Authors: Emerson Rose
Prism Heart Press
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or, if an actual place, are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
My love for you is unconditional and forever.
I've got one priority--and one priority only,
All else can get in line.
Sure, football pays the bills,
But my heart and life belong to her.
After my wife died, I vowed to be everything to Scarlet.
But I can't do it alone.
I never thought that when I looked for help,
Searched for a nanny,
That I'd find so much more.
She's nothing I thought I'd ever want,
Tattooed, pierced, artistic, and carefree,
But Tea's all that I want,
And everything Scarlet needs.
But when someone decides I can't have her,
I find myself fighting for everything,
For my daughter,
TABLE OF CONTENTS
BOOKS BY EMERSON ROSE
Myrtle Beach huh? Okay, could be worse, at least I’m not being sent to Detroit to cover a teen award show in the hood again.
South Carolina is warm, and there’s a beach to lay on in my downtime. Downtime, ha, what’s that? I can’t remember the last time I hung out on the couch watching America’s Next Top Model reruns and eating goldfish in my Avenger underwear. I miss those days.
I should be thrilled that I’ve reached my lifetime goal of becoming a photographer for a major magazine, but it’s not as glamorous as it sounds.
“Hey Red, you get a new assignment?” Alex asks. Alex is another photographer at Crush but unlike me, he takes pictures of, well, of whatever he wants. Alex is a whiner; hence he gets all the good stories and hot destinations. Ever hear the saying the squeaky wheel gets the grease? Alex is squeaky.
“Yep, going to Myrtle Beach.” I hold up the itinerary I just printed off with pride. I smirk because Alex is a dick who loves to rub it in when he goes to Hawaii and I get sent to Minneapolis in February.
He nods his head up and down, looking impressed with the corners of his mouth turned down.
“Nice, what’d you have to do for that?” he says, wiggling his eyebrows up and down with a nasty smirk on his thin lips.
I don’t know what he’s insinuating. My boss is a woman and she’s straight, which makes it pretty hard to sleep your way to the top.
“Whatever do you mean, Alex?” I say, batting my lashes like a Southern belle. I learned a long time ago not to let him know this shit bothers me.
He huffs and walks away from my cubicle, frustrated that he didn’t get a rise out of me. Jerk.
My flight leaves tonight, great. I just love it when they give me ample time to prepare for a two-week jaunt to the East Coast. I don’t even think I can get a bite to eat before I have to be at the airport, much less pack. Good thing I keep an emergency suitcase on standby.
After a lengthy taxi ride through downtown Chicago, I sprint through the door of my building past Charlie, the doorman. He saw me get out of the taxi, and he is holding the door open for me.
“Hey Charlie,” I say, running past him.
“Hey Téa, where are you off to this time?” he asks.
“South Carolina,” I call over my shoulder and punch the up button on the elevator.
“That’s better than Minneapolis in February.”
“That’s exactly what I thought, Charlie. How’d you do that?”
“Read your mind? Easy, you’re smiling. If they were sending you somewhere cold, you’d be trudging in here with the weight of the world on your shoulders.” He winks and smiles affectionately. I like Charlie a lot; he reminds me of my grandpa Mason, who passed away three years ago.
“If you feel like some great golf, you can come with me. It’s Myrtle Beach.” I sing the words Myrtle Beach, trying to persuade him to go. Charlie hasn’t had a vacation in twenty years.
“Naw, you go ahead and play a couple of holes for me. I’m too old to be traveling.”
“You’re never too old for a vacation, Charlie.”
The elevator doors slide open, interrupting our conversation.
“How long will you be gone?” he asks, changing the subject.
I enter the elevator, stepping backward, pointing my finger at the sweet gray-haired man.
“Two weeks, and I see what you did there changing the subject, don’t think I missed that.”
“I know, I know. Do you want me to water your plants while you’re gone?”
“That’d be great, thank you, Charlie.”
Four hours later, I’m boarding a plane to the beautiful tourist town of Myrtle Beach.
When I sit down in my aisle seat, I hold my breath, waiting to see who I will have to sit next to for the next ninety minutes stuffed in this sardine can. When the flight attendant closes the door, I let out a deep breath and slump back into my seat, relieved.
For five minutes.
As soon as we begin to back away from the building, I’m lurching forward when someone kicks the seat behind me, hard.
A man’s voice softly scolds the kicker, and I lean back thinking the attack is over.
Another swift kick to my back and I’m done. I whip around and come face to face with one of the most beautiful children I’ve ever seen.
She’s so stunning I forget for a moment that I’m supposed to be angry. Those sparkling blue eyes paired with her light honey-colored skin is National Geographic cover-worthy.
“Scarlet, tell the nice lady you’re very sorry, and you won’t do it again,” says the man sitting next to the beautiful little princess.
“Your nose is pretty,” she says and points at the tiny diamond stud in my nose. I raise my hand to touch it and smile at her.
“Scarlet, say you’re sorry,” her father says again, but with more insistence this time.
“Sorry.” Little Scarlet is wiggling her legs and looking at her sparkly Mary Jane shoes. I don’t think there’s much hope that she’ll be keeping still during the rest of the flight.
“And?” he says, coaxing her to finish apologizing.
“I won’t do it again.”
“Thank you, Scarlet,” I say.
I reach out and offer her my hand; she takes it with her soft, pudgy one and shakes it up and down.
“My name is Téa. You’re a very beautiful girl.”
“She gets away with murder, believe me,” her father says, causing me to switch my gaze from Scarlet’s endlessly blue eyes to his.
Now, I’m a very outgoing personable woman, and I don’t get tongue-tied or flustered, but this man has silenced me with one look. If I were Scarlet, I would have never kicked me twice.
It’s hard to tell if his expression is smoldering or scolding, but either way, it’s doing something to my insides.
Instinctively, I reach up and brush a chunk of my black-and-red streaked hair out of my eyes. The bangles on my wrist clank against each other and my heart clanks against my rib cage.
Scarlet is out of her seat examining my bracelets and tracing the tip of my dragon tattoo up my arm, where it disappears into the sleeve of my red and black plaid shirt.
“Scarlet, keep your hands to yourself and sit down. It's time to put on your seatbelt, honey.” He turns to me and says, “I apologize. She’s not usually so brazen with strangers. I’ll make sure she doesn’t kick you again.”
Scarlet hops into her seat, and I nod stupidly and turn around instead of striking up a conversation like I usually would have with anyone, anywhere any other time.
What the hell is wrong with me? That man had me speechless, speechless for God’s sake. I must be more tired than I thought; my ability to flirt and be friendly has vaporized into the stuffy recycled air.
In front of me, the flight attendant robotically makes her way through her pre-flight checklist and behind me, a frustrated daddy whispers sharply to his wiggly daughter.
After takeoff, I remove my seat belt and take out my tablet to look at some shots I took of my best friend in an abandoned warehouse right outside Chicago.
The pictures are amazing, if I do say so myself. We even got a few of us together. The contrast between us is striking, with her pale skin and angular blonde haircut and my light-brown tattoo-covered skin and wild, black-and-red streaked hair.
I’m a firm believer that opposites attract, and we couldn’t be more different. Theresa is a lawyer - she works in an office, wears suits to work every day, and lives in the burbs. I’m a creative free spirit who works wherever my photography takes me, I’m covered in tattoos, I have several piercings, I wear whatever is hanging in the front of the closet, and I live in a loft in the city.
“Pretty,” a small voice says from the aisle on my right. Scarlet has escaped her father already.
“Thank you, do you want to see some more?” I ask. She nods her head up and down, and I turn my screen so she can see it better.
“Who’s dat?” she says, pointing at Theresa.
“That’s my best friend, Theresa. We were having fun taking pictures. That’s my job, cool huh?”
“Uh huh, more.” She swipes the screen like an expert and a close up of Theresa appears, leaning against an exposed brick wall. She skips through the pictures until she arrives on one of me alone. She stops and stares for a moment at the shot.
A shadow slides over the screen, and I look up at Scarlet’s father.
“Scarlet, what did I tell you? I’m really sorry. She’s not listening very well. She's tired, and we’ve been traveling all day.”
Determined not to blow it again, I look up into his handsome, rugged face, and lo and behold, words come out of my mouth.
“I don’t mind. She’s not bothering me at all.”
“Murder. I told you, she gets away with murder,” he says, shaking his head.
“Being cute definitely has its advantages, doesn’t it, Scarlet?” I ask and lightly tickle her ribs. She giggles and squeezes past me into the vacant window seat on my other side.
“You would know,” he says to me, leaning his hip against my seat, dangerously close to my face.
He just complimented me, and I should thank him, but the smell of his woodsy cologne commands my attention instead.
“More,” Scarlet says, snuggling as close as she can with the armrest between us.
“You wanna sit with me?”
Her eyes open wide, and we both look at her father for permission.
He nods and offers me his hand to shake while she crawls into my lap. “I’m Nick, and you’ve already had the pleasure of meeting my daughter Scarlet.”
I slide my small hand into his big warm one, and I’m pretty sure I sigh out loud.
“Téa. It's nice to meet you.” Not a bad response, considering my pulse is racing and I’m breaking out in a cold sweat.
Men don’t do this to me; I do this to men. Guys who can’t find their words around me fall to the bottom of the potential date list A.S.A.P., and now I’m the one coming up empty with the pickup lines.
“Well, Téa, if you’re okay with her up here I’ll sit down, but please, if she starts to be too much, raise your hand and I’ll take her back.”
“Got it. Bugger gets annoying, put my hand up, will do.”
Now that sounds more like me. Maybe knowing he’s going to sit down instead of hovering over my shoulder is helping me clear my head.
He is turning to go back to his seat when Scarlet swipes to the next picture, and he stops to look at it.
It’s a candid of me hanging upside down from a bar in the warehouse. My hair hangs in a curtain touching the floor, and the long peasant skirt I had on is wadded up around my hips, exposing my long bare legs.
We were taking a break for lunch, and I couldn’t resist messing around on the bar, and Theresa couldn’t resist the opportunity to get a shot of me in play mode.
“You’re a photographer?”
“Yes. I’m not usually my own subject, but this was a shoot with my friend. She’s always trying to catch me doing something crazy.”
“She did a great job with that one. You’re gorgeous. Do you do commercial work or portraits? Scarlet and I are in the market for a photographer to take some family pictures, aren’t we, Scarlet?”
He just called me gorgeous, and in such an off-hand manner someone else may have missed the compliment but not me, no way.
“You gonna take my picture?” Scarlet says, looking up at me with her amazing eyes.
“I would love to take your picture, Miss Scarlet.” I turn my attention back to Nick. “I do commercial work for a fashion magazine part-time, but I do portraits on the side. Where are you two from?”
“Myrtle Beach. You should swim with us,” Scarlet says.
“Well, it just so happens that I am going to Myrtle Beach for a job. I’ll be there for two weeks. I’m sure I can find time if you’re available.”
Scarlet is still making her way through at least a hundred photos. Nick bends down to have a closer look, bringing him almost cheek to cheek with me. If I turn a fraction to the right, I could kiss his scruffy cheek, five o’clock shadow and all. I want to, and in any other situation with a man who makes me feel like Nick here does, I would. I’m not shy, and I tell it how it is and if I like a guy, I show it. But this is the first time I’ve been this attracted to a guy with a kid.
A guy with a kid, shit, what if he’s married? I didn’t even think to look for a ring. Note to self, check for a wedding ring or a tan line where one usually is.
I hate when guys take their ring off in public. I’d rather see a man’s ring shining on his finger when he's flirting with me than a tan line where it’s supposed to be. Cheaters are assholes, and there are a lot of cheating assholes in the world.
That’s why I joined an online dating site a couple of weeks ago. I haven’t had much luck other than one guy, who is so private it’s hard to get to know him. Why join a dating site when you don’t want to open up?
“You do excellent work,” he says. He places his hand on my shoulder like we are old friends. “You’re hired, do you have a business card?”
“Oh, uh, yes, somewhere here I’m sure I do.” I slide Scarlet and my tablet into the empty seat next to me and bend over to dig through my big ass purse, as Theresa calls it. I can feel the cool air hitting the top of my back when my shirt rides up, exposing my skin. He’s looking at it; I can feel his eyes boring a hole into the tattoo peeking out from the bottom of my shirt or the top of my jeans, whichever way you look at it. And everybody looks at it.