When I heard the message she’d left, it had been more than six years since I’d spoken to Amber. Hearing her voice on my mother’s old answering machine shocked me. It wasn’t that we’d parted on bad terms, necessarily, but they were final terms. We were on different sides for the first time in our friendship. The only way past it was to separate.
The last words she’d spoken to me in person played in my mind so frequently it was as though they’d been scratched into the audio portion of my brain with professional recording equipment. They reverberated clear and crisp: “I’m sure someday’s gotta happen for us all one day. But it doesn’t mean mine’s happening at the same time as yours.”
So I left her to live my someday while she took off for Mexico on the yacht of the latest sugar daddy to buy her a designer bikini stuffed with hundreds that she’d later let him stuff with his pathetic excuse of a cock.
In our time apart, I’d grown up completely, reinvented myself, put the past behind me, yet her voice on the machine sounded as bright and young as it had when we were twenty-three. It instantly triggered a longing and regret that I hadn’t let myself feel since we’d said goodbye.
“Emily.” Her bubbly tone spilled into my ear. “It’s been ages, I know. But I’ve been thinking about you. God, I’m not even sure if this is still your number.” She paused for only half a second, the space of a sigh or maybe taking a moment to reconsider. “Anyway, I wanted to ask – do you still have that blue raincoat? Miss you. Bye.”
She’d said nothing really. Her voice hadn’t cracked or stumbled or betrayed emotion of any kind. But I knew one thing with clear-cut certainty: Amber was in trouble and she needed my help.
Even with my head below the surface of the water, I felt his arrival. My arms continued moving in fluid strokes, my legs kicking out behind me, but as drops of water trickled down my exposed skin, it itched with the awareness of no longer being alone.
I kept swimming – kept heading toward the end of the pool. The words I used to push me on in high school swimming competitions automatically repeated in my head: This arm then that arm then this arm then that arm. Now though, in the spaces between each beat, I thought her name – This arm, Amber, then that arm, Amber, then this arm, Amber, then that arm, Amber.
When I reached the concrete wall, I flipped and did another lap. I wouldn’t let on that I knew he was there. I needed to control this situation, and for some reason, denying his presence made me feel like I’d gained another measure or so. Focusing on Amber, remembering she was the reason for what I was doing, made concentrating easier. At first, anyway. Until I began to tire and the awareness of his nearness began to win the tug-of-war with my attention.
I forced myself to complete three more laps, the anticipation of finally being near him, talking to him, bubbling up inside me like a butterfly waiting to escape its cocoon. I had my reasons for not acknowledging him – but what were his reasons for ignoring me? What if it wasn’t even him, but one of his security men? No, anyone else would have kicked me out already for sure. Then why had he let me continue my swim?
Soon the wings of curiosity fluttered and scratched with such distraction that I could no longer resist the urge to poke my head out.
At least I managed to complete my lap.
Then, after wiping the water from my eyes, I started to look around.
I’d expected him to be sitting to my side at the head of the pool so I was truly surprised when I spotted him in the lounge chair directly in front of me. His face was chiseled and serious underneath near-black hair. Metallic sunglasses paired with a layer of scruff made him appear both more laid back and more dangerous than the pictures I’d seen on the Internet. Even dressed in a standard hotel-variety plain-white robe, he was intimidating. His feet were bare and crossed at the ankles. His elbow was propped on the chair arm, and his thumb and index finger framed the side of his face as he, without a doubt, bore right into me with his gaze behind designer eyewear.
My heart flipped. He was infamous, famous, and if the rumors were to be believed, dangerous – a multibillionaire luxury resort owner and legendary bad boy. But my reaction wasn’t fear; it was excitement. Not because he was ten times sexier in person – though he was – but because he was here.
Sitting mere yards from me. After all the work I’d done to make it happen, here he was. Step one. Success.
“Oh!” I weaved the thrill I felt into my lines hoping it passed as simple alarm. “I didn’t realize I wasn’t alone.” An innocent smile curled my lip with a few flirty blinks. It was a look that had bought me quite a few drinks along with a fur coat and a nice piece of jewelry or two. But that was years ago. I was rusty, and I prayed under my breath that he didn’t notice.
His stare had a texture I could feel on my skin. “And I did realize I wasn’t alone when I very much should be. I imagine it’s a similar feeling of astonishment.”
I swallowed. “Yes, probably so.”
“I’ll help you out.” He stood, swiftly. In two steps he was at the side of the pool, leaning down to offer his hand.
My gut told me that the smart thing to do would be to get out of the pool. I was trespassing on the property of a very powerful man.
But my heart told me I couldn’t give up so easily. So I ignored the tightening in my stomach and stood my ground – or, rather, treaded my water – and said, “No, thank you. I still have a few more laps to do.”