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  • Amanda Aksel

Beau (Bedside Manor | Chapter One)


I’M ADDICTED TO LOVE. Not real love. Just that whisked away, passionate-sex-on-the-Riviera type of love. Sometimes those three little words would fall from my lips. It wasn’t a lie. I believed it at the time. Or at least I wanted to. Because maybe if I could love someone, they could love me, accept me, and be there for me. Funny enough, all the men I’ve “loved” have never loved me, accepted me, or been there for me. My entire twenties has been a series of foreign-fantasy love affairs and too-close-to-home heartbreaks.

Now my best friend, Kate, the most love-averse person I know, is getting married to someone she’s sincerely in love with. When I got the news almost a year ago that my friend had not only left Los Angeles to be with her new man but that they were engaged, too, I knew something in my own love life had to change. Six months ago, I finally took the advice of my very well-paid therapist and have been working on recovering from my addiction. Since then, I’ve been romance sober and, I’m pretty sure, revirginized.

To say that this has been challenging is an understatement. Who wants to sleep alone when you can swipe right and have someone to hold you? I know what you’re thinking—I’ve got major issues with men. But it’s not just men I have to avoid; it’s romance novels, rom-com movies, almost all television shows, and of course, weddings. Nothing makes a single woman want someone to love more than a wedding, especially if the bride is younger. Truth bomb, right?

I’ve just arrived in New York City for Kate’s big day. She’s the only person on the entire planet that I would risk impeding my progress for. It’s not always easy watching her usual smile turn into a goofy grin every time her fiancé walks into the room. I have an inkling that seeing her in a white dress is going to be hard to swallow. And believe me, the only thing that pains me more is having that thought because I love Kate so much. Real, deep, known-each-other-since-childhood love. Part of me is crazy-happy for her while the other part can’t help but fear the notion that I’ll never have what she has with another person. Ever.

My floral maxi dress whishes around my ankles as I shuffle alongside bustling New Yorkers toward baggage claim at JFK. Warm, slightly humid city air seeps in through the main automatic doors. It’s Indian summer in New York, but slightly cooler than back home. At least according to my weather app.

I can hardly see the carousel with all these people packed around it. The screen above lists four flights including mine. This could take a while. I rise on my toes, peeking around heads. No sign of my baby-blue hard-shell luggage.

“Excuse me.” A man pushes past me, grazing my shoulder with his back. I watch as the crowd parts for him. He effortlessly pulls a large black suitcase off the belt and sets it down, squinting his eyes as he checks the tag. Then, as if I had called him by name, he looks up at me. Uh-oh.

We’ve made contact.

Eye contact.

His face lights up, flashing white teeth as perfect as the rest of him.

“Hello,” he says in a proper London accent. Foreigner. Go figure. No wonder I can’t take my eyes off him.

“Hi,” I say, almost too quiet to hear over the impatient chatter and airport announcements.

“I saw you staring out of the corner of my eye. But I wasn’t sure if you were glaring at me since I accidentally bumped into you a moment ago.”

I blink a couple of times and will my gaping mouth to shut. “I wasn’t staring.” Yes, I was, and why wouldn’t I? Oh, maybe because I’m a recovering romance-aholic! I swallow hard, wanting to casually avert my gaze, but I’m caught in his deep-blue eyes—the kind you just want to dive into for an afternoon swim. Not to mention his tall, broad-shouldered frame in his crisp white shirt and navy sports coat. It’s been a long time since someone has caught my attention this much.

He cocks his head and points a finger at me like he’s about to call me out. “Do we know each other from somewhere?”

“I don’t think so.” Definitely not. I couldn’t forget dimples like that if I tried.

“You look so familiar.” He steps closer. Now I get the sense he’s trying to play with me, not place me. Seven months ago, I would’ve let him.

The closer he gets, the stronger his Creed cologne becomes. He smells expensive, and for a moment, I wonder if I can afford to indulge.

No, Beau! Stay strong.

I fold my arms tightly against my chest. “You probably recognize me from the flight.”

Then I see it. Honesty. He really thinks we’ve met before. Maybe he recognizes me from a modeling gig I did six years ago. Not my favorite time in history, so I won’t mention it now.

“Did you just arrive from London?” he asks.

I shake my head. “No, LA.” My gaze trails up to his slightly curly, caramel-colored hair, and I find myself wanting to run my fingers through it.

His eyes wander down my body. “No wonder you’re dressed for summer. You look beautiful, by the way,” he says naturally, as if he’s given me that compliment before.

My cheeks flush, just like the rest of my body. “Thank you.”

The old me would’ve made up a grand backstory about him within seconds. How he’s had his heart broken and I’m the one girl who can make him feel like himself again. And he’d give me all that emotion and repressed passion under the sheets. Silk sheets. Then we’d fall in love, get married, have three kids—two boys and a girl—and tell them about how we met at the airport.

Oops, I did it again.

Shit. I have to get out of this situation before I revert back to another bad habit.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spot my baby-blue suitcase sliding onto the carousel. Perfect timing. “Excuse me,” I say and walk over to retrieve my luggage with some effort. I knew I shouldn’t have skipped Pilates this week.

The man doesn’t leave my side. “Can I help you with your other bags?”

I wrinkle my brow. “How do you know that I’m waiting for more bags?”

He lets out a rich chuckle. “I’ve never known a woman to fly with only one bag.”

I feel like I should be offended, but his laugh is so soothing. Not to mention he’s right. I’m not waiting for one, but two more bags. Three bags for a three-day trip—sounds reasonable to me. My other luggage glides into view from around the corner of the carousel. There’s no harm in taking him up on his offer, right? Once I leave this airport, I’ll never see him again.

“Okay, Mr. Know-It-All, those are my other bags.” I nod in their direction.

He smirks. “You make fun, but I do know a lot of things.”

“Like how you know that we know each other from somewhere?” I twirl a piece of sun-kissed hair around my finger.

“Exactly,” he says.

I give him a sensual stare, puckering my lips slightly. “I thought you wanted to help me with my bags?” Oh, my God. I’m going to leave the airport with this man, bring him to tonight’s rehearsal dinner as my date, and make “love” to him the rest of the night.

No, I’m not.

Yes, I am.

Beau!

Why does he have to look at me that way? You know, like I’m the only woman in the room?

“I do,” he says, then the bags and the ruckus fade away and it’s just him in a suit and me in a dress and . . .

“I’ll be right back.” He heads for my baby-blue luggage. Sure, he’s handling my feminine suitcase, but that walk of his is sexy. Confident. And strong.

I smile, tucking a fallen strand of hair behind my ear as I reach for the duffle. “Thank you.”

“It’s my pleasure.” What I wouldn’t give to get more pleasure out of him.

My progress and sobriety, that’s what!

“I have to go. It was nice meeting you. Thanks again,” I say, and turn toward ground transportation.

His footsteps follow. “Wait. Can I give you a ride?”

I wish you could, you sexy Londoner. I wish you could. The old me would’ve ridden him like a stallion, but the new me is forced to turn back and say, “Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to get into cars with strangers?”

Damn you, romance cleanse!

“I’m not a stranger. I’m sure of it. I just haven’t figured out where I know you from.”

Then I take another good look at him, how his eyes are brighter against the blue hue of his sports coat. Then again, maybe I have seen those dimples before. But I can’t seem to place him either. I’ve met a million people and meet more each day. Wherever we recognize each other from must not be that significant. I shrug. “I appreciate the offer, but I’ve got my own ride.” I leave him with nothing but a smile and hurry toward the doors.

My ride is the closest available taxi. I buckle in and take a deep breath, feeling relieved that I hadn’t compromised anything. But as the cab begins to drive away, a sinking feeling weighs down my smile. I will never see that man again. I peer through the window, looking for him. What if I’d said yes? Then everything falls away, and I imagine a fork in the road. Both options are visible. In one, he and I are blissfully happy, living in our London loft; and in the other, I end up all by myself. I didn’t even get his name. I shake off the thought, reminding myself that I did the right thing. My therapist would be proud.

We pull up to the hotel in record time, and the bellhop quickly retrieves my bags. Inside, a gigantic crystal chandelier warms the cream walls with a golden tint. Greek statues of scantily-clad men stand in the corner. I bet that guy had the body of a Greek god. As I walk up to the check-in counter, I pull out my phone and text Kate.

BEAU: I’m in the lobby!

KATE: Be right down.

And within minutes, she is.

“Beau!” The sound of Kate’s voice echoes in the grand lobby. I glance her way as she begins to move toward me in a slow-motion run, and I head for her with the same movement as if we’re in one of those cheesy movie sequences. It’s silly, especially since we’re almost thirty. But it’s our bit, and it always makes us laugh. She giggles as we crash into each other, and I inhale her familiar Chanel scent. Kate’s been my best friend since first grade, and we were inseparable until she moved to New York. I see her at least every other month, but I still miss her all the time.

“I’m so glad you made it,” she says, and I take in the view of her beautiful bride-to-be glow. Love looks good on her.

“Me too. I’m sorry I couldn’t get here earlier this week like I’d planned.”

“Don’t worry about it. How’s David?”

“Better. I think.”

David’s my dad. Earlier this week he had an episode where he fainted at work, which delayed my trip. The doctor says it’s stress, but getting my father to relax and put down his phone is literally impossible.

“You want to get something to eat?” she asks.

I peek over her shoulder toward the hotel café, feeling my eyes droop a little. “Yeah, but let’s order room service. There was this sweet little baby on the plane, but the poor little guy cried almost the entire flight, so I didn’t sleep a wink.”

“Aw, I’m sorry. You want to take a nap?”

I shake my head and grab her hand. “No, I want you to tell me all about what I missed.”

It’s almost four o’clock when we make it to my room. I slip off my sandals and jacket, and crawl under the covers while Kate orders us salad and soup.

She settles next to me on the bed. “Can you believe I’m getting married tomorrow?”

I shoot her a wide-eyed look. “Can you believe you’re getting married tomorrow?”

For pretty much ever, Kate was the ultimate single girl. Most people who knew her had probably thought that she’d always be that way. But I secretly knew she had a romantic side. To design lingerie the way she does, she’d have to. All she needed was the right guy who could bring it out of her. And she definitely found him when she met Drew—a sexy biker Brit. I like Drew. And I like that he adores Kate. He truly treats her like a goddess, so I’m totally in favor of him taking her as his bride.

“Honestly, if it were up to me, I’d take Drew over to city hall and just get it over with.”

“What? That’s not very romantic.” You’d never catch me at city hall.

She rolls her eyes and rests the back of her hand on her forehead. “I know but this wedding stuff is so stressful. Lisa and Drew’s mom each think it’s their wedding and they don’t seem to agree on much.”

I cozy into the mattress and let out a yawn. “Then at least it’ll be over tomorrow.”

“Exactly, then we can finally get back to normal.” She rolls over, pressing her cheek into the soft pillow.

“I’m really happy for you, Kate,” I say, smiling as much as I can in my sleepy state.

“I know. Thank you.”

I let out another yawn. “Where is Drew, by the way?” They’re usually attached at the mouth.

“He’s meeting his brothers for a drink.”

“Wait, so which brother is the best man?” I ask, trying to recall who I’ll be walking down the aisle with. Hopefully he’s not as handsome as Drew, or as sexy as that guy from the airport. Otherwise, I’ll be in trouble.

“Mick, the doctor, remember? You’ll like him,” she says.

“Hopefully not too much.”

“So,” she draws out, “how’s the abstinence going?”

I switch to my back and stare at the molding on the tray ceiling. “It was going great until today.”

“Did something happen?” She pops up and props herself on her elbow.

“No,” I say with a sigh. “I just met this guy at baggage claim and I had a reaction to him. A very strong reaction.”

“What kind of reaction?” Kate narrows her eyes as if trying to uncover a deeper meaning. That’s one of my infamous traits. And, guess what, in my experience there’s never a deeper meaning.

“Physical, mental, emotional. I dunno. There was just something about him that . . . tempted me.”

“I totally get it. That’s exactly how I felt when I met Drew.”

I give her a wide-eyed look. I can’t believe she just said that. “Kate! I’m trying to stay sober over here.”

Kate bites her nail. “Sorry.”

“Do you think letting him go was a mistake?”

“Letting him go where? I think you’re overthinking it.”

My shoulders relax. “You’re right. Old habits die hard, I guess.”

“So, who was this guy?”

“I have no idea. I didn’t get his name. He didn’t get mine.” I tug on my lip with my teeth. “Which is a good thing because then I’d really be pushing my limits. The last thing I need right now is a fling.”

“Speaking of flings, I found you a date for tonight.” Her dark eyebrows wiggle.

I gulp. “A date?”

She giggles and covers her mouth, but I can still see her crinkled nose. In this moment, we might as well be twelve years old having a sleepover at my house. “Calm down. It’s Garret. His date backed out last minute.” Kate introduced me to Garret when she first hired him as her publicist. Since then, we’ve become buddies. Not those kinds of buddies though. I’m not exactly his type.

I let out a very relieved sigh. “Oh, my God. I was about to kill you.”

“C’mon. You know I’d never do that to you. I think what you’re doing is great. I’m proud of you for sticking it out this long.”

“Thanks.” It wasn’t that long ago that I was lying in a hotel bed like this one, telling Kate that I was proud of her for meeting Drew in nothing but a trench coat and heels.

“I’ll text Garret your room number. He’ll pick you up at seven.”

“Okay.” I let out a final yawn and curl up. “I’m just gonna close my eyes for a minute.” And with that, my lids shut.

***

“Beau, wake up,” Kate whispers, nudging my shoulder. “You fell asleep and I have to go get ready.”

“What time is it?”

“It’s almost five-thirty.”

I sit up, blinking my eyes open. “Okay, I’m up.” Sort of. My eyelids seem to weigh a thousand pounds, and I feel like I could sleep for the next three days. Kate pecks a kiss on my cheek and reminds me that my “date” will be at my door at seven. The moment she leaves the room, I slide back down, burying my head in the pillow. If only I could skip the evening. Then again, I bet Garret would blast a tweet that I’m the maid of dishonor. And I definitely don’t want to be that.

I grab my phone and pull up my workout playlist, hoping it will help generate enough energy to get me into the shower. It does. I shave my legs, wash my golden tresses, then spend a good hour on my hair and makeup while I guzzle coffee and grab a few bites of my wilted salad and cold soup.

It’s six fifty-four when I pull my cocktail dress out of my bag. I love the Seattle-sky color and finely fashioned, feathered ruffles. And—

Crap. I completely forgot that it buttons down the back. I might need to call for backup.

I slip into the soft fabric and attempt to twist my arms around to fasten the back. Twenty seconds in, I’m beginning to sweat off my fresh foundation. “Dammit!”

Knock. Knock.

I shuffle over to the door and pull it open, praying it’s Garret or Vivienne Westwood.

Garret looks up from his phone and his jaw drops. “Hello, gorgeous! Why do you always make me wish I were straight?”

I blush, so glad he’s my “boyfriend” for the evening. “Be thankful, I’m an emotional, hot mess.”

He smirks. “Who said anything about emotions?”

I roll my eyes and spin around, sweeping my hair over my shoulder. “You came right on time. Can you help me with this?”

“This dress is fabulous. Are you trying to show up Kate tonight?” He clasps the buttons in place, all the way up to my hairline.

“No! Besides, that would be impossible.” I smooth out my dress and check myself in the mirror one last time.

Garret appears in the reflection next to me, adjusting his red bow tie—the only color against his all-black suit. He bends his arm. “Come on. Let’s show each other off.”


Wanna know what happens next? Get your copy of Bedside Manor and find out!



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© 2020 Amanda Aksel

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