Chapter 1. The Tour Guide
There was something missing or incomplete in my life, and I struggled to believe I’d ever figure out what that could be. Nothing felt right anymore and hadn’t for a while. An emptiness within my chest, void of any happiness I dared to dream I’d feel.
I was at least content with the aspect of my business, which continued to grow every day, but my work life was the only thing I focused on, leaving nothing else in between.
No husband or boyfriend. No boytoy, fuck buddy or hell---not even one date.
I was, however, blessed with one friend whom I was close with and no other relationship other than the ones with my parents. Perhaps that’s what I desired the most but didn’t have the confidence to admit to anyone else what I could barely admit to myself.
It had been hard to recall the feeling of someone’s warm breath striking the nape of my neck when they whispered against my ear, or the soft trails of their fingers against the delicate contours of my body. I couldn’t even remember the feeling of a hand clutching my hair as they kissed me.
And God, I wanted to be kissed.
I craved the desperate actions of a guy who desired me as much as I did him. Someone to love me the way I had imagined, though for a long time that had only been through my dreams, or to feel a connection deeper than I knew existed.
Life was easy, yet painful at the same time. I had moments when I wanted to drop everything and run away from the heartbreak and towards something real.
But I hadn’t found it yet. And any time I convinced myself that love existed, I was proven wrong, yet again by the mere fact that no guy wanted to date me.
I was un-datable and unwanted.
And I couldn’t help but believe it was because I was unattractive, even though my best friend told me it was ludicrous, and not just because I haven’t had the time or energy to put myself out there, because on the odd occasion I had---and of course regretted it.
So, I made the choice to keep my focus on work, and not entertain the idea of finding love, because in my world---it didn’t exist.
“Come on, Jasmine!”
The incessant sound of my best friend’s voice had pulled me from my thoughts about life, and I glanced up from the mountain of paperwork on my desk to lock eyes with hers. She stood with her hip to the side, tapping her foot relentlessly on the carpet with her arms folded tight against her chest as she tried to convince me to do what she always did.
Go on a vacation.
“What is it, Lorelei?”
“Let’s go on a holiday!”
“I barely have time to wipe my own ass, and you expect me to go somewhere with you?”
“You need time out, Jazzy,” she whined, then her lips curved up innocently as though it were the first time she had asked me to take a break, but this was almost a weekly occurrence, and I was surprised she hadn’t given up already.
“Time out from what?”
“Work,” she sighed. “That’s all you do.”
I had known Lorelei since we were kids, and she was incredible. Even though we had two completely opposite personalities, we got along with each other more than I ever had gotten along with anyone else.
My best friend paced my quiet corner office, straining her neck while she looked up towards the ceiling as small huffs of breaths released for her lips, finally stopping right at my desk.
“If you keep at it the way you are, you’ll burn out.”
“I’m young, Lorelei.” My pen tapped ferociously against my notepad. “I can handle it.”
“I know you can, but seriously? When was the last time you had a day off?”
My eyes glanced up and I tried to recall the last time I took a break, vaguely remembering something tucked away in the back of my mind, only to realise that day off was just part of my imagination.
Before I could open my mouth, Lorelei interrupted me. “See. Even you can’t remember.”
“Oh, come on. It couldn’t have been that long.”
Except it was. Probably longer.
“And don’t get me started on the last date you had,” Lorelei added.
The truth was, I had been too busy to put myself out there in a relationship. It had been so long since I’d been with anyone. I wasn’t a virgin, but I couldn’t remember how it felt to have someone kiss me let alone touch me, and it was the one thing I had missed the most.
Snapping myself out of my dangerous thoughts, I stared right into my best friend’s eyes, and spoke with a tone that sounded almost believable. “I don’t have time for dating. I don’t need a man to be happy.”
“No, you don’t Jazzy.” Lorelei fell back onto the guest chair opposite mine. “But I can tell you’re lonely sometimes.”
“I’m not lonely,” I lied. “I’m just preoccupied.”
Lorelei’s eyes rolled dramatically. “That’s total bullshit.”
“What would you know?”
“Everything!” she yelled. “I’ve known you since you were five,” Lorelei reminded me. “I know you better than you know yourself.”
She was right. I knew she was right.
Lorelei was an only child like me, which is probably we connected so well. Her job allowed her to socialise with guys, while I was focused on my career and couldn’t think about dating.
Or maybe that was the excuse I had to avoid my reality. No guy wanted to date me either. I’d like to think I was nice enough. 25 years old and owned my own business which is what kept me occupied.
I took a deep sigh, almost in defeat. “So, where exactly are you thinking of going?”
“I want to go to Italy, and maybe the Greek islands.”
“That sounds like a longer holiday than I can afford to take off.”
Lorelei’s lips curved up again, knowing she almost won. “You can afford to take off plenty.”
“And when do you think we can do this?”
“In a few months,” she replied.
I leaned back on my chair and took a deep breath, finally giving into my best friend. “Fine. I’ll do it. If it gets you off my back.”
Lorelei squealed and stomped her feet when she realized I gave in. “Oh, my God! Really?” she clapped her hands together. “Italy, right? You’ve always wanted to visit Tuscany.”
“Italy sounds good.”
“And what about the Greek island?”
I let out a thoughtful sigh. “I don’t think we’ll have time for that.”
“But we’re so close,” she cried. “Let me look at the prices to see what we’re dealing with here.”
“Fine,” I agreed. “Better you deal with it. I have enough on my plate as it is.”
“Leave everything to me,” Lorelei beamed. “I’ll pick up some brochures on tours and places to stay. Money’s no objections, right?”
“Money’s definitely an object.”
“We’ll settle for halfway,” Lorelei said. “I’m so excited we get to go on a holiday together. Your staff are going to be so surprised.”
“My staff better pick up the slack.”
“You’ll have plenty of people to help you. Everyone who works for you are scared shitless.”
I tilted my head. “What are you talking about? They’re not scared of me.”
“Yes, they are,” Lorelei nodded slowly. “They’ll do anything you ask because they’re terrified.”
“I’m not a bitch, you know?”
“Not to me, you’re not,” Lorelei chuckled. “Oh, this is going to be so good.” Lorelei pushed her chair back, stood, then snatched her bag before skipping towards my office door.
Just as Lorelei walked out, I yelled loud enough so she could hear me. “Just make sure there’s Wi-Fi wherever we stay!”
A FEW MONTHS LATER
“You need to relax,” Lorelei whispered as she leaned over her first-class seat. We were on our way to Italy and the dreaded plane ride took forever. Of course, my mind wondered on and off with work.
My attention shifted towards my annoyed bestie, who somehow always knew what I was thinking.
“I can’t help it.”
“Don’t stress out,” she laughed. “The hotels we’re staying at all have WI-FI. You’ll be able to log in if you need to, but I really hope you don’t.”
After arriving at the airport, we were checked at security before picking up our luggage. As we exited through the revolving doors, our driver greeted us then kindly took our bags and opened the side compartment underneath. At the same time he packed our belongings, someone took the few steps off the bus.
Lorelei nudged me on the arm, almost violently. “Who the fuck is that?”
I peeled my eyes away from my phone and glanced at her. “What are you talking about?”
Her mouth widened and she froze. When I turned my head, I could instantly see why she was so stunned.
“Hello, ladies,” the hottie greeted. “My name is Gunner, and I’ll be your tour guide.”