Frayed Page 2

The room becomes eerily silent and my nerves start to buzz.

He clears his throat. ’’I\m honored to be here today to present this award. For those of you who don\ know who I am, I\m Jason Holt, commander of an FBI special task force, and I am honored to be here tonight to present to you a man I know well Ben Covington, California\s Journalist of the Year.’’

The words of his introduction echo off the walls in the legendary Crystal Ballroom at the historic downtown Los Angeles hotel and it seems a little surreal. There\s a round of applause as I cross toward the stairs with years of reflection sweeping through my mind. When I finally reach the stage, I take the steps two at a time and stride across it heading toward my ex-brother-in-law. His eyes lock on mine and then he extends his arm, handing me the glass typewriter award, and suddenly everything feels so . . . real. With a handshake and a nod, he clears the stage and I\m left standing at the podium alone. It\s shorter than I had expected, and as I set the award on its shelf, I scan the room.

My eyes come to rest on the table before me. The circle of people sitting there are the ones who brought me home not in the physical sense, but emotionally speaking. Serena, my sister, is seated front and center. Trent, my nephew, is at her side. Caleb Holt, my best friend for as long as I can remember, sits beside him. Then Kale Alexander, the mate I met in Australia who helped remind me of my love for writing. Beck Cavanaugh, who not only pulled me up from the darkness, but also shook me until I could see through it, is seated beside him. And finally closing the circle, Jason takes a seat beside his ex-wife, the same beautiful woman who is also my sister.

I clear my throat and begin. ’’In the movie Citizen Kane a reporter said, \I don\ think there\s one word that can describe a man\s life.\’’

Lifting my eyes to the nods of people in the audience agreeing with me, I adjust the microphone and my voice grows stronger. ’’I\m sorry to say I don\ entirely agree with that statement.’’

Nameless faces in the crowd furrow their brows, purse their lips, and stare at me. ’’Rosebud was the last word Charles Foster Kane muttered just before he died. In the movie a journalist tries to decipher what the millionaire newspaper tycoon meant. But in the end he gives up on his investigation and summarizes it by saying, \Mr. Kane was a man who got everything he wanted and then lost it. Maybe Rosebud was something he couldn\ get or something he lost. Anyway, it wouldn\ have explained anything . . . I don\ think any one word can explain a man\s life. No, I guess Rosebud is just a piece in a jigsaw puzzle . . . a missing piece.\’’

Long, rectangular white linen-draped tables outline the elegant ballroom with larger round ones filling its center. Journalists from all around the state occupy the many seats. Taking deep calming breaths, I continue. ’’And as we all know, in the end of the movie it is revealed to the audience that Rosebud was the name of the sled from Kane\s childhood it was a reference to the only time in his life that he was really happy. At the end of the movie we\ e left with the image of the sled being burned in the furnace because people thought it was just a piece of junk lying around.’’

Food is being ushered out to the tables around the perimeter of the room and I know my time is running short. With sweaty palms, I grip the wooden sides of the stand and try to clarify what I mean. ’’I\ve spent the past year thinking, what is my Rosebud? And although I agree one word cannot describe your whole life, I do think one word can describe your life in the here and now. I think that word will change throughout your life, but the important thing is not to dismiss what it represents. Don\ let life pass you by.’’

Against the white backdrop of the walls and the golden reflection from the chandeliers above, a vibrant flash of red movement toward the back of the room demands my attention. But then again I always notice women with red hair. I squint, trying to see past the shadows of the bright lights. Suddenly my world stops and I hope I don\ gasp out loud in the wake of all the air leaving my lungs. Is it really her?

My heart races and time stops as lust explodes within me. Red hair flows past her shoulders, and a tight green dress hugs her se*y body perfectly. I\d know her natural beauty anywhere that knockout figure that is se*y as hell. No matter how hard I have tried, I could never seem to forget the way her body felt pressed up against mine.

I don\ even have to see those otherworldly emerald eyes to know it\s her, I can tell by the way she moves. She\s S\elle Wilde. We shared only one unbelievable night together, but it\s seared in my mind forever.

Wetting my lips, willing my heart to beat at a normal pace, I try to bring my thoughts back to why I\m here. But I\m having a hard time tearing my eyes from her I\m drawn to her. I begrudgingly force my mouth to recite the rest of my speech. And even though the words that I\ve rehearsed flow out easily, I can\ focus on them at all. My thoughts are locked on her.

I remember the night we shared together so long ago and how she rocked my world. I remember how we reconnected this past summer and how I screwed everything up by acting inappropriately with our mutual client. I remember it all as it flashes through my mind the good and the bad, the hot and the cold. And I remember how much I craved her then, and I can\ deny that I still do.

When I pause for a moment I\m momentarily distracted by the way she cocks her hip when she gives orders to the waitstaff. She marches to another table in those high heels, and my eyes sweep her body, from the curve of her hips, to the fullness of her br**sts, to the pout of her mouth. With a pencil tucked behind her ear, she pauses, biting her lip as if assessing the position of everything on the table with a precision that is se*y as f**k. I suck in a breath and refocus on why I\m standing up here. ’’Sorry about that. I have to say I\m a little nervous. . . .’’


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