sorry to keep you.”
I started back to the table, but was
unable to keep from glancing over my shoulder at him.
Our eyes locked. I spun and continued to
the table. Amber and Julian had curious expressions.
?” Amber asked,
giggling her ass off as I handed them their beers. “He’s hot. I’ll take him if
Briefly, I stared at Mason. He was
chatting to the two guys again.
“You talked a bit,” Julian piped in. I
drifted back to them. They eyed me intently, eager for me to spill the details.
“Mason Daniels,” I told them, then asked
Amber, “Do you remember him? Apparently he went to Middletown High
“Oh, really?” She looked at Mason and
then turned back to me. “I don’t remember him, but his name sounds familiar.”
“He was a class ahead of us, I believe.
He said he was a student assistant and only seniors did that for credits.
Humph,” I pondered. “You guys think that maybe Mason is—”
“The secret admirer?” Julian blurted.
“Ooh. Let’s find out.” Amber stood and
sauntered off before I could stop her.
Julian tittered. “This should be fun.”
I wanted to melt in my seat as Amber
traipsed over to Mason at the bar. Confused, he turned his head and smiled
nervously as she questioned him.
“Uh-oh,” Julian muttered as he excused
himself from his friends and started over with Amber.
“Christ, I wish I could disappear right
now,” I mumbled.
Reaching our table, Amber said, “Ladies,
I asked Mason to join us. Hope you don’t mind.” She nudged him toward the empty
seat beside me while she settled back on hers.
“If it’s all right with you,” he
Julian answered fast, “It’s no problem.”
I stared at my beer, running my index
finger around the tip of the bottle as he sat.
Amber filled us in. “Mason was telling
me that he moved in his senior year and didn’t graduate from Middletown High
“Oh.” I stared at him. “Where’d you go?
And what brings you back to Rhode Island? Newport, at that?”
Yikes. I must have seemed interested in
him, interrogating him like that.
Mason smiled as he answered, “My family
moved to New Hampshire, but I love Rhode Island. This is my home. It’s like I
was being called back.”
“What do you do, Mason?” Julian probed.
“I’m a police officer here in Newport,”
he replied, looking at her. “On the force for almost two years now.”
“So cool, and you’re only twenty-four,
just a year older than me and Bristol.” Amber seemed intrigued, and I was too.
“What made you decide to be a cop?” I
“It’s…a long story,” he said. Uneasiness
screened his face. He finished his drink and looked around the lounge.
“Bristol’s single,” Amber announced. “In
case you’re wondering.”
“Amber!” I yelped and bumped her knee
under the table.
Julian chuckled before taking a drink.
I peered down at my lap, embarrassed.
“That’s good to know,” Mason said. I
felt him watching me. “Bristol?”
The sweet and sincere way he spoke my
name made me hold my breath. It pulled back my undivided attention.
“Would you like to dance?” he asked in a
I almost said yes, but then I thought of
Tyler and my feelings for him rushed back. Regardless of Mason’s intention, I
wasn’t ready for anything. “I can’t, Mason. Sorry.”
Amber kicked my leg. When I met her
gaze, she flashed me a “what the hell” look. I turned to Julian. She twitched
her mouth as if fighting to resist saying something. She drank her beer
Had they forgotten that this night was
supposed to be about having fun and not about guys?
An awkward silence engulfed us for a
moment, then Mason got up from the seat. “Well, it was nice meeting you ladies.
I’m the driver tonight and my shift starts in the morning, so I gotta head
Staring at me, he said, “Good seeing you
again, Bristol. Take care.” I noticed the disappointment in his demeanor as he
My stomach sank. Strangely, it felt like
regret was stabbing me in the chest.
“Bye,” Julian and Amber said in sync,
“Damn, Bristol,” Amber scolded as she
cut back to me.
I crossed my arms. “What?”
“Look, I know you just broke up with
Tyler and you loved him—”
“And still do,” Julian interjected.
“Even after what he did,” Amber
continued. “But come on.” She glanced over her shoulder at the exit. Mason and
his friends were leaving. “That guy is clearly interested in you.”
“Clearly,” Julian stressed, bobbing her
Amber went on, “And if my instincts are
correct, which they usually are, he probably came back to Rhode Island in hopes
of meeting you again.”
I tittered. “What? That’s ridiculous. He
had to have known that the possibility of meeting me again was slim, and if
that’s the case, it’s weird.”
“Yeah, and plus,” Julian chimed in. “Now
that I’m thinking about it, rebounds aren’t healthy.” Eyeing me, she added, “I
think Mason seems nice too, but I get it, Bristol. You need time to figure
stuff out.” She traced the tip of her bottle as she deliberated. “Take as much
time as you need and don’t rush into anything.” She started drinking again.
,” Amber reasoned, “There’s
nothing wrong with having a little fun—handcuffs are kinky.” She laughed.
Julian spilled some of her beer, unable to stop her giggles.