Free Reads

My free reads for now are more flash fiction, like batting practice or warm-up, a flash of a scene inside my head. Will it lead anywhere? I don’t know. Enjoy what you read as a taste of my writings now and in the future.

Chapter One – Arrival

The vintage wine might as well have been flat Seven Up. The four-piece string quartet could have been playing a funeral dirge and for all Jessie Carter cared she’d rather be stuck shivering in a crumbling European castle instead of a gala in New York celebrating her arrangement with retailer Toni B.

“Hey, Jessie. You’re missing something.” A chair scraped on the wooden floor and Callan DeLongpre squeezed himself along the wall and took a seat next to her.

“Oh, what’s that?”

“Your smile.”

Jessie raised an eyebrow. Her upturned lips looked like the grimace of someone who couldn’t digest the buttery Maine lobster or the cheesecake.

Callan touched her shoulder. His fingers were warm and light as a feather. “Let’s dance.”

“Oh.” She had played it safe sitting against the wall. Her bouquet of roses had already been presented and she was looking for a discrete exit, a quick ride to the hotel, and an early morning flight to Los Angeles.

Callan didn’t wait for her consent. Her chair tilted forward as he moved behind her and she couldn’t resist his grip on her hand. “No.” His momentum pulled her from her chair and almost cleared her lethargy. She wobbled on her heels and the hem of her dress seemed to tighten around her.

“Too late.” His tone had a happy lilt. Jessie found it annoying during those times of public scrutiny or deadlines that were impossible to meet. His positive nature was also endearing and by the time he had one arm supporting her back and the other leading her through [song] the dour mood that engulfed her like a fog seemed to lift. “You move quite nicely.”

“Thank you, Callan.” The compliment perked up a bit more, like a cell phone being charged just enough to make a call. How did he do it? How did Callan manage to brighten the lives of people like his hard driving business partner and lover, the celebrities and business interests they managed, and a moody designer? The music continued and Callan moved them along the wooden floor and through a maze of other couples dining and celebrating in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Early summer air drifted through an open door to the patio.

His eyes were soft and though his tight jaw line hinted at his muscular build, she had to look. Paneling, ripples of laughter at tables draped in linen and filled with wine glasses—some empty and others half full. The doorway that led up the stairs and to the valet was black like the entrance to a cave or the black hole of another universe.

“You’re not counting on him coming back?” Callan’s question was sincere and it helped solidify the answer.

“Not at all.” Even if he did, Jessie wouldn’t acknowledge him.

Callan’s response was to apply more pressure on Jessie’s back, grip her hand like a friend holding a lifeline, and offer an empathetic smile. She lay her face against his suit and the fabric comforted her flesh like the softest of blankets. With eyes closed, she yielded her steps to Callan’s lead, content to let him guide her. A vibration radiated through his body. Perhaps his heart or maybe it was the friendly connection she had built with him after five years of cross-country flights, constant phone calls, deadlines, and the unveiling of new designs. He was the bridge between her and Torrey, the shrewd manager and Callan’s lover who had opened the door to new opportunities and occasional disappointments like the introduction to Marcus Gerard, the sports equipment manufacturer who found Torrey’s world-class models useful in promoting skis, tennis rackets, and hiking boots.

Marcus discovered Jessie’s designs and spoke to her and Torrey about a new swimsuit line. A flight to Monaco was a working trip to show his favorite beaches and how she could work the colors of the sand, sky, and water into the designs. He was just as comfortable in Los Angeles and took Jessie on his yacht along the coast to San Francisco. Callan had questioned why she’d take the trip in such close quarters with a man who’s previous divorce was so new and complex that the first long-negotiated payment hadn’t hadn’t yet reached his ex.

“Do you like him?” Callan slipped the question to her during a New York-to-LA phone call after settling other business.

“Of course.” It was easy to like somebody. Marcus had a sense of humor and intelligence. He could run a seven-minute mile along the beach while he chatted and she rode her bike along the paved pathway. He had grand plans for growing the already global reach of his business. He also had a few other women that Jessie hadn’t heard about but one accidentally showed at the gala. Apparently, his signals crossed with her understanding of the event and she mis-interpreted the command to “stay away.”

When she slipped a hand along Marcus’ waist, ran a finger on the inside of his slacks, and kissed him while photographers captured the sensuous moment, Jessie felt her stomach knot and she could only hope her wide-open jaw and bulging eyes weren’t going to show in the tabloids.

She hurried out to one patio and when Marcus approached her and the minx called after him, she hurried to another section. The minx whined to go back to his room and Jessie was grateful that she had decided to get her own space for the week. Her greatest concern now was that her heart wasn’t broken. It was numb like frostbite.

She gripped Callan’s hand even more and snuggled as best she could against his jacket, thankful she had a friend who cared and would hold her close.

“Some gal.”

Armand D’Agostino smiled to the man with a barbeque stain prominently displayed on his white shirt. “Cut in.”

The man chuckled and wiped a napkin across his mouth and mustache. He stuck a fork in one last piece of prime rib and nibbled on it. “I wasn’t implying that I wanted to dance with her.” He straightened in his chair and folded his hands over his prominent waistline.

“But would you like to dance with her?” Armand ran a hand through the inky thickness of his hair. He wanted to leave and hit the Tambolini for a drink on his way to the hotel.

“What about you?”

Armand smiled. “I asked you first.”

George Brackerd worked in the mayor’s office and knew the D’Agostino family quite well. “I’m a realist, Armand.”

“Me, too.” Armand sipped his wine and preferred the extra dry vintage over the dessert wine. He needed a strong, dark taste. Jessie Carter’s hips moving right and then left fueled his imagination and he mentally cursed his stupidity in not having an arrangement in place for his trip to Manhattan. She was some gal, all right.

“Hey, did you hear what I did after Toni B’s took out your inventory and replaced it with hers?” George’s comment was abrupt and annoying.

Armand reacted like he had been slapped with a cold washcloth. “My father told me.” The older D’Agostino had practically burst into Armand’s office in Milan and demanded he fly at once to New York and berated him for being lazy in handling the account. Armand wanted to silence the table guest but all he could think of were swear words and sexual innuendos in Italian. He wanted to soak in Jessie’s dancing.

“I got in touch with Brian Raycraft.” George’s position could send shivers through New Yorks’ merchants of all sizes and in all industries.

“Who?”

“Raycraft. He owns a chunk of real estate around here including Toni Bs. I told him about possible building violations his tenant may have caused and said I’d be checking back.”

Armand scoffed. “I’m not a coward, George. If I want Jessie Carter’s designs out of Toni B’s then I can figure out how to do it.”

“Your old man was upset.”

“My old man understands high-end tailored suits. He understands how prime ministers, the owners of pro sports teams, and the middle-age executive who thinks all the ladies are hot for him want to look their best.” Armand gripped the wine glass so tightly that it seemed ready to crack. He had this argument with his father several weeks ago. “But he doesn’t understand the future of fashion. Excuse me.” Armand got up from the table and made his way onto the patio.

Jessie Carter looked like she was having a dream and smiling the way she moved with her partner in rhythm. Damn. She was some gal and Armand’s scenario jumped immediately to having her in his arms with his fingers searching for the zipper down her back. He caught the lights glowing in Central Park as if to banish the lust. It wasn’t like him to fly to New York unprepared.

Audrey told him she couldn’t think of spending a night at a museum benefit and wanted tickets for the Coldplay concert at Madison Square Garden. Kelly was booked for the night on a date with an interpreter who worked at the United Nations and Gina had the flu. Armand didn’t believe her but he decided arguing would make him appear desperate, which he wasn’t. If the Tambolini turned up empty then frustration could grip him, but the feeling would be temporary. The next date was just around the corner. Or waiting in the next city.

###

Dew of Splendor

Mist rolling from the ocean sprinkled lightly over the flower bed. Leila stretched inside the patio door, the silky fabric of her gown rising up her thighs. Sliding the door open, a morning chill greeted her and danced on her face, tightening her nipples, and playing with her skin like a puppy dog frolicking. The patio stones were cool on her feet and the dewy grass like traipsing on sponges.

An aroma of Roseperfume, delicate and pleasurable, wafted under the wispy grey sky and touched her senses. Leila loved the rose bush, the one her mother gave her to congratulate her on the purchase of her bungalow. The tenderness of the petals was like the reply she wrote back to her mother in a greeting card that featured Leila’s painting. “Thank you, mom. I’ll call you to stop by for dessert next week. I love you.”

The rose had broken the silence.

In the Lead
Max and Brett’s chuckles grated on Tilly. True, the door muffled their voices but with what Shanea just told her, there was no doubt the men were up to no good.

“I’ll say you’re heading to the store,” said Tilly. “And then on your way out you stop in the study and check his emails.”

Shanea shook her head, rich black curls swaying gracefully across her shoulders. “He’s got the game streaming on the computer and he might stop in and check the score.” A tank top accentuated the shape of her breasts and her tight shorts echoed the sensuality of her delightfully round ass. Her carmel skin was a blended shade of white and dark that Tilly envied. How could Max possibly think of doing something behind her back?

Excitement surfaced in Tilly, rising slowly like a trickle of water pouring through a crack in a dam and then gaining momentum. She smiled. “I’ll keep them occupied.”

“How?”

Tilly traced her waist band, leaned against the kitchen counter and unsnapped the button on her jeans. “Remember the fantasy we discussed?” She tossed her auburn hair behind her shoulders, confident of a triumph.

Shanea grinned. “You go, girl. And I’ll dash to the store. Sounds like I’ll need to bring back some old fashioned whipped cream.”

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