1 | Don’t Mess This Good Thing Up
Standing on the balcony of her Omni Royal Orleans hotel room, Ryan let out a light sigh. Her hands gripped the wrought iron railings as she looked down on the street and people passing below her. Smooth Jazz sounds floating in from nearby made her smile, giving her the small incentive to take a quick trip down to the French Quarter for a little food, drinks and fun.
Of course, her plans would have to wait until her fiancé was certain of what he wanted to do with his time, their time. Always the type to keep a tight schedule, she was sure that there’d be no unplanned fun or chance of a miss-adventure.
Leaning forward for a second, Ryan smiled as she watched a little girl dance, singing a song in French. Hearing her own name, she finally stepped back, slowly walking back into her room and closing the door behind her.
In contrast to the heat outside, a sharp cold breeze brushed against her skin. Instantly she remembered that she’d stepped outside in nothing but her bra and shorts. “You flashing for Mardi Gras beads? Wrong time of the year, Babe.”
Ryan rolled her eyes, stepping past her fiancé without saying a single word. This had quickly become one of those moments where she wondered if she’d made the right choice in saying yes to his proposal just days before.
Though she knew she loved Donald, she sometimes felt that she had convinced herself that she needed to be married again. For the security of having a man that loved her unconditionally, for the title and things that came with being his wife, for the bliss that sometimes came with marriage. Or, just for the fear of being lonely.
The way Ryan saw it, she was nearing her forties, and not too many more would see her as wife material. Nor did she have a desire to continue dating just for the hell of it. She’d had plenty of shots at true love and she’d blown each and every one of them. Donald was her last chance, a great chance.
“No Donald, I was not flashing. You know that this is my first time visiting this particular New Orleans hotel, figured I’d take in the view of the street below us. I’m really glad our original room wasn’t available. I don’t believe I would have liked looking down on the courtyard.”
He scoffed, laying out the suit he planned to wear to the black-tie event they’d be attending shortly. “It’s all boring to me. See one part of New Orleans, you’ve seen all of it. Commercials and tourist brochures hype of these big cities, try to reel you in and take all your money. There is absolutely nothing spectacular about the French Quarter, or New Orleans for that matter.”
“That’s not true, Donald. I’ve been here plenty of times, and there is always something new to discover. More fun to be had.” She sighed. “It would be nice to do something random for a change. I bet you’d enjoy yourself then.”
“I doubt it. A man of my stature, there’s no room for fun. My life consists of work and you. That’s all that I need.”
Ryan sighed, tugging at the bottom of her ear. The thought of raising her voice, starting a fight, ran across her mind but she could never do it. She was soft spoken by nature, and if it weren’t for the fact that he was the type that actually took the time to listen to his woman, he probably wouldn’t have heard a word she’d said just then.
Her beauty spoke for her more than her actual words, and because of that she’d never taken the chance, or learned rather, to speak above a barely there whisper. Her words went in one ear and right out the other once people zoomed in on her features. Almost forty, she didn’t look a day over twenty-five. Her smooth and clear, almond brown skin tone was probably the only thing that might get people to stop focusing on her breast and ample backside. Every so often the focus would be her flat and toned stomach, or how fabulous her legs looked when she wore heels… but the attention was almost, always reverted right back to her other assets, and she hated it.
Ryan sighed again, figuring that had to be another great thing about Donald. Another thing to convince her that she was indeed marrying the right man. While he complimented her, told her daily that she was beautiful, his focus had never been her looks. He listened, valued her opinions, and viewed her as an equal partner in their relationship. The non-spontaneity and same old, same old was just something she’d bear with.
“Aren’t you happy with me, Ryan?”
She looked at him, giving a smile to send away the look of concern that had washed over his face. “Yes. Why do you ask?”
“Because, I know how you are. You get extra quiet when something is on your mind. I know it’s been hard for you to feel long-term happiness since your first marriage ended, you told me that yourself. And over the last six years, I’ve tried my hardest to make sure I bring that joy back into your life.” Donald looked down, putting his hands in his pants pocket. “You get quiet like that when we talk, and I figure I’m not doing a good job. I’d love to do crazy things, it’s just not in my nature. I’m a planner and I need to plan so that things don’t go wrong.”
Ryan smiled, walking over to where Donald stood. She wrapped her arms around his neck. “I know. And yes, I am very happy. The happiest that I’ve been in a very long time. I promise, I’ll stop my constant complaining. I’ve finally found good in you and I just have to tell myself constantly not to mess up this good thing I’ve got. I’m sorry.” She shrugged. “I still struggle to get used to this side of you, that’s all. Sometimes I forget that you show your excitement for things in other ways, you have your fun in your own way.”
“That’s all it is. And you have no reason to apologize, I hear you and I understand. You’re always compromising for me, so I promise you that I will do my best to open up more.” He smiled, giving her a gentle peck on the lips. “I love you, Ryan, more than life itself.”
“And I love you, Donald. Thank you.”
Donald nodded, returning to the mental planning he was doing as Ryan headed to the bathroom. It was going to be a long night, and if she was going to make it through, she’d need a nice hot bubble bath.
2 | Can’t B Good
Standing next to Donald as he put one arm around her waist, Ryan smiled and looked in the different directions that photographers called out their names. She was wearing an all-white, Emilio Pucci keyhole gown with a high split that give a peek at her toned legs. Though he usually hated for her to appear taller than she already was next to him, Ryan chose a pair of heel-less, black Giuseppe Zanotti wedges adorned with a silver plate. Donald couldn’t see how she managed to walk in them, but nonetheless, she looked amazing. She completed her look by straightening her hair, keeping it pulled back and out of her face. Complimenting Donald, and the black tuxedo he’d chosen.
He pushed his glasses up on his face, pointing to the few photographers he recognized as friends.
The mood was a light one, sounds of Natalie Cole standards playing softly as they began to make their rounds and speak to his guests.
Owner of an exclusive, and hugely popular chain of bars, nightclubs, and restaurants; Donald had planned this evening in hopes of gaining new investors and partners for future endeavors. Though it wasn’t one of his favorite cities, his first new plan was to open a new restaurant in New Orleans. Naturally, the fact that it would be a very lucrative venture played into his final decision, and once he’d found the perfect property and closed on it, he moved on to the next step. He almost always used his own money to front his businesses, but it never hurt to have investors and sponsors on board either.
“Donald Blackwell, so great to see you. And the lovely lady.” Ryan smiled, politely shaking hands with the older gentleman she’d come to know as Big Bill. Though he came from a very prominent and respected family, he preferred to speak to, and have people speak to him, on a more personal level. “You’re running late Donald, as usual, but I guess that when you know what you’re doing, you can afford to be late. I had a peek at the proposition you had laid out. Area looks great, proposal and contracts seem to be in order. You and I have done business together for years, and I always get my money when everything is all said and done with. I see no reason why I won’t be investing with you again.”
Donald smiled, nodding his head. “I’m very glad to hear that, Big Bill. Preston Winery and your personal family brand of vodka and rum have always served me well and sold well. You coming in before I even make the full presentation definitely takes a bit of weight off of my shoulders.”
Bill smirked, taking this moment to crack one of his many ‘jokes’. “I tell you Donald, you carry anything else on your shoulder and you’ll be standing knee high.”
Donald chuckled, politely excusing himself from Ryan’s presence so that he could walk around and talk with other potential investors.
She let out a light sigh of relief, happy that she wouldn’t have to pretend that she cared about any of these things. As an entertainment lawyer, Ryan preferred to stay out of the spotlight as much as possible. The less she had to be seen, when it didn’t come to work for her clients, the better. She’d always lived a quiet and modest life, and that had not changed when she began dating Donald; even though he loved the media, loved to be seen.
As Ryan walked around, speaking to and thanking all who complimented her on her looks, she contemplated stepping out of the building until it was time for Donald’s presentation. Stopping at the open bar, she ordered herself a dry martini and waited as the bartender stepped away.
She’d just let out a deep sigh when she heard her name. The voice was all too familiar, spoken in a ‘country’ twang, speaking deep enough to still send chills through her body. Without even having to look, she knew exactly who it was. “Hi, Roman.”
Turning to face her ex-husband, prepared to speak again, Ryan’s voice caught. Instead, she let out an audible gasp, loud enough for him to hear and low enough for him to giggle. “Still shy, huh?”
Clearing her throat, Ryan shook her head. She quickly thanked the bartender when he finally returned with her drink. “No, Roman. Goodbye.”
With that, she quickly walked past him, only stopping when she felt him gently grab her arm, carefully pulling her back. “Come on Shawty, you can’t walk out on me a second time. Not without speaking to me first, just a quick conversation.”
“And what could you and I possibly have to talk about Roman?”
He shrugged, leaning back a little. Placing one hand in the pocket of his pants, he adjusted the white jacket of his tuxedo with his free hand before speaking again. “How long it’s been since you and I have seen one another. Or, perhaps, how much I’ve missed you.”
Ryan sighed, shaking her head. “You and I have had that conversation before, Roman, plenty of times. It never turns out the way we hope. I, I just got to a place where I no longer hate you, or the thought of you. I hardly think I’m ready to go forward to the point where you and I can actually be civil.” She quickly downed her drink, wishing she’d continued to walk away. “I still haven’t even gotten a proper apology from you, so there’s nothing to talk about. If you’ll excuse me, I need to be by my fiancé’s side.”
Before Roman could question Ryan, she’d walked off, leaving him with a perplexed look on his face. The last time they’d seen one another was about a year after their divorce, at a family retreat that they’d tried to fake their way through. To say it ended in disaster would have been an understatement, and both swore they never wanted to see one another again.
Of course, that hadn’t been the truth for him. Though some would say they never had anything in common to begin with, they should have never been together to begin with, he knew that Ryan had been the love of his life. Only when it was all over did he realize the mistake he’d made in letting her go without a real fight. And when they tried again, he made the same mistake, only to beat himself upside the head daily for the six years that followed.
He smiled to himself as her face quickly popped back in his mind. She was just as beautiful as the day they’d met, still soft spoken. Still small in stature, looking as if she constantly needed someone to protect her. All he wanted to do was pull her into a gentle and loving embrace, to show her that he hadn’t forgotten that at one point, being in his arms was her favorite thing.
For now, though, he’d have to take the way she stared at him and pretend it was her way of ‘saying’ she missed him just as much.
Finally reaching the table Donald had designated for them and a few of his friends, Ryan sighed and took a seat. She was hoping that her sudden nervousness wasn’t showing all over her face.
For her, seeing her ex had been like seeing a ghost. One she’d hoped would stay buried in her past along with the mistakes that’d ruined their marriage. But God, did he look good. He’d gone from being skinny and somewhat lanky to being this beautiful man with muscles that seemed to bulge and beg for freedom from the restraints of the tuxedo he wore. The type of guy more comfortable in large t-shirts, baggy pants, and sneakers; never had Roman Vaughan worn any type of formal attire, aside from their wedding, and damn if he didn’t wear it well. His skin tone still reminded her of caramel, her weakness. The way he spoke, his relaxed drawl still did things to her body that she couldn’t even explain. Any other woman might have hated it, but the way he called her ‘Shawty’, the way he had from the time they met… it instantly took her back to their very first summer together. And God, she missed it. She was mad at herself for missing it. She instantly found herself wondering if anything else about him had changed. Was he still a professional ball player in the MLB? Was he still goofy and carefree? Was he still mad at the way she’d treated him that last time they’d seen one another. Too many questions came swarming in and she knew them flooding so suddenly couldn’t be a good thing.
“Are you okay, Babe? You don’t look as if you’re feeling well.”
She looked at Donald, forcing a small smile. “I’m fine.”
“Are you sure? If you’re not up to sitting through the evening, I won’t mind. I’d rather you rest and feel better than to sit here and suffer.”
“Really, Donald, I’m fine. This is important for you and… I’m fine. I promise.”
Donald looked at his fiancé, nodding slowly as he rubbed her back. “Alright. But say the word, and we’ll get you back upstairs and comfortable as quickly as possible.”
She nodded slowly, locking eyes with Roman once again when he took a seat at a front table that held a place card with his name. There was a bit of a shocked look on his face, almost as if he couldn’t believe the situation himself.
It’s definitely not good, Ryan thought to herself as she quickly collected her thoughts, turning her attention to Donald as he let everyone know the presentation was about to begin.