Steel drums playing down the beach hummed through his ears as vacationers finished up a game of volleyball on the hot sand. Women with bodies to die for slapped layer upon layer of suntan lotion across their surgically-enhanced breasts. A toddler skipped into the turquoise water, and his father ran after him. Eventually picking him up, he spun the child around. The little boy let out a gut-belly laugh, his head undoubtedly dizzy. The corners of Gavin’s mouth turned up a small smile while he watched them play. The man scurried out of the water, his son tucked tightly under his arm, and set the little boy on the sand next to his mother, abruptly interrupting her few peaceful moments.
Gavin couldn’t help but feel a deep pang of longing as he watched the middle-aged man crouch down next to his wife. A grin on his face, he pulled his fair-skinned love into his arms and planted a kiss onto her lips. With adrenaline-spiked clarity, the memory of embracing Emily rushed through Gavin’s thoughts. Reaching for his bourbon on the rocks, rocks melted from the heat, he forced his gaze away from the couple.
“Señor Blake.” Gavin lifted his eyes and saw one of the cabana boys he’d come to know well over the years approaching with another bourbon. Placing the drink down in front of Gavin, Miguel wiggled his brows. “This, señor, is from the beautiful señorita.” He craned his head toward a woman seated alone at the bar.
Gavin stole a sideways glance in her direction. Crossing her long legs under a short, silk sundress, the woman aimed a coy smile at Gavin and sipped her piña colada. Her lips lingered on the straw as she gazed at him intently.
Gavin simply nodded to thank her. He returned his attention to the young Mexican worker, fished his wallet from his back pocket, and handed the man a tip. “Thank you, Miguel. Go ahead and get her another round on me.” Leaning back, he draped his arm across the chair next to him. “How’s Maria and the little one doing?”
“Oh, they’re doing wonderful, Señor Blake,” he answered, the joy in his voice reaching his eyes. “We trying to teach him to play football.” The young man smiled and swiped Gavin’s empty glass from the table. “Well, you Americans call it soccer. We hope to see him play for… what do you call it? The Olympia?”
Gavin let out a light chuckle. “The Olympics.”
Smiling, Miguel tossed a dishrag over his shoulder. “Yes. The Olympics. Then, he make me and my family have as much dinero as you one day. Much happiness comes with that. Si?”
Gavin picked up his new glass and swirled the liquid, the fresh ice clinking against the sides. He cast a weary smile at Miguel, his tone void of any emotion as visions of Emily plowed through his senses. “Right. Money brings much happiness, Miguel.”
Miguel grinned and turned away, leaving demons of despair to torture Gavin. Buried just beneath the surface, a nearly insufferable pain latched onto his heart. Unwelcomed, flashes of Emily’s auburn hair tickling his face ran rampant through his mind. No longer in his grasp, the thought sucked the last vestiges of feeling from Gavin’s soul. As the mix of emotions ebbed with every unsteady breath he took, his pain gave way to anger. But try as he might, Gavin couldn’t escape her. Need for her tensed every muscle in his body as memories of them together clouded his thoughts, tripping and tumbling over each other.
With a wall of unease settling around him, Gavin lifted his head. His gaze caught the attention of the woman who’d sent him a drink. Her features were pleasant enough. Rich, wavy, shoulder-length red hair fell easily over the straps of her sundress. Gavin flicked his eyes across her slender physique as she stared at him, a timid grin taking over her mouth. Though he didn’t consider her a woman who would stick out in a crowd, her eyes and smile lit up her face, and Gavin found it hard to look away. He watched as she gracefully slid from the barstool.
She grabbed her drink, a clutch, and started making her way toward him. Eyes locked on hers, Gavin swallowed and listened to her heeled sandals clicking against the wooden deck. Before she closed their distance, the woman came to a stop. She tilted her head and studied his face as if asking if it was okay to join him. Gavin found her trepidation appealing. With a reluctant nod, he motioned to the seat across from him.
Smiling, she continued her pursuit and stepped down from the deck onto the patio lining the beach. As she pulled out a chair, she placed her drink and clutch onto the table, her hair blowing across her face with the warm breeze. When she brought her hand up to tuck the strands behind her ear, Gavin noticed her green eyes, their shade hauntingly familiar. Emotions swept over him as his mind desperately fought against thoughts of Emily.
“I can spot a man with a broken heart from a mile way,” the woman purred, sinking into the seat. She crossed her legs and took a long sip from her frozen beverage. She subtly leaned across the table. A seductive smile tipped the corner of her glossed lips, her gaze falling from Gavin’s face to his chest. After roaming over his upper body, she brought her eyes back to his. “What can I do to remedy this problem for you, Mr.…?”
Gavin leaned back and shook his head. “Not as shy as you appear,” he mumbled, reaching for his drink. “They do say looks can be deceiving. But it’s all good. I’m not as shy as I may appear.” Gavin chugged the rest of his drink, set his glass on the table, and flicked it with his thumb and middle finger. Its condensation allowed it to slide smoothly across the glass top, clinking against an ashtray. He rested his elbows on the table, smirked, and tented his fingers under his chin. “You want to remedy my problem? I’m intrigued, Miss…?”
The unnamed woman bit her lip and mimicked his pose. “One: I’m very happy you’re intrigued. That was my sole purpose in coming over here. I enjoy it when a man finds me intriguing. Two: No, I’m not as shy as I appear, honey. Far from it. Three: I never said you looked shy. Nothing about you screams shy, and for me, that’s a good thing.” She uncrossed her legs, slipped her heel off her right foot, and reached down to massage it. With the tilt of his head, Gavin watched soberly as she slowly ran her blood red nails from the bottom of her foot up to her calf. Repositioning herself in her chair, she tucked her shoeless foot under her ass and smiled. “Four: Yes, I’d like to remedy your problem in whatever way you see fit. I’m going through a tough time myself, so it’ll benefit us both. And, five: You never gave me your name, so why should I give you mine? It’s apparent I’m slightly older than you, so you really should respect your elders. Wouldn’t you agree, Mr.…?”
Without moving, a grin pulled at the side of Gavin’s mouth. “Gavin Blake.”
“Ahh, well then, Mr. Blake, whose heart has clearly been hurt, it’s very nice to meet you. I’m Miss Layton, but you can call me Jessica.” Staring into his eyes, she reached across the table, offering Gavin her hand. He took it and felt her fingers draw small circles on his palm. She hesitantly pulled back and pushed her breasts together. “So, who was she and why on earth would she break the heart of a man who looks as enticing as you do?”
With a nerve hit, Gavin cleared his throat and glanced past Jessica. He raised his hand for Miguel to bring them another round. He rolled his neck, leaned back, and tucked his hands into the pockets of his khaki cargo shorts. Face impassive and eyes pinned on hers, he cocked his head to the side. “Let me clarify a few things for you. Jessica’s your name, correct?”