“…It is better to marry, than to burn with passion.” -1 Corinthians 7:9 (NIV)
“You mean to tell me, you can’t find a decent man? Not one?”“Grampa!” Emma Wiggins felt the blood siphon from her face. She could not believe she was having this conversation again.She shifted her hips uncomfortably on the hospital bedside of her ailing grandfather, trying to find the right words to say. She knew quite well where he was going with his comment. He was desperate to see her settle down, get married and have kids one day—like normal people. But after her previously tainted relationships left her with emotional burns to seventy percent of her heart, no way was she going down that yellow brick road to happiness again. There was no place like home…alone.“Oh, Gramps!” she whispered, tilting her head to the side. “Look, I promise you, I won’t end up…dying alone and penniless. You have my word on it—okay?”Her whispered reassurance was virtually inaudible. Was that a promise she could even keep? She really didn’t want to fall in love again. It would hurt too much. On the other hand, she wanted to give her grandfather hope, something to cheer about. Especially now as he neared the end of his long time battle with what he called “a dreadful opponent that had a habit of sneaking up at the wrong time—prostate cancer.”The long-term care unit at Mercy Springs Memorial Hospital was unusually quiet during the busy lunch hour. The place was tranquil except for the sound of the air conditioner gently humming in the background and the odd clanking of knives scraping plates as some patients ate their meals. The aroma of hospital food filled the air. The scent of fresh cut flowers she’d bought and placed at the bedside table wafted to her nostrils. She eyed his untouched lunch tray. The smell of mashed potato with gravy and sliced beef reminded her she hadn’t eaten.Laced with guilt, Emma glanced down at her watch. She didn’t want to leave him. Not ever. Not after what the doctor told her about his prognosis. But she didn’t want to push her luck at work either. Her boss, Evan Fletcher, president of Fletcher Advertising where she worked as an account executive had been more than kind to extend her lunch hour to visit her ailing Gramps. They had the pivotal conference call meeting in half an hour with one of their biggest potential clients. She didn’t want to blow this. Not now.This was a career clincher for her. But speaking of careers…. Her grandfather, whom she’d always referred to as Gramps when she was a little girl and had trouble pronouncing Grandpa, just finished a fresh round of chastising his only granddaughter for putting career ahead of love and family. If only he knew. She would love to have a family and a husband. But…Her grandfather, Mr. Wiggins, reclined weakly and peered at her with droopy eyelids. His favorite pair of thick brown spectacles propped on the tip of his nose. He felt comfortable with them on, even when resting. The head of his bed elevated to a ninety-degree angle. The green and white hospital bed sheets covered him up to his chest. He hadn’t eaten much during the past few days and he appeared older than his eighty years. Emma knew her grandfather loved her and wanted the best for her. She was also painfully aware that he regretted only having one child, a son, Emma’s father. Oh, she looked like her dad. Deep, almond shaped brown eyes that sparkled, dark, curly long ebony hair that shined. And a dimpled smile to melt even the coldest of hearts. Always willing, always helpful.“I know that silly guy hurt you when he left you but—”“Oh, Gramps. Why are you talking about that now? I’m so over him.” She emphasized the “so” and bit down on her lower lip. She wished she could simply delete the bitter memory of her ex-fiancé’s betrayal from her mind. She longed to erase the baggage of emotional scars he packed her off with. Yes, her hope was singed during that nasty breakup period, but she couldn’t dwell on relationships now. Her work was her love. And so was Gramps.“Sometimes you need to take your messed up relationships with a grain of grace so you can appreciate when the right one comes along. I just don’t want to see you let him ruin your chances of happiness with someone else. In hindsight, I can say that other guy was a goof, not worthy of you!” He struggled to lean forward and touched her cascading mane of dark, spiraling curls.Emma was amazed at his strength. She didn’t realize that many palliative patients had energy before their inevitable demise. In fact, she was always in amazement when she visited the quiet unit. Patients were up and about, walking, conversing, and partaking of typical activities. Of course, not all patients were responsive and ambulatory. It was a mixture of diagnosis, prognosis, and illness processes. The ages of the patients ranged from eighteen-years-old to those who reached their ninety-ninth year.“You realize you’re my only grandchild.” A muffled cough emitted from his throat. He grabbed a tissue from the side table and covered his mouth with it, coughed up, and wiped his mouth clean before tossing the Kleenex in the black garbage bin by his bedside. “The Wiggins line will be finished if you don’t marry and have kids, pumpkin,” he emphasized tearfully, water filling his eyes. Emma could barely watch him cry.Just then, one of the nurses, a perky redhead sporting bright pink scrubs, bought in a plate with a slice of cake on it. Her cheeks glowing red.“Oh, what’s the occasion?” Emma was glad to change the subject as she peered at the icing on the cake.“Oh, this is from Mr. Harry next door. His granddaughter just got married in the room.”“Married? Here?”“Yes.” The nurse placed the cake on the table before the untouched tray of food. “We sometimes get requests for wedding ceremonies to take place at the bedside for palliative patients who are too ill to otherwise attend. He wanted to give his daughter away. We arranged for the chaplain to do the honors, but sometimes patient’s family members bring in their own minister.” The nurse smiled and fixed Emma’s grandfather’s pillow and repositioned him before darting out of the room.Emma couldn’t help but notice her grandfather’s fresh round of tears.“What’s wrong, Gramps?” Surprise caught her voice.“I just wished it were you, pumpkin. It’s my only wish before I go to be with your dear old grandma to see you get married, settle down, and have a family. You’re hiding yourself in your work. There’s so much more to life than work, you know. We all need love, pumpkin. It won’t be nice to be alone when I’m gone—” His voice cracked and broke off. “I just hate to think you’ll be alone with no one. Just don’t give up too easy on finding true love.”Emma’s heart took a serious plunge into the deep end of despair. She could bear no more. If only he knew it was just as unsettling to her as it was to him to see her in this state.Lord knows she tried hard to make things work with her ex-fiancé, of whom she could barely bring herself to recite his name. But, oh, nothing escaped the careful observation of her grandfather. He knew her all too well.Truth was, she really did hide behind her work, bury herself in its corporate arms, and lose herself to the company’s aims and objectives.But it was the perfect cover. And why not? She’d at least be doing some good service while keeping her mind busy at the same time.Why not pour her heart into working to change images through advertising? Fulfill a need. Utilize her communications skills to write and design advertisements for special clients to inform the public about products and services that could help them to make their lives better. Contribute to economic growth. Yes, there were some things much more critical than love, Emma tried to convince herself.Still, she really couldn’t live with herself knowing the doctor told her in the family meeting earlier that Gramps only had days to live. Days! How could she not want to see him happy?Her large, tearful brown eyes surveyed his aging, graceful face as if each blessed, earned wrinkle had a story of its own to tell. Her eyes penetrated his dark, kind, tired eyes glazed over with cataracts. At one time, this same pair of eyes was so filled with life. Love. Hope.He was all she had now.She was all he had.Those time-honored crow’s-feet in the corners of his eyes ever so present. Each wrinkle represented wisdom and sacrifice made to his country and to his family.“Gramps, don’t worry. I’m…I’m okay. I-”His tears fell hard like the Texas rain. Her grandfather bellowed out in pain. Her grandfather, the stronghold of the family, loving, determined, but wore his heart on his shirt sleeves, was never afraid to weep. That took a powerful man to do that. This same man took her in when everyone else—meaning her parents—could not care for her.Soon, the nurse would come back in and wonder what Emma did to upset this poor, dying man.“Gramps, I didn’t want to tell you before but…I’m seeing someone. I am getting married.” Liar.Emma bit down on her full, defined lips. Anything to make him happy—a dying man’s last wish. But before Emma could stop herself, she swallowed another hard lump of reality. What did she just do? Did she just tell a lie to spare his feelings? She could shoot herself. But she hoped he didn’t hear amongst his own wailing.As if someone turned off a faucet, his flow of tears almost dried up immediately.“What did you just say, darling’?” He sniffled and grabbed a tissue at the bedside to dab at his tears, his shaky hand removed his spectacles while the other free one wiped his eyes.“I’m…you know…” Hesitation. Crackles shadowed her vocal chords.“Getting married? Sweetheart, that’s wonderful news. Why didn’t you tell your dear old Gramps before? Getting me all worried. Who’s the lucky guy? What’s his name?” He peered over his spectacles. A light seemed to beam from his face.Okay, now what do I say?“Um…”Think, Emma. Think.“Evan.” She could kick herself. By the time she was through she would be beaten and worn.“Evan who?”Okay.“Fletcher.” Good Lord. Okay, now I’ve done it. What’s wrong with me?She tried to convince herself she wasn’t entirely dishonest. She was seeing her sexy, heart-stopping, gorgeous boss Evan for the sole purpose of work—every day. They worked closely at the agency for the past three years—sometimes late nights to meet tight deadlines, travelling together. He’d promoted her fromnew grad receptionist to office manager to account coordinator and possibly more. He’d always believed in her. She admired him from afar. Though Evan was as distant as a star in the galaxy from Earth. Okay, so he was a self-professed bachelor who had made it known to staff he despises the institution called marriage. He’d never know about this little secret lie she just spilled out to her grandfather.Emma’s BlackBerry vibrated with a gentle hum. It was the office. Evan probably wanted to know where she was—since they had that important conference call shortly.“I’d love to see him,” her grandfather blurted out. “When are you going to bring him by so that we can meet?”Emma’s entire body stiffened
I will never drink again!
Kira Watson’s head pounded like a bass drum when she woke up from her first real hangover in years. She froze when she heard the buzzing sound of an electrical device coming from the bathroom of her hotel suite.Oh, God! Please tell me I didn’t do anything stupid last night.The last thing she remembered was coming to Las Vegas, Nevada on an assignment with a new job to cover the bidding for a large facility near Disneyland in Orlando, Florida. Billionaires from around the world were meeting at a prestigious hotel just outside of Vegas with their proposals of what they would do with the facility. All eyes were on one man who wanted to change it into the world’s largest children’s hospital and thought it would be the best location. Kira’s twin had died of a rare childhood disorder and she hoped whoever won the bid would be turn the sought after building into a world-renowned facility to help sick children from around the world—regardless of their family income.That was pretty much what she remembered.She also remembered not having anything to eat then drinking champagne at some reception at the hotel—a few glasses too many, probably, and feeling tipsy. She’d spoken to a nice gentleman but that was it. Wasn’t it?“Who’s in there?” she moaned while pressing her hand to her head to stop the hammering inside her skull.Talking to strangers or picking up guys was never her thing and never would be. She pulled the sheets over her body and propped herself up in the bed.Just then, the door swung open and so did Kira’s mouth when a gorgeous naked man walked out with nothing but a towel over his midsection holding what appeared to be an electric toothbrush.“Oh, my God!”“Good morning, beautiful,” the sexy stranger said with a dimpled grin on his face. His voice was deep and smooth like warm honey. He tilted his head to the right as if surveying her with his smooth eyes.Kira could not speak for a moment. His silky voice caused a reaction within her, sending waves of excitement and bewilderment down her spine.She’d seen good looking guys before but he was…stunning. Drop-dead gorgeous!Her eyes captured his tall, lean frame and ripped muscles on his firm body. She gaped at his beautiful tanned complexion, his six-pack, biceps, and the taut nipples on his muscular chest. The body of someone who obviously worked out at the gym a lot. No, the body of a Greek god!His dark sexy eyes resembled a delicious shade of milk chocolate. Ooh, he was hot! Yummy!“Um…I’m sorry but this might sound a bit…rude but…” Kira sucked in a deep breath, “…who the hell are you? And what are you doing in my room?”A grin touched the corner of the sinfully handsome stranger’s full lips. His expression, a bit perplexed. “The name’s Romano. Alessandro Romano. Now, honey, is that anyway to greet your…Wait a minute! You don’t remember anything about last night?”Kira instinctively pulled the sheets up to cover her bosom under her lingerie. Thankfully, she was not naked. “No.”“Don’t worry, darling. I don’t do comatose women.”Kira looked aghast.Alessandro’s expression softened when he saw her reaction. “Relax. I’m just kidding. About you being comatose. We did not have sexual intercourse if that’s what you are worrying about. You can breathe now.” He placed his toothbrush between his lips and turned the motor on. She caught his eyes sliding down her body as if he knew what was underneath the sheet and her nightie.Kira didn’t realize she was holding her breath but exhaled sharply. She also didn’t realize how much she wanted a part of her in between his lips instead of the toothbrush.Stop it, Kira! Get your mind out of there. He’s…Did he say, Alessandro Romano? That name. That name sounds so familiar. Where did she hear it from?Oh, God!Alessandro Romano!One of the billionaires bidding for the facility in Orlando!She’d spent so much time researching Alessandro’s background that she felt she knew a lot about him. At age thirty-five, he was one of the youngest self-made billionaires. He was also one of the most generous philanthropists, giving away more of his income than any other wealthy tycoon. But he also had a mysterious side. And…he looked so much different from the few photos she found of him on the web. For instance, he always wore his trademark shades in public.She just got the new assignment from her employer, Babs Insider Magazine, to cover the story that was supposed to be titled “The Bidding War Begins! Let the Best Man Win.” Their other reporter got sick and couldn’t make the trip.She held her head again at that thought. God, she would never have another drink so long as she lived and that would suit her just fine.“Seemed like you had a bit too much to drink, my dear. After we…”“After we what?” Kira’s heart pounded hard and fast in her chest now. She thought she was going to have a panic attack. This could not be happening. No way could this be happening. She was usually careful. She didn’t do exciting things…like this. This was all so out of character for her. Her sister was the fun one. Kandy’s motto had always been “life is short, so live it up!”Just then her head started to throb again. So did her inner thighs. How could she hold a proper conversation when he was…dripping with sexual eroticism?“Relax, Kira! We just got married,” he said as he returned to brushing his teeth as if he said nothing out of the ordinary.“We just got what?”Kira felt her heart stop.