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Authors: R.M. Alexander

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BOOK: Matter of Choice
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Chapter Seven


Triston sat on the bed, waiting for Jennifer to finish primping in the bathroom. The night before had only been marginally successful. She had chosen
Mamma Mia!
. It was cute enough, as chic plays went, but by intermission, he gladly would have snuck into another production down the road.
A Time to Kill
. Something with a little edge.

The thing was, as Triston listened to the blow dryer, he knew the play shouldn’t have bothered him. If the woman was someone he wanted to be with, sitting through four
Mamma Mia!
’s would’ve been fine, just to be with her.

He rubbed the back of his neck. Jennifer wasn’t the one, and lying wasn’t going to make it easier whe
n the relationship came to end.

She came out of the bathroom, head slumped in what looked like a painful position as she towel dried still damp ends. “Triston, we need to talk.”

He nodded and patted the bed. She sat down, and he marveled at the lack of concern. Triston guessed she’d come to the same conclusion.

“Listen Jenn, I’ll start. I don’t want to hurt you, but I think we both know this isn’t going anywhere.”

She shook her head and laid the towel across her lap, fingers combing through the length of blond strands. She looked every bit as sexy now as she always had, but there was no burning desire. Physical only went so far, and the rest never took up residence. Wasting six months was long enough.

“Not when I’m checking out strangers on Broadway, and you keep escaping downstairs to talk to the hotel manager. She’s pretty, I’ll give you that.”

Triston laughed. “I thought I was covering my tracks pretty good.”

“Please. No bloodhound was needed to figure out you didn’t need a Coke yesterday afternoon. Who is she?”

“Detective Jenn on the case, huh?” He grinned. “An old friend. That’s all.”

“If that’s all, why the distant look? Someone that got to you?”

He patted her knee. “Not easy to do, is it? I don’t make it easy.”

Jenn lowered her head against his shoulder. “You make it easy to be with, most of the time. A girl can hold her head high when you’re around.”

“This is the easiest breakup I’ve ever been through. You want to get some dinner?”

She straighten up, face distorted with wrinkles until she started laughing. “A little late to ask me out on a date Triston.”

“Dates, smates. You know we’ve never had a conversation this easily before?”

She stood, walked to the closet and pulled out her suitcase. “Which is why we shouldn’t be together. I’m going to call the airlines and see when the next flight back is. Do I need to clear out my desk?”

Triston watched as she opened a drawer and began to pile clothes against a cradled arm. “No, that’s not necessary. I’m not going to make you unemployed because we couldn’t hit it off outside the job. You’re one my best employees, we can leave it at that. Boss-employee, and friend.”

“I like that.”

He sauntered across the room and kissed her on the cheek. “See you at work then. I’m probably just going to stay here, enjoy some time off, since it’s all paid for.”

“Yeah, right.”

“It’s not what you think.”

“And I don’t have a date in a week and a half with the guy sitting next to us at the theatre.”

Triston guffawed as Jennifer shot him the same wicked smile that had attracted him in the first place. He was sure it was the same smile she’d used the night before to entice the stranger, and that was fine. He didn’t buy into the jealousy of someone else having a go with an ex-girlfriend. Everyone deserved to be happy. “I wish you the best.”

He picked up a room key and headed for the door. “I’m going to head down for lunch. Think you’ll be here when I get back?”

She shrugged. “Might go for a walk, don’t know what the airlines will say. Probably.”

He nodded.

Tucking the key in a back pocket, Triston opened the door and stepped out into the hallway. Amicable was good.


Shannon sat comfortably at a table nestled in the far back corner of the restaurant,
The Schooner
, nibbling on a chef salad as she considered the numbers appearing on the laptop screen. Fifteen, twenty, forty. A bit of tedious work for the end of a pay period. She looked up and scanned the room. It was quiet, mostly, the afternoon lunch options coming to close as the kitchen prepared the dinner menu. She took a sip of ice water, and took stock of the small restaurant. With a one hundred fifty total capacity,
The Schooner
was hardly a dining destination, but what it lacked in size, it made up for in atmosphere and quality. With cherry wood paneling, grand vistas of the Hudson River and mostly romantic two top tables, it was a corner of the hotel set to provide couples the romance they longed for.

Shannon smiled as she spied a couple three tables down, snuggling and giggling as they ignored the bowls before them, New England Clam Chowder if Shannon recalled the day’s special correctly. It was hard to remember what it felt like to be that happy, that in love. She looked back to the computer screen, mind stabbing at the pang
of jealousy brewing in her gut.

Payday was three days away, and the mundane routine stole her thoughts, locking out the self-pity and shame. She had fifty other people to worry about and take care of, and they d
eserved complete concentration.

Forty hours, forty hours, forty hours, twenty-five hours, forty hours. With each click of the keyboard, he
r mind calmed. She felt normal.

t was a good feeling.

Shannon tabbed down the fields, thankful for a computer system which logged in hours as employees signed into their desktops, or swiped their badge at the time clock. Even her salaried staff participated in recorded times. It was better than the good old days when everything was manual. Now it was just a matte
r of looking for discrepancies.

Her eyes scanned the fields. Forty hours. Forty ho
urs. Twenty hours. Fifty hours.

Shannon stopped short. Fifty hours. Who was she working on again? She glanced upwards at the name in the field at the top
of the screen. Lauren Hopkins.

“Huh.” She took a bite of a fresh, plump strawberry from a side bowl, and looked at the hours again. Lauren shouldn’t be putting in fifty hours. Forty-five, maybe. That was stretching it, but maybe. Not fifty.  It didn’t matter, Lauren was salary, but still, the bizarre number st
rummed at Shannon’s curiosity.

She clicked on the “Detail” button, and glanced over the past week, eyebrows creasing. Ten hours on Monday, twelve
hours Tuesday, twelve Thursday.

“That’s strange. I don’t remember seeing her here that late. There must be some error in the computer. So much for dependable automated systems.”

Shannon took another bite of salad and looked up, glancing through the rest of the restaurant, turning over the possibilities. She was sure there was an explanation, or maybe it was a computer glitch. Resting her eyes, she reached up and rubbed the back of her neck, muscles tight beneath the touch. Rare that they weren’t. She silently reminded herself to make another appointment with a masseuse.

Shannon opened her eyes. They roamed over the few added guests who found their way to the restaurant to relax and talk. A couple of politicians and their secret service detail, another couple, a small family. Regular people. Everyone content and
talking among their own party.

Except for

Triston sat alone at one of the tables, eating a hamburger, watching her. As he caught her eye, he smiled. Shannon smiled back, shook her head, and
returned her attention to work.

Skipping over L
auren’s timecard, she continued on. Forty hours, thirty hours, thirty-two, twenty-five. Normal, normal, and more normal. She paged back to Lauren’s hours, staring at the numbers. It would be strange for the computer to have a glitch with only her friend’s login information. She stared out the window at the river, watching a cargo ship pass by. What other explanation could there be?

“Are you a worker bee? You just don’t give yourself a break, do you?”

“Aww, Triston, that smile was not an invitation to come over here,” she said, tilted her head upward and caught his broad smile. “I honestly have a lot of work to do, and it’s not good for me to socialize with guests too much.”

He eased into the chair across from Shannon and edged his plate before him. “I’m pretty sure our conversation earlier crossed the line of me being just another guest.” His nose wrinkled and lids narrowed. “Don’t you?”

Shannon sighed, eyes focused stubbornly on the screen. “That was a mistake. Shouldn’t have happened.”

Triston leaned back and laughed, wrist relaxing on the edge of the table as his fingers toyed with the white cotton napkin. “Come on, Shannon. It’s not like we just had sex or something. You confided in me. Nothing wrong with that.” He leaned forward, dropping his head low, voice a whisper. “Now, if we
had sex, I could understand. Probably don’t want to go there though.”

“You don’t give up, do you?” Shannon saved the document, and closed the lid over the keys. “What do you want?”

“Just some company. I suspect you’d like the same, yes?”

Her eyes grew wide, although she couldn’t hide a smile. “No. I’m pretty sure that’s what I just said.”

He shook his head. “No, that’s not what you said. You just said you needed an excuse not to talk to me.”

“You enjoy attaching your own meaning to things, don’t you?” Shannon shook her head and laughed.

He smirked and pointed towards the salad with two fingers. “Still eating rabbit food I see.”

She took another, deliberate bite of the salad and chewed slowly. It was a conversation she remembered from high school. His lunches were hamburgers and mystery meat, hers a plate full of iceberg, shredded carrots and cabbage. They didn’t agree then on the subject, and she doubted they would agree now. She tightened her eyelids to a near close. “And it’s delicious.”

Triston laughed. “Still sassy too.” He lifted his chin in an upward nod. “Where’s the sass when you’re dealing with that husband of yours?”

She swallowed and took a sip of lemonade. “Out of bounds, Triston.”

“Wasn’t this morning.”

“Is now.”

“Changing the rules already on me, huh?” He took a bite of his sandwich. “I always loved that about you, ya know. That sassiness. Didn’t know what to call it then; attitude was all I could think of at the time. But now I know it’s sexy sassiness.”

“Maybe it’s something I really need to work on changing then.”

Triston laughed.

“Where’s your friend?”

He shrugged, eyes shifting to the tablecloth and the invisible doodles his fingers were drawing. “Out walking I think.”

Triston fidgeted for a second, and Shannon had to wonder what he wasn’t saying, then decided it didn’t matter. That was his business, not hers. She wasn’t about to get involved, n
ot when he wasn’t volunteering.

And it was time to make an exit.

“Listen, I have a couple of issues I need to deal with.” She stood, gathering the laptop and paperwork.

“Of course.” He stood. The perfect gentleman. Her heart fluttered and mind growled in defiance. “Catch you later then.”

Over my dead body
. “Go for a swim. Or catch up with your girlfriend. Whatever. Have a good day, Triston.”

“Take care of yourself, Shannon.”

She nodded, and turned away, feeling the heat of his eyes scorching her back. Every nerve begged for her to turn around, to go back to him, to … to do things she shouldn’t and wouldn’t do.

Twenty years ago, she was sure to never see him again, or if she did, Triston’d be fat and bald, ripe for gloating over how happy she was since he let her get away. Shannon’s jaw fixed hard. Here he was, looking better than he had the right to look, and she was anything but happy. Pride was an ugly thing, and she was certain hers just took the killing shot with the temptation Triston carried. She made a mental note for avoidance, and another to see what day he and h
is companion were checking out.

It couldn’t come soon enough.




Triston opened the door to the room, Shannon stealing his thoughts. The confidence, determination. The vulnerability folded beneath layers of fortitude built high and impenetrable. Everything he’d liked about her then, made better now. A soft smile played on his lips as he closed the door. Forgetting her wasn’t going to be any easier now than it
had been the last twenty years.

He lifted his head to see Jennifer standing before him, suitcase upright, jacket wrapped around her shoulders. Warmness wrapped his voice. “Do you need a ride to the airport?”

“I can take a cab.”

BOOK: Matter of Choice
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