A man’s voice startled me from behind. I thought his approach was rude. I turned around slowly ready to tell him off, but instead, I greeted him with silence and a breath of surprise.
We were at a networking event held in a local museum of science. I was supposed to be mingling and making serious conversation like everyone else, not playing with some scientific box, acting childish. My laugh was hard to miss. Standing a few feet away, a man was staring at me. Embarrassed, I turned away without smiling, but not for long. My curiosity pushed me to look up again and search for this stranger. By then, he was already gone.
Moments later, I realized that the voice that surprised me earlier belonged to the same pair of eyes I was seeking minutes ago. That stranger was now in front of me, with his question lingering between us, “gave up so quickly?” I felt intimidated. His presence overwhelmed my spirit. I stared back into his hazel green eyes, shadowed by thick eyebrows. He patiently waited for my answer, with an air of self-reliance and pure determination; so confident that he could’ve looked like Big Foot just as well. Blood rushed to my face making my cheeks feel warm. My body shifted to automatic while my brain cells froze.
He extended his arm, “my name is Henry Thorn,” his tone was friendly.
I shook his hand and utter my name as if hypnotized, “Margaret.”
I could think of nothing else to say, not even my last name. We exchanged business cards in complete silence. My lack of poise reflected back on his smile.
“I noticed you were having a good time with this device.”
“Well… ye – yes, a bit confusing but fun,” I said, regretting the two vodka cranberries already in my system.
“Did you find what you were looking for?” As he finished his question, the corner of his mouth twisted up slightly.
I assumed he had caught me red-handed. I blushed again. Is he expecting a confession? I tried to calm my nerves. I even thought to sound appalled by his insinuation, but opted to deny it.
“No.” I sounded certain.
I knew my friend Samantha was arriving any minute. She would be reinforcement.
He changed the subject, asking about my business, which I explained briefly.
“It works just like any other multilevel marketing e-commerce business, the more people you bring into the trade the better results.”
I was taciturn. I didn’t try to recruit him, but he was polite about it. He gave me some feedback on the matter. I thanked him and asked his reason for being at the event. He was not generous with his explanation either.
“I just started a new business, I do consulting work.”
“Consulting? What kind?” My brow rose.
He knew he was being vague and felt my apprehension.
“Security–” he started to say when my phone rang, interrupting the conversation.
Putting my cell away, I told him it was my friend Samantha as I extended my hand-suggesting goodbye. “She asked me to meet her by the door.”
Aware of my intentions, before I could say anything else, he insisted on coming along.
As my friend came through the door, a couple of young girls greeted her cheerfully asking for the cover charge. Sam got her phosphorescent bracelet, indicating that she could legally consume alcohol.
“There she is,” I said, raising my hand to get her attention.
Sam took a few steps into the hallway that divided the structure into opposite wings. She was wearing a white shirt and a fitted skirt that accentuated her tall slender figure. She looked elegant as always, not a hair out-of-place. Sam and I met through work ten years ago and have been friends ever since. She is loyal, supportive and I can always count on her to tell me the truth.
After introducing Henry and Sam to each other, I suggested we go get drinks.
Henry mentioned that he liked the architectural simplicity of the structure. The bare concrete and tall ceilings created a contemporary feeling to it. Along the back wall, an improvised bar stood out, using a folding table overflowing with all types of alcoholic beverages. It fitted right in with the design. We stopped at the end of a long line. While we waited for our turn, Sam tried to recruit Henry. I was mostly quiet observing him and listening to their conversation. There was something about him, which I couldn’t quite put my finger on. My skepticism grew, changing my disposition, facial expressions and body language. I began to judge everything about him and his character. I didn’t need much to feed my already suspicious self. Overflowing with doubt, my eyes narrowed.
I knew his type — bold, smart and charming. Men with those qualities always had a card up their sleeve. They live a game of lies and deception. I had a recent experience with a similar character that left me broken-hearted and he wasn’t nearly as handsome. Story of my life!
I had to get rid of Henry before I was tempted to flirt.
Samantha interrupted herself, whispering, “That man with the red Polo Shirt is the husband of a dear friend of mine. I can’t believe he’s here with another woman.”
“Are you sure?” I mumbled.
“Absolutely, I have no doubt it is John and he’s cheating on my friend.”
“But aren’t you assuming too quickly?” Henry said, suggesting that they could be co-workers, “besides, there is nothing wrong with married men having female friends.”
“Sure, I agree with you,” My voice filled with resentment. “However, it is most unlikely. I’ve seen friends become lovers or use as excuse to be unfaithful. Some go into new relationships having a lover on the side. People in general have become less immune to cheating or to the feelings of others, for that matter.” I paused to catch my breath and continued with the same tone and a great deal of attitude, “besides, most men are like animals, they will take any opportunity given without hesitation, no matter who’s involved.”
Henry leaned toward me in slow motion. His face was so close I could smell the musk on his skin, my knees weakened, revealing how sensitive I was to his closeness. His energy was pulling me toward him. I resisted.
He murmurs looking at me firmly, “just because I’m a man it doesn’t mean I’d say yes blindly simply because you’d be willing.” He continued without moving back, “I’m sorry if I have offended you, but my opinion was not sarcastic. I believe the issue here is that you have a problem with this matter and are taking it out on all men.”
He straightened up and continued talking to Samantha as if nothing had happened.
I knew he was right, but I was lost for words. I couldn’t even utter an apology for lashing out at him. I was busy thinking about all those men, liars, cheaters and complete assholes, a subject I had yet to overcome. It was like a curse. Each relationship was worse than the one before. The only experience worth remembering was back in my youth, with a 14-year-old next-door neighbor. His name was Alex Valle. He was skinny as a stick, but his personality compensated for his looks. He was very smart and sweet. I could be myself around him and it didn’t bother him that I was two years older than him. We spent the summer together, playing outside, racing bicycles and swimming in the pool all day. We also had a few moments of great conversation. It was obvious we liked each other, but it was more than just simple puppy love. It felt like we were kindred spirits. I will never forget the day I built up enough courage to corner him inside my dad’s garage, giving him a long innocent peck. Seconds later, I ran inside the house to hide in shame. We didn’t see each other for an entire week until my birthday party. He broke the ice confessing he wanted to kiss me again. Some of our friends overheard his declaration, reacting to it like perfect teens. They made fun of him. I felt exposed and pressured to take action. I rejected him in front of everyone. He felt ridiculed, leaving the party embarrassed. I was remorseful. The worst part was that I never got a chance to apologize. The next day Alex was gone. He didn’t tell me he was moving. Alex and his mom left town without saying goodbye. I was crushed. Since then, I had failed to find a meaningful, loving relationship. Years later, I searched for him on Facebook and other social media with no positive results.
My mind drifted back to the present, thinking that my precipitation and eagerness to express my opinion, as though it was the only truth, had betrayed me, becoming my worst enemy. I felt absurd and vulnerable in front of Henry, and he didn’t let it slide.
“Tell me Margaret, besides ripping men apart, do you have any other hobby?”
“Sure, I use them as punching bags when they get annoying.”
Samantha jumped to answer his question, trying to ease up the tension.
“She paints when time allows.”
“Oils or Acrylics?” Henry insisted on addressing me regardless of my attitude.
For a moment, I was reluctant to answer, but he was the first not to assume I painted walls.
I responded with a civil tone, “at the beginning I used oils, but the fumes were unbearable. I had to change to acrylics.”
“Do you have a studio?” His curiosity felt sincere.
“Not yet, I use my small apartment as a studio, which is convenient since it is about five minutes away from my day job.”
“And another five minutes from my place,” Samantha added cheerful.
“Indeed, very convenient, but how do you manage the day job, the new business and the painting. It must be exhausting.” Henry was baffled.
“I paint on weekends.”
“We manage our business at night,” Sam offered.
Henry turned to Sam to continue the conversation. I didn’t say much after that. Samantha suggested going across to the other side of the building after getting our drinks. Politely, Henry excused himself and went the other way. I did nothing to convince him otherwise.
The place was packed with people of all ages; the event was a success. A loud roar invaded the entire space. It was like being stuck in rush hour traffic, moving slowly, bumper to bumper. I pushed my way through the crowd, but came to a halt when some guy refused to let me pass. I was about to confront him, when I heard his voice.
“I see you haven’t changed one bit.”
I leaned back my head and noticed a big smile painted on his face. He seemed familiar, but I’ve always been accused of being forgetful; remembering names and faces was not my forte.
“Luis Morgan, your lost love!” He was expectant.
“Of course!” I cheered back smiling while opening my arms to give him a big hug.
As he embraced me with his entire body, wrapping his thick muscles around my small frame, I recalled our day together. We needed only one afternoon to realize we were not made for each other. The feeling was mutual; there were no harsh feelings between us. We became friends, but we had not seen each other in years. He was now in his late 30’s — bald and big, but funny as always — working as a Regional Manager for a major bank. We chatted for about thirty minutes before I remembered Samantha.
I found her talking to a couple of twin girls, trying her best to recruit them. Their names were Mabel and Yvonne. Both listened without interrupting. At the end of the mini presentation, they introduced themselves to me and told Sam that they were promoting their new business as well, a spa. It was our turn to listen. The most impressive thing about them was their vision. They were fifteen years younger than we were, both fearless, venturing out into the business world. Mabel and Yvonne were fresh out of university, with degrees in business administration and cosmetology. It had been their dream since high school to own a beauty salon.
A guy approached our group with a couple of drinks in hand.
“Excuse me,” he said looking at Sam and me, handing each girl a glass of wine.
“This is my brother Nicolas. He is one of the many people who have helped us to make our dream possible.” Mabel sounded grateful.
“Nicolas Ward at your service,” he greeted us with a big smile.
Nicolas was tall, pale skin with blue eyes, just like his sisters. They all had good manners and aristocratic qualities. After talking to them for a little while longer, we exchanged cards and said goodbye to continue promoting our business.
We found much resistance and lack of interest among those who stopped to listen.
“It is our first event,” Sam said, trying to cheer us up.
I caught myself thinking of Henry and my foolish behavior. Although, I was glad he was gone, another side of me wished it wasn’t so. I enjoyed his wit and charming personality, but I knew better, Henry Thorn meant trouble. I wondered if I would’ve resisted his charisma, proving to myself that I had learned my lesson.
After a couple of hours of massive networking, Samantha and I decided to call it a night. We used the restroom before heading out the building. As we pushed through the front door, we found Henry standing guard outside, like a faithful escort. I had a hard time containing my amusement. I pursed my lips, but a smirk had already escaped.
“May I walk you ladies to your car?” He asked politely.
“I feel as though you’ll manage to get your way even if we were to refuse your offer.” Purposely, I sounded rude, but he was determined.
“Are you always this feisty?” Henry asked.
“I’m not going to give you the privilege to find out.”
Samantha snagged Henry’s arm firmly against hers, commenting on the successful event. They caught up to me. I walked in silence by their side, thinking that even though I knew he meant trouble, I wished I were the one by his arm. Samantha and Henry exchanged business cards. I watched his every move out of the corner of my eye. He was a gentleman in disguise, but even then, I wanted to believe there was still hope for him. I began to wonder if Henry found me as attractive as Samantha. My self-esteem was against me, but the suit boosted my confidence. I was wearing a grey tailored pair of pants, a contrast to my usual t-shirt and jeans wardrobe. The fabric was grey, as gloomy as a rainy day, but had a soft shimmer to it. Underneath the jacket, I was wearing a black cotton long sleeve shirt. It matched perfectly with my comfortable high heel shoes. I thought the color combination was dramatic, yet elegant and serious, just the impression I wanted to convey. However, I doubted that even the suit would fix Henry’s first impression of me. Without realizing it, I was making a virtual list of my characteristics, as though trying to look for an advantage. Being a 5’7″, toned, thirty-seven year old single woman wasn’t unusual in Miami. I thought about some of the compliments people had given me throughout the years, but having long, thick hair and luscious lips could be the result of hair extensions and Botox. I interrupted my thoughts and laughed in silence. By the time I was done with my ridiculous examination, we were standing in front of Sam’s Mini Cooper. I gave her a hug, said good night and extended my arm to Henry.
He took my hand without letting go, “Where do you think you are going?”
“I can handle it from here.” My tone was sarcastic.
“I know you can, but since you are in separate cars, it is my intention to take you to yours as well.”
He let go of my hand and asked me to wait. I was idle as if he had cast a spell. While he finished talking to Samantha, I wondered about him. It was my impression he liked Sam better. Besides, my behavior didn’t deserve his attention. Why was he bothering with me? Was he willing to miss the opportunity to stay with Sam just to take me to my car? Was this part of his move? All of a sudden, it was clear. He is trying to get us both in bed. He was worse than I imagined. I knew it was the ultimate dream for most men to have a threesome and lately women were being open-minded about it. I thought I was progressive, but with all these trends, I felt ancient.
Sam said goodbye, got inside her car and drove away. I walked briskly to mine, almost leaving Henry behind. I stopped in front of my 4Runner fishing for my keys.
“It is too early to go home; we should go for a cup of coffee,” he suggested in a soft tone.
For the first time I noticed his raspy voice, deep and sensual, it made my body shiver. I turned around to refuse his invitation and found myself closer to him than expected, gasping for air without knowing what to do. My muscles tensed as electricity rushed through my skin. I was bewitched, unable to move as he took another step closer. My attraction to him was obvious. I was dying to kiss those lips. My mind in dismay wandered in silence – I hope he doesn’t notice that I’m melting here. This is so confusing! I thought you disliked me Henry Thorn!
He didn’t move back, staring at me without flinching.
I swallowed before speaking.
“Coffee will not be possible.” I was dry, leaving no chance for him to insist.
Instantly, I stepped back, turned around and hopped into my car, driving away without looking back.
I hope you enjoyed it. Feel free to comment. More sneak peek chapters are coming soon. Thank you for stopping by!