Prologue: Fri 051217
The sky had blackened quickly and the sudden cloudburst drenched the flat highway and overpowered my windshield wipers. The air wafted with the mixture of electricity and newly wet earth.
An unplanned stop under an overpass as well as another at a rest area had cost me considerable time. I’d tapped out a brief text explaining, erased and rewrote it twice, and then deleted it altogether.
I knew I’d have to apologize.
I wondered why I’d let this ‘flirtation’ get this far? Thinking over our months’ long conversation, I couldn’t believe I’d let Grant talk me into our clandestine meeting.
And, yet, here I was: two hours from home, a steamy, stormy afternoon primed to turn into an even steamier evening.
As my car approached the entrance to the hotel, trapped butterflies threatened to beat their way out through my chest. I was consumed with both nerves and excitement.
Excitement was winning, explaining why I hadn’t turned around.
What am I doing here? I asked myself for what I decided should be the last time.
Beside me, my phone chirped in the cup holder and I startled. With trembling fingers, despite my new-found resolve, I reached for it and dropped it down the side of my seat.
I shouldn’t be reading it while driving anyway, I reminded myself. I’d used that reasoning to keep from sending a text to Grant earlier.
Shaking out my hands – cramped from gripping the wheel ever since the storm – I left my phone for later while I looked around for on-street parking.
Spotting none, and then remembering Grant’s tentative plan for us to stay over – maybe, I reprimanded myself – I circled the block, and pulled up to the valet stand, putting the car in park.
I took some deep breathes, remembering Ivy's instruction: In…1…2..3… Out…1…2…3…
Calmer now, I noticed my surroundings: city-chic and expensive, liveried door man, and LED marque welcoming a business convention.
I wasn’t intimidated by the trappings. I’d spent years traveling to trade shows and staying in luxurious accommodations. I missed the amazing meals and the travel to exotic locations, but not the office politics or the work.
I shouldn’t be nervous. It was only sex. It’s not as if I’d have to impress him for a second date.
We’d met before, on two dissimilar occasions, each meant to make me ‘more comfortable,’ he’d claimed.
And, I had been, but we’d been in very different settings with very different intentions.
I’d declined his third offer to meet – for a business reason he claimed he wanted my opinion on – before I’d agreed to this adventure.
Hearing another ping, I was reminded to dig between the seats. I quickly found my phone and clicked open the incoming text:
Grant: I’m in the back, last banquet on the right.
I didn’t respond and closed the Messenger app. He now knew my name wasn’t ‘Carrie’ but I’d not given him my cell number either.
He hadn’t needed it before, despite asking for it, and he wouldn’t need it after.
I lowered the visor and checked myself in the mirror. I looked cute enough. Well, maybe ‘cute’ wasn’t the precise word for a woman of my age, but I was still attractive.
I felt confident, encouraged by Grant’s flattering attention.
Moreover, he’d seen me before, after the selfies, and our ‘chance’ meetings, and was still interested in this meeting. One look at his picture or a re-reading of the thread of our conversation, spanning many, many weeks was testimony to our mutual attraction.
Our ‘Arrangement.’ We’d planned this weeks ago, and I’d prepared for it.
As I stepped from my car, I adjusted my outfit: I’d also dressed with purpose: slightly torn green skinny jeans with my favorite cowboy boots. I had on a long, loose cream-colored sweater and a paisley scarf topping it off.
I yanked the scarf off, suddenly, no longer liking it. Nerves… I tucked the scarf into my oversized bag, just in case I changed my mind, again.
I remembered my other luggage, popped the trunk, and asked the valet to take it to the concierge. With fragile determination, I headed inside.
The initial plan had been to meet at a destination between our two cities. Later, we had decided on certain required amenities which couldn’t be found in hotels between our hometowns.
I didn’t want this memory in my city. He didn’t have the same issue.
In the end, I drove to him.
Maybe I hadn’t given enough consideration to the memories I’d have and what I’d do with them?
By this time tomorrow, all of this would be only a memory. We had both agreed to walk away, and then I’d delete my account.
With my phone now silenced and stowed, I looked around.
The hotel’s downtown location was upscale with a sculpture park across the street. Street lights had come on early and were reflected in the puddles left by the afternoon thunderstorm.
The red brick hotel was several stories high with arched windows above the ground level’s shop front. The evening was growing darker and miniature lights lit up the landscaped path into the lobby. I noticed the amaryllis and gazed, longingly – I need those, I reminded myself.
It was ‘convention hotel’-typical: floors of gleaming marble tiles interspersed with plush carpet; a grand staircase with the expected splashing fountain; lush planters and cozy seating groups dotting the remaining open space.
I’d stayed in similar hotels many times on business trips and strolled right past, paying scant attention.
At least we weren’t talking Red Roof, I admitted to my nervous self, thinking back to cheaper times. Craig and I had snuck into several while dating. At 23, such adventures had felt romantic and grown up.
I sighed at the thought and squared my shoulders as I past the registration desk and looked around for the ladies’ room. I knew I was stalling, but I needed a moment to get myself under control.
My phone vibrated in my bag and I jumped again. This had to stop or I’d never make it across the lobby and into the restaurant.
Grant: Are you here yet? ETA?
I didn’t want to be rude. I woke my phone to read it and tapped back.
Morgan: Close. ETA 3 minutes.
Before I could even put it away, my phone pinged again.
Morgan: 3 minutes, please?
Grant: You’re late!
I knew he hated tardiness but I had driven through a storm, hadn’t I?
Yeah, that was my story and I was sticking with it.
I chose not to respond, which gave him my obvious answer:
Grant: Ahh, got it, cold feet… Explain? ;)
The winky face confirmed it: he knew when I should have arrived based on my earlier text telling him when I was on my way. I’d lost 30 minutes to weather and my indecisiveness.
I hadn’t been getting many ‘winky faces’ the past few weeks and this worried me too. Our conversations were suddenly more serious and less playful, and I didn’t know what that meant.
I tried not to dwell on it too much.
We’d been messaging each other for months now and he knew me well. ‘Frigid’ was my quick response.
He’d promised to fix my current condition with a suggestion that made me giggle all the while hoping I was too old to blush.
At last, collected and refreshed, I strolled up to the hostess stand, and asked to be led to the table where a gentleman was waiting for me. She nodded and led the way.
We had planned on having an intimate dinner first, but I had no idea if I could eat anything.
The hostess stopped in front of me, a few feet from the turquoise velvet booth, offering space for my entrance, and indicated where I should proceed.
Sitting on the far side of the alcove containing a half-moon booth, with an elegant glass of deep amber in front of him, Grant was watching me intently.
It had been his eyes that made me swipe him right. His chosen aperitif mirrored their exotic color.
Beneath thick dark eyebrows and framed by dark lashes, their deep golden brown was hypnotic. Penetrating now, as he surveyed me from head to toe.
But first and foremost, his eyes were intense.
It was this intensity watching me now. He wasn’t gazing at me lightly. He was absorbing me. And I was struck dumb. Pinned in my tracks.
They changed to kind and friendly with a slight grin welcoming me and hinting at the sense of humor I knew was behind them.
Gracefully, he rose and stepped out of the booth to greet me.
I don’t know what I expected, a hand shake?
A soft hand to my elbow? A gentle wrap of my shoulder?
I hadn’t thought through more than walking up to the table without falling.
I remembered he would tower above me and he did. His 6’ 3” frame was as imposing as he’d appeared in his profile, but his graceful control was evident as he reached for my left hand and led me forward to the booth.
“Morgan…,” he began, gently, “I’m glad you’re here. I was concerned when you were later than anticipated.”
“I’m sorry…” I offered, and he stopped me by shifting his right hand to my lower back and turning me back to face him.
As his hand on my back pulled me toward him, his left hand shushed my lips with his index finger and then lightly cupped my check before drifting down to brush over and momentarily settle on my collarbone. Continuing the soft slide, his hand encircled my neck and his thumb returned to tip my chin up so I’d gaze at him directly. long wedding dresses
I blinked under his attention, then drifted my eyes closed, as he leaned in to delicately touch his lips to mine.
It was a gentle gesture and, yet, I shivered, reminded of this afternoon’s first crack of lightning.
His kiss was followed by a slight, deliberate tug on my lower lip as he pulled away and stood tall. The strong taste of his drink lingered on my lips.
“Oh,” I gasped my breath back as quietly as I could.
I observed his sculpted lips: the strong upper one - with a dip deep enough for me to imagine licking it, tracing its shape - resting above a fuller bottom one, deserving to be bitten as well.
This was every bit as intoxicating as I’d anticipated.
“Have a seat,” he suggested in a calm, polite voice, but I felt the command in his tone as he closed in behind me.
I slid into the proffered seat, opposite of where he’d been waiting and he deftly followed, crowding me.
We now had our backs to everyone.
I recalled my husband explaining the male human psyche - from evolution as cavemen - and the resulting need to sit where he could see everything. I’d given up many great people-watching seats to him.
Grant didn’t appear concerned about protecting his back as he sat next to me, facing the rustic brick wall with his right thigh pressed against mine.
And, so it began.