Thirty-four months ago
Life doesn’t give do-overs. There are no rewind buttons, no second chances, and no extra seconds on the clock. Seconds that could make a difference either way. It’s unfair, and by the time you realize life’s playing hardball and knocking out your teeth, it’s often too late. There are no previews either. No sneak peeks to warn you that things are about to shift out of your control, and not for the better.
Imagine how different life could be if only you could see it coming.
I arrived at the Soft Zephyr Charity Gala at the Blue Insignia Hotel in London with one goal in mind. Well, two actually. One, to mingle with investors who pumped money into Professional Recruitment and Operations, a global military corporation known as PROs that I worked for. And two, to forget about the woman I’d just broken up with. No rewind buttons on that one. That was a lifetime friendship turned passionate affair that ended up one giant, painful mess.
I wove through the crowd in a ballroom filled with crystal chandeliers the size of small cars, men in tuxedos, and women in gowns and jewelry that could fund Third World countries. I hated the pretense but this was, once again, life. Sometimes you just had to suck it up because it was in the job description.
It took a few minutes to find the bar and I scanned the ballroom, looking for familiar faces. But the place was packed and I wasn’t much up for socializing anyway. Broken hearts had a way of doing that to you.
“Would you like something to drink, sir?”
I looked at the bartender, amused by the word ‘sir’. He was older than me, probably by twenty years, and I’d just turned twenty-seven in June. For a moment I considered a beer but this was a swank event and I didn’t want to look like a second-rate tourist. I asked for an Amarone instead.
While he poured I felt the warm brush of someone moving in beside me. I turned and made eye contact with blue eyes that sparked with mischief, blonde hair that reminded me of a lion’s mane, and a mouth that made a man’s imagination go into overdrive. The rest of her was pretty damned good, too.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hi,” I said back.
The bartender handed over my drink and the woman ordered hers. Tequila. Straight up.
I felt my brows rise and my interest pique. “I’m impressed,” I said.
“Won’t drink anything else.” The woman took the drink and held her glass up in salute. “Ever have?”
I shook my head.
“You’re missing out then. Tequila is the nectar that leads you straight to the devil.” She gave me a shrewd smile that made my knees buckle and my imagination stray to a bedroom and lots of sweat. “I’m Kyra Brand,” she said, holding out her hand. “You can call me Kyra.”
“David Bellotti,” I said, taking it. “And you can call me David.”
Her skin was warm, her grip firm, and the connection that fired between us made the temperature in hell seem tame.
“So, David,” she said, sipping her tequila. “What brings you here?”
“An invitation and a car.”
“Actually,” I said, “I work for PROs. They just started donating money to Soft Zephyr Charity and I’m here sort of as a goodwill ambassador.”
Her smile widened just a bit. I decided I liked it. A lot.
“Sort of?” she asked, the mischief in her eyes kicking up a few notches.
She went for more tequila, her red lips caressing the glass while her pink tongue darted out to lick the little bit that dripped over the side. I resisted the urge to tug at my tux collar, but it was getting way too damned hot in here.
“Let me guess,” Kyra said. “Ex-Navy SEAL?”
I shook my head. “Ex-Marine.”
Kyra nodded, like she approved. Then she leaned in, peering up at me with a beguiling look that made my heart stutter. “Tell me, do you know Mommie Dearest? Is she for real? Because I’ve heard stories.”
I had to laugh at that, and it felt good to laugh for a change. “I work for her. She’s my CO.”
“Wow. I can’t imagine that. I’ve heard she’s tough.”
Not the word I would have used, but good enough. “How do you know MD?”
“I know a few people in the biz.” Kyra motioned to the ballroom and the people around us, the deep plunge in her gown shifting just enough to tease at what was underneath.
Heat pulsed through my blood that had nothing to do with alcohol.
“So you know my story but I don’t know yours, Kyra. What brings you here?”
“Looking for a man.” Kyra gave me sly eyes and her red lips curved into an equally sly smile. “Preferably only for just the night.”
I paused, the wine at my mouth, and my gaze locked with hers.
An older man with a huge Rolex on his left wrist moved in on the bar and asked for a drink. His arm bumped Kyra’s, sloshing tequila out of her highball. I touched her elbow, urging her to move off to the side, and as she turned I got a good look at her bared back and a scrolling tattoo at the bottom of it. Something ignited and flared, and suddenly I wasn’t thinking about small talk anymore. If I had my head on straight, I might have heard the warning bells going off in my brain. The rare portent that life gave you when something was about to change if you made the wrong choice.
But only if you made the conscious decision to see it.
“You here alone?”
I heard the words but didn’t connect that they were coming from my mouth. I was on autopilot now. Wanting to forget a broken heart. The fact that Kyra didn’t look anything like Lottie, the woman I’d loved and lost, made things much more tempting.
“Yeah.” Another smile. Another sip. “Bad breakup. Left the boyfriend in Paris. Don’t really want to be here. Doing it anyway because it’s in the job description.” Kyra finished her tequila. “My company also donates to the charity.”
Again, our eyes met and held.
“I feel your pain,” I said.
“You mending a broken heart, too?” she asked.
“Four weeks for me, David.”
“Ten weeks for me, Kyra.”
We said nothing for a few seconds. The few calculating moments when life hangs on a decision that will change everything forever.
Kyra inched in so we were breaths apart. “I have a room upstairs.”
I said nothing.
“And I’d love some company.”
That was all I needed to hear.
It took ten minutes to make our way out of the ballroom, ride the elevator to the top floor, and fall into her king-sized bed. The sex was frenzied and physical, and when the next morning came I felt drained and dehydrated and desperate for a shower.
Kyra mumbled something when I rolled out of bed, and when the hot spray hit my body the painful memories that I’d successfully shoved aside for the past eight hours came back, hard and fast. I leaned my forehead against the tile, swallowing down the lump of grief I still felt whenever Lottie came to mind.
It was often.
When I finished the shower, I redressed in my rumpled tux and slipped back into the bedroom.
And there it was. The moment when you realize there are no do-overs. No rewind buttons, no second chances, and no extra seconds on the clock. Seconds that could have made a difference either way, depending on what choice I made.
Kyra was on the bed, staring lifelessly up at the ceiling with blood pooling over her chest.
Copyright © 2012-2014 · All Rights Reserved · TerriPonce.com