Bright, blinding chandeliers from the top looked like raindrops filled with light. The gold and white aesthetics of the arena gave the place a regal touch. After all, the Dales weren't anything if not a bunch of cash wavers. The hotel where my friend Kiera's marriage took place was one of the poshest in Miami. So much so that even the most affluential looked paupers.
"There you are." Someone's finger tapped on my shoulder. In her white fluffy gown and a majestic tiara which looked as if she borrowed it from the Queen's collection, Kiera Dales held my hand and tugged me towards the corner where crowd was sparse. "They are looking for the MOH. Come.."
I was navigated through a throng, all of whom watched me trot behind the bride. Even Keira's influential family members, the Miami industrialists, father and son duo Jake and Jake Junior scanned me intently as I paced up with their daughter towards the arena where the photographer was ready with his camera.
The moment I saw his strapped device, my steps scrambled backwards.
"No. I don't want photos. You promised me, no photos."
Having spent almost half my life being scrutinized in tabloids and media, I hated posing. More so, posing for wedding photos where the bride would toss away the digital prints as soon as she would receive them.
Sure not all brides but I knew Kiera well to know what she intended to do with them.
"Please just one. Just one for old times sakes, Zem." She said, tugging at my hand like a little girl asking for candy.
I hooked my eyebrow and the bride blushed at my actions. "You know you could have just proposed to me. I would have come around eventually."
Kiera's reddened face didn't need further elaboration. She dipped her hand, letting me go. I palmed her face, her smile disappeared as she looked up.
"All the best for your honeymoon. I hope he is all that you have desired." And then I left. Waddling through the crowd, I waved at her and left her at the mercy of the money lords. Her fallen face held up its former glory when her husband walking in.
Do you think I was apprehensive about her marriage working out? Well yes but there was a reason for it.
You see, my friend Kiera was as homosexual as they came. Yet, to please her dad and keep up the reputation the Dales boasted, she was marrying her beard. It was a depressing representation of what what some people had to do, just to uphold family name.
"Tequila." I ordered at the bar, toasting one to the ruination of my friend and her remaining days, being stuck in the closet forever so her dad and her brother could make millions. The epitome of being a true united American family.
"Careful with that," an easily recognizable tone emerged before the slender, salt peppered haired man slid next to me, ordering one himself. "Next is you kiddo."
I held a toast out to dad's words, chugging in like the heat never bothered me. "To deaths and ones who will fall eventually, dad."
"To the happiness of my daughter and whomever she marries." Dad said, his eyes still wresting and sparkling with hope for me. Like I was still somehow redeemable after all that ensued.
Curling my hand into his cold calloused palm, I kissed his forehead, a sling at getting him to abandon his hopeful dream. "Dad, that happiness is long gone. Now it's only business that I tend to."
Straightening off his seat, dad leaned forwards. His lowered voice was barely audible in the aftermath of the crowd dancing to blaring music. "If only I could convince you that not all marriages that start as friendships end as one. Sometimes love crops up."
I chuckled, tossing back my head as laughter rumbled from the deep corners of my chest. Another alcohol shot warmed my belly, my senses.
"Sometimes! Yeah, I will tell that to Antonio when he proposes." I said, waving at him wildly and waddling through the crowd. I left the shenanigan that was my friend's marriage. Best friend to be precise.
There was no way I would go back to the hotel till after the pretend happy couple left for their honeymoon and I would not be prodded with questioned about my life, future of us Fords or photographs and speeches.
The nearby hotel, one of mom's favorites, was where I decided to nest till the rager died down. The bar was less crowded as compared to one I escaped out of. A no star rating for the bar left very few hoity crowd to come into the place. It was the perfect escape.
As I slid into the barstool, the bartender tipped his head, acknowledging my presence. I was a regular to go unnoticed, especially when I wore lavender colored infliction in the name of maid of honor dress.
"How is it going Zemira? The bartender asked, sliding a shot towards me before plopping his elbows over the tabletop. He was always a great listener and I, a great talker after a few shots of tequila burned a hole in my gut.
"The mighty has fallen to the needs and wants of the family, my friend." I said, tossing one brimmed shot glass to hit the back of my throat. The hissing was smothered with the light jazz playing in the darker background of the place. Before I could grab the second glass, I heard a soft snide remark emerge from my left side.
"How bad could be a wedding, for the bridesmaid to attend another bar all across the other side of the street?" The man said, leaned over the bar and eying the bartender. He arranged his hair back which dipped over his forehead.
The bartender, Gabe chucked courteously at his words before serving him a drink, too amber for my taste.
"You two have a lot in common." Gabe said, tossing his finger between me and the stranger, twisting his head to both our sides. "This is-"
"No no no.." I waved my hand in the air.
"No no no.." the stranger countered in unison, tapping his hands at the bar. Gabe was taken aback by the steadfast action of ours. He held his arms up in submission before moving away to serve the others.
"Sorry," the stubbled man turned to my side, still leaning against the bar with a hand tucked in his jeans pocket. "He always tried to-"
"Fix up strangers with someone? Ya he does that.." I agreed.
This wasn't the first time Gabe was trying to play cupid on me with a stranger. It surely wouldn't be the last. With my mind already made up for marriage to Antonio, the influential family that would merge with us, Fords, there was no need for a date set up. I was ready to be crucified.
But that didn't in any way meant, I went blind. I couldn't help notice the stranger and his demeanor. Adonis featured men weren't rare in this city. But most were either tanned to a color of burnt or ones who were either too much into party and drugs. There was no middle to it.
I assumed the second being applicable for Antonio's habit too, given that we only interacted once at a party.
When the stranger took a calculated step towards me, my body stood in attention. If he tried to take advantage of my drunkenness, he would recall this day into its oblivion to be the one where he lost a nut.
"I don't believe in talking to strangers, especially woman who are trying to avoid people by drinking at another bar with less crowd." The stranger said, carefully maintaining safe distance between us. Even he might have read my stares to know, backing up was a better option for him.
I leaned over, the corners of my lip tipping up as I reeled his words in completely. The alcohol was already affecting my senses for me to talk straight to the point. "So what is it that you believe?"
With a narrowed gaze and a head tilt, the man pulled his chair closer to mine, almost whispering into my ears. "Oh I wish that I could tell you but your state indicates you are to be tended to with water not alcohol."
Another shot slid down my throat as I hissed at his words. His smirk was close to perfection. At least what humans could achieve.
"There isn't anything that this girl can't do which a sober woman can." I was pointing at me.
Sliding off the seat, he lent a hand towards me. "Walk then." His tone was challenging. "In a straight line."
Blood rushed into all my organs. It wasn't the Olympics as I made it to be but I was quick to prove my state of intoxication. Walking straight in a line with heels and then back without it, I placed my silvery Jimmy Choo over his chest.
"Just so that you don't credit the shoes for my ability." I said, mocking him with my gesture as he did, a while back.
He chuckled in soft hushed airy tone, snaking his arm around my waist. With his warm breath hitting the nape of my neck, my heart leapt with the anticipation of his next move.
"Come with me."
A while back, minus three shots in me, I would have curled his hand from around me and shoved him back into the ground. But three extra shots had a very numbing effect on one's inhibitions, did someone tell you that?
I walked in tandem with the man who seemed to be playing the decency ball back and forth. He didn't touch me inappropritately, he didn't come up with a cheesy segue to impress me. He was just being him. Maybe.
"Where to?" I asked, being trotted across the hallways adjacent to the guest elevator and into the staff only one. Without a word further, we walked out to the restricted access door on the rooftop. He turned around, leaning forward and then back at the long hallways, checking for anyone before sliding his card and pushing the door open.
"That's some serious serial killer vibe," I stated, following his trail of checking before sneaking in.
He pointed to the security cameras behind me. "Trust me, my face is registered in then. There is no way I am getting out without being caught."
I shrugged. "Most of the times they don't work and when they do the image is too grainy to recognize."
Halting at his steps, he turned to me with a crawling smirk. His eyes glistened when his smile emerged, like his face was not used to smiling. "I should be sacred now, you know the ins and outs of how we work."
I couldn't help but hold onto my sides. Laughing was making my gut hurt, like someone punched me a while back. It was the tight attire. "We as in serial killers?"
He nodded, pulling me over his walled chest. "Ready!"
My heart leapt at his words, launching up till the back of my throat.
"For what?" My eyes widened, popping out of the socket but by then it was too late. The man had me in his hold and was falling freely into the pool.
On a rooftop
"Fuckk.." I screamed the minute my body was hit with cold pricks of water. The man diver and swam. I thrashed around like some weirdo who didn't know how to swim and was struggling to have a footing.
"Like it?" He thrashed water at me and in retaliation, I did the same.
"You moron. Now I am wet."
"Oh is that so?" He swam closer, his nearly stacked hair strands now accompanying his forehead. "Yess. Forgot that water drenches clothes." In his condescending tone, he answered.
I continued my assault with water over him but he grabbed my hands in one swift hold. For a mere moment, the world stooped its rotation, even its tilt when our eyes met. For a second more, I forgot how to breath, how to look at him and how to peel my gaze away. He leaned closer and somewhere all my melted inhibitions roared back.
"No. I can't.." I placed my hand over his wet, pasted clothing, distancing myself.
He nodded, diving back before sliding off the edge pool as if he was some model and knew how the security cameras would pan him, hopping off. I was pulled out moments later, clumsily I might add.
The elevator rode us down and the drenched beings that we were, shivered under the air conditioning which cooled the metal container. The exclusive ride elevator opened into his room. The moment my feet landed on the carpet, I moved back.
"What?" the man turned around when he saw I didn't move in.
"It would get spoiled." I pointed to the plush carpet.
He watched me with his hands to his side, probably checking if I was being serious. "Not that you need to worry for increasing the help's task but they do have equipments for drying things too.."
Somehow my alcohol marinated brain was jolted to reality when I fell in water. Rationale took over and I moved in. The stranger lent me a robe and walked into the balcony, letting me bask in the privacy of his room. I rushed to change inside the washroom while checking for any clue to know his name. Not that I had any success in knowing it over shower gel and shampoo bottles.
In all my time with men, only one other had made me feel this way. Only one other man made me feel the pangs of anticipation. The 'what would happen next' fluttered in my stomach as l slid out in a velvety robe and watched the man stand shirtless in the balcony. I tried not to look and failed.
I cleared my throat and he turned, walking back.
"I wanted to say..." I started.
His lips caught the rest of my words, fusing them in me. His hand roamed over my body firing up every neve ending. Mine held the sides of his soft stubbles face, deepening our dance for control. Passions ran wild, neutrons fired instruction too fast to process when he pulled me over his body and walked over to the table close to the mirror. All thoughts melted away like the snow when warmth of sun took over. With a sense of urgency, I unzipped his pant and bit into the nape of his neck.
He growled, a soft but refined vibration from the back of his throat. In all my life, I was never more focused on getting someone to emit sounds which made me feel empowered. Peeling my robe, he trailing his soft lips over my body, alighting the burned out furnace of desire. My hand anchored into his hair, salvaging him for another kiss. He turned me over the table, aligning us close to the mirror. Watching our bodies intertwined, vines the universe always intended to join and merge up, brimmed my desires, spilling out with every passing second.
"You want this?" The stranger asked, breathing down the pulled up nerve near my neck.
I nodded rigorously, letting his calloused, dry and peeled hands navigate over the back on my body and sliding off my garments. His engorged member impaled me from behind. My knees buckled under his touch, my whole body coursed up in electricity and fire. Our eyes met in the mirror. As opposed to the physical act, the eye contact was deeper, spiritual. He was praying to me, worshipping me and I was granting him his wish.
"You feel like heaven." He whispered, thrusting my ignited body over his chest.
The sound of the world melted away, the background voices, the traffic and hovering choppers, all things otherwise relevant drifted into vacuum. What remained was us. Only our devotional moans as our bodies fought their feeble sense to give up, succumb and release.
I whispered, holding out words and saving them from drowning in our prayers. "You don't know what heaven is like.."
He turned me around, tossing my body on the table. There was a strange sense of urgency and a need to delay, both running parallel courses in me. I wanted to run this night, split it into billion seconds and relive the rest of my life in it.
"It feels like this.." the stranger's hoarse voice whispered air into my ear.
He dipped his face between my legs and I swear, I do not have any recollection of what he did. I do recall seeing colors behind my eyes. Bright sparkling golden and orange hues burst up. I recall his muffled moans as he drank me up like a parched man, finding oasis in a desert and fulfilling his desire to be quenched. I recollect being held secure in his hold, taken to bed with the care of a provider and the want of a predator.
I also recall his words, stronger than before. "I am going to make you see the stars.."
He delivered on his promise. That night, after ages, I was filled with a sense of longing to be with someone. I was made to feel again. He thawed my frigid heart and resuscitated me back to life. To reality.
The heart wrenching reality where this night shouldn't have happened. I had moved back and forth in that hotel room as dawn peeked from under the grey night cover. Sliding off from his hold was the most difficult. It was almost heartbreaking to leave someone who slept like a baby. In a way, when I left the note and abandoned my heels, a part of me was abandoned therewith.
When I slid into my disgusting lavender dress, it wasn't cringing anymore. Pressing matters took over. In a way, I wore my past self with the attire I donned. I left the hotel but a part of me still roamed inside the room like an unfulfilled soul, wanting to have its last desire fulfilled. The last, unspoken desire.
A month later
"So you will act surprised? Or will you act like you were expecting it?" Antonio Brenton, the man, my friend and my would be fiance was deep in planning mode over the best way to propose.
Don't worry, he isn't crazy to ask me for suggestions. Things would clear in a moment.
"I don't know?" I said, tossing up my hands. "What do you say Haley?"
Our publicist Harley, was a close friend and a publicist to the Brenton's. My engagement to Antonio was to be make the front page news and for that she was the right person.
"You can be surprised." Haley suggested. "The headline can be America's sweetheart weds the heartthrob of many.."
"Cheesy.." I mocked.
"I agree." Antonio chimed. "How about this?" He looked up from the bridal magazine articles which narrated something about secret photoshoots and such. "We shoot at a location and let them film it with a hidden camera and then.."
He waited for my words. I dropped the imaginary mic. "Boom.. breaking news.."
In retrospect, I should have not judged my past. Past Zamira was only doing things for dad's company. She never thought of the repercussions of her lies. She never thought her pretend fiancé would one day become her worst nightmare.
With a high five sealing our deal, Antonio and I convinced Haley.
Although the marriage of Ford and Brentons' was not a marriage of convenience neither was it an arrangement, yet it was something strange. Devoid of love and care.
Our act, pretense, drama what may you call was to boost our name in the media. Show us as strongholds.
Antonio and I traveled to the shoot location together. Over a span of a merely a few days, we became good friends. Yet there was so much I didn't know about him or his family. Setting aside my mentality of love marriage, I decided to give dad's advise a shot. After all, that was how Grant Ford met Florence and spent their happy and sad times in the blissful company of each other.
"Ready when you are." Haley spoke to us through our ear piece. With all equipments in place, camouflaged to make it look like a real proposal caught on camera, we embarked on our ruse for a splashy scandalous engagement news.
"Ready?" Antonio whispered. I nodded, letting out a half smile. The other half seemed missing in the aftermath of my mind conjuring up worst scenarios.
With jittery thoughts running inside me, I was apprehensive of the clouds in the future. Yet we dived.
"Zem, we have been friends for a long and I always hoped you would secured my heart. Today, I want to tell, you are the woman of my dreams."
I stifled an escaping yawn.
Antonio went down on one knee, popping the question. I nodded as practiced, palmed my face as practiced and teared up on cue as practiced. Maybe one day I could even practice and perfect myself in accepting him as my husband. Maybe.
When the cameras were lifted off, Haley rushed and held us both in her hold. "So so happy for you. Now let me go and make circulations.." She was brimming up with excitement. "Be ready to have interviews lined up Mrs. Ford Brenton."
When she moved a few steps back, instructing the crew, I turned to Antonio. "That went well? Don't you think?"
"I could have done better Zem." His shoulders slumped and I felt sorry for him. He really did try to make it sound real. "Anyways let's go celebrate for today. We still have a lot of work to do.."
I remember vividly, it was Haley's spiked up voice which broke our conversation. She was chirping away, holding a man's hand and practically running toward us. The hazed silhouette of the man cleared and his face appeared as if dredged out of my memory.
"Everyone this is my boyfriend." Haley nudged the man forward. My eyes plopped off its socket, breath staggered inside my lungs as the man, with whom the memories of my one night stand danced up to haunt me.
"Oh yes." Antonio clicked his tongue, tapping his forehead. "Forgot the introductions. Zem, this is my brother who returned from Afghanistan a few weeks back. He is serving as a Marine."
My hand floated up, extended towards the man who mirrored my expression.
"Hi Zemira." The stranger, not so stranger now, spoke. His face froze on me and it was only his words that streamed.
"Hi.." My throat dried up. Memories of the night swam up, taunting me to speak more but words were amiss.
"I am Leonardo.. Antonio's elder brother." He tried smiling, I could make out but it wasn't genuine. "Nice to meet you, Zemira."
I simpered, still holding onto his calloused, dry hand. Still shaking it as if in a moment, reality will catch on and he will evaporate from the place. When he didn't I mustered up the courage to speak. "Thank you for your service.."
It was not the country's service, I was talking about. His smirk conveyed, he knew it.
Hope you liked reading this new novel of mine. Please do comment and let me know, your thoughts.
This book is a modification from my chapter's app writing and the whole plot is changed. So even if you have read it there first, please do read it here as there are major plot modifications here.
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