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Authors: R.M. Alexander

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BOOK: Matter of Choice
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Triston shook his head and stepped forward to reach for the waiting handle. “That’ll cost more than an arm and a leg. They’ll probably want dibs on your first born, your parents’ last will, your last will, and the information for every generation until
the year 3000. I’ll take you.”

“Did you see her?”

He shrugged. “Does it matter?”

“Not to me, but it does to you. If she’s the one, Triston, you need to go after her. You can’t keep playing around.”

“I’m afraid it’s a bit more complicated than that.” He snatched his jacket from the hanger. “And I don’t know she’s the one. I loved her a long time ago.”

“And never stopped?”

He turned around. “She’s married, Jennifer.”

She raised her eyebrows and nodded. “Yes, that’s complicated. Then walk away.”

“It’s more complicated than that.”

“Nothing is more complicated than that. You’re a good guy, you’ll do the right thing.”

“Thanks Jennifer. I appreciate that.” He glanced around the room, and down at the suitcase in his hand. “Got everything?”

Drawing a breath in, she smiled. “I think so. If not, just bring whatever I left behind back with you.” She stepped forward, and left a kiss on his cheek. “Thank you, Triston. I’m sorry if I gave you a hard time. I’m not the easiest person to
be with, or so I’ve been told.”

Triston smiled, fingers circling his mouth. “Well, you
do that weird clicking thing. What is that?”

She laughed. “And you snore like a freight train. I don’t know how anyone as good lookin’ as you can sound like that.”

They both laughed.

“Let’s go.” He held open the door and followed behind her, glad n
ot to be leaving with just yet.





Chapter Eight


Shannon knocked on Lauren’s office door and opened it to find her friend sitting on the day couch. The shading beneath Lauren’s eyes as she looked up to smile spoke volumes. Mascara and eyeliner performed horrible feats of disgrace when tears were allowed their freedom. But it wasn’t like Lauren to spend time in the office crying over anything, and the only thing that made sense was Matt pulling some stunt again. Shannon disliked him nearly as much as she hated what Greg did.

“Hi there. I’m sorry, I just needed to take a moment.” Lauren stood, tips of sleek ebony hair tickling her lips, and shielded her face as she dropped her gaze.

Shannon stepped forward and draped an arm over Lauren’s shoulder. “Something’s wrong. Do you want to talk about it? Is it Matt?”

She ran a finger over a thin eyebrow, and smiled a smile Shannon knew without question was specious. “No. I mean, everything is fine. I just need to start making some decisions.” Lauren shrugged out of Shannon’s reach and rounded the desk to pick up some papers, bouncing them lightly against the sheet of glass guarding the wood beneath it. “You’ve got enough on your plate without worrying about me.”

“Lauren, you certainly listen to enough, more than enough, of my problems. Least I can do is return the favor.” She reached out to rest a hand on top of Lauren’s fingers. “Put the papers down and tell me what it is.”

“It’s nothing Shannon. Really.” She dropped the pile at the corner of the desk. “So. Tell me. Any news about that sexy man from your past?”

Shannon dropped her head to a shoulder with narrowed eyes. The dullness in Lauren’s amber eyes hinted not to press the issue further. Changing Lauren’s mind was a near impossible task. Whatever was wrong, she’d open up when ready. Shannon drew in a deep breath. “He’s infuriating. I just saw him down at
The Schooner
. Now he thinks there’s a standing invitation for conversation whenever the mood suits him.”

Lauren smiled. “Sounds like he’s getting under your skin.”

“Depends on how you mean.”

She shrugged. “No one forgets their first love. This is the first man who’s shown you any attention in how long? Of course there’s an attraction.”

“Oh no.” Shannon shook her head, eyes wide. “There’s no attraction. I’m married still. I can’t be thinking about attraction.”

Lauren giggled. “Whatever you say, Shannon. You know, it’s not like you’re having an affair. If he wants to be nice, what’s wrong with that?”

Shannon didn’t reply. She walked out and shut the door. Sidling to the wall, her head dropped back, eyes closed. Lauren was wrong. There was everything wrong with it.

The employee door opened and Shannon pushed off the wall, smiling at one of the maids as she passed. The woman acknowledged her with a quick hello before rushing into the laundry room and back out with an armful of freshly washed towels. Shannon watched the young woman step out the door,
and then fumbled to her office.

Spending time with Triston was stupid and irresponsibl
e, regardless what anyone said.





Chapter Nine


Going home wasn’t an option. Shannon couldn’t bear to look at the obvious: the lipstick on Greg’s dirty shirts, the smell of alcohol, the evidence of women, drinking and recklessness. She didn’t want another night of cleaning up Greg’s messes or faking a smile. Nights like that were countless and endless, except for when she took a night away here and there. Seeing Triston, watching Lauren breakdown over a relationship unable to hold ground, the hopelessness of her marriage. For one night, it was enough. An empty room in a hotel at not quite full capacity was the best option.

The green light flashed and she slid out the card key, pushing the door handle down. Shannon reached around and slid a hand up the wall, flicked the light switch upwards and stepped inside, closing the door behind her. It was a standard room, by Grande Marquis standards, a near suite by the standards of most chains across the nation. A living room with a snack bar, bath and French doors leading to the bedroom, all dressed to the hilt with high end furniture. Few expenses were spared within the Grande, and nearly none at all in guest rooms.

This was New York, after all.

Shannon laid the card key and her purse along with the change off clothes across the bar and moved to the couch, reclining into the deep grey cushions. Drawing in a breath, she smelled the lilac potpourri sprinkled across the carpeting by the staff earlier in the day, and smiled. This could be home. She had somewhere to go, other than crashing on Lauren’s couch or getting a little one bedroom apartment somewhere she didn’t want to be. But, she thought as she looked around at the clean lines of peaches, creams and greys, that wasn’t the reason she stayed. Money wasn’t a problem, a place to stay wasn’t a problem, and she wasn’t afraid of starting over.

Devotion, loyalty and pr
omises were complicated things.

Her chest inflated and shrank, Shannon nodded and rose off the couch. Settling in tonight was the only the decision she had to make, the only on
e that mattered for the moment.

With hands on her hips, she wondered why i
t didn’t make her feel better.

Gathering the clothes, she crossed the living room into the bedroom with its king sized bed and pictures of rocky shores hanging from peach kissed walls. As much as she tried to turn off the thoughts from invading the illusion of peace, the score was one to zip in favor of intruding m
emories and betraying emotions.

The fairytale wedding with a gown laced in sequins and pearls enticing enough to make any movie starlet jealous. The groom gloriously masculine in a black tuxedo. The first of many promises taken, and a future brighter
than any star. They had it all.

But one horrible night
, their precious bubble popped.

Greg had been working late in the city, and despite Shannon’s urgings to stay, decided instead to make the commute home. He had been only thirty miles away when a drunk driver weaved into oncoming traffic, hitting the sedan head on, totaling the car and sen
ding Greg into intensive care.

The police first charged Greg at fault, citing he had been well over the legal limit for alcohol consumption. A ridiculous charge. Everyone knew Greg rarely drank, and on such rare occasions, limited himself to a single drink and a designated driver. Still, it hadn’t stopped the charge from
finding its way to a courtroom.

Only after Greg’s lawyer offered the possibility for mishandling of evidence, and an eyewitness identified the other driver as the one at fault, were the charges dropped. Of cours
e, none of it mattered to Greg.

His physical injuries had, fortunately, been minor. But he had gone through the windshield, and suffered amnesia. He didn’t remember the accident, Shannon, his job, or most other details about his life.  Shannon had taken him home and hired the best therapists, but despite all efforts, her husband became someone else who bore no se
mblance to the man she married.

Shannon turned away from the closet where her suit now hung alone, and made her way to the bathroom with a clenched jaw, fighting to bur
y the memories for another day.

No sooner did she lather a white washcloth with a rich soap
did her mind betray her again.

Triston Keyes

His perfectly kissable mouth and enticing eyes glowed in front of her mind’s eye, beckoning her to turn from the trials suffered next to her husband, and all the pain of bei
ng cast aside.

Their past was like any high school sweetheart love story. Or nearly. Love at first sight, needing to be together every minute every chance they had. Proms, holiday dances, hiding beneath the bleachers in bold public displays of affection. Teenagers, nothing more than kids who thought they were all grown up and didn’t have a clue. But Shannon trusted him, with every breath of her body. And even kids should know better than to betray

She glared at the reflection in the mirror, disgusted by the lack of discipline. The washcloth scrubbed a little too hard against her skin, the rinsing hot water punishing. Triston had a hold on her then, he wouldn’t now
, and that was the bottom line.

She deserved bette
r. Her husband deserved better.

Or, at least, that’s
what she tried to tell herself.

With a bottle of cold water from the mini fridge tucked beneath the snack bar, Shannon returned to the bedroom and dropped into the comforting mattress. She reached for the remote resting on the nightstand and clicked on the television. A good selection of channels raced before her - reality shows, crime dramas, none captured her interes
t. The networks usually didn’t.

She slowed when she reached the movie channels, and stopped when Hugh Grant’s face fill the screen.
Notting Hill
. She wasn’t sure what she needed was a romance, but then, it was one of her favorites.

She watched the last forty-five minutes, immersed within the comedic romance, and smiled at the end, the grin not fading when she switched the screen to black and lay against the pillow. Love strong enough to fight for. Good stuff. The darkened room swallowed and slowed her mind, only one question remaining as she drifted to sleep. Fairytales of happy endings,
why must they never come true?

Another day of check ins and check outs, routine, routine and more routine. Shannon stood in front of her favorite window, staring at her favorite view, and wondered what was wrong with her. Running the hotel had been more than enough for a long time, but this morning, she felt restless, shoulders heavy. For the first time in recent memory, she didn’t care who was coming or what they needed. She didn’t
to cater to their every need. It was Tuesday, the mini-banquet only two days away, and she didn’t care.

A hand reached up and pushed through her hair. What was the matter with her? A walk. That was all she needed, a walk through the gardens, maybe even down to the rocky shoreli
ne. Fresh air and a break away.

She locked the computer and started for the door, stopped and turned, remembering the time totals on Lauren’s log ins. Seeing Lauren upset, and without explanation, made
Shannon forget to mention them.

Shannon returned to her desk and unlocked the computer, opened the report and printed it. She’d talk to Lauren
first, and then take her walk.

Angry voices burned through the door, intense with fury. Shannon drew in a breath, recognizing one of the voices to be Matt’s. She’d met him a time or two, and he was a nice enough guy. Good looking too, in a wind-blown surfer kind of way. Athletic, broad, rusty hair brushing his eyebrows and shoulders. A bit of a strange match to Lauren’s city flair. They were a case of opposites attracting, as the struggles birthed nearly from the start of the relationship testified to.

She paused, and turned to walk away. Interruptions in the middle of an argument usually only intensified the friction, at least in her experience.

Walk first, then talk to Lauren.

The door burst open, and Matt stormed out, face reddened and eyes piercing. Lauren called after him from somewhere in the office, but he didn’t pause until he was inches from Shannon.

Pulling her head back, Shannon looked at him with wide eyes. “Hi, Matt. Everything okay?”

“How could you not know?”

Her eyebrows knitted together. “What are you talking about?” she stepped backwards. “Lauren okay?”

“Sure, she’s just fine. She’s got it all. Gonna lose it all, but I guess that’s a risk she’s willing to take.” The glare burned through Shannon, venom thick in his voice. “You must be totally self-absorbed to not get it. I thought you women told each other everything.”

He brushed past her and hurried out the private door into the public areas of the hotel. Shannon walked into Lauren’s office, head dropped to one side. “Well, that was cryptic. What’s his problem?”

Lauren blinked a few times, as though she was in disbelief. “Just one of those relationship things. I want to decide and can’t.”

She walked towards the woman and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “What you mean ‘you want to d
ecide’? Decide what Lauren?”

Lauren’s head whipped around, eyes big. “No. I meant to say, I want
to decide, and he won’t.” A peculiar expression remained clasped to her face for a moment. With another hard blink, she shifted her head away. “Guess it’ll just be status quo for now.”

“Then maybe it’s time you make the choice.” Shannon’s nerves sizzled n the hypocrisy of the statement. She had no room to be giving anyone relationship advice. With a heavy sigh, she dropped her arm, and walked to the couch, resting on the edge with hands folded in front of her. “Still love him?”

Lauren whirled to face her with a raised eyebrow, skin ashen. “Who?”

“Matt, silly.” She snickered. “Wow, he really got you flustered.”

Lauren nodded. “Yeah, yes, I guess he did. Listen, I better get back at it. We’ll talk later, okay?”

“You sure? I’m going for a walk.” She stood. “You want to come with me?”

“No, I better not. Another time, okay?”

“No problem, just
let me know when you’re ready.”

Distraction weighed the air, Lauren nodd
ed, and Shannon took her leave.

, she thought as she strolled down the hallway. What was wrong with them? Love staring them right in the face and they stomp all over it. Matt. Greg. Even Triston, all those years ago. She didn’t get it. Maybe love just wasn’t a real goal. Maybe it was abstract and unattainable in its real, everlasting way women fantasized about.

“Ms. Winters?”

Shannon turned to see Rick Stockard standing behind her, and mused what hearts he’d taken turns breaking in school. With wavy chestnut hair, hazel eyes and a crooked smile that dimpled his cheeks, he was cute. Not yet a man, but finding his way there. And, she reminded herself, the age when she and Triston met. Triston had been finding his way there too, with half the girls in school, she guessed. She was just too blind and in love to see it at the time.

“Yes, Rick?”

“The sound system in the banquet room is acting goofy. Having a hard time figuring it out, and I can’t find Bruce.”

Shannon sighed. There was no telling where in the hotel her maintenance manager was. “Did you try calling him?”

He shuffled his feet. “I, uh, keep forgetting to program his number in my phone Ms. Winters.” Rick looked up with apologetic eyes. “I’m not going to get written up again, am I?”

His youthful fear struck a cord within her and Shannon smiled. “No, Rick, I’m not going to write you up. But we do need to track Bruce down. Come into my office and I’ll give him a call, let you talk to him, okay?”

Back in her office, she dialed the number and handed the phone to the teenager as he explained the issues, then handed the phone back to her. “Thanks Ms. Winters. He’s going to meet me in the room in a couple of minutes.”

She nodded, pushed a piece of paper with Bruce’s number forward. “Put it in your contacts while you wait so you have it for next time.”

“Thanks, Ms. Winters.” He stood and left the office, phone in hand, fingers skating across the number pad with all the skill of a texting pro.

Shannon stood and walked to the window, no longer interested in taking a walk down to the river. Like Rick and Lauren, she needed to refocus on the banqu
et and forget all the nonsense.

Below her, cars drove in and out, and just beyond the parking lot, trees waved in the breeze. Soon, her view of the water would be nearly obstructed by emerald leaves in robust summer glory. Only the farthest reaches of the eastern banks would remain untouched, teasing with the optical illusion of flowing along the treetops. Summer would bring the more frequent barges as they headed up and downriver during the peak season, yachts would travel the waters with their filthy rich owners in tow, dinner and sightseeing cruises would provide the means for tourists and locals alike to bask in the splendid views from the furthest southern channels in Jersey all the way up to the northern, mountainous valleys. It was a good time of year. It had been some time since she’d had a chance to really enjoy it. The cruises were a norm for her and Greg, once upon a time, and she hadn’t been on one since. Maybe this year would be the year. His convenient memories, and lack thereof, would
finally stop skittering about.

BOOK: Matter of Choice
10.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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