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The Perfect Affair
By Lutishia Lovely
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Lutishia Lovely
All rights reserved.
"Let's toast to Jacqueline!"
A group of five fashionably dressed and vivacious women, seated in a trendy Toronto eatery, lifted their champagne flutes in the air. The atmosphere was festive. Even the April showers had paused, allowing bright, warm sunshine to surround them.
"To you, Jacqueline Tate," Rosie, the speaker, continued. "A woman who has finally gotten what all of us want."
"A good man?" The plus-size cutie with dimples and curves kept a straight face as she asked this. The others laughed.
"No, Kaitlyn, money. The next best thing."
"Or the best thing," Jacqueline countered, "depending on how you look at it."
"We wish you tons of success on this new venture. Go get 'em, girl!"
The ladies clinked their glasses and took healthy sips of pricey bubbly before questions rang out.
"What, exactly, will you be doing?"
"Is this full-time or freelance?"
"How did you get this job?"
Jacqueline laughed as she raised her hands in mock surrender. "All right, already! I'll tell you everything." She took another sip of her drink, eyes shining with excitement. "First of all, it's a freelance writing contract—but," she continued when the other writer in the group moaned, "it's for three months and ... it's with Science Today!"
"What's that?" Kaitlyn asked, looking totally unimpressed.
"It's the magazine for scientists like Vogue is for models," Jacqueline replied.
Kaitlyn cocked a brow. "Really? That big, huh?"
"It's a huge deal," Molly, the other writer, commented. "Doing articles for such a prestigious journal will look great on the résumé."
"Wow, that's wonderful!" Rosie said. "Will you work from an office or from home?"
Jacqueline sat straighter, barely containing her excitement. "That's the best part, guys. I'll be spending most of this assignment in America, traveling to events and interviewing the movers and shakers in the science world."
Kaitlyn reached for the champagne bottle. "Somehow 'mover,' 'shaker,' and 'scientist' sound weird in the same sentence."
"That's because your world revolves around Hollywood," Jacqueline countered. "And you consider tabloids real reading and their content true fact."
This elicited more laughter from the group, and more questions. Finally, the successful-but-shy one in the group, Nicole, spoke up. "I'm really happy for you, Jacqueline. After what you've gone through, you deserve to have some good stuff come your way."
It was true. Last year had been a doozy. On top of losing a high-paying job due to downsizing, she'd found out that the love of her life was someone else's love too. Walked in on them in her house, in her bed. Guess he'd not counted on the fact that the interview she'd been called out to do might wrap up early. It did, and so did the relationship. They'd been dating for months. Jacqueline had even confided to her friends that he might be "the one." The one to break her heart, maybe, but not the one for lifetime love.
Rosie sensed Jacqueline's sadness, and placed a hand on her arm. "At least he's out of your life."
Kaitlyn cringed. "He's not?"
"Occasionally we'll cover the same event. You guys remember that he's a photographer, right?"
"I remember he's a jerk," Kaitlyn replied.
"And an asshole," Molly added.
Jacqueline laughed, and it was genuine. "Thank you, guys. You sure know how to make a girl feel good."
Kaitlyn peered at her friend of more than five years. She began shaking her head.
Jacqueline noticed. "What?"
"I don't get it. You're smart, funny, and the most beautiful woman I've ever seen in person."
"Oh, girl ..."
"Seriously? If it weren't for you, I'd think those chicks posing on the magazine covers were make-believe."
"They are," Molly said. "It's called Photoshop."
"My point," Kaitlyn continued, "is I can't understand why you're not married. I'm with my third husband and I look like a whale!"
Jacqueline frowned. "You do not. Stop exaggerating and putting yourself down like that."
"That analogy may have gone a bit overboard. But I don't look like you."
No one would argue that Jacqueline was a natural beauty. Tall, slender, with creamy tan skin, long, thick hair and perfectly balanced features, she was often thought to be a model when out on assignment, and once had even been mistaken for the pop star Rihanna.
"Maybe Kaitlyn's right," Rosie offered. "Maybe in addition to finding great stories, you might find love."
"Oh no. I'm not even going to think like that, and set myself up to be disappointed. I'm going to stay focused and disciplined, never forgetting the reasons for why I'm there. I'll be going to some great places—LA,Vegas, New York—so, sure, I plan to have fun. But guys? Not interested."
"You say that now." Kaitlyn was obviously not convinced.
"True. Anything can happen. So if I do see a hottie and want a good time, I'll view it as just that, a good time, nothing more. For me, when it comes to men and relationships, using words like 'love' and 'forever' only leads to a broken heart."
Rosie gazed at Jacqueline with compassionate eyes. "You've been through a lot and you're still smiling. You deserve to be happy and to find true love. I, for one, will be rooting for that happiness to come your way."
Kaitlyn reached for the champagne bottle and, noting it empty, flagged down the waiter to bring another one. Already outspoken and boisterous, the bubbly loosened her tongue even further and made her talk more loudly. "I'm with you, Jacqueline," she said, trying to further drain her already empty glass. "I say get wined, dined, and screwed out your mind, then tell the muthafuckas to kiss your ass. Don't even give them your phone number if they can't pass the shoe."
Every face showed confusion. "The shoe?" Jacqueline asked.
"That's right. The shoe. Y'all haven't heard of that? It's a test." Noting her very interested audience, including some from surrounding tables, Kaitlyn lowered her voice as if she was about to drop secrets from Camp David. "Okay, here's what you do. Have him take you out, buy you dinner, and then, after a night of partying, when he's trying to get in the panties, take off your stiletto, pour a drink in the shoe, and tell him to drink it. If he can't do that, then he's not a coochie connoisseur."
Ms. Shy, Nicole, was suddenly not shy at all. "A what?" When the waiter brought out the second bottle, hers was the first glass raised.
"Coochie con-no-sir. One who'll lick it, kiss it, nip it, and flick it before he fucks it."
Rosie's cheeks turned as red as her hair. "Oh my," she whispered with a hand to her mouth.
Molly pulled out her phone to take notes.
"Thanks anyway," Jacqueline responded. "But the last man I'd give my phone number is one who'd drink out of my shoe. That's just foul."
"Whatever." Kaitlyn's countenance was one of pure confidence." I'm just sayin' ..."
Jacqueline sat back and crossed her arms. "And you know this because?"
"Because when I met the man who drank out of my shoe? I married him!"
This comment sent the table into another vocal frenzy.
"No, he didn't!"
"Sounds like a wild and crazy date!"
"Geez! I'll never look at good old Harry the same way again."
Jacqueline sat back and took it all in. These were her girls; some she'd known for years and others a few months. Their sisterhood and support were genuine. Only one of her besties was missing. Kris. Her ride-or-die BFF who'd been there forever. She couldn't wait to share this great piece of news with the main one who'd been beside her during both good times and bad.
"Okay, maybe asking him to sip from your heels is a bit extreme."
You think? Jacqueline's raised brow seemed to imply.
"But there are still good men out there. I finally found one, though it took me three tries."
"Evidently my radar on good men is in need of repair."
"My mother always told me that when you meet him, you'll know." Kaitlyn sat back, thoughtful. "I have to admit, it wasn't until Harry came along that I knew what she meant."
Intrigued, Jacqueline eyed her. "How was he different?"
"It was natural, easy," Kaitlyn said with a shrug. "He felt like an old shoe."
"Ha! What is it with you and shoes?" Rosie asked.
Kaitlyn laughed. "I don't know. Probably time for a new pair." Her voice became serious as she looked at Jacqueline. "I didn't have to try with Harry. I was just myself. He felt right, and good, from the beginning. That's how I knew it. Maybe that's how you'll know it too."
"Sounds easy, but again, with the bad luck I've been having, I'm just not sure."
"I understand your being cautious. Just don't shut totally down. Leave a little space in your heart open to love. A little light, so the right man can find it."
They toasted to that and once the entrées arrived, the conversation moved around to other things. Later, however, Kaitlyn's words still echoed. Jacqueline wanted to find love, really hoped that it would happen. But during this assignment and over the next three months, at least? She wouldn't go looking for it.CHAPTER 2
Award-winning biologist Randall Atwater walked toward the baggage claim area of Los Angeles International Airport envisioning green palm trees, blue skies, and fluffy white clouds. Instead, looking out the windows, he saw rain. Lots of it. Pouring out steadily and heavily from a dark gray sky.
I thought they said it never rained in California. Randall was sure he'd heard those words in a song. April showers were common in Virginia, where he lived and unfortunately where he'd left his umbrella. Sheesh. Looking down at the expensive outfit he'd just purchased for the trip, he lamented, So much for this brand-new, tailored designer suit.
He retrieved his bag and, using the USA Today he'd been given on the airplane for cover, made a dash for the taxi stand across from the passenger pick-up area. So focused was he on trying to stay dry and not getting hit, he didn't recognize the long line until he'd arrived at his destination, where only two taxis waited.
First the rain and now no taxis? Randall had enthusiastically boarded the plane back home, excited about coming to one of his favorite cities to meet some of his most esteemed colleagues and to learn the latest discoveries and innovations in his chosen field. He was still happy to be here, but so far the visit hadn't gotten off to a terrific start.
"Hey, excuse me," he said to the young man standing in front of him, whose thumbs were flying all over his iPhone screen. "Do you know what's going on, and why there are no taxis?"
"Accident," the man answered without looking up. "Traffic is having a hard time getting through."
"How long have you been standing here?"
"About thirty minutes."
Randall looked at the twenty or so people in front of him and his scowl increased. He looked at his watch and the crease in his brow deepened. The conference didn't start until the next morning, but he'd made plans to meet a talented colleague and good friend for drinks at six. It was now four thirty. Getting from the airport to downtown, where the conference was being held, could sometimes take forty-five minutes. Waiting a half hour for a taxi wasn't going to work for him. He turned and looked around, thinking of possible alternatives. And that's when he saw her.
Jacqueline gripped her full-sized umbrella in one hand while pulling her carry-on with the other. Organized and prepared to the point of what some would consider obsessive, she'd known about the 70 percent chance of rain hovering over Los Angeles and the seasonably cooler weather and had dressed and packed accordingly. She placed one Bebe-pump-covered, French-manicured foot in front of the other, thankful that she'd tightened the belt on her Burberry raincoat and donned a matching hat. Jacqueline was more self-conscious than conceited, but she knew how to highlight her best assets, and right now the best parts of what she was working with—breasts, legs, classically pretty face—were on full display.
She strode to the taxi stand, coyly smiling at the unabashed appreciation on Randall's face.
"Hello," he said with emphasis as soon as she joined the line.
"Hello," she replied. "Perfect California weather we're having, wouldn't you say?"
Randall smiled back. "I'm glad to be seeing a little sunshine now." He looked at her umbrella and then down at her rainy-weather attire. "I see someone checked the Internet."
"I like to be prepared."
"I'll remember that the next time I travel." He stuck out his hand. "Randall Atwater."
"A pleasure to meet you. Doctor Atwater, correct?"
Randall's brow rose. "Forgive me if I've forgotten but ... have we met?"
Jacqueline's laugh was melodic. "No," she said, holding out her hand. "Jacqueline Tate." Their hands touched and something happened: a magnetic electricity unlike anything she'd ever felt before. The way his eyes darkened as he continued to gaze at her, Jacqueline was sure he felt it too. And just as quickly as the absurd idea came to her head, she forced its exit and reclaimed her hand. "I'm a freelance writer with Science Today," she explained, working to forget the undeniable jolt she'd just experienced. "I'm well aware of your research and groundbreaking work."
"It's a pleasure to meet you. I take it you're also here for the conference?"
"Yes, I'll be conducting interviews and attending workshops. Along with your talk on progressive changes in the technology regarding stem-cell research, I'm looking forward to covering Dr. Darshana Chatterji and his rather unorthodox position on spiritual healing." She looked at her watch. "In fact, I was hoping to get to the hotel quickly—get organized for the pre-conference breakfast happening in the morning." Looking over his shoulder, she asked him, "Where are all the cabs?"
Randall relayed the information he'd been given. "I don't want to wait for a taxi either, and was just thinking about trying to find a car service. If so, you're welcome to ride as well."
"Oh no, Dr. Atwater. I wouldn't want to be a bother." She also didn't want to be in quarters as close as a car, not with a magnet like him. In town less than an hour, and already she was battling with her vow to stay focused on business. If she rode with this doctor, she felt it was a battle she'd lose.
But he persisted. "Call me Randall."
"Thank you, Randall, but I couldn't impose."
"Nonsense. We're going to the same place, right? Are you staying at the conference site?"
"Yes. I'm at the Ritz."
"Then it's no trouble at all." Randall placed a hand on her elbow. "Come on, let's go inside. I believe I have a contact who can help us out quickly."
"If you insist." She relented, justifying it by deciding to use the opportunity to learn more about the scientist and gather information for an article.
Ten minutes later, Randall and Jacqueline were dry and comfortable, riding in the back of a cushy town car and chatting as if they'd known each other far longer than fifteen minutes." The article on bone regeneration," he said, nodding with recognition. "That's where I've heard your name."
"I've written dozens of articles, but I must admit ... that one definitely made my name more recognizable."
"Forgive me, but it also had some people thinking you were certifiable!"
"Ha! That's not nice."
"Well, when you tell the scientific community that it's possible to regrow limbs and other body parts ..."
"Hey, I did the research and stand behind that story."
"If you say so," Randall conceded with a shrug.
"I do, and at least a dozen of your noteworthy, award-winning cohorts agree with me."
"A dozen? You sure?"
"I am. Four were named in the article. But I can recall the names of all twelve."
"Right now? From memory?"
Jacqueline quickly recited the names of the scientists and doctors who'd backed the research.
"Impressive. You do like to be prepared." Randall leaned back so he could take a good look at her. "You're obviously as smart as you are beautiful. I like that."
The conversation flowed much more easily than LA's rush-hour traffic. Their journey took almost an hour. By the time they reached the Ritz, however, they were chatting like old friends.
"Thanks for the ride," Jacqueline said to Randall after the doorman had helped her out of the car. Reaching into her purse, she asked, "How much do I owe you?"
Randall dismissed her question with a wave of his hand. "Don't worry about it. We were both coming to the same place."
"Thanks again. I look forward to hearing more from you during this week."
"Perhaps you can join me for dinner."
Excerpted from The Perfect Affair by Lutishia Lovely. Copyright © 2014 Lutishia Lovely. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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