Her lashes kissed the tops of her cheeks. The rays of sunlight catching onto the dark hairs to reveal the soft sparkles of red hidden within them. A light smattering of freckles had sprouted over her nose during the summer, peppering her pale skin, and I wondered if I would ever be able to count them before getting distracted by the full curve of her kiss-softened lips.
Fuck, I loved living with her, and sleeping with her came at a close second, but my favorite moments? Moments like these, when I had the privilege of doing this: staring at her as she slept, running my fingers carelessly through her hair, envisioning her in her innocent youth and wishing I had known her then, just to have known her longer.
I pulled myself away from her face to glance at the unfamiliar clock on the nightstand. It was nearly eleven in the morning, and although I would have loved to do nothing but stay in that bed, I had an itinerary to stick to that day. With equal parts reluctance and care, I slithered from under her arm, covered her bare shoulders with the fluffy down comforter, and went about pulling my clothes from my overnight bag. A worn pair of jeans and a t-shirt would have been a lot more welcomed than the button-down and black slacks, but it was a lot more comfortable than the three-piece suit I had to wear to Stephen’s wedding. And at least I had my boots and leather jacket to bring the foreign outfit to a more me level.
Inside the hotel, I could easily pretend I wasn’t in the middle of hectic city living, wasn’t surrounded by a collected controlled chaos. But outside on the sidewalk, my senses were immediately bombarded by the honking cars and shouting pedestrians, blended into the scents of fuel and life. I slid my aviators on to shield my eyes from the sun, bouncing off the glass window panes and gleaming garbage cans, and after shoving my hands in my pockets and pointing my face downward, I set on my way to the nearest coffee shop.
The hotel suite had a kitchenette, and I could have gotten room service, but there was something about a hot disposable cup that made me feel at home.
A little indie shop caught my attention, a far cry more appealing than the bustling Starbucks two storefronts down, and I walked inside. A wall of bookshelves called my name instantly as the scent of fresh brewed coffee wafted into my nose, and I sighed with the feeling of finding a kindred spirit in whoever the hell owned the place.
“Can I help you, sir?” a boisterous voice called to me from behind the vintage cash register.
Christ, I could have moved in there and died a happy man.
I took a few steps forward, removing my sunglasses, and leaned my hands against the counter. “Uh, yeah,” I said, taking in the dark-haired man of about my age with the gold chain around his neck, and the deep V of his t-shirt showing off the curly hair on his chest. Tony Soprano had opened a coffee shop for the bibliophile, and I was digging it. “Can you tell me if you have lavender Earl Gr—”
“Hey, you know who you are?” my new friend asked with a startling smack of his beefy hand against the wooden countertop.
A corner of my mouth lifted with immediate amusement. “No, but I have a feeling you’re gonna clue me in.”
He wagged a finger at me as his head bobbed enthusiastically. “You’s that guy that wrote Breckenridge, aren’t ya?”
“Hmm …” I feigned thought with a pursing of my lips, pushing my hand through my hair. “You know something? I think you’re right. I think I did do that.”
He clapped his hands together once, the sound echoing throughout the small shop. “Oh man, oh man! This right here? This is the most amazing thing to ev-uh happen to me.” He extended his hand while I wondered about the excitement in his life—or lack of. “Frankie DeAngelo.”
I accepted the hand of my new pal Frankie, and marveled at his sturdy grip as we shook. “Frankie DeAngelo, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Brandon Davis.”
With a grin that could have lit up Central Park at midnight, he said, “Oh, man, I know exactly who you are! I have all your books right over—” He pointed to the wall of shelves. “Right over there. Just finished the new one last night, actually. So on point, brother—on point!”
“Glad you liked it.”
“Liked it? Brother, I loved it! What you did with that one scene with Ivy and, uh, the woodland nymphs? You know the one?”
I nodded. “I can tell you with certainty I know exactly what scene you’re talking about.”
He clapped his hand against his forehead, and I winced at the loud crack of skin meeting skin. “Of course! Of course you know what I’m talkin’ about! Jesus H. Christ, you wrote it, for cryin’ out loud! Oh, man, I’m sorry. I—”
“It’s cool, Frank, really.”
A sigh of relief. “Oh, please, just call me Frankie. Frank DeAngelo is my father,” he said, waving a hand that stopped mid-air as his eyes widened. “O-oh, unless you want to call me Frank. I mean, I’m cool with that. I’ve answered to both. Hell, I mean—”
“Frankie works fine,” I said, suppressing a chuckle. “So, uh—”
I was just about to order when Frankie turned his head toward the back of the shop and bellowed, “Deborah!” My lips rolled between my teeth as a slight young woman walked from the back, drying her hands on a dishrag, all while shaking her head of very dark, very large hair. She immediately reminded me of The Nanny, had she worked in a coffee shop, and the comparisons didn’t stop at her appearance.
“Jesus, Frankie,” she said in a voice that Fran Dresher would have admired. “I am literally ten feet away from you. Whaddya screamin’ for?”
Frankie’s hands shot forward to gesture at me. “Deborah, we have a special guest in our place today.”
Deborah glanced at me, eyeing from my waist up to my face, and she planted a red-nailed hand on her jutted hip. “Well, if you mean the biggest and best lookin’ guy in all of New York, then sure, y’got that right, but I don’t know why my own husband is tryin’ to pawn me off. Hell if I’m complainin’, though. How tall are you? You gotta be at least six-foot-four.”
“That’s a pretty good guess,” I nodded, impressed, as Frankie’s eyes snapped open along with his mouth as I burst with a chuckle and a clapped hand over my eyes. I wished Holly was meeting these people, and I wished I had more time to bring her around.
“Deborah,” Frankie growled with gritted teeth. “This man right here? He’s famous.”
“Oh, yeah, Frankie? Well, he don’t look famous.”
With a grunt of embarrassed aggravation, Frankie stormed around the counter, mumbling an apology my way as he headed to the wall of books. He plucked one of mine off the shelf and came back to stand next to me, flipping the book around and holding my picture up next to my face. I did my best to pose identically to the two-dimensional version, and Deborah looked between us, nodding thoughtfully.
“Okay, yeah, great. So he wrote a couple books,” she said, still nodding and clearly not nearly as impressed as her husband. “So, Frankie, you gonna take his order or you gonna just hold a book to his face?”
He smacked a hand against his cheek and muttered an “oh jeez” as he rounded the counter again.
“So, uh, what can I get for you today? It’s on the house, brother. Anything you want, anything at all.”
Back to business. “Just a cup of black coffee, and do you have lavender Earl Grey?”
“Uh … um … Deborah!”
Deborah, still standing next to him, rolled her eyes. “Still not deaf, Frankie, by the grace of God. But if you keep this crap up, I—”
“Do we have lavender Earl Grey?”
Not bothering to talk to him, she turned her attention directly to me and smiled. “I’m sorry to say we do not have lavender Earl Grey, but—”
“I can go get some!” Frankie cut in, and Deborah gave him a hard shove.
“—we do have a great vanilla Earl Grey, if you wanna give that a shot. I’m not a big tea drinker myself, but a few of our regulars seem to like it. They call it a London Fog.”
I bit my lip in thought, and then nodded. “Yeah, I’ll take that. Sounds like something my wife would like.”
She smiled adoringly at the mention of my wife. The lady was a romantic. “If she likes lavender and Earl Grey, I hafta suggest our lavender Earl Grey doughnuts. They have this white chocolate lemon glaze that is just absolutely to die for.”
My jaw dropped at the mention of Holly’s favorite food blended with her favorite drink. “Uh, I’m telling you right now, you just made her birthday.”
“Oh God, it’s her birthday?” Deborah clapped her hands over her chest and turned to get the drinks together. “Frankie, get the man some doughnuts.”
In ten minutes, I had signed three books, promised to come back to sign the fourth, received a few friendly handshakes from Frankie and a hug that lasted a little too long from Deborah, and had my hands burdened by a bag of doughnuts and two to-go cups. I thanked them both profusely before sliding my sunglasses back on and left the store, adding two more friends to my seemingly never-ending list.
The block’s worth of walking back to the hotel seemed to last longer than it had the first time as I reminded myself of the three-month-long tour I was about to embark on. Three months of traveling, fans, hand-cramps, and hotel rooms. Three months with Nick, three months without Holly, and three months of being separated from our wedding plans.
My boots kicked against a fly-away newspaper in irritation at the thought. I had to work, I knew that, and I didn’t complain about it. But goddammit, I had nothing to do with the planning of my first failed wedding, and looking back, I felt like a dick for not really caring much about that. Truthfully, though, I think the feeling had been mutual. I don’t think Julia really cared to have me involved, didn’t care what I thought about place settings and table linens, didn’t care if I preferred lilies or irises. But this time around—the right time around—I wanted to be involved as much as she wanted me.
The problem was, Holly had wanted time to enjoy being engaged. She didn’t want to be one of those crazy brides, jumping headfirst into wedding planning as soon as the ring was on her finger, and that was just fine with me. So, we enjoyed tossing around the F word for a good six months—my fiancée this, my fiancé that—while she moved in and decorated nearly every room of the house. We got to know our soon-to-be in-laws, spending a month in Florida with my parents and even more time with her family, considering they practically lived around the corner. And somehow, we managed to have more sex than any two people deserved to have, and enjoyed every goddamn second of it.
And then, our little pre-marital bubble of bliss popped and I zeroed in on the next book’s release with interviews, photoshoots, edits, and public appearances. It had been a mutual agreement then that we wanted to get married the following autumn. Twelve months seemed like plenty of time to get it all together, and it should have been—had we actually done any planning.
God, it was ridiculous. Any time we sat down to look at venues, discuss colors or themes or anything else our mothers threw at us, we seemed to shut down and the pamphlets were shoved aside to make way for another episode of Frasier. It was all just so goddamn overwhelming with too much to look at or think about, and before we knew it, Christmas had arrived, and then New Years, and then the book release and Stephen’s wedding. I was leaving for three months, and I wouldn’t have anything to do with my own wedding.
Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Holly did ask me to get together my guest list, and I swore I would do it. I still swear—as soon as I know who the fuck to put on it.
Back up at the hotel room, I walked in, pushing the door shut behind me with my foot. Holly was still lying leisurely in bed, only now awake. With wedding stress still clouding my stupid brain, I pushed past it to smile down at her, putting the cups and bag of doughnuts down on the table next to her before kneeling on the floor to cradle her face in my hands and kiss her.
“Hey,” she said, her voice still raspy with sleep. “Where’ve you been?”
“Meeting my new best man,” I replied with a smile. “His name is Frankie, and his wife Deborah says she’ll do your makeup. She loves bright blue eyeshadow.”
She instantly looked worried. “What?”
“Frankie and Deborah DeAngelo. Good people. You’ll love them. I’m going to invite them over for burgers and dogs this summer.”
I rolled my eyes, handing her the cup of tea. “I am, Holly. Jesus, get with the program.”
She laughed, sitting up in bed. “Wow, the day I see you use a barbeque will be the day I stop eating doughnuts.”
“Better plan on quitting cold-turkey, baby, because Frankie and Deb expect some coal-charred hamburgers this 4th of July cooked by yours truly.”
For the record, I was only half-joking. Frankie and Deborah did mention a barbeque and that my wife and I were more than welcome to attend, but none of their plans included me wielding a spatula.
The world was better for it.
“Speaking of doughnuts,” I continued, “these are from Deb. She says they’re apparently to die for, so eat at your own risk.”
Holly reached into the pastry bag and immediately took a very unladylike bite the golden brown, white-glazed doughnut, rolling her eyes to the ceiling as she chewed with crumbs and icing coating her lips.
Christ, she is beautiful.
“Oh, my God,” she groaned through a full mouth. “Have you had one of these?”
I laughed, moving to sit on the bed in front of her. “Nah,” I said and leaned forward to kiss her, slowly licking the residual icing from her lips. “Shit, that’s good.”
“That’s what I’m saying,” she laughed before taking another bite. She held the other half out to me, and I accepted, cramming the whole thing in my mouth. “God, you’re gross.”
“You love it.” I leaned in for another kiss and stood up, taking her hand to pull her out of bed and I was instantly reminded that she was still naked. “Shower time,” I declared on a growl, picking her up and carrying her to the bathroom.
“Wait, what? You mean I’m not spending all day in bed?”
“Brandon, it’s my birthday!” she whined, slinging her arms around my neck.
With her feet planted on the heated tile of the bathroom floor, I turned on the shower faucet before unbuttoning my shirt. “As much as I’d love to do nothing but have you kneel to my Holy rod all day, we have plans.”
Holly’s hands went to work on my fly. “What sort of plans?”
“Well,” I said, dropping my shirt onto the toilet seat, “I thought we’d take in an early showing of Hamilton and then head over to Antonio’s for an early dinner before heading home via limo.”
“Are you serious?”
Her face was consumed by an excited smile and a twinkle in her deep-brown eyes as I nodded and she jumped at me just as my pants hit the floor. Together with lips locked, we stepped into the shower, and with my eyes closed, I convinced myself I wasn’t under the showerhead of a hotel suite in New York City, two days away from leaving my fiancée for three months.
No, with my eyes closed and my lips on hers, I was somewhere exotic, standing underneath a waterfall as I made love to my wife, already married and mine, and I was so far away from ever leaving her again. If only.