Monday, April 28, 2014

An accidental meeting, unexpected consequences #excerpt #romance Dancing Barefoot

What if you had a second chance to get it right with your one true love? What if your reunion was neither planned or welcomed? Yeah, it's complicated. Let's take a look.
Book blurb for Dancing Barefoot
Jessica Moriarty appears to have it all—a successful career as an architect, a loyal group of friends, a gorgeous apartment, and an on-again-off-again affair with Boston's most eligible bachelor. Behind this “perfect life” façade, Jessica hides the loss she feels over giving up her dream career as an artist, copes with a destructive relationship with her alcoholic mother, and struggles with heartbreak over a lost love.

Jacques Sinclair only needs his cameras, a backpack, and a good pair of walking shoes. A world-renowned photographer, he is a man without boundaries. Despite fame and fortune, he still yearns for the woman who shattered his heart when she vanished from his life five years ago.

A chance meeting brings Jacques and Jessica back together. Reunions aren't always planned or welcomed, but chemistry has a way of revealing what is denied. Ensnared in a web of sabotage and conspiracy—carefully constructed by people who want to control their lives—Jacques and Jessica struggle to trust each other, break free from the status quo, reclaim their love, and build a life of extraordinary possibility.

Excerpt of first meeting...
He gripped the railing tighter than necessary.  There she stood, the living embodiment of a recurring dream, Jessica Moriarty. Oversized blue eyes looked up at him like a deer caught in the headlights, short black hair emphasized her long neck and sharp chin, although familiar, she looked like a perfect stranger. Too put together, too thin, too hard. Not his Jessica any longer.
He missed her all over again.
“You were going to run again, weren’t you? Even after all this time?” His heart did a back flip.   
She took another step backward without taking her eyes from his face.
“We’re going to be late for dinner with Miranda Jenkins,” Kevin said.  “We’re already behind schedule.” His assistant looked between the two of them, confusion obvious in his eyes. "Jacques, seriously. We need to go."
“Wait for me in the car,” he said without looking away from her. 
“Go away, Kevin.” He stepped down without looking away from those eyes of hers.
“I’m surprised you recognized me,” she said. 
“No, you’re not.”  He would know her anywhere. 
“I thought you had gone… the lady said…so you live in New York now?” 
“You bought my book.”
“The cover caught my attention.” A quiver of uncertainty rippled beneath her voice.
“Rome.” The word—the place—carried more meaning than he wanted to admit.
History brewed between them with the intensity of a summer storm.
 “I guess I can now say I knew you when.” Tension pulsated off her like a force field.
“Yes, I suppose you can.”  Eloquence eluded him.  Seeing her here hadn’t been a part of his plan.  Not that he had made a plan exactly…but he had had an idea... a pitiful fantasy.
“I wondered if I would see you,” he said. 
“You did?”
“Being in Boston, I wondered.”
“Um…well, I was walking by and—”
“Why come inside?” 
“I wanted…”  Her words tapered off as her gaze roamed over his face. 
“What did you want?”
“Your book.  I…you did this, you did what you set out to do, I wanted to…see it.”
“Is that all you wanted to see?  A book of photographs?”
“Well, yes.  I mean, no.”
Chemistry had a way of existing despite the conscious mind’s wishes. The air between them moved and shimmered like heat rising from pavement.
“Do you want me to sign it?”  He moved from the last stair separating them. 
“No, that’s not it.  I wanted to see you.”
“Why?” His gaze skimmed over the straight hair that skimmed her chin in perfect symmetry. Always a beautiful woman, she now looked fragile.  Skin too pale, probably from that stable job she had always wanted in her secure little world hidden away from sunlight and reckless men like him.  “Why did you come inside, Jess?”
“About how I turned out?  How I survived?  Is that what you’re curious about?” He clenched and unclenched his hands at his sides, determined to remain immune to those eyes of hers.  He had rehearsed this scenario a million times since Italy.  Cool and aloof, he coached himself, must remain emotionless.
“You’re not making this easy.”  Her back straightened while her chin lifted.
“Easy?  What do you expect?  A hug?  A happy reunion?” He noticed the fighting stance and grinned.  Feisty.  Maybe she hadn’t changed that much after all.
She shifted her weight from foot to foot.  “You’ve changed.”
“For the better, right?  Do you smell the success on me now?  Is that what lured you inside?  Am I suddenly more acceptable to you?  Don't be too hopeful. I'm still a gypsy, this is just a detour, kind of like Italy was for you.”
She flinched.  Her hands shook when she shoved them through her hair.  
Deep inside his chest, his heart stirred with protectiveness.  He didn’t want to hurt her.  That hadn’t been his intent.  If he had his way, she would be his wife today.  But he hadn’t had his way.  She had deceived him, manipulated him into falling in love with her as a summer plaything, and disappeared one day without saying good-bye.  But, regardless of how she had felt about him, he had loved her.  That’s why her leaving had hurt so badly, why it still hurt.  Five years wasn’t that long ago, only a heartbeat in time. 
“Jacques, we really need to leave.  We have dinner with Jenkins then our flight back to New York.  We can’t—” Kevin ended his statement with a broad gesture of frustration. 
He nodded and shoved his hands into the back pockets of his jeans. If ever he needed an escape, it was now.  “Bring the car around.  I’ll meet you outside.”
“Well, if you’ve got to go, I'll get out of your way," she said.
“People are waiting for me.”  He winced at the verbal acknowledgment of his compromises. 
A tentative smile curved her lips.  “I always knew you’d have your day to shine.  It was inevitable.” 
His gaze drifted over her again. “Corporate America treating you well?  Let me guess…you always work late, are committed only to your career, have given up art, have a stable boyfriend who wears suits and talks about the stock market, are still trying to please a mother who never understood you, have compromised to the point of losing yourself completely…am I close to the truth?”
 Her smile faded.  “Five years is a long time to hold a grudge.”
“It isn’t long enough.”  He wished this rendezvous could go differently, but bitterness tainted his words.  He reminded himself of his immunity to her.  Cool.  Aloof.   “I never said I had a grudge against you.  Why would I? That would mean I think about you and I haven’t in years.”  
 “I can see that you haven’t given me a thought at all.  You must have forgotten who this was, then?” She held his book up to his face.
Brains and beauty, a combination he now avoided. 
“Perhaps I did forget it was you. Hundreds of women and even more photographs…” He ripped his gaze from the cover of his book.  He had used that photograph hoping she would see it some day and be hurt by the memory.   
It had been taken the morning after he had proposed to her in  Rome. They had ridden down from Florence on his motorcycle, splurged on a fancy hotel, drank wine out of plastic cups, fed each other bread with their fingers, laughed as they made love over and over again.
“Why are you lying? You—”

“Of the two of us, you are the expert liar.”  He thrust the book back into her hands. “What do you want?”
She slid the book into her messenger bag.  Unshed tears glistened in her eyes.  When she looked away, he could almost see the fight for control within her.  When she looked back, eyes were dry. Scary control. When had she learned that disturbing skill?  Not that he should care, he didn't.  Her life. Her choices. They'd both moved on.
“You’re good at that, aren’t you?” he asked despite himself.
“Good at what?”  Her gaze slid to his chest. 
“Hiding what you’re really feeling. What an actress you are.” Even as he said the words, he wished he could reach into the air and stop them from being heard. 
Her blue eyes hardened like a frozen glacial lake.  She stood tall.  “I almost didn’t come inside, but now I’m glad I did.  You’ve turned into a real ass.  Fame must have warped your brain.  It’ll be much easier to forget you now.”
“You’ve had years to forget me,” he said.
“I failed.”  Her chin trembled.  She shrugged in defeat.  “I failed, okay?  Is that what you need to hear?  I haven’t forgotten Florence, Rome, our apartment, you...any of it.  I think about it all daily.”
"Do you ever stop lying?" he asked, wishing he'd left the gallery on time to avoid this all together.
Their gaze connected and held.
Irritated by her presence, his lack of control and life in general, he strode toward the door. Time to leave. 
He stopped in the doorway and turned, unable to simply leave her behind even though he knew he should.  “You were going to run away from me again when you realized I was still here, weren’t you?”
Guilt for his behavior settled in his heart and sickened him.  She'd mattered to him, had been the center of his world...once upon a time not too far in the past.  “I’m sorry for treating you badly. You took me by surprise."  
She walked toward him, a hesitant grin on her trembling lips.  She looked foreign to him in her crisp white blouse, red skirt and high heels. 
“I wish we had more time, we could talk, get a drink, catch up.  That wouldn't be so terrible, would it?”
“I need to go before Kevin has a nervous breakdown.”  Irritation snapped through his nervous system.  He wanted to take her to dinner and force her to eat pasta, mess her hair up, make her laugh and see...well, see what had happened to the woman he had loved, find out the real reason she'd given up on their future together.  But getting involved in her life again—even in a small way—would be detrimental to his heart health. So why did he want it so badly? “Kevin’s like you, always worried about being late.”
“How do you stand him?” Her tentative grin became a smile. 
“I fire him daily but he refuses to go away.” He would not meet her eyes again as they walked together onto the street. Awkwardness stretched between them. 
“You don’t have a few minutes?  Just to talk?  Catch up?  We could have coffee or a drink?  After your dinner?”  She kept his pace, stood too close, looked at him with those big blue eyes. Damn her.
He wanted more than a drink.  He wanted hours.  He wanted an explanation. 
When she rubbed the back of her neck, he noticed the ring on her finger.  Hurt and anger took their rightful place in his heart.  Resolve restored, he looked down the block for any sign of Kevin and the get away car. 
“We have said all there is to say,” he said.
“We could—”
“Could what?  Talk about old times over a cold drink in a crowded bar?”  He closed the space between them.  “Do you know how many women want to have a drink with me, Jess?”
“I’m not a stranger.”  She stood her ground, straightened her spine and tilted her chin as if willing to go toe-to-toe with him.  Maybe she hadn't changed so much after all.
“What do you want from me?”  His gaze pierced hers looking for a glimpse of truth beneath the facade. 
“I don’t want anything from you.”
“What did you expect when you came here?  You expected something. Deny it.”  The temptation to yank the ring from her hand boiled beneath his skin.  She had no right to wear it. 
“I don’t know what I expected.”
“No? I think you expected me to be happy to see you.”
“You’re wrong.  I knew this would be hard.  I—”
“And you couldn’t come during scheduled hours, you waited to catch me off-guard, to…” he struggled for the right word.  A native French speaker, sometimes English escaped him when he needed it most.
“I worked late.  I thought I'd missed you, hoped I had.”  She stepped within inches of him.  “I was scared, is that what you want to hear?”
He silently cursed Kevin for taking so long with the car.  “That was your excuse in Italy, too.  Scared little Jessica.  Haven’t you grown up yet?”
Her head jerked back as if he'd slapped her. 
“I shouldn’t have come.”  She stepped backward.
“No, you shouldn’t have.  I’m better for not knowing you.” He shook his head.  He had had enough.  Of all the scenarios he had played out in his mind, this conversation was all wrong. He hated himself for the words he said.
“So am I.”  She faced him on the sidewalk, black hair tossing away from her face in the breeze and eyes snapping blue fire.  “I don’t need to know an arrogant jerk who is so wrapped up in his bitterness that he can’t see when he’s wrong.  I mean look at you.”  She gestured widely at his chest.  “You can’t even tuck in your shirt.  You’re an overgrown boy.”
He glanced down at the shirt that had come loose from his jeans.  With a laugh, he met her gaze.  “I usually have a woman inspecting me before I go into public.”
Jaw clenched, she watched the passing traffic.  Profile to him, she nodded.  “I know you hate me.  Fine.  I accept that.  But because I’m here, because it’s obvious this is the last time I'll see you, I need to say something.”
He patted his jeans for a cigarette.  He had picked the wrong time to quit.  “Say it then.”
Her hand seized his wrist. The contact stopped his frantic search and ceased his breathing.  He dragged his gaze to her face.
“I’m sorry.”  She squeezed.  “You were the last person on earth that I ever wanted to hurt.  I truly am sorry.  It wasn’t a lie.  I know you think that the entire summer together was a lie, but it wasn’t.” 
He yanked his hand free from her touch.  “I don’t hate you.”
Eyebrows arched over eyes filled with doubt.  “Now who’s lying?”
A honking horn snapped his attention from her. Kevin waved from a double-parked sedan.  “Jacques, really, we can’t keep Ms. Jenkins waiting." 
“You have a showing here next week, I hear.”  She followed him to the car. 
“Yes, I do."
“Are there more photographs of me on display? Shouldn't I have had to sign a release or something? Miranda's my friend, people I know will be here. I have a right to know.”
“And we both know how important your reputation is, don't we, Jess? What will people say?”  Coming to Boston had been a huge mistake. He opened the door to the rented car.  “Sue me.”
“Let me meet you later,” she said again, surprising him.
"I thought I was an overgrown boy and an arrogant jerk that you're better for not knowing."  He squinted at her, one foot in the car and one out.  Cars honked on the busy Boston street.  Why wouldn’t she go away?  The idea that she wanted something from him needled at his consciousness.  She still wore his ring.  She looked gorgeous, yes, but hollow as if all the life had been sucked out of her somewhere along the way.  Not his problem, though. 
“What the hell is going on, Jacques?  Get inside.  We need to go.” Kevin leaned across the seat and looked at him. 
“I want a do over in the worst way.”  She didn’t make a move to leave; instead she stared at him as if willing him to read her mind. 
"Do over?"
"Jacques, seriously, get in the car." Kevin laid on the horn again.
"Well, I guess I'll let you go." She stepped back, collided with the parked car, which sent off the alarm. Cursing, she shoved her hands through her hair.
“You let me go in Florence.” He sat inside the car and slammed the passenger door closed.
“No grudge, huh?”  Her grin didn’t reach her eyes.
“Buena sera, bellezza mia."
“Ciao, caro,” she answered, Italian slipping off her tongue as if they had been speaking it every day together like they had once done. 

He leaned his elbow on the open window and watched her step onto the sidewalk.  He bit back a smile at how naturally she'd replied in Italian.  He leaned back in the seat and motioned for Kevin to drive.  The car maneuvered from the curb and into traffic.  He adjusted the side mirror to watch her.  Head bent, she walked down the block.  He watched in silence until he lost sight of her.

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Loved this Amber. My heart ached for both of them. Beautiful writing.