Shandra looked at him. “Are you serious?” she demanded in a low voice. “Your girlfriend thinks that you and I have something going on?”
“Yes, she does. I tried to tell her that there isn’t anything going on between us but she doesn’t believe me.”
“Well, maybe we should stop spending time together if it will make her feel better.”
“I would agree with that but I don’t think it’s going to make a difference. Even if you and I stopped being friends, she would find some other woman to be jealous and suspicious of. I can’t keep dropping my female friends and acquaintances because Natalia is paranoid.”
“I’m not saying this to be mean but I honestly don’t know what you see in her.”
“She wasn’t always like this. I don’t understand what has happened to bring about such a drastic change in her.”
“Maybe you’re seeing the real person for the first time.”
“Bill thinks that she’s acting like this because we’re not married.”
“It’s obvious to me that if you wanted to marry her you would have done so by now.”
“Yes. I’m perfectly happy with our current arrangement. Why should I change it? What if one day I were to wake up and discover that I was no longer wanted to be with her? If we were married, we would have to go through the inconvenience of a divorce and I don’t want that.”
“Marriage means a lot to women. They don’t feel like the man loves them until he puts a ring on their finger. Until then, Natalia will continue to be suspicious of every woman in your life and worry that you will walk out on her.”
“I honestly don’t know how much longer I can live the way I am right now. It’s tiresome dealing with her jealousies and insecurities and accusations. Have you any idea how many times, I was tempted to throw in the towel?”
“I don’t like her but I kind of feel sorry for her. It’s obvious that she’s mad about you and it scares her that she might lose you to me or to some other woman.”
“I don’t know what else I can do to convince her that she has nothing to worry about.”
“It sounds like there isn’t anything else you can say that would make a difference.”
He glanced at his watch. “It’s one. I haven’t had lunch as yet. Have you?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“Have lunch with me and then, let’s go for a walk along Naples Pier.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“I’m sure. I’m not going to let Natalia’s insane jealousy dictate what I do.”
“All right. Let me grab my jacket and let Charlene know that I’m going for my lunch break now. I’ll be right back.” She walked away while he waited outside of the store for her.
Five minutes later, she joined him. They walked to where his car was parked and drove to the pier. After he parked nearby, they went to Old Naples Pub which was two blocks from the Naples historic fishing pier. She had the Chicken & Chips while he had the Baby Back Ribs followed by a slice each of the Key Lime Pie.
“I’m full,” she said.
He smiled. “That’s why we’re going for a walk along the pier now.”
They strolled the length of the pier, paused to look back at the city and the beach. He leaned against the side, facing her. She faced towards the water. “You know, I’ve never been here before. I heard that it’s popular for bird-watching, dolphin-spotting and scenic sunset views. It’s very nice.”
“I’ve been here a couple of times before. It’s one of my favorite places to where I like to come when I need to think or just to enjoy the view. The sunsets here were my inspiration for Magenta in Twilight.”
“Your latest spy thriller?”
“She should be.
“Do you always come alone here or do you bring Natalia with you sometimes?”
“I’ve never brought her.”
Shandra’s eyebrows rose. “Really?”
“Yes. You’re the only person I’ve brought here.”
“Oh. I’m honored, then.”
“I just finished reading your first novel, Lost in Lava Swirls.”
“What did you think of it?”
“I loved it, of course. Your protagonist, Agent Villegas reminds me of you and Yvette, the Creole teen whom he was protecting from the cartel–I feel like I know her.”
“You should. She’s you.”
Her mouth dropped open. “Me?”
“Yes, I thought of you when I created the character. She was the same age as you when we met.”
“I was sixteen.”
“In the book, Yvette and Agent Villegas become lovers.”
“That’s where the similarities between him and me end.” His eyes met hers in a steady gaze now. “I wouldn’t have gotten involved with someone so young. If she were at least five years older…” He didn’t finish the sentence but he didn’t need to. She realized that he wasn’t talking about the characters anymore. If she had been twenty-one when they met, they would have become lovers.
Heart racing, she replied. “It’s too bad I wasn’t old enough for you.”
“Yes,” he agreed quietly. Then, he glanced at his watch. “I’d better take you back before they begin to wonder where you are.”
“Yes.” She moved away from the rail and he straightened up. They walked slowly back to where his car was parked.
“Thanks for lunch,” she said when they were standing outside of the store.
“You’re welcome. I hope we can do it again sometime.”
“I hope so too. Take care.”
She went into the store while he walked quickly to his car.