Russian Jewel Beta Read

Russian Jewel ~ Chapter 1

my blog If you cannot come up with a scandalous plot, find a man who will give you a daring escapade.I had been rolling those words around in my head since last night, looking at them from every angle, trying to see how I could make it work. Find a man.It had been the advice that my agent, Nancy, had parted with after weeks of discussing my next book, and she’d meant it literally. For me. To find a man.Me.

I had told her I wanted to write a historical romance based on Colditz Castle, a beautiful Renaissance castle near Dresden that was POW camp for Allied officers,but she wanted another women’s fiction from me without, and I quote, “all that over the top, gushy stuff.” Sure, I had set the bar high with my first book, and she had done well by proxy, so I got where she was coming from. She knew this business better than me, but who has time for adventure?

While my mind wandered around that, I wandered around a small grocery store not far from my hotel. I’d arrived in New York that morning from Atlanta, in town to be photographed for a magazine feature about my writing, and decided to explore Manhattan. There wasn’t anything in particular I was looking for, but the grocery store was a convenient place to warm up after a long walk. It hadn’t crossed my mind to bring a warmer jacket when I packed. February happened to be much meaner for a Southern girl up here than back at home.

I pushed an empty cart through the store and stopped at the fresh produce. It was a running joke going on seven years between my friend and me to bring each other something difficult to eat in a hotel room. Maybe you had to be there, but Kristina started it when she brought me a coconut in Abu Dhabi on our first trip together.It wasn’t easy to figure out how to crack that son of a gun, but I did eventually. I smiled thinking about the array of makeshift tools I’d used, the hotel ice tongs chief among them. Kristina was flying in tomorrow afternoon to hunt for a wedding dress. Hers, not mine.

My eyes landed on the pineapple right away and I knew this would be the one. I didn’t waste extra time and placed it into my cart and a short laugh escaped me at the thought of Kristina trying to attack it. What would she use? How long would it take her? A goofy smirk decorated my face as I continued through the store. And then a voice, way too close to my face, made me stop abruptly.

“I see you and me are in the same club,” came a low growl.

Confused, I turned to look at the man. “I beg your pardon?”

“You can call me vanilla, and my wife isn’t with me, but I always wanted to try it.” His sticky bourbon breath reached my nose and touched my skin. His face was kind but nothing I wanted to see up close. What the bloody hell?I moved away to gain back some of my personal space. His brown-green eyes stared at me as if waiting for me to say something inviting.

“I’m sorry. You must have confused me with someone else.” I said drily and walked away, hoping he’d leave me alone. Nancy had suggested to find an adventurous man, but I got the sense this man would be more like misadventure.

But, at the next aisle, he caught up with me again. “Aren’t you looking for banana and mangos?” he said, gesturing to my pineapple and clearly not getting the previous hint to leave me alone.

“Banana? Mangos?” Jeez, he’s one berry short of a fruit salad.He stood, starting at me, the alcohol on his breath overwhelming me. There was nothing wrong to have a drink at lunch, but this guys seemed to have had drinksforlunch.

“You know….” he wiggled his eyebrows, glanced at my grocery cart, then back at me.

“I need to pay. Excuse me.” I grabbed my fruit and went straight to a check-out line, which of course was long.

“I didn’t mean to offend you.”

I sighed as the man got into a line behind me. If I promise I’d miss him, would he go away?He was wearing a sweet cologne, too much of it, as if he had marinated himself in it. Underneath, though his clothes smelled sour and moldy and I’m not sure which smell was worse.

“Let’s start over,” he said, breathing down my neck. “Where are you from? I can hear you have a spicy accent.”

“Spicy? That’s a first.” My parents had raised me to be polite and to never treat anybody as less than me, even leering strangers. I know, too, that in this type of situation, anything more than even a polite brushoff often resulted in an aggressive reaction. I’d almost certainly be called a bitch—and had been on other, unwarranted occasions. I deiced to go with a simple “I was born in Russia,” and be done with it.

“From Russia with Love!” He said with excitement that suggested he didn’t realize I’d heard that before.“So you’re a Bond girl, right? Is your name Tatiana? I bet it is.” He leaned closer and whispered, “I’ll not tell anybody you are a spy.” I scooted forward almost bumping into the person standing in front of me. “What brought you to New York? I didn’t get your name? Unless it isTatiana,” he said lasciviously, looking me up at down at the same time.

“Work.” I kept my voice flat and my eyes on the cashier.

“My name is Robert,” he said, though I hadn’t asked. “I’m here on a business trip, too.” He grinned and leaned on beverage cooler. “Say—” he began, but was cut off before he could voice whatever thing he was about to suggest, by another man, this one with Scottish accent. I felt the touch of a hand on the top of my back. Is this for real?

“I found it, Love,” said the Scot, as he took my pineapple out of my hands and gave me a box of “Goody’s” and traveling sewing kit instead. “Let me get that, and you hold these.”

I was about to lash out at him—one asshole I could handle, but two was insane—but my revulsion vanished when I whipped around and was confronted with a dazzling smile and a startlingly blue gaze. He wasn’t simply handsome, but the definition of it. I’m not a shallow person. If he’d been as drunk and annoyingly persistent as Robert, I’d have reacted the same, I swear. Maybe.

“Hello, I’m James,” he said to Robert, extending his free arm for a handshake.

“Man, don’t tell me your last name is Bond,” Robert joked, looking annoyed.

“Brodie…James Brodie.”

James’ smile gave away a hint of the dimple on his cheek. From under his sharp eyebrows, smoldering eyes looked at me. My God.

“Love, I see you made a friend already,” he said, jerking his thumb to the stinker behind me.

“Yes, dear,” I replied, playing along. James’ intentions might have been just as base as Robert’s, but somehow I was charmed.

“So, you guys know each other?” Robert, ever the slow one and still just as drunk, brought me back to planet Earth.

“Yes, we’re on honeymoon,” James answered. Really? A honeymoon? In February in New York City?

“You said you were here on business?” Robert asked me, his eyes narrowing.

“Well,” I hesitated with my head slightly turned to him, but my eyes locked on my new husband. “Yes work, but it’s Thursday afternoon, and now …,” I racked my brain for his name. “…James and I can start our holiday.” I smiled and looked at Robert.

“Well.” He heavily exhaled, “On this note, I should wish you both a smashingvacation.” He started to make his way between customers but then turned around, looking suspiciously at James and me. “How did the two of you meet?”

“Why does it matter?” I said defensively, as if his suspicion of dishonesty offended me.

“I’m just asking.”

James and I spoke at once.

“Scotland,” he volunteered.

“Vacation,” was my answer. I looked at James, worry all over my face.

“She was on holiday in Scotland.” James explained and took my hand in his. Many men had held my hand before, but this time felt different. I welcomed his warm touch.

“I see,” Robert said, turning freeing us of his stench.

I smiled and played with the items in my hand not sure what to say. James still had my pineapple and now there was no reason for him to pretend we were married. The person ahead of us paid, and it was our turn. James gave the cashier the pineapple and took his stuff from me, moving to pay for it all together. Before I could protest, he spoke.

“I’ll get it. No worries.” Then added in a low voice, “I think he’s watching us. I can afford a pineapple.”

I looked around in what I hoped was a casual manner and found Robert accosting a new victim. When he lifted his eyes back toward me as if he’d felt me watching, I stepped closer to James, wanting to clasp to his arm. But I didn’t.

“Thank you,” I whispered. “For getting me out of that conversation and for buying the fruit.”

After he paid, James guided me through the crowd towards the exit with his hand gently placed on my back, Robert still eyeing us from the produce section, his hand on a crate of apples keeping him steady. Outside the store we stopped and I turned to him, unsure of what to say.

“You’re welcome,” he said, relieving me of the pressure, and handed me my pineapple, which seemed extra silly to me now, without Kristina there for context.  

“Well, I better go now, before you know…” I glanced at the store behind James’ shoulder. “Thanks again.”

“Would you like me to walk with you?” He offered me a captivating smile, “Until you feel safer.”

“Oh no, don’t worry. I’m two blocks away from my place,” I said, immediately regretting it. “Have a great day.”

As I walked back to my hotel, the desire to turn around and see if he was still there tortured me. At first, I was too proud, and then it was too late. When I reached the hotel, involuntarily my head turned to check if I could see James. There were many men on the street, but of course he wasn’t one of them.

Later that evening I went down to the hotel’s ritzy bar to have dinner and do some work. My room had weak internet, and frankly, wine and laidback Jazz were very much needed for my focus.

“Find a man and not just any man, but one with escapades in his past.” I glanced around the lounge.Easier said than done.Random notes about Colditz filled my screen and I sighed and shut my laptop, hoping for some inspiration in my surroundings.

The room reflected a sense of the old-world with its poetry and enchantment. The only thing missing in that bar was the blue cigar smoke. Two older gentlemen sipped dark drinks, one neat and the other on the rocks. They spoke to each other quietly, lounging lazily, as if their chairs consumed them whole, though they would lean close to each other on occasion to continue their discussion in whispers.

Thoughts of my research for the WWII romance, which I was very determined to write despite Nancy’s misgivings, gave way to excitement about the upcoming release of my first novel, the one everyone was excited about. Tomorrow’s marketing photo shoot brought happy tingles to my fingers. But I’d be having a face-to-face conversation with Nancy, too.

Find a man. James was a man. A very good looking one too. I thought back about the grocery store. In some way he made me feel relaxed, like a companion instead of prey. Why had I walked away without giving him my number? Stupid. I thought about James’ masculine face, his defined jawline. Not full but perfect lips. What was wrong with me? I had the perfect opportunity to follow Nancy’s advice, and I blew it.

It was past eight now. My bottom had grown numb after a long time on the hard bar stool. I finished my wine and put my laptop away. Men and women filled the soft leather wing chairs or loungers, chatting and having fun. My eyes skimmed over them and stopped on one distinct face. He was dressed differently, now wearing a dark suit, but it was definitely him. How? James was looking at me. I hadn’t seen him come into the lounge, but I bet when he entered the room, he commanded attention.

Like an idiot, I smiled wide and waved. What am I doing?To my relief he smiled back just as wide and walked towards me.

“Hello again.” He sat down next to me and placed his drink next to my empty one.

“Are you stalking me?” I askedplayfully.

“I can ask you the same question.”

“Well, I was here first, and I’m staying in this hotel,” I answered, but looked away. He was every woman’s absolute dream, and that was before the Scottish accent. He was probably that type of man who knew exactly what he did to a woman when he talked to her. Heck, forget talking. In a crowded room standing twenty yards away, he’d would have the same effect.

“So am I,” he said, his eyes mischievous.   

“Can I get another?” I asked bartender, tapping on my glass. More wine and I’d be less insecure. Maybe. James cleared his throat but didn’t say anything. I snuck another look at him through the bar mirror. My, he’s handsome.For many years now, I had been happy alone. A wish for love no longer lingered inside of me. With my work and friends, nothing was missing in my life. And I’d always meant it. But the steady rhythm of my heart got small thrusts the longer I looked at him. 

“What happened to the pineapple?” James asked, grinning now.

“It’s hidden in my room, waiting for my friend,” I answered, realizing how ridiculous that sounded, but enjoying it just as much. He shot me a look of confusion but didn’t inquire more. My wine arrived, and I took a long sip. “It’s a running joke between us. A long story.” I clarified. “How did you know I didn’t want to talk to that guy earlier?”

 “I was in the same aisle when he first accosted you and wanted to step in then, but lost sight of you for a moment. And when I saw you again, there you were, looking bothered again.” He turned his face, looked deep into my eyes. So deep, as if he were reaching for the shambles of my past. What was going on? An impulsive yearning to kiss him rush over me and my body trembled. It must be wine. I saw his mouth open, and my pulsating heart foolishly expected him tokiss me. “I had to intervened,” he said instead, and a few tender, little wrinkles folded at the corner of his mouth as he gave a shy smile. He brought the wine glass to his lips and murmured. “I cannot blame him for trying to find a way to have breakfast in bed with you.”

“Well, thank goodness you came to my liberation,” I said downing my wine in one last gulp, mostly to hide the smile that threatened to break out on my face. “FYI, no man will have breakfast with me in bed after a small talk in the bar.”

James smiled and finished his wine. “Noman? At all?” He unbuttoned his top shirt button and turned halfway towards me. He had a question in his eyes, and he didn’t dare to ask it.

 “Yes.” I pushed my chair slightly to face James better. My knee accidentally bumped his leg. I jerked and quickly pulled myself away. It wasn’t lie. I never was a girl who would be able to have one night with a total stranger. Shyness and conservatism about this type of situation go hand in hand within me.

“So, what brings you here?” I asked him.

“In the lounge?” He rubbed his forehead with his fingers. “My mate from back in university is getting married this Saturday. The rehearsal in the ballroom was over and so was the dinner, now it’s just turned into a party.” He picked up his glass, but it was empty.

“And you don’t like parties?”

“I do enjoy parties now and then. It’s just the maid of honour…” He leaned over the bar and tried to catch the attention of the bartender. “Another wine here please,” he called, but the bartender hadn’t heard. He looked at me. “What about yourself?”

I demurred – three glasses was plenty and I wasn’t sure what I’d do with more.

“She’s pretty good looking.” He smiled wide. “But there has got to be something more to a woman than just that. I couldn’t carry on a conversation with her, and even when she did start to talk about something, anything, she’d interrupt herself to sing along with whatever song was playing.”

“Maybe she likes you, and nervous to talk to you. Or perhaps she was drunk?” Soon I would be too. Drunk. I already was nervous.

“Yes, drunk for sure, but I had talked to her before the drinking started. There’s not much difference to her before or after. Are you sure you wouldn’t like another glass of wine?” He moved his hand on the bar and it slightly touched mine. I pulled it out the way with pretend to smooth hair out of my face.

“No, thank you. I would like to look my best tomorrow and not with a hangover like maid of honor will be.”

“Mate, do you mind getting another glass of wine. I thank you.” His accent grew heavier as he spoke to the bartender, who was now busy serving a full lounge. “What’s tomorrow?”

“Friday.” I tightened my lips in a smile. “I always thought rehearsal is the day before the wedding. Is the wedding tomorrow?” I wanted him to talk more about himself. I knew everything about my life and nothing about his. In addition, his accent was beautiful and pleasant to hear.

“No. Tomorrow there’s other wedding in the same ballroom.”

“I wouldn’t want to get married in a hotel,” I said, looking around the lounge. “New York City is full of beautiful, historic buildings. This hotel isn’t old, it has no character or history. This room could fool someone, but that’s about it. My dream wedding would be in an old castle.”

He glanced sideways at me, and his face had this uncertain look.

“What?” I asked.

“Nothing. You like history?”

“I like monumental building and places that have ties to historical people or events.”

James looked like he wanted to say something but changed his mind. He leaned back in his chair and once more came back to his old pursuit. “What’s so important tomorrow that you need to look your best?”

“You wouldn’t leave that at peace, would you?” I smiled.

“You can just tell me that it’s none of my business and I’ll leave it alone.” He raised both of his eyebrows.

“Well, it’s none of your business, but it’s also not a big deal for me to answer. I have a promotional photoshoot for my book. I just don’t want to jinx it.”

“That’s exciting. Here’s to a next best-selling novel, written by …?” He stared at me with his glass up in the air.

“Ekaterina Azora.”

He brought his drink closer to my glass of water and clinked it.

“Cute,” I mumbled. “I’ll drink to that.”

“Is it your first book?”

“I have a series of children books that were picked up by TV network, but it’s my first novel. I always wanted to be a writer. My parents didn’t want me to be one. When I was a teen they didn’t give me any choice and told me to pick a safer profession.”

“Which is what?”

“IT system engineer.” I smiled and whispered to James, “Don’t tell them, but this is my first unemployed year. I quit two months ago to become fulltime writer.”

“What’s your novel about?”

“A dreary marriage to a wrong man.”An image of my ex-husband flashed in my mind, a vision of him coming back after teaching at the university and placing stacks of his papers on a small table we had near the front door. It always drove me nuts when he did that because several times he knocked the small vase off it, eventually breaking it. The sound of shattering glass when it hit the hardwood floor continued to be a crystal clear in memory. When the vase broke I created a huge argument with him. We argued so bad I stormed out of our apartment and didn’t come back for a week. The vase wasn’t important to me. If Kristina had broken it, it would have been just a broken thing on the floor, but that evening the umpteen shattered pieces made me think about our faulty marriage.

Tonight, as much as I loved to talk about my book, I didn’t want to discuss or think about my past. “So, you said you were from Scotland?”

“I live in Scotland, but I often go visit my parents in Germany.”

James told me that besides the wedding he was here for work. Several large department stores were about to display a new line of leather and rubber boots that his company made. He spoke about how his grandfather started from a small shop in Stirling, and over many years it grew into a more substantial business. His father took it over and made it even bigger. Now James ran it. His stories were full of amusing details about his grand flops when he got into the shoe business.

The whole time he talked, I didn’t interrupt him. His voice was pleasant, and his accent made him all the more so attractive. Later I told him about my own visit to Scotland, two years ago. We talked about beautiful Edinburgh, its history and where I should have tried good whisky. James owned a small distillery, too, and was considering purchasing another one. I shared a story of my Glenmorangie distillery visit where I almost lost my balance on a tour when I got hit in the nose by carbon dioxide. My adventurous travels on the highland’s narrow one-lane roads, and being lost around Loch Ness made him cry from laughing.

A thin blond, almost missing James’ lap, dropped on him. “James, babe.” She buried her face in his neck. “I’m exhausted. Can you take me to your room?” He removed her hair out of his face. Let me guess,themaid of honor. Then it struck me – your room.Was she his girlfriend?

 “Well, it’s getting late,” I said, suddenly feeling out of place. I got bartender’s attention with the sign of a check.

 “Let me get your tab.” James offered and moved his an intoxicated acquaintance away from his face. His hand touched mine.

“Oh no, that’s quite alright. I had a small dinner on it.”

“Would you like to have dinner with me tomorrow?” He asked. Not a girlfriend.

“I would really like that,” I said and bit my dry bottom lip, “but my friend is flying in tomorrow afternoon. We’ll have a short girls getaway.” It was a disappointment, but I couldn’t ditch my Kristina.

“Breakfast?” He moved the blonde head out of his way again. The bartender brought my check. I opened the leather book to look at my total damage. Ouch.I pulled out my Pelikan pen, unscrewed the top, left a good tip, my name, room number, and signature.

“I haven’t seen anybody using fountain pen in a very long time.” James repositioned himself. Blondie had slowly undone one of his shirt buttons. In a fluent way he moved her hand away and placed it back on her lap. “Why do you use one?” He asked permission to look at my pen.

“I’m a writer, am I not?” I smiled back at him and gave him the pen. “It’s messy at times, but it’s sexy how it slides on paper. Like a talented ice skater fluently moves on the ice, making every curve look so perfectly smooth. It also makes me feel as if I’m somebody of great importance when I write with it.”

 James’ hand slowly spun my pen. Meanwhile, the blond was able to unbutton one more button. I got a hint of his chest hair. I glanced down and then looked away. Her hand was now under his shirt, rested on his chest. James removed her hand and dropped it on her lap again.

 I smiled and nodded towards tooth pick on his lap. “Good luck with her.” I took my purse, placed my phone into it, stood up and grabbed my laptop. “It was very nice to meet you.” I stepped back and bumped into somebody behind me.

“Pleasure is all mine.” James groaned, lifted his heavy weight off him, and placed her on my chair. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he added. It didn’t sound like a question. It was more like a statement. And I liked it.

I smiled with a nod as if we had agreed to meet, turned away and slowly made my way through the busy crowd, suddenly overcome with how badly I needed to pee. Would I make it to my room in time? When one has a bursting bladder, a wait for an elevator and ride in it was irritably long.

In my room after a shower, I climbed into the bed with full intent to go to sleep. At first, the delicate cotton bed sheets brought shivers to my body. A few minutes later I got warmer and fully appreciated the softness of the bedding. I was entirely contented and tired, but wide-awake. Why didn’t I agree to have dinner with James? Would he go with blondie’s to his room?My mind jumped to wonder about her and him.Are they having a thing? James wouldn’t be hiding from someone like that, especially when she was that sexy. What if they’re having a hot, steamy thingright now?

I turned to my left side, crammed the pillow almost half of its size under my head. With several kicks of my feet I pushed the blanket off me. Not that I’ll ever see him again. I shifted to another side. After all these years lonely years my vagina had probably turned into a dark bat cave. I bet the blonde’s vagina as busy as Atlanta’s downtown connector, I thought before stopping myself. She might be a nice person – I didn’t even know her. If she was, then they were doubtless having a thingright that moment.

My lower legs got a numbing, twisting-like feeling. I turned to my other side and fluffed my pillow. Shut up. Please stop and go to sleep!

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