“Tracy, this is absolutely beautiful,” Dawn said, caressing the large agate stone with her fingertip. The vintage sterling silver bangle surrounded her wrist with elegance and class. “You’re too good to me.”
“I’m glad you like it. There were so many to choose from. They make them right there on the island.”
Dawn stood and leaned over the cafe table to give her best friend a hug. “I more than like it. I love it.” She returned to her seat.
“You have to plan to accompany me next year, Dawn. You’re a workaholic. So far you’ve missed Jamaica, Costa Rica, and now Mexico. You’re in the prime of your life. Enjoy it while you can.”
“I know, I know. You’re right on all points, but I want to hear about your trip. Were there any good-looking guys in Baja?”
Tracy picked up a napkin and fanned herself. “Honey, my eyeballs are sore from ogling. I feel like Stella. I’m ready to get my groove back.”
Dawn admired her friend’s crazy sense of humor, but her heavy-laden heart wouldn’t allow her the luxury of laughing. If Tracy ever found out who she was getting her groove on with, things could get ugly. Giving Tracy a weak smile, Dawn took a sip of cranberry iced tea.
“Next month, I’m going to have a pool party. I want to meet this mystery friend of yours,” Tracy said, eyeing her intently. “He sounds interesting.”
“I…I wouldn’t exactly call him a mystery. We both have busy schedules.”
Tracy took her wallet from her purse. “Well, mark your calendar. No excuses. I want to meet him.”
“Put that away. I’ll take care of the tab.” Thankful for the distraction, Dawn placed several bills on the table. She had to find a way to tell Tracy the truth. The dishonesty tore her apart, and Tracy didn’t deserve it.
Tracy leaned forward, her hazel eyes full of mischief. “I’m not letting you off the hook. Are you going to bring this mysterious David to the party?”
“Maybe, but don’t expect me to wear a bathing suit. I have to lose a few pounds.”
“Dawn, please. Men are all over you everywhere we go. Your beautiful face and voluptuous body are to die for. Besides, wearing a size fourteen is average these days.”
“Humph, if you say so. Why are you a size six, if fourteen is so popular?”
Tracy laughed. “Talk to God about that. I wish I had a bigger rear to strut. Seriously, I think you’re gorgeous. I also think you need to take more time out to enjoy yourself.”
If she only knew how much fun I’ve had lately. “I’ll keep it in mind.”
“Good, I’d better get going. I’m picking Ashley up early from the sitter. I promised to take her for ice cream. Would you like to join us? She hasn’t seen her godmother in almost two weeks.”
“No, I can’t. I have to finish up at the office. Would it be okay if I picked her up on Saturday for a couple of hours?”
Tracy stood, smoothing her tight black dress over her soft curves. “Of course, that’ll give me time to run a few errands.”
Dawn’s insides flip-flopped. She couldn’t let this go any farther. “Um, Tracy, can we talk a few minutes before you leave?”
Tracy slid back into her chair. “Sure. What’s up?”
A hush fell over the small cafe, as if anticipating her words. Dawn played with the edges of a napkin before lifting her gaze to Tracy’s. She took a trembling breath. “The mystery guy I’m seeing isn’t someone I just met. I’ve known him for years. We work together, and I introduced the two of you ten years ago.”
The light in Tracy’s eyes dimmed to a haunted, fearful look. “Wha…what?” She shook her head. “Please, Dawn, don’t say what I think you’re about to say. Please don’t.”
“We both fought it as long as we could because of the love we have for you.”
“Are you telling me you’re messing around with my Kevin? With Ashley’s father?”
“I didn’t know you still referred to him as your Kevin. You’ve been divorced eighteen months. We started dating six months ago.”
A lone tear slid down Tracy’s cheek. She laughed harshly. “Six months, and you never said a word. Not one word.”
“I wanted to, but I didn’t know how you’d react.”
“How did you think I would react? I loved Kevin. Although we grew apart during our marriage, I still loved him. We have a daughter. You know how painful the divorce was for me. Even now, I still care deeply for him. How could you do this?”
“I’m sorry, Tracy. I wish it was anyone but Kevin. Although he and I have been good friends for many years, we never expected to fall in love.”
“In … love? You’re in love?” Tracy stumbled to her feet. “You were my best friend. I trusted you with my life. I’ve told you precious secrets. We’ve cried together and what did it all mean? I would have given you the shirt off my back.” Crying, she snatched the tablecloth from the table and all the dishes along with it. “The two of you deserve each other. You’re nothing but a fat, trifling hussy.” She ran from the restaurant.
The restaurant manager rushed to the table, stepping over the broken dishes. “Ma’am, someone is going to have to pay for this.”
Through blinding tears, Dawn handed him a wad of bills and her business card before making her way to the parking lot. She slumped over the steering wheel and cried until her eyes were dry.
Dawn tightened the belt on her robe as she sprinted across the room to answer the door. Please let it be Tracy. She’d tried calling earlier but Tracy had already activated the call block service. Breathless from emotions and the short run, she pulled the door open. Her heart split down the middle. Kevin stood on the other side. His dark good looks held her captivated, and all he’d become in her life enveloped her. She wanted to throw herself in his strong arms, while also wishing he would disappear.
He smiled. “Are you going to invite me in?”
As soon as the door closed, he drew her into his arms. “I thought you were coming back to the office.”
“Something came up.” She gently pushed away from the comfort of his arms and walked into the living room.
“I hope nothing serious.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Kevin, listen, this isn’t going to work. I think we need to cool it for awhile.”
He frowned. “What do you mean cool it?”
“I mean we shouldn’t see each other right now. I need to sort a few things in my mind.” She turned her back to him. Her mouth and heart were going in different directions. No man had ever made her feel as special as he did. She had fallen hard and needed him just to breathe, but she also wanted her friendship with Tracy.
Kevin circled and stood in front her. He took her hands in his. “A few hours ago you were fine. What is this really about?”
“It’s just best for all concerned.”
He released her hands. “For all concerned? You’ve given me the best six months of my life. I can’t imagine living without you. And this is all you have to say?”
She pressed her fingers against her swollen eyes. “Tracy knows.”
Her eyes flew open when he let out a loud expulsion of breath. She watched as he ran his hand over his head and walked to the window overlooking the courtyard. Silence vibrated through the room. Finally, he turned and strode back to where she stood.
“Is this the reason you don’t want to see me?”
“Yes, for the most part.”
“Dawn, I love you. You’re the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with. I want us to marry as soon as possible.” His lips tilted in a smile. “I want you to have my babies.”
Butterflies swarmed her stomach. The thought of being his wife left her dizzy and elated, but the ugly reality wouldn’t allow it to sink in. “It won’t work. Think about the effect this will have on Ashley. Although she’s only seven, she’s much smarter than you think. Her mom now hates me. I can never forgive myself for hurting Tracy.”
His brows drew together. “We’re not doing anything wrong. Tracy and I fell out of love, and we’re entitled to find happiness and love again. I’ve found that happiness with you. Surely she can’t hold that against us.” He reached out and held Dawn’s shoulders. “Please, don’t give up what we have.”
Dawn pursed her lips. “I’m sorry, but we can’t be more than friends. It’s best that you leave.”
Kevin’s hands dropped to his sides, emotions stirring in the depths of his eyes. He turned and walked out.
Dawn held the wall for support as her world turned upside down.
(Two weeks later)
“Kevin, what are doing here? You look like death,” Tracy said. He brushed past her and stepped into the foyer.
Her brows furrowed. “Sure, come right in. In case you didn’t notice the time, Ashley is already in bed.”
“I’m not here to see Ashley.”
“If you’re here to talk about Dawn, save it.”
He came to talk and wasn’t leaving until he finished. “What did you say to her?”
“I didn’t say anything. Why?”
“You must have said or done something. It’s not like Dawn to disappear without anyone knowing where she’s at. She hasn’t been to work in almost two weeks. I can’t reach her by phone or at her home.” He jammed his hands in his pockets. “It’s driving me crazy.”
Tracy crossed her arms. “I have nothing to do with you and your lover’s problems. Leave me out of it.”
“You’re so selfish. How could I have ever…”
“Hold it right there, mister holier-than-thou. Of all the women in the world, you chose to screw around with my best friend, the woman who I love like a sister. Yet, you call me selfish?”
Pressure mounted at his temples as he fought to stay calm. “Yes Tracy, selfish. Dawn walked away from our love because she was more concerned about you and Ashley than she was about her own heart. That alone should tell you how much she cares. What have you given her in return? Have you given her compassion or even an ounce of understanding?”
Tracy’s lips trembled. “How dare you come here and turn this on me just because it suits your perverted ideas? I would have never put my friend in this position. You both crossed a line that should have never been crossed. I don’t want to have feelings for you, Kevin, but I still do. It’s going to take time to erase seven years…” Her voice broke before she could continue.
Anger seeped from Kevin’s body. He still cared about Tracy as a friend and didn’t want to see her hurt. “Then you of all people should understand. Dawn and I didn’t choose to fall in love, it chose us. If it was my choice, I would have chosen a less complicated situation.” He paused before continuing. “You will always be special to me, and I’m proud to have you as the mother of my daughter, but we must move on. Dawn makes me happy, and I want the same for you. Even if we don’t agree on this, let’s try to live peacefully.”
Tracy lowered her eyes. “One day I’m sure I’ll fall in love again. However, I would never hurt others in the process.”
Kevin took two strides to the door and pulled it open. “Never say never.” He rushed into the night.
Dawn stroked her eyelids with silver eye-shadow. The shimmering color brought out the softness of her brown eyes. Satisfied with the perfect application of her makeup, she turned sideways in the mirror to inspect the fitted gray dress that swayed gently above her knees. She had splurged at a local boutique, and it was well worth it. After slipping her feet into a pair of strappy silver heels, she walked through the arched doorway.
The cool evening breeze greeted her as she strolled to her SUV. It took a moment for her to notice the white envelope tucked under the left wiper blade. She removed it and opened the envelope with trembling fingers. Inside, she found a card.
Dawn, I couldn’t decide whether to leave this or knock on your door. I guess I took the easy way out. I wanted to say I’m sorry for not being the friend I promised to always be. If roles were reversed I know you would have handled things differently. It won’t be easy, but if you would allow me to be a part of your life, I’ll be more open to understanding. Besides, we don’t choose love, it chooses us. Love, Tracy.
Smiling, she held the card to her chest.
“Dawn,” a familiar voice called out.
Dawn spun toward the sound. She stood face-to-face with Tracy. “Tracy, I was just reading your card.”
“I know it didn’t say much, but I meant every word.”
“It said more than you know. I’m sorry for hurting you and putting you through this.”
“I’m sorry for only thinking of myself and acting the way I did. Our friendship means too much to allow anyone to come between us, even Kevin. I’ve accepted the fact that he loves you. I must move on.”
“Your reaction was understandable. I don’t hold that against you. I need you in my life.” She sighed. “I’m afraid I may have lost Kevin. I’m going to see him now.”
“The love I saw in his eyes when he talked about you told me all I needed to know.”
Dawn’s heart constricted with hope. “He talked to you about me?”
Tracy smiled. “Yes, but we’ve got all the time in the world to discuss that. Go get your man. You look hot.”
Dawn reached out and hugged her. “I love you, Tracy.”
“I love you too, Dawn. I missed you so much. Now, get going.”
Dawn stood in the doorway of Kevin’s office, watching as he gave something on his desk his undivided attention. He was a sight to behold. His broad shoulders filled the starched white shirt. She couldn’t stand being apart from him another moment much less a lifetime.
“Hi,” she said.
Kevin looked up, shock registering on his face. His gaze left a sizzling trail as it moved over her curves and down to her softly painted toes. He began stacking papers on his desk. “What can I do for you, Dawn?”
Her heels clicked against the bamboo floors as she crossed the room to stand next to his desk. The hardness in his eyes took her aback. She swallowed the lump in her throat. “Kevin, I’m sorry.”
“I’m not sure what you want me to say.”
“I just want you to hear me out.”
He folded his hands on his desk. “Okay, go ahead.”
“I thought that disappearing and not seeing you would change the way I feel about you. Instead, it proved I how much I need you in my life. I know I hurt you by throwing our love aside, and if you give me a chance, I promise I’ll never let anyone or anything come between us again.”
Kevin stood and shoved his chair back. “For a month I’ve been to hell and back, worrying about you, unable to sleep, eat or think. And now you waltz in here out of the blue and ask me to give you another chance. Well, I’m not a light switch that you can turn on and off when you’re ready. You hurt me. I thought a couple of weeks ago we could get through this, but I was wrong.”
Dawn touched his arm. “I know how much I hurt you, and I want to spend the rest our lives making it up to you.”
He snatched his arm out of her grasp. “I have somewhere to be within an hour, so I really need to finish up here.”
She wanted to beg but the words wouldn’t come. His rejection stung. The finality of his words seized any hope of happiness. She tore out his office and up the hall to the elevators. “Come on, hurry.” She pressed the button repeatedly, hoping it would summon the elevator to move quicker.
Finally, the doors swooshed opened. Thankful to be cut off from the world, she sagged against the interior wood panels. The sharp pains ripping through her heart moved upward and hot tears gushed from her eyes. Only Kevin could ease the pain. She had never wanted anything or anyone the way she wanted him.
As soon as the doors parted, Dawn stormed out of the elevator and headed toward the exit. The stairwell door to her right swung open. Shock rendered her motionless when Kevin walked into the lobby. His gaze held hers, causing her heart to skitter. Could she believe, even for a moment, that he was there to see her?
He strode in her direction. The intensity in his eyes made it impossible to guess his mood. Dawn took a shaky breath when his steps slowed, and he walked to where she stood. Neither spoke. The only sound was his winded breathing from the flight of stairs. Dawn’s knees threatened to buckle from the love she felt flowing between them.
In one swift move, Kevin drew her close to his thumping heart. He wove his fingers through her hair. “I don’t think I can survive losing you a second time.”
Melting in his arms, Dawn held him tight. The warmth of his breath against her ear sent shivers down her spine.
“Don’t ever put me through that again,” he commanded in a hoarse voice.
She held his face in her hands and lifted her lips toward his. “Never.”
His mouth covered hers. Their kiss held promises of a lifetime.
Learn more about Cassandra Roberts-Jones at her SHOWCASE PAGE.