Authors: Lydia Rowan
Copyright © 2015 by Lydia Rowan
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, businesses, and incidents are invented by the author or used fictitiously. Any similarities to real people, living or dead, businesses and business establishments, places, or events are entirely coincidental. This book is intended for mature audiences only. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
and a worse bout of boredom sent Nola Bailey halfway around the world. But instead of cold cocktails and sandy beaches, she finds the irresistible Duarte Cruz and a whole mess of trouble. Cruz is convinced she’s up to no good, but if she can change his mind—and dodge the bullets that keep flying her way—her ultimate escape might end with the love of a lifetime.
Nola Bailey thought as she parked in Sidney Houston’s driveway and then walked up the tidy front steps, hugging herself tight to ward off the chill that lingered in the late-spring North Carolina air.
When the woman had invited Nola and her boyfriend Carl to dinner, she’d thought it would be another of the rowdy get-togethers Sidney was famous for. But what greeted her instead was Carl’s car parked next to Sidney’s with no other vehicles in sight. They were probably just early, which wasn’t at all out of the ordinary for Carl, especially when it came to Sidney’s parties. He and, as a consequence, Nola were often the first to arrive and the last to leave. In fact, on more than one occasion, Carl had sent her home when the hour had gotten too late for Nola. Not that she’d minded. Sidney’s parties were loud affairs, and after so many hours of trying to be social and maintain conversation, Nola was always drained and looking forward to a break.
She rang the bell, and before the chimes could finish sounding, Carl pulled the door open and let her in. Happy to enter the warm, cozy confines, Nola didn’t even question why Carl had answered the door instead of Sidney. Out of habit, she turned her cheek up for a kiss and Carl obliged, the faint brush of his lips feeling more perfunctory than usual. Also odd because Carl was always excited on party day. But he’d complained about having a long, hard week at work, so he was probably just tired.
The gold-wired frames of Carl’s glasses glinted under the soft light of Sidney’s living room, and Nola noticed the tension that pulled around his eyes. Out of the ordinary for Carl, whose warmth and friendliness had always made Nola feel comfortable and safe and was the first thing that had drawn her to him. But despite the trepidation that filled her as she looked into his brown eyes, she smiled.
“I made rum cake,” Nola said, lifting the cake plate she held.
“That’s nice, Nola. Come sit,” Carl said, placing a guiding hand on her upper arm and leading her to the kitchen table.
His voice was stilted, stiff, not the easy, breezy one she was used to. Work must have really taken a toll on Carl.
“Hi, Sidney! Is the rest of the gang on the way?” Nola asked, greeting the woman who sat at the round wood table. She tried to imbue her voice with bubbliness she didn’t feel, the kind that seemed to come naturally to Sidney. “Oh, and I made rum cake!” she added.
“Hello, Nola. Thank you. That was nice,” Sidney said, her voice the patented mix of excitement and sexiness that always reminded Nola of how dull and flat her own was in comparison, as everything about Sidney did. The woman was beautiful, sultry, lively, a rainbow next to Nola’s timid, mousy gray. But she’d always been kind, had made some tentative overtures toward friendship, so Nola pushed aside the fact that she reminded Nola of her own inadequacies and tried to be pleasant, knowing how important she was to Carl.
“Thank you for coming,” Carl said as he sat next to Sidney.
“Of course,” she responded brightly, noticing but not mentioning that Carl had bypassed the empty chair next to her. “I wouldn’t miss one of Sidney’s parties. Is the rest of the gang on the way?” she repeated, her unease intensifying for reasons she couldn’t quite place.
And while Sidney was nice, Nola was terrible at small talk, even with Carl, whom she’d been dating for seven years, and being the sole focus of attention, even for these short minutes, made her wary and nervous. That was probably it. Carl was tired, so it would be left to Nola to keep the room from descending into awkward silence, a task that she probably wasn’t up to.
“Look, Nola,” Sidney said after a long moment, reaching out to grab the hand Carl had placed on the table.
Her wariness spiked even higher at the sight of their entwined hands and was soon joined by confusion. It looked so natural, the two of them sitting together holding hands. Far more natural than she’d ever been with Carl, or anyone else for that matter.
“Nola.” Carl took over for Sidney. “There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just say it. Sidney and I are in love.”
“Hmm?” Nola said.
Sidney and Carl stared at each other and smiled, a secret, silent communication passing between them.
“I think we have been for a long time, but we just hadn’t realized it. But now”—they smiled at each other again—“now, we know this is forever.”
Nola’s brain raced to catch up with her ears, and she narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips in thought. Carl had just told her that he was in love. With someone else. She shook her head as if doing so would shake the words that were seeping into her brain loose.
“Wait. What? But I thought… I mean, we’ve been…?”
Carl looked at Nola. “I know, and I’m sorry. You’re a nice person, and I never wanted to hurt you, but me and Sidney… What can I say? It was meant to be.”
He shrugged and then looked back at Sidney, eyes shining with his affection, and Nola’s jaw dropped when he leaned over and kissed her, the desire and fondness in the exchange a thousand times more sincere than any he’d ever shown Nola.
After he’d stared in Sidney’s eyes for a few moments longer, Carl returned his gaze to Nola and Sidney followed suit.
“We wanted to do this in person. Thank you for coming,” Sidney said, standing.
This conversation was over.
Nola stood as well and followed Carl and Sidney back through the living room, the dull shock of what had transpired making her confused, slow. Carl and Sidney were in love and getting married. But surely that couldn’t be right. She and Carl had been together for years, so he couldn’t have just done what she thought he had.
She stared at him and saw that sublime happiness on his face. It couldn’t be denied.
“Um, well. Enjoy the cake, and congratulations,” she said when she again stood on the front steps.
The closing of the front door was her response.
Nola stood on the steps, the breeze she’d been so anxious to be out of just minutes before chilling her. But she barely noticed. How could she when, in a two-minute span, her entire life had changed?
Another day in paradise had come to an end.
It had been five weeks since Carl’s bombshell, and Nola had fallen into her routine. Work, home, TV, sleep, and then she’d do it all over again. After she popped a frozen dinner into the microwave, she settled on the couch.
A push of the Power button and the TV sprang to life. Nola was immediately blinded by the brilliant blue water that greeted her vision. She blinked, but the majestic sight remained, and she soon realized it was one of those house-buying shows Carl had always teased her about watching.
Mesmerized, she couldn’t look away, and even across the airwaves, the beauty on display was breathtaking. The drippy couple featured in the episode, him seeking a “man cave” for his home away from home, her concerned with adequate closet space and guest rooms, faded into the background as she greedily sought more images of the amazing scenery. Then words flashed across the screen.
Hue, Thura Thien-Hue Province, Vietnam.
Nola’s heart began to pound, and she exhaled. In the couple minutes she’d watched the screen, a sense of serenity and excitement washed over her. Those mixed sensations should have been dizzying, but they had the opposite effect, had in a few short moments lifted the cloud of disbelief that had settled in after Carl’s announcement.
She didn’t understand it. What little she knew of Vietnam most certainly did not include stunning blue water, lush-looking, misty rainforests, and soft, sandy beaches, but every frame of the show was more beautiful than the one before it. The microwave dinged to alert her that her dinner was ready, but she ignored it and grabbed her tablet. A few moments later, images much like those on the TV popped up on the screen.
Flights starting at $639,
an ad on the sidebar of her web browser proclaimed.
Still in a daze, she typed in the destination, Charlotte and surrounding areas, and immediately, flights popped up.
A getaway flight set to depart in three days was at the top of the list. Nola looked back at the television and then back down at the tablet. She had that shiny new passport that she’d only taken out of the envelope once. She looked down at the tablet again, her mind swirling with quick calculations. This year’s tax refund sat in her savings account untouched, and she knew she could pick up a couple of dollars shampooing hair if she needed to.
Back and forth her thoughts went, but as they waged their little war, she grabbed her purse and retrieved her credit card, and before she knew it, she’d entered her information and card number.
This is crazy, Nola.
Her finger hovered over the Book Now button for a split second before she pressed it. She watched as the progress bar spread across the screen, and in less than twenty seconds, her flight confirmation popped up.
Nola sat back feeling flushed, a pit of nerves forming in her stomach.
Vietnam, here I come.
A smile spread across her face.