Sue’s Customers

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To passersby, it appeared to be a regular shop but its innocuous façade concealed something far more disreputable. Men lingered at the display of slippers at the front until the owner went out, talked to them and then invited them inside. Once inside, these “customers” were shown into another room where Sue was. Like an automaton, she got undressed and lay down.

Orphaned at twelve, she was taken in by her uncle who was kind to her, unlike her aunt. When he died five years later, her aunt kicked her out of the house, telling her to stop freeloading and find work. Sue found odd jobs here and there but the money wasn’t enough. Then, she came to this shop and begged for a job. She got one all right but it wasn’t selling slippers.

The owner was arguing with one of the “customers”. This was her opportunity. Slowly she backed away and then bolted. She ran to a nearby shelter. Shortly after, the shop went out of business and the owner was arrested.

174 Words

This was written for Aspiring Writers hosted by Priceless Joy. For more information visit Here.  To read other stories based on this week’s prompt, visit Here.

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Two Men

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Photo by Michelle DeAngelis

They were on the beach.  Overhead a brave person was parasailing.  Behind them were the sounds of voices, laughter and the tinkle of glasses.  A lone man stood some distance away, facing them.  They were oblivious.  They were lost in each other.

His eager hands caressed her back before they held her tightly against him.  She hugged him and closed her eyes when he buried his face in her neck.  His warm breath caressed her skin.

Ross swept her off her feet eight years ago when they met in university.  They dated until graduation.  Then he went away for two years.  Heartbroken, she tried to move on and she managed to with Kieran…until Ross showed up.

If Kieran found out that she was seeing Ross again, he would break up with her.  She couldn’t let that happen because she loved him.  And she loved Ross.  Was it wrong to love two men?

Kieran lowered the binoculars.  He turned and walked away, shoulders hunched.  It was as he feared.  She was back with her ex.

175 Words

This story was written for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers hosted by Priceless Joy.  For more information visit Here.  To read other stories based on this week’s prompt, visit Here.

The Heart Sign

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She stood there outside of the building, smiling as people started towards it and then stopped in their tracks when they saw the “No Entry” signs.  They huddled among themselves, had a discussion and then they backtracked without even bothering to go around the other side of the building where “Enter Here” signs were.  Typical.

She wished she could hang a “No Entry” sign on her heart.  It had been broken so many times and always by a guy she thought was “the one”.  If she could wear a sign on her heart, it would prevent guys from coming into her life, sweeping her off her feet and then dumping her.

Many times she asked herself what was wrong with her.  Why did guys act like they were into her and then just as things were getting serious, they bailed?  Was she picking men who didn’t want to commit?  Did they think that she was out looking for a husband and that scared them off?

Just then she noticed a cute guy approaching.  She bolted.

175 Words

This was written as part of Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers hosted by Priceless Joy. For more information visit Here.  To read other stories, visit Here.

Horatio Clarke/Stone #writephoto

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Photo courtesy of Sue Vincent

Cora walked along the path, the new bonnet in her hand.  While the family was entertaining the vicar and his family, she opted to venture out here.  Her face was turned up to the sky, her flushed cheeks becoming.  She wanted to loosened her raven dark so that it tumbled down her back but that won’t do for a young lady.  Sometimes she envied her little sister, Della who could wear her thick auburn hair down.

She hitched up her skirt and ran the rest of the way, leaning against the stone when she reached the top.  What a glorious day, she thought spreading her arms wide like a bird.  Up here she felt free–free from convention.  She disliked sitting in the parlor, drinking tea and listening to boring conversations.  Most of the time, her body was there but her mind was here.

Besides, she was tired of being asked the same insidious questions.  “Are there no young men who have won your affections?” or “What about Henry Taylor?  He’s a very amiable young man with a very handsome fortune.  You wouldn’t want of anything, my Dear.”

No, none of the men in Yorkshire had so much as stirred any interest much less won her affections and as amiable as he may be, Henry Taylor didn’t tickle her fancy at all.  Why couldn’t they be satisfied that her elder sister, Edith had formed an attachment to the very handsome and very agreeable Mr. Fairfax?  It was only a matter of time before an engagement would be announced.  She liked Bernard very well.  He would be an excellent brother to her and Della.

She was so preoccupied with her thoughts that she didn’t notice him until he was almost upon her.  It was a man riding very gallantly on a beautiful white steed.  He looked stark against the animal because he was dressed completely in black.  Even his hair was black and the black cloak billowing behind him, reminded her of Count Dracula.

He dug his spurs into the horse’s sides and he came to a halt.  In one fluid and quick movement, he dismounted the animal and stood, over six feet tall, a few feet away from her.  He was very handsome.  His hair, thick and unruly, was blacker than hers.  Light brown eyes framed by enviably long dark lashes met her hazel gaze.

“Good afternoon,” he greeted her.  “I hope I’m not intruding.”

She shook her head.  “No, Sir, you’re not.”

“I like to ride up here,” he said.  “It’s very quiet and pleasant.  Do you come here often?”

“No, not often.”

“From whence did you come?”

“Fairhead’s Gate.”

“Fairhead’s Gate?” His black brows arched.  “Are you by any chance acquainted with Miss Edith Phillips?”

“She’s my older sister.”

“Then you must be Cora,” he said.  “Oh, permit me to introduce myself.  I’m Horatio Clarke.”

She stared blankly at him.  When he’d said, Horatio, she half expected him to add the name, “Hornblower.”

He looked amused.  “I see that Bernard has neglected to tell you about his roguish cousin.”

Her eyes widened.  “You’re Bernard’s cousin?” she exclaimed.  “But you look nothing like him.  He’s fair haired and ruddy and you’re–”

“Dark and rakish looking it.  I sometimes believe I have a little gypsy blood in me.”  His lips parted to reveal even white teeth.  He was quiet charming and disarming too.

Well, what ever he had pumping in his veins, he was unlike any man she had ever met.  He got her pulse racing and her heart pounding with excitement.  He was older than the men she knew too.  She guessed that he was five and thirty–fifteen years her senior.  Surely a man such as he could not still be unattached.  Whoever she was, she was very fortunate and she envied her.

She realized she was staring and she looked away, her face turning crimson.  “Perhaps, I should leave now,” she said.

“What?  You want to take leave of me so soon?” he inquired.

“It looks like it shall rain,” she said.

He gazed up at the sky.  “Yes, it does,” he agreed.  “Very well, Miss Phillips, I shall take you home.”

She looked at him in dismay.  “No, please, I don’t mind walking–”

“I insist,” he said.  “It would be rather remiss of me to let a lady get caught in the rain when I could have easily borne her to her abode.”

“Very well,” she said, realizing that it was pointless to protest any further and thought it rather kind of him to offer her a ride home.  She put on her bonnet and her heart lurched when he put his hands on her waist and hoisted her up onto the horse.  He climbed up and off they went.  This time his cloak didn’t stream behind him.  She clung to him for dear life, her eyes squeezed shut.  She had never ridden on a horse before.  It was terrifying.

She was relieved when they reached her family’s residence.  He got down and then helped her off.  Her legs felt wobbly.  He didn’t remove his hands from her waist until he was satisfied that she had regained her balance.  “Now, Miss Phillips, I shall bid you farewell but not before I ask your permission to call upon you tomorrow evening.”

It was hard to think sensibly when he was standing so close to her.  “Call upon me?” she repeated.  “But what about your young lady?”

His brows arched quizzically.  “My young lady?”

“Do you not have a young lady, Sir?”

He shook his head.  “No, Miss Phillips, I do not have a young lady.  Like you, I am unattached.”

She smiled for the first time since they met.  “Then, you may call upon me tomorrow evening, Mr. Clarke.”

He smiled and bowed.  “Tomorrow evening, then.  Good afternoon.”

She curtsied.  “Good afternoon.”

He swung up onto the horse and galloped off.

She watched him until he disappeared from view and then she walked slowly up the path to her house, just as the first drops of rain began to fall.  Oh, dear, she thought.  Mr. Clarke shall get soaked.

This is a response to the Thursday Photo Prompt – Stone at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo.

Nisha/Wave #writephoto

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Photo courtesy of Sue Vincent

Her sister, Nisha was dead and she felt nothing.  As she stared at the sea her mind traveled back to what happened to her ten years ago.  She was 13 at the time.  She left her home with Nisha and her husband, thinking that they were going to Delhi but instead, they ended up in a remote village.  She was sold into marriage to a man old enough to be her father.

Hatred toward her sister and her brother-in-law welled inside her.  They had betrayed her.  She trusted them and they betrayed her.  They made her believe that they were going to Delhi but instead they took her to a village where strange men were coming into the room where she was kept and looking at her as if she were a piece of merchandise and offering money.  All the while Nisha stood outside, knowing what what was going to happen to her and not having a change of heart.  She kept hoping that her sister would rush in and try to stop what was happening but she didn’t.  Fortune meant more to Nisha than her sister did.

She managed to escape and was rescued by an anti-trafficking charity.  She was sent back to her parents.  She was among the lucky girls.  Many of them are lost to their families and trapped in a world of sex and domestic slavery.  Several days later, word got back to the family that police busted a human trafficking ring.  Nisha and her husband were part of the ring responsible for selling girls to men in the same village where they had taken her.

Now ten years later, she was working for the charity which rescued her.  She was determined to fight people like Nisha and her husband and all the evil forces to protect other girls from going through the horrors she did.  Nisha was dead now but there were others like her out there who preyed on young girls for profit.  She was going to fight them.  And more traffickers were going to end up in prison like her brother-in-law.  She hoped he was rotting in there.

One thing she learned from this whole experience was that the face of evil didn’t have to belong to a stranger–it could very well belong to someone very close to you.  She felt no sorrow over Nisha’s death–only peace.  It was one less evil person to fight against.

To remain silent in the face of evil is itself a form of evil – Sue Monk Kidd

Do not accept an evil you can change – E. Lockhart, We Were Liars

This was inspired by a true story of a teenager who was sold into marriage by her sister and brother-in-law.  It was written in response to the Thursday Photo Prompt – Waves at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo.  For more details click here.

 

Sources:  The Guardian; Washington Post

The Check Up

Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live – Jim Rohn

Women, I urge you to encourage the men in your lives to go for their annual checkup.  I wish someone had urged my father who now has prostate cancer which has spread to his backbone.  If only it had been caught early.  He hadn’t been for his annual check up for years.  And recently, he complained of back pain but it wasn’t until it was really bad that he went to the hospital.  Now, he is in a serious state although my sister has told me that people in his condition live for ten years.  His brother had prostate cancer but it was caught in time and now he’s fine.  My father is the youngest of four siblings.

I have been reminding my husband to call and make an appointment to see the doctor for the longest time and I hope that after sharing with him the bad news of my father that he will be motivated now to go for his annual check-up.

Why don’t men like going for annual check-ups?  The top three excuses are:

Too busy – Twenty-two percent of the men surveyed said that being too busy would stop them from going to their annual checkups.

Fear – Twenty one percent of the men surveyed said they would avoid a checkup out of fear that the doctor would find something seriously wrong with them.  One guy put off seeing the doctor about a lump in his testicle and when he eventually went, it turned out that he had testicular cancer.  He received treatment and is now cancer free.  Facing his fear and seeing the doctor saved his life.

Discomfort – Eighteen percent of men say they would avoid an annual checkup in order to get out of an uncomfortable body exam like a prostate check.  No one likes invasive examinations–for women, it’s the pap smear but like it or not, we have to do it every two years.  The little discomfort lasts but a few seconds and it could save your life.

When it comes to our health or that of someone we love, we must never procrastinate getting symptoms checked out.  Don’t let fear or make excuses.  Your health matters and should never be taken lightly or for granted.

Sources:  Men’s HealthBrainy Quote

Unfinished Business

When Irina, the managing editor of Eye on You, decided that it would be a great idea to dedicate a big chunk of the summer Issue to eligible bachelors, everyone jumped on the bandwagon.  The magazine was female skewed so they knew that their readers and subscribers would get a kick out of these, especially as they received many letters asking if they could feature stories on men who were looking for love.

After wading through scores of submissions from all over the world, they narrowed the entries down to twenty-five.  Sheree got the enviable job of interviewing the lucky ones that would be featured in Eye on You. Irina’s daughter, Carly, the magazine’s Photographer was to accompany her.

The interviews were to be done over a period of five days on the beautiful island of Jamaica.  In such an inviting and scenic backdrop, the men would be completely relaxed and open up to her.  She had no reason to believe that anything would go wrong.  The weather was pleasant—sunny every day and blue, cloudless skies.  She hadn’t been to the island since she moved to the United States with her parents when she was six years old.  She was looking forward to going although it was a working vacation.

Carly and she were to arrive a day before the bachelors whose expenses were paid by the magazine.  They were to scout the place to see where the interviews could be conducted without any interruptions or distractions and the locations where their photo shoots would be taken.  As they boarded the plane, they began to feel both Nervous and excited.  It wasn’t every day that they were going to interact with twenty-five gorgeous single men.

The men would have leisure time when they were not being interviewed or photographed but they were not allowed to fraternize with any of the female guests staying at the hotel.  It went without saying that Sheree and Carly could not get involved with any of them.  On the last evening there, they would have a celebratory dinner before parting ways. They were to each receive a complimentary copy of the summer issue of the magazine and other gifts, courtesy of Made for Men.

The hotel where they were staying was amazing and the staff was really quite friendly and helpful.  Sheree found quiet spots on the beach and around the hotel where she would do the Interviews and Carly was excited about the locales for her photo shoots.  After they finished getting ready for what would be a busy tomorrow, they spent a couple of hours on the beach before heading back to the hotel for dinner.

After dinner, they both decided that they would turn in early.  The next morning, Sheree got up bright and early and headed down to the café to have breakfast.  Carly joined her a few minutes later.  Over coffee, fruit, scrambled eggs and toast, they went over the day’s itinerary. There were going to be five interviews and five photo shoots–two in the morning and three in the afternoon.  While she interviewed the first Bachelor, Carly got busy taking photos of the other bachelor before his interview. The morning went very well and quickly.

Over lunch Sheree and Carly compared notes.  They both agreed that the two guys from Sweden and Brazil were really, really nice.  “I’m looking forward to meeting the guy from Australia,” Carly said.  “He’s absolutely gorgeous.  I can’t believe that he’s single.”

Sheree’s heart leapt at the mention of the one guy she couldn’t stop thinking about. “I’m looking forward to meeting him too.”

After Lunch, it was time to meet the bachelors from France, Argentina and Australia. The French guy was charming, the Argentinean was a little flirtatious and then it was the Australian’s turn.  Her heart thudded when she walked into the lobby where he was waiting for her.  He was tall and athletic and a sharp dresser in a white linen suit with a Royal blue silk shirt underneath.

The first thought that came to her mind when she saw him was that his picture didn’t do him justice.  She remembered how she had stared at it, unable to look away from those incredible eyes and face.  He was the one she had looked forward to meeting and interviewing but now that they were face to face, it was going to be a problem.  It was going to be hard to act professional with him when she found him so extremely attractive.

Taking a deep breath, she smiled and held out her hand.  “Hi, I’m Sheree Wilson.  I will be interviewing you, Mr. Jones.”

“Please call me Ryder.”  He shook her hand, his eyes meeting hers in a steady gaze.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Sheree.”

The feel of his warm palm against hers sent all sorts of shivers up her spine.  And it took a moment before she could say, “We’ll be doing the interview in the gazebo”

He smiled, releasing her hand.  “Sounds good.”

She could feel him watching her as they made their way to the gazebo and it made her nervous and excited at the same time.  He waited until she was seated before he sat down.  When she crossed her legs, she noticed that his eyes dropped to them momentarily before returning to her face.  Clearing her throat, she began the interview.  “Why you’re still single?”

“I think it’s because I have a tendency to put my career before relationships.  I spend so much time and energy building up the marketing company that I haven’t had time to look.  My sister and some of my friends think I’m picky and they have tried to set me up on dates but I just couldn’t seem to find the time so they gave up until my sister saw your magazine’s search for eligible bachelors and she managed to convince me to send in a bio and photo and was thrilled when I got the call saying that I was one of the twenty-five chosen.  She took me out to celebrate.”

“What about you?  Were you thrilled that you were chosen out of more than one hundred entries?”

He shrugged.  “I guess I was.  It helped to put things in perspective.  Although I like being single, it would be nice to get back into the dating game and meet different types of women.”

“What are you looking for in a woman?”

“Well, I like a woman with character, someone who is genuine and real, who’s not afraid to be herself around me and doesn’t take herself or life too seriously.  She must be affectionate, intelligent, confident, ambitious and humble.  As you can see it’s not about looks for me.  For me true beauty is what’s on the inside.  What matters to me is who a woman is not how she looks.”

She tried not to show how impressed she was with his answer.  The other men she interviewed placed more emphasis on the woman’s looks.  “What is your dream date?”

“I would say, having dinner on the beach, watching the sun set over the ocean and then going for a walk, barefoot in the sand, holding hands.  And at the water’s edge, I take her in my arms and kiss her”

Was it getting a little hot in the gazebo?  She asked him more questions and then she got to the trivial ones.  “Which do you prefer?  Sports or Arts?”

“Both.  I love working out at the gym and playing soccer.  I enjoy going to museums and the opera—when I have time.”

“Boxers or briefs?”

“Boxers.”

“Are you kid or pet person?”

“Both.  I love kids.  I enjoy spoiling my nieces and nephew.  Rover, the family dog and I were thick as thieves.  I was devastated when he died.”

“One last question.  What is the one thing that you think women should know about men but don’t?”

“We like to snuggle too.”

“And that wraps up our interview.  Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.  It was a pleasure getting to know more about you.” She switched off the recorder, sorry that the interview had come to an end.  “I must admit that I enjoyed that very much.  And now, it’s time for you to go and see Carly for your photo shoot.”

“Do I have to go right now or could I take a five minute break?”

She glanced at her watch.  “I guess five minutes wouldn’t hurt.”

“How long have you been working at Eye on You?”

“About two and a half years.”

“Are you married?  Single?”

“I was married but my husband died in 2014.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.  If you don’t mind me asking, how did he die?”

“He was a surgeon in Sierra Leone where he was infected with the Ebola Virus.  When I got the call that he was being flown from Freetown in a specially equipped air ambulance for treatment at the Nebraska Medical Center, I made arrangements to take go there.  By the time he arrived in the United States his kidneys weren’t functioning and he was unresponsive.  The doctors worked really hard to save him but it was too late.  The disease was already in its advanced stages.  By the time I got there, he was dead so I never got a chance to say goodbye or tell him that I loved him.  A couple of weeks after the funeral, I sold our house in Maryland and moved to New York.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss.  Do you have any children?”

She shook her head.  “No.  He couldn’t because of an injury.  We talked about adopting, though.  He would have been a terrific father.”

“He died just four years ago which is still fairly recent.  I guess you still haven’t gotten over losing him.”

“I still miss him but my job keeps me busy and I have Friends who are always inviting me out somewhere.  I don’t think I would have fared well if I had remained in Maryland.  I couldn’t stay in the house because it seemed so empty without him.  I think moving to New York was the wisest thing to do.  It made the grief a little more bearable and each year it gets better.  He will always have a special place in my heart.”

“I wish we could stay here a while longer but I think my five minutes are up,” he said regretfully.

She glanced at her watch.  “You’re right.  I’d better take you to Carly now before she begins to wonder where you are.”

After putting her notes and recorder away in her bag, she stood up.  He got up too and for several minutes they stood there, just staring at each other before she walked past him.  He fell into step beside her.

“What are you going to do now?” he asked.

“I am going to interview the Italian guy and after him, the guy from Indonesia.”

“And afterwards?”

“I’ll probably relax by the pool or go up to my room and take a nap.”

He wanted to ask her to meet him for mock-tails after dinner but decided that it would be premature.  They had just met and she was still carrying a torch for her dead husband.  “I guess I won’t see you until tonight at dinner,” he said.

“I guess so,” she said.  She was looking forward to seeing him again.   They were in the lobby now and her next interview was waiting for her.  Turning to Ryder, she held out her hand.  “Thanks for an enjoyable interview.”

He clasped her hand, his eyes riveted to her face.  “It was my pleasure, Sheree,” he said quietly.

She swallowed hard, her heart racing.  “Enjoy the rest of the afternoon,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

“Thanks.  You too.”  He released her hand and after a lingering gaze, he turned and walked away.

She stood there until he disappeared from view before she went over to the Italian guy.  After introducing herself, she took him to the meeting room where they were to have their interview.  As they walked down the corridor, she couldn’t help thinking about Ryder and how much she was looking forward to seeing him again.

That night at dinner, she couldn’t help glancing surreptitiously over at the table where Ryder was and each time, she found him already looking at her.  There was an attraction there but nothing could come of it.  He was one of the bachelors which meant that under no circumstances could she become involved with him.

All through dinner, she tried to focus on what Carly was saying but she was aware of Ryder at the next table and found herself wishing that she could be alone with him.  Is it wrong for me to feel like this?  Am I betraying Alan and our life together by having feelings for another man—a man I just met today?

“A penny for your thoughts.”  Carly’s voice intruded upon her thoughts, startling her.  “You look like you were miles away.”

“I was just thinking about something.  It’s not important.”

“All right.  I won’t pry.  Do you feel up to going to the beach and watch some limbo dancing?”

Sheree shook her head.  “No, I think I will have an early night.”

“I’ll see you in the morning, then.  Have a good night.”

After dinner, she went up to her room and after spending several minutes on the patio, gazing out at the ocean, she went to bed.  It took a long time for her to fall asleep because all she could think about was Ryder.  She kept reliving the moment when they had stared at each other in the gazebo.  The look on his face…she closed her eyes, trembling at the memory.

She didn’t want to admit it but when she met Alan, she wasn’t attracted to him at first.  It wasn’t until she got to know him that she began to have feelings for him.  With Ryder it was different.  From the time she saw his photo, she was attracted to him and it got very intense when she met him face to face.  He stirred emotions in her that she had never experienced before and that terrified her.  She didn’t want to lose her head over a man she hardly knew or would never see again after this was over.  The best thing for me to do, she decided, is to stay clear of Ryder.  Easier said than done because the next morning, when she was got up early and went down to the beach, she bumped into him…

He was coming out of the ocean, dripping wet when she saw him and immediately, her heart began to pound and her mouth felt dry.  Unable to help herself, her gaze swept over his magnificent body clad in red swimming trunks.  His hair was glistening wetly in the light and rivulets of water were running down his broad chest and flat stomach.  “Good morning,” he called, startling her and her eyes flew up to his face.  “What a pleasant surprise.”

She tried to act nonchalant which required a lot of effort.  “Good morning.  Do-do you usually go for a swim this early?”

He was standing in front of her now and she saw the way his eyes traveled over her.  “Yes.  I like to come to the beach before it gets crowded.  It’s nice and quiet at this time.  How come you’re out here at this hour?”

She shrugged.  “I-I just wanted to take a walk before breakfast.”  She tried to keep her eyes fixed on his face.

He walked over to where his clothes lay in the sand and picked up his towel.  As he dried his skin, he walked back to where she was.  “I’ve never been to Jamaica before but I can see why a lot of my friends come.  It’s a beautiful island.”

“Yes, it is.  I was born here in Montego Bay before I moved to US with my parents when I was six years old.  This is the first time since I left that I have come back here.”

“How come you haven’t been back before now?”

“I have been so busy but I guess I wanted to see other places first.  Alan and I had planned to go on a cruise the following year after he returned from Sierra Leone.”

“I’m sorry that your husband’s untimely death left so many of your plans unfulfilled.”

“Me too.”

“Do you mind if I accompany you on your walk?”

She shook her head.  “No, I don’t mind at all.”  Surely, there was no harm in them going for a walk together.

He finished drying his skin and tossed the towel on the sand next to his clothes before they walked along the water’s edge.  “How did you meet your husband?”

“We met at a mutual friend’s wedding.  We sat at the same table at the reception and when we were the only two people left there because everyone had gone dancing, we struck up a conversation.  He was a nice man and when he asked me for my number I didn’t hesitate to give it to him.  We started going out and then a year and a half later, we got married.”

“Were you happy?”

“Yes.  We were happy.  He was a good man and husband.”

“Do you think you will find happiness with someone else?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Before you settled down, did you date a lot?”

She shook her head.  “No, I dated only five men.  They were all nice but I couldn’t see myself being married to any of them.  Over the years, I’ve met all sorts of men.  Some of them were great but I wasn’t attracted to them and others were only interested in one thing.  So, after my relationship with the fifth guy ended, I stopped looking and then I met Alan.”

“My sister has given up trying to find someone.  She told me that she broke up with the last guy because she couldn’t deal with his narcissism.   She felt like she was competing with his ego.”

Sheree laughed.  “Yes, I’ve met guys like that.  Tell her not to despair.  Somewhere out there is the man for her.”

They walked and talked some more and then it was time for her to head back to the hotel, have breakfast and get ready for the first interview of the morning.  When they were standing where his clothes were, he turned to her and asked, “Can we do this again tomorrow morning?”

She knitted her brow.  “Ryder, I don’t think—”

“Please,” he insisted.  “We will just walk and talk like we did today.  I enjoy your company, Sheree.”

“I enjoy yours too,” she admitted.  “All right.  I’ll meet you here tomorrow morning.  Have a good day.”

He smiled.  “Thank you.  You have yourself a good day too.”  He reached for his shirt and pulled it on.

After a lingering glance, she turned and walked away, feeling his eyes on her.  She couldn’t resist turning around to wave at him.  She was looking forward to being alone with him tomorrow morning.

They met the next morning and every morning after that.  Each time, he would be coming out of the ocean after a swim, dry himself off and then they would set off down the familiar stretch of beach where they usually went for their walks.  They talked about all sorts of things and she laughed at some of his stories about his family, friends and dates gone wrong.  She enjoyed being with him and looked forward to their morning meetings.

On the last morning before they were to leave the island, they went for their usual walk.  This time the mood was heavy.  After today, she was never going to see him again.  The reality of this thought filled her with despair and her feet dragged in the sand.  When he stopped and they stood there at the water’s edge, the water lapping at their feet, he turned to her, his expression tense.  “I’m going to miss this,” he said tightly.  “I’m going to miss our walks on the beach and our conversations.”

She swallowed hard, thankful that she was wearing sunglasses so that he couldn’t see her shiny eyes.  “I’m going to miss them too.”

“Sheree, you must know by now that I’m extremely attracted to you.”

She nodded.  It was no use pretending that she didn’t.  She could tell by the way he looked at and acted around her.  She was sure that her feelings for him were obvious to him too.  “Yes, I—I do.”

“And I know that you are attracted to me too.  I can tell from the way you look at me and I can feel it.  Oh, Sheree,” he moaned and reaching for her, he pulled her against him, his eyes darkening on her face.

Panicking, she struggled against him, her eyes wide as they met his.  “Ryder, please let go of me.”

His grip tightened as he tried to hold her still.  “Stop fighting something that is stronger than both of us.”

“Ryder, we can’t get involved with each other,” she protested weakly, her heart pounding heavily in her chest but the hands that were supposed to be pushing him away were gripping his shirt.  She watched, mesmerized as his face got closer to hers and her eyes fell shut when she felt his lips on hers, teasing them and tormenting her.

Desire surged through her like a wild fire and she was kissing him back like a mad woman.  They stood there exchanging hot, searing kisses for a long time before he broke it off to bury his face in her neck, breathing heavily.  She clung to him, trembling like a leaf and gasping for air.

After a few moments passed, he raised his head to gaze down at her.  “When this is all over, I want us to finish what we started,” he muttered thickly.

“But you’ll be in Sydney and I’ll be in New York.”

“As soon as I sort out my business back home, I’m taking the first available flight to New York.”

“You would fly all that way just-just to see me?”

“Yes!  I would fly to the end of the world if I had to.  Now that I’ve met you, I can’t let distance keep me from you.  I will come to you.”

“And I will be waiting.”

He bent his head and kissed her again before they continued walking along the beach, his arm around her shoulders and hers around his waist.  They parted ways on the beach and she was in her room when he left for the airport.  On the flight back to New York, she told Carly everything and she was thrilled.  “I suspected that there was something between you two,” she said.  “Don’t worry about Mom.  I will sort it out with her.  It won’t be the end of the world if we end up with twenty-four bachelors instead of twenty-five.”

Sheree squeezed her hand.  “Thanks, Carly.”

Carly smiled.  “I’m a romantic at heart.”

As soon as Sheree got home, she sent an email to Ryder letting him know that she had arrived safely and waited eagerly to receive a reply which came the following day.  Over the next several weeks, she busied herself putting together the feature in the magazine.  Initially, Irina wasn’t thrilled that they were minus a bachelor, especially, the hottest one, in her opinion but, she didn’t want to stand in the way of Sheree’s happiness.  Sheree learned that once Ryder had been notified that he wouldn’t be featured in the magazine, he reimbursed them for the travel and hotel expenses.

Ryder and she exchanged emails every day and occasionally spoke on the telephone.  It had been several weeks since they last saw each other and she kept wondering when he would eventually come to New York.  Weeks turned into months and still no sign of him although they kept in touch via email.

It was Christmas Eve and she was about to fix herself some lunch when the doorbell rang.  She dried her hands in the towel hanging on the oven handle and went to see who it was.  Her heart somersaulted when she peered out of the keyhole, bursting with excitement and joy, she unlocked the door and tugged it open.  Her eyes slipped eagerly over his tall frame in the black winter coat with the fur trimmed collar and hood.  “Hello,” she greeted him.

He smiled that smile which made her knees go weak, pulled her into his arms and kissed her.  “Sorry it took so long for me to come,” he said after a while.

“You’re here just in time to celebrate Christmas,” she said.  “Come in and warm yourself.”  She opened the door wider so that he could go in.  She took his coat and hung it up while he removed his shoes.

“Where’s your luggage?” she asked.

“I dropped it off at the corporate apartment where I will be staying before coming over here to see you.”

Taking his hand, she led him into the living-room and invited him to sit on the sofa.  “I was just about to have lunch.  Are you hungry?”

He nodded. “A little.  Do you know what time it is now in Sydney?”

She shook her head.  “No.”

“It’s two in the morning.  We’re 14 hours ahead.  It’s one of the things I had to factor in my decision to move here.”

She gaped at him.  “Move here?”

“Yes.  I’m going to be living in New York now that I am the new Director of our office here.”

“When did you decide to move to New York?”

“On the morning we said goodbye on the beach.  I knew then that I couldn’t go back to my life in Sydney when the woman I wanted to be with was in New York.  So, I made all the necessary arrangements and here I am to finish what we started in Montego Bay.”

Her response was to put her arms around his neck and kiss him.  Two years later, their unfinished business ended in marriage and their honeymoon was in Montego Bay where it all began.

Sources:  The Guardian; Just Mommies; Prokerala; The Washington Post; The 416 Magazine; Elite Daily; Thought CatalogHalf Moon;