“Care if I join you?” The familiar voice caught her off guard. She had to wonder where she’d heard that voice before – until she looked up into no other than the piercing eyes of the stranger who’d found her collapsed in the doorway of her suite on her first evening at the resort.
She stared in horror at the man she’d terribly embarrassed herself in front of on the first eve of her stay at the resort. A shaking breath escaped her as she nodded politely to him, cursing herself inside her own mind for ever promising that she would let people talk to her.
“Where’s your other half?” he asked as he sat down.
She gazed at him across the table. His voice was low. Attractively low.
“Where’s yours?” she asked him stoutly.
“Don’t have one.” he answered her as he leaned back in his chair. “Your turn.”
“I am here by myself.” she murmured. She couldn’t stop her eyes from drifting. He was an older man, though it would seem he knew just how to groom himself. Dark silver specked hair framing his head. A square, taut jaw and a nose that had to have been scientifically molded to be just the correct size in proportion to the rest of his face. Oh no. The alcohol was making her crazy.
“Good idea for you to be here by yourself with a high level anxiety disorder like that?” he asked her.
She nearly fell out of her chair.
“And just what would you know? You don’t know me.” she demanded, instantly angered by the handsome stranger. “I fell down – my stomach was aching and that was it!”
“That’s why you kept yelling ‘Please stop, please stop, please, please stop’?” he asked.
She gasped and her eyes widened in horror.
“I did not.” she whispered.
He nodded. “You did.”
She turned her head and stared out at the scenery again, trying hard to pull herself together.
“I didn’t come here to upset ya,” the man said. “I just wondered how you were, and when I saw you come in earlier, I spent almost an hour and a half watching you and debating on whether or not I should come by and say hi. Seen ya sitting alone and just thought maybe you’d like some company. I can leave you be if you like.”
She took a deep breath.
“Pretty ignorant to start a conversation without introducing yourself first. And asking me where my other half is? Makes me think you’re fishing.” she muttered.
“You’re right. I’m sorry.” he replied with a smile. “I’m Bruce. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“I’m Maria.” she replied. She tried to keep her gaze out over the scenery, but could not help looking back at him when she heard no response from him.
“What brings you here, Maria? And by yourself? You must have won the lottery to be staying at a resort like this, in the best suite they have available.” he asked coolly. He grabbed his glass of unknown and drank several sips as he eyed her.
“What are you after?” she asked him, getting straight to the point. “Looking for sex? Money? You’re not going to find either here. I’m not rich. I didn’t win a lottery. You’re just irritating me with your questions. If this is such a ritzy place then what the hell are you doing here by yourself? Are you a politician? Actor? Retired football player? Find some other floozy.”
She felt regret immediately following her outburst as Bruce reacted with a look of shock and even some hurt. But then that damn smile came right back to him.
“You are a straight shooter. I like that.” he replied. “I can’t help myself to find some sort of attraction to you – you are quite possibly the most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid eyes on. However, believe it or not, I am way too old for you. Though I’m impressed and actually flattered by all the occupations you guessed me to have. Only good looking men are ever depicted in such roles. Which tells me you think I’m simply gorgeous.” He winked his eye at her.
She rolled her eyes but couldn’t suppress the laugh that burst from her.
“So again, what are you doing here then? Why do you want to know all this about me? What if I said my name is Maria, and that’s it? And you say, ‘how do you like the resort, Maria?’ and I say, ‘Lovely, Bruce, just like your masculine jaw line and that nice black shirt you’re wearing. I like the way that little bit of the silver fur on your chest pokes out.’” she retorted.
He’d just been attempting to take another sip when she said it, but ended up spewing it from his mouth as he burst into a shocked laughter.
They fell silent and stared into one another’s eyes for a moment until Maria could no longer stand it and looked away. He was becoming more and more attractive to her as each moment passed. What the hell was the matter with her?
“Just how old are you?” she asked him.
Bruce laughed some more. “How about you get three guesses, and I say ‘yes’ to the right one? Otherwise I won’t tell.” he offered with a smirk.
“Forty-seven.” she tried.
“How flattering!” he laughed as he shook his head no.
“Fifty-two.” she tried again. She was grinning from ear to ear despite her previous annoyance with the man.
“You got it.” he answered.
“No way!” she gasped.
“And how old would you guess me to be?” she asked him slyly.
He gazed at her intently for a moment.
“Twenty-six?” he tried.
She grinned and shook her head no.
“Twenty-eight? Can’t be much older than that, I know you’re not in your thirties yet.” he tried again. She felt like the intensity of his gaze was going to light her on fire.
She shook her head no again.
“Last try,” she murmured with a grin.
“Twenty… five…” he answered.
“That’s right.” she replied with a nod.
“Young and stunning.” he commented with a smile.
She giggled stupidly and took another sip of her champagne. She found delight in chatting with the older man after she came to be more comfortable with him and realized that he wasn’t out to sleep with her after all, despite his flirtatious commentary. She actually didn’t mind the compliments. It had been such a long time since she had allowed herself to feel pretty, and go even a step further than that by letting someone else compliment her for it.
Bruce was retired – he’d been in the FBI since he’d graduated military school when he was twenty-one. Always being on duty and involved in active policing led him to a solitary lifestyle – he’d simply chosen not to find a partner or have any children, as he’d learnt through coworkers’ experiences, it often led to divorce and misery.
Maria wasn’t sure if she bought the whole FBI bit – but she could certainly tell by the looks of the man that he’d been through some violence at some point or another, as a long scar raked across his right eye, along with at least ten more all up and down his muscular arms. For a thin man, he was certainly not lacking in shape.
He came from a small town in Virginia, called Leesburg, just outside the city of Washington. He had served and lived right in Washington itself until his retirement, at which point he bought himself a small home in Leesburg to reside in until he decided on his permanent settlement home, which he hoped to purchase in Montana, of all places.
“Why Montana?” she asked him curiously. “The winters are brutal up there. And you want to have a ranch there? Your animals will all die in the cold!”
Bruce laughed at her question and statement.
“How do you think people in Canada survive?” he asked her. “They raise just the same animals up north as we do down south. You’ve never been to Montana, have you?”
Maria shook her head. She couldn’t imagine.
“Believe it or not, the climate in Montana is not terrible at all. Winters are mild compared to Canada, and if you live in the mountains, it’s especially nicer. The mountains are exactly the reason I want to go. A nice ranch hidden away in the mountains… Log house, fire place, big ole bear rug that me and my future missus can make sweet, sweet love on in the fire light after we down our glasses of champagne…” He winked at her again.
Maria burst into laughter. “Well you sound like you’ve got it all figured out!” she exclaimed. “Down to the smallest detail.”
Bruce nodded with a wide smile. “If I see you again I will show you pictures of the ranch I’ve been wanting for the last year and a half.”
“How much is it?” Maria asked.
“Not for sale.” Bruce laughed. “I contacted the owners to see if they would ever be willing to sell it. Turns out the old man is in the retirement home – his wife passed away and his three kids are now fighting over the property. I gave them an offer that I think they can’t refuse, but they are in the middle of court battles for inheritance, so it will be awhile before I ever hear back, I’m sure.”
Maria nodded but said no more. Bruce fell silent as well. They sipped their drinks and took to gazing out across the bay at the great mountain that reached up to the east. It was nearly midnight and a bright yellow moon hung high in the sky, casting its peaceful rays upon the landscape. She just could not get over how incredible this place was.
She let out a small laugh, catching Bruce’s attention.
“I keep expecting the ‘Black Pearl’ to come sailing in. This whole place – the island, and the people on it, reminds me of those ‘Pirates’ movies. My whole life, I never thought I would end up in a place like this. For two whole months.” she murmured.
Bruce’s bottom jaw nearly hit the table as the waiter dropped by and served them both drinks.
“Two months!” he exclaimed. “I’m here for one, and I thought that was lots! What the heck did you do to be given two months at this resort, with all the expenses paid for you?”
That question burnt her insides as she kept her gaze out over the calm waters.
“It’s disgusting, really.” she murmured. She could feel Bruce’s eyes on her.
“Hmm, maybe this is not something to be discussed.” he commented. “I’m sorry. You may slap me if it will make you feel better?”
She could tell in her peripheral vision that he was attempting to gain another smile from her, or even a laugh.
“I’m a sales and promotions coordinator for a magazine called ‘The Brim of Beauty’, in New York City.” she began quietly. She could see him sit straight up, but still could not bring herself to return his gaze. “I got the position three years ago, when I was only twenty-two. I had no schooling or training for it, and that made a lot of my coworkers really mad. Two of them were guys, Michael and Avery. They were so mad they started acting like jerks to everyone and coming to work drunk, until they were given two weeks’ notice of dismissal.
“Those two, and all the rest of the crew that I worked with, all started to bully me. I would get to work and my chair would be gone from my desk, or my computer monitor, or sometimes my whole desk would be flipped onto its side and there would be little sticky notes plastered all over with little messages like ‘Quit now.’ and ‘You are undeserving.’ And then some were just profanities, like ‘slut’, ‘whore’, you know.
“Michael got into a habit of shoving me, another reason for him being dismissed. Avery never really talked to me much. I knew that he hated that I got my position, but he never outright confronted me about it. He and Michael were both five and six years older than me, and had the education for the job, where I didn’t. They kind of ‘led’ the rest of my coworkers into bullying me. I think it was just for fun at first. Then it was meant to make me quit. And then after they were notified of their dismissal…” She trailed off.
She caught herself beginning to divulge way too much, if she hadn’t already. “I’m sorry,” she murmured, “I actually don’t want to talk about this anymore. I’m just here because my boss thought it would be a good idea for me to get a break from everything. Can we please leave it at that?”
He eyed her closely for a moment before nodding.
“You don’t have to tell me a damn thing, you know. Can tell me to take a hike anytime you like.” he replied quietly.
“I didn’t want to tell you. At first. But now I just can’t stop talking to you. It’s this alcohol. I’m drinking too much. You’re looking too good. Can we please change the topic now?” she answered, finally returning her gaze to him.
Bruce’s smile came back to his handsome face as he gazed at her. She could still see the sorrow in his eyes, and was quickly beginning to feel embarrassed for having told him the whole story when she didn’t even know him.
“Would you be interested in a moonlit walk along the beach?” he asked her.
It was Maria’s fourth eve on the resort and she’d already befriended another guest who so happened to be a handsome, single man who’d charmed his way into her evening as she’d sat down to have dinner and champagne at the restaurant atop the roof of the resort.
She certainly had not expected to be warming up to anyone – much less a man, so soon into her stay.
From the moment he took his seat at her table, they’d spent over four hours visiting, him telling Maria his life story, and she surprisingly divulging hers except for the darkness of her near death experience at work nearly two years before. It didn’t help that she’d had six or seven tall glasses of champagne in that time, undoubtedly impairing her normally meticulous judgements.
And now the handsome stranger stood up from his seat with a hand extended to her, asking if she would like to go for a walk along the beach in the moonlight. Could the evening get any stranger?!
“Just so you know,” Bruce murmured to her, seemingly noticing her unease, “I’m afraid you simply won’t be able to throw yourself on top of me and tear my clothes off at any point during our tour, as there is armed surveillance of the entire property at all hours of the night. So your intentions to harm, violate, or murder me, must be left at this table.” Another sly wink at her. He was assuring her of her safety.
Maria let out a laugh at his cunning as she took his hand and stood from her seat as well. The whole world was tilting to the right. She’d certainly had far too much to drink. She did her best not to let it show to her new acquaintance.
Maria had been taking heavier steps than she realized, and ended up fully linking arms with Bruce as they descended the steps down the seven floors of the resort. The sight was drawing attention from other guests as they made their way through the wide open facility.
A light breeze whispered across the waters as the two emerged from the main floor of the resort.
“Why was everyone staring at us like that?” she muttered to herself. Several men had given the pair longing looks, while some seven or eight women that they’d encountered, looked at Bruce with wide eyes and then at Maria with narrow, hostile glances.
“What was that?” Bruce asked her.
She straightened up as they walked, taking in a deep breath and reveling in the fragrances of the ocean and the sexy man walking next to her.
“I just noticed all the… looks we were getting from people. Didn’t you?” she asked him.
“Sure I did,” he replied. “They probably think we are a couple, and then they wonder how on earth a girl like you got with a drop-dead gorgeous guy like me. Wouldn’t you agree?” He gave her a crooked grin.
“I thought I wasn’t drunk.” she answered, smiling at him. “But if I was sober, there is no way this would be happening right now.”
“Why?” he asked her, stopping. She nearly fell forward as her arm was still linked in his. “You’re not drunk. You’re a little tipsy, but you’re not drunk. Do you really need an excuse to be out here enjoying the beach? The moonlight? Look over there, at the mountain.”
She regretted the way she’d said it immediately, though she’d only spoken the truth – socializing with anyone was something she’d become so terrified of, much less socializing with a strange man she’d only just met! But she looked where he pointed, and let out a short breath as she fell in love with the sight of the tall mountain lit up by the yellow moonlight.
“This is incredible.” she murmured. “I don’t need an excuse to be out here, enjoying this.”
“Good.” Bruce replied. He gently began to step forward, until she caught on and stepped too as they started walking again.
“How many times have you been to this resort?” she asked him.
“This is my second time out here.” he answered her. “Last time I only stayed for two weeks. But it was such an amazing holiday that I wanted to stay longer this time.”
Her curiosity was burning her to ask him another question, but she knew it was none of her business. She was desperate to know if he’d simply hooked up with a girl the last time he’d been on vacation. Or ever, for that matter. The thoughts going through her mind over a man she’d only just met were beginning to make the girl feel dizzy enough to puke.
“Didn’t get to meet a beautiful green-eyed beauty last time though.” he murmured with a wink to her, answering the question without her even having to ask. She didn’t realize she’d held her breath for a moment until she let it out at his comment. What the hell was with her?
“You are so sure of yourself!” she commented to him.
They’d walked far enough along the beach that she could see a large hill rising up before them, thickly peppered in trees and shrubbery. The plants here were like none that she’d ever been used to back home. Giant ferns stretched up and outward into the night at the outer edges, while some story tall banana trees could be seen rising even higher behind them. The gaps between the plant-life looked inviting to her, though she knew it would be too dark at this time to venture in. That, and the heavily armed security guard that stood hidden beneath the leaves of the ferns, who she assumed was about to step out and ask them to turn around.
Bruce had apparently already seen the guard, as he gently tugged her to the side and turned around with her to begin walking back.
“What’s happening over there?” she asked as she saw the different colors of light beaming up from the top of the resort.
“Turns into a nightclub after midnight. Goes until five in the morning. They also set up a little bar right on the beach, over on the other side of the resort, too, for old guys like me that can’t dance.” he answered her.
Maria laughed. “So you really aren’t as confident as you make yourself out to be.” she said to him with a smile.
“I’ll wing it if you want me to,” Bruce replied with a smirk. “Dancing in clubs is just a bunch of grinding and dry humping to music – I could do that no problem if you wanted me to!”
She laughed even harder at the man.
He nudged her playfully as they walked.
“You want to? Let’s go give it a try!” he prodded her, raising his voice to sound more excited.
She gave him a shove back and shook her head as she laughed.
He broke off from her and began swinging his arms in front, then behind himself as he thrust his hips comically back and forth.
“See? I can dance!” he exclaimed.
She was sure now that she’d had far too much to drink as she laughed so hard she couldn’t breathe. She grasped her stomach and doubled over in her hysteria.
Bruce quit what he was doing and waited for her to catch her breath and stand straight up before reaching out to take her hand again.
“You have nothing to be afraid of.” he murmured to her as she gently grasped onto his hand.
The laughter faded as she locked eyes with him. He was all serious now, gazing at her in silence as she stood beside him. She could feel an icy chill sneaking up her spine as she lost herself in his piercing eyes.
“One more drink before we call it a night and I let you go back to your lonely suite?” he asked her after a moment.
She said nothing back for a little while as she continued to look at him. She’d thought at the beginning of the night that she was going to entirely regret engaging with the egotistical stranger who’d casually inserted himself into her evening, but now as she stood quietly observing the man, she realized that he’d simply been trying to cheer her up the entire evening.
“You weren’t going to sleep with me.” she whispered.
He offered her the first soulful smile she’d seen from him that evening as he shook his head. “No, beautiful. Not hard to tell that you’re lonely and afraid. Maybe it’s none of my business. But I thought maybe you’d like to have a friend.”
She should have been happy to hear that. She should have felt relief. Why was her whole chest caving in on itself? Why did she feel like she was ready to burst into tears?
Because that wasn’t what she wanted to hear.
“Are you alright?” he asked her, concern filling his gaze. “You look like you’re going to be sick.”
“I am,” she managed to choke out before she doubled over and puked into the sand.
Too much to drink, combined with a pallet of foods that she was still not yet accustomed to, and now the devastating discovery of being “friend-zoned” by a man who she’d been remarkably getting attached to from the moment he sat down at her table, led to one of the sickest nights of her life.
Maria couldn’t bring herself to answer Bruce. She stayed in position for another moment in case more came spewing out.
When she finally felt sure enough it wasn’t going to happen again right away, she slowly stood straight up again and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. Bruce stood watching in silence, seemingly unsure of what to say.
“Well leave me then.” Maria snapped at him.
Bruce drew back in shock.
“What did I do?” he asked, bewildered.
“I don’t need your pity.” she hissed miserably. “I’m not a lost fawn needing guidance and sympathy. Go have your drink. I’m going to go throw up more.”
She turned on her heels and stalked away from him, back toward the resort. The drunkenness still hadn’t left her, and neither had the sickness. She fell to her knees as more of her supper came thundering up.
It was hard not to make a lot of noise, despite her best efforts. She could not recall ever having puked so hard in her life. Her ribs were aching and her lungs felt so empty that she expected them to shrivel up to nothing.
She felt a gentle hand on her back as another hand carefully swept her dangling hair out of the way of her vomit.
“Come on,” murmured Bruce, “let’s get you back to your suite.”
He managed to get her back to her suite and into the washroom, where he sat beside her and held her hair while she puked some more. The pair spent over three hours beside the toilet together. Bruce got up a couple times to fill a small glass of water for her, but every sip she drank just seemed to come right back up.
Maria finally just quit trying to drink anything at all, and sat with her head held above the toilet bowl, until she fell asleep without realizing.
She awoke to a soft feeling on her back as Bruce ever gently placed her down on the large king bed. He’d already pulled the single blanket down before he placed her so that he could throw it back over her.
“What are you doing?” she asked him faintly, squinting against the bright moonlight that filtered into the suite. “How did – how did we end up here?”
“Ssh.” he hushed her. He tossed the blanket over her. “I’ll tell you all about it in the morning. Close your eyes, you really need to sleep for a couple minutes.”
Maria didn’t argue with that, and shut her eyes like she was told, drifting quickly into a deep sleep.
Bright sunlight filtered through the fly sheets, warming Maria’s face and pleasantly waking her the next morning. Seagulls could be heard outside, adding to the happy, warm feeling she’d been developing while at the resort.
It was grand – she wished she could wake up like this every morning.
Until she fully opened her eyes and caught sight of the shirtless man that lay sleeping on top of the blankets next to her and let out a terrified screech.
Bruce jerked awake with a startled grunt on the edge of the bed, shifting his weight just a bit too far back in his shock that he slipped off the side of the bed, falling to the floor and taking half the fly sheets down with him in a loud crash.
But Maria didn’t give him a chance to react.
She was up off the bed and standing on the ground next to him, glaring down at him accusingly.
“What the hell are you doing in here!?” she demanded frantically. “I would never have let you in! How did you get in here? Just what the hell happened last night! Tell me or I will start kicking you!”
“Whoa, whoa, now just hang on a minute!” Bruce tried, reaching around to try and pull the fly sheets off him. It was to no avail, as he ended up tangled in them twice as bad as before. “I can – explain – in two – seconds, just let me get this damn thing – off me! Give an old man a damn heart attack, you know!”
Maria wound up her leg in her hysteria, ready to boot the man right in his rib cage.
“Tell me what happened!” she demanded. “I’m not getting you out of that netting until you explain just what the hell you’re doing in my room, on my bed, sleeping beside me!”
“Jesus!” he cried. “Fine! We drank together, we walked along the beach together, then we made love in the sand, then we came back to your suite and made love on the edge of the pool, then the floor, then the couch! Then we went to sleep! Is that good enough for you? Let me out of this damn thing already!”
Maria let out a horrified gasp as she brought her hands to her face. What on Earth had she done? It couldn’t be.
“Are you going to help me now?” he asked as he flopped around like a tangled up dolphin.
She booted him in the side, making him cry out.
“Hey what the hell! I asked for help, not a damn beating!” he yelled.
She booted him a second time before she got down on her knees beside him and began to shake him violently by his shoulders.
“Asshole!” she yelled at him. “Why would you take advantage of a drunk girl like that! You’re disgusting, you’re -”
“I didn’t!” he cried, cutting her off. “Holy crap I was just kidding, I never touched you! Stop beatin’ the crap outta me, you crazy broad! Last night you told me to leave you alone because I didn’t plan to sleep with you, and today you’re tryin’ to murder me because you think I did! Get me outta this damn sheet already!”
Maria froze mid-motion and let out a quiet “Oh.” as she remembered a little more of the night before. Bruce was right.
She quickly pulled the sheets off of him and watched him achingly get back on his feet.
He looked at Maria with a glare, until the look softened and a maniacal grin began to sweep across his face.
She didn’t realize that she’d started to grin back at him, until both of them burst into laughter.
Bruce sat down on the edge of the bed, gathering the shirt that he’d left at the foot of the bed before he’d gone to sleep.
Maria couldn’t help staring at his exposed chest and back as he reached over and grabbed his shirt. It would appear that the feelings she’d dealt with the night before were indeed not caused by her intoxication as they were still present the next morning.
“You ‘friend-zoned’ me.” she said to him quietly as she watched him button up his shirt.
“What?” Bruce asked in disbelief. “Is that what that was about? Why didn’t you say something right then?”
“What the heck was I supposed to say?” she asked. She could feel the irritation slowly coming back. “I don’t even know why I’m bringing it up now.”
“Well that’s not hard,” Bruce replied simply, “you like me, so it upset you when you thought I didn’t like you that way. That would make anyone mad. But that wasn’t what I was trying to tell you last night.”
“Oh, get over yourself already!” she exclaimed. “You were the one who started the whole thing! You made it seem like you liked me, not the other way around!”
“That’s because I do like you, cutie.” he answered her. She fell silent with an open mouth. “You’re beautiful, and sweet, and strikingly innocent.”
Maria cringed when she heard the word “innocent”.
“I would be happy to get closer to you. I just didn’t think you’d appreciate me doing exactly what you tried to murder me over ten minutes ago. So I tried to tell you that. I wasn’t trying to offend you, at all. You just took it the wrong way, that’s all.” he explained.
“Well you’re not going to get any closer to me if you keep up that ‘full of yourself’ attitude!” she snarled at him. “You’re not Casanova himself, you know!”
“I can pretend to be if it makes me feel better about myself.” he quipped back, sticking his nose up like a child.
She let out a laugh despite her best efforts of displaying her irritations with him. This damned man was the son of charisma himself.
“Well what now?” she asked aloud.
“You should probably go shower and get cleaned up. Join me for breakfast on the beach?” he replied.
She was shocked at the shower suggestion, until she looked herself over and realized she was still in the lovely blue gown from the night before, and her previously beautiful hairdo was now a vomit-soaked mop matted against the side of her head. She brought both her hands up to her hair, trying to cover it from his view in her shame.
“I can help you wash your hair out if you like.” he announced with a wink. “Scrub your back too, and you can scrub mine. So much easier with a second person.”
“Oh for Pete’s sake, get out already!” she cried in exasperation. She rolled her eyes and hid her smirk from him as she escorted him to the door. “I’ll find you later if I feel like joining you, Bruce. Thanks for taking care of my sorry drunken butt last night. And um, sorry, for kicking you earlier.”