* * *
The scents of chlorine and cocoa butter tickled her nose. A cold splash of water sprayed across the souls of her feet. Marla Brighton rested the open book on her lotion-slick legs and closed her eyes for a moment as the hot noonday sun beat down on her. She had to admit that she was addicted to romance novels. Unfortunately, no one like the leading men in her novels ever showed up in her life. Well, once, maybe. Adam. But he was completely dismissive and uninterested in her. What was it? Her hips were too wide, her teeth not straight and white enough? Had she failed to amp up the small talk and the seductive look that usually hooked most men? If only she could conjure up super macho male, Rick Delacroix, the main character in her current novel.
So here she was on her honeymoon at the Montage resort. The man she had just married was certainly no Adam or anything comparable to the men in the novels she consumed like a starved woman. He stood no chance, really. She waived at him as he was about to take a jump off the high board. Kirk was attractive enough and he had a job, nice home, good family and friends. He could give her and her young daughter the kind of entrée and protection they needed, but he came up short in some undefinable way. Kirk was quite simply not the man of her dreams, but as her mother always cautioned her: know what side of the bread the butter is on. Her family adored Kirk and his family. His family loved her and her family. Oh God, it was too perfect. Kirk was forever saying how much he loved her and wanted to take care of her and 12-year old Melissa. It was a regular love fest, but Marla felt so dissatisfied.
Butter. Butter. Butter. Cocoa butter. She reached for the tube of suntan lotion and slathered on some more as she glanced around the pool and tried to imagine which man she would dare to ask for help with her back. She sighed. There was no one here that was any different than her husband. Marla was going to just have to learn to get through life without her dream man. Make do. Oh, Rick Delacroix where in the world are you?
Her mind jumped to the day before her wedding and the source of her growing irritation with all things Kirk. He was adamant she call her insurance agent to be listed as the primary beneficiary on her insurance policies instead of Melissa. “After all,” he said, “We’re going to be husband and wife.”
“Maybe I should take out a policy on you too.” Marla pouted. She decided she wouldn’t tell him about the policy she had already purchased.
He shrugged. “Sure.”
So while Kirk paced the floor that day waiting for her to dial the insurance agent, she smiled sweetly and picked up her iPhone. She searched her contact list and when the call rang through she asked to speak to the agent. Marla quickly identified herself and explained that she was about to be married and that she wanted to change the beneficiary on her policies.
“Thank you so much,” she cooed into the receiver when the recording of library hours had finished and was about to go through its menu selection again. “Kirk Nelson. That’s right.”
She smiled at Kirk. “All taken care of, honey.”
He seemed relieved. “You could have done that on line.”
“Yes, but I prefer to handle things through my agent.” She smiled again.
“You always have to have your way,” he mumbled under his breath, but he seemed satisfied that she had taken care of it. She’d get around to beneficiaries when they returned from the honeymoon. What was all the hurry about?
Marla thought of the first night of their honeymoon--Kirk sitting on the edge of the bed cleaning and assembling his handgun. He wouldn’t go anyplace without that damn gun. It accompanied him to restaurants, shopping, and even to bed. She laid down the law when it came to stashing the gun under his pillow. She had nightmares about it accidentally going off. They argued, but Kirk finally gave in to her request to stow the gun in the night table. By then, any chance of a romantic interlude had vanished and all that was left was to mechanically go through the motions. Oh, Rick Delacroix where in the world are you? she wondered as she had stared at the ceiling and listened to Kirk’s groans.
Marla shook off that memory and picked up her book. If only her hero might step out of the pages and rescue her from this poverty of emotions, this feeling of emptiness. She longed to exchange the fiction of her everyday life for the fiction of her romance novels.
Deciding she could use a drink and unwilling to wait for someone to serve her, Marla threw a diaphanous lace blouse over her skimpy bikini and headed toward the bar. As she approached, her feet seemed to turn to lead. There he was—Rick Delacroix, tall, dark, and incredibly handsome. She took in the thick wavy black hair, the dimple in his chin, the startling blue eyes, the supple mouth.
He gave her a broad smile as he poured out a cocktail and placed it in front of a customer on a small napkin. He turned toward her, placed both hands on the bar. “What’ll it be?”
Dazed, Marla stared at him blankly with her mouth slightly open. “You,” she said, when she finally regained her speech.
His eyes sparkled wickedly.
In that moment Marla knew she would do anything to make this man hers. Anything. She thought of the million dollar policy she had taken out on Kirk, grateful that she had purchased it, because, after all, people drop dead every day.