Read Last Call for Love Online

Authors: Maggie Marr

Tags: #FIC027020 FICTION / Romance / Contemporary; FIC044000 FICTION / Contemporary Women

Last Call for Love (14 page)

BOOK: Last Call for Love
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Silence. Silence greeted the end of his words. She stared at the ocean. He didn’t know how long they sat. He’d sit there a lifetime if it meant he could sit beside Charla, if it meant there was even the slimmest chance she would be his. He’d sit on that beach through monsoons and high tides if Charla Duvall would turn to him and tell him that she forgave him. 

“I’m not angry with you,” she said in the softest of voices. “I believe you. I believe your intentions were good. I believe you’re telling me the truth … now.”

His heart swelled. He had a chance. She did believe him.

“And I love you too.”

His throat grew tight. Yes, she would be his. She would.

Then she turned to him.

He saw her eyes.

The pain.

The doubt.

The fear.

Ryan Murphy had gambled on love, and he’d lost again.

 

*

 

“I’m going back to California,” Charla said. “I’ll inform Mr. Antigua of my decision. I’ll stay there until I decide what I’m doing next.” No tears. She pressed her tongue to the roof of her mouth. She wouldn’t let herself cry in front of Ryan. This decision to leave was hard enough. Being on the same island as Ryan, working side by side with him as he ran Mesquale, felt impossible and simply too much for her to bear. She couldn’t stay.  She didn’t believe she could trust Ryan. Not now and maybe not ever. Not just because he had lied, but also because of who she was. 

“I hope you understand. I have to do this.” Her heart ached. She longed for him to tell her not to go. To jump up and stomp his feet and pick her up and carry her to her room and make love to her until she changed her mind and said yes to him that she would stay on the island of Mesquale. Ryan wouldn’t do that though. He respected her, and he’d do as she asked.

“I want you to stay here with me,” he said. “I love you, Charla. I want you here with me.”

She didn’t trust him. She didn’t trust his love for her. Didn’t trust that she hadn’t somehow gotten swept up into his agenda to fix Mesquale, and soon he would discover that they didn’t actually fit. That she wouldn’t make a good match for his life. Better to end this now. Better to leave and build her own safe life than to try this with Ryan and end up lied to again and heartbroken.

“I can’t stay.” She pushed her hands into the sand and stood. Ryan stood beside her. Awkward silence surrounded them. They stood close, and desire sparked between them like a flame, but the intimacy they’d shared was now gone. The ability to reach out and touch Ryan, to kiss him when she chose, had disappeared with the words that she was leaving Mesquale.

Then Ryan’s lips were on hers. His arms reached around her, and he pulled her close. This kiss would be seared into her mind for the rest of her life. Passion poured through him. His tongue slipped into her mouth and tangled with her tongue. Her body melded to him, and she felt every ridge of muscle and his hard sex pressed against her. So easy. So right. His arms, his kiss, him. The longing to surrender and walk with him to whatever room was now his tore through her heart. 

This would be their last kiss. She pressed into him close and tight. The need pulsed between them. To remember every bit of this kiss, every moment, because she would take this kiss with her forever, knowing that she would never feel this way about another man. How could she? The power of Ryan, the power of their love, the power of them together, could never exist again.

 

Chapter 15

 

“Bruh, how could you lie to me? I’m your roommate.” Trevor sat at The Banana Boat bar with his chin propped on his hand. He cradled a bottle of Jack Daniel’s in the crook of his arm. The guests were long gone, and The Banana Boat had been officially closed for hours. Ryan had the keys. Ryan had the keys to everything at Mesquale. After shots in Trevor’s room, coming to The Banana Boat to make drinks had seemed like a really good plan. But now the bar was beginning to spin, and Ryan wanted to go to bed.

His bed would be empty tonight. No more love. No more Charla. No more laughter and joy.

“I was trying to do the right thing for the resort.”

“I know, man, you told me. You told us all. And I get it. I just … We’re close, and I thought you would have told me.”

“I didn’t even tell Charla.”

“Man, how is that going to turn out?”

“Not good.” Ryan hopped onto the bar and grabbed a shot of dark rum. He tossed the booze into his mouth. If he was going down, he was going down in flames. “She’s pissed. And she should be.” He picked up another shot and held it up. “To the woman I love.” He threw back his head and swallowed. How many was that? Who the hell cared?

“The speech you gave was good,” Trevor said. “I would have been proud to write those words.”

“Thank you, man,” Ryan said. “I put that one together on my own.”

“I think most of the staff gets it. Plus you’ve done good things already. The slideshow of who you’d pretended to be while you were here really nailed it.” Trevor smiled. “Would not have guessed you were that bald dude in maintenance for three months.”

“Had some help with that disguise. Bald is not comfortable when it’s fake. Man, talk about the sweat. Wow.” Ryan shook his head. “You gonna drink or talk?”

Trevor pulled his bottle from the crook of his arm. “Bruh, I’ve nearly emptied this thing. What the hell? Neither one of us should be standing.”

“And neither one of us is.” Ryan lifted another shot and tossed it back. Three. Three in five minutes. When would he forget this fucking pain? Never. This pain would be with him for the rest of his life. Just like Paloma. Never. He wouldn’t ever love again. Not meant for it. His heart. His life. His future. Destroyed. And he’d done it to himself both times.

“You gonna ask Pops to marry you?” Ryan asked.

“What the fuck, man? You lose a girl and suddenly everyone has to get married?”

“Just sayin’ you love her, she loves you, you two are awesome together. Don’t let that slip away.”

“Pops loves Pops. She’s just hanging with me for her six.”

“You believe that and you’re dumber than I thought.”

“Dumb? Dude, Magna Cum Laude Stanford, right here.” Trevor patted his chest. “No dummy.”

“I know, I know,” Ryan said, and waved his hand. “I know all about you, Trev. More than you want anyone around here to know. Don’t bust my balls too hard.” Ryan leaned toward Trevor and lowered his voice to a slurred whisper. “’Cause I know who you
really
are.”

Trevor’s face froze. His brows pulled together. He took a long pull on his Jack Daniel’s. “Oh shit, man. Do you really?”

Ryan nodded. “Got it all. Right in my office. You got a couple more months and then you have to go home.”

“I don’t have to do nothing,” Trevor said. He swung his hand into the air. “I’m a writer, not a businessman.”

“And give up being the heir to Up Side Burger?  You can’t say no to that.”

“Oh yes I can, and I am. They’re not sucking my soul. I’m out. I told them—”

“What’d you tell them? That you’d rather live as a starving artist and give up half a billion dollars? Trev, come on. Think of your future kids. Think of your future wife.” Ryan leaned closer to Trevor and pointed. “Which I am pretty damn sure will be Poppy.”

“Ha! Poppy isn’t going to be anyone’s wife. She made that clear from the start.”

“Then Poppy just doesn’t know yet. You got to let her know, man. You can’t let a love like that get away. You can’t let that go.”

Ryan lay back on the bar. The wood pressed into his back. The ceiling started to spin. Had Charla even heard his speech to the staff? Did she even want to hear his speech?

“She isn’t gone forever, man,” Trevor said. “I know she isn’t.” He reached out and grabbed Ryan’s hand and pulled him up to sitting. Ryan swung his legs over the edge of the bar.

“I wish you were right.” Ryan slid off the bar.

“Man, I know I’m right. Maybe that’s the thing about friends, man, maybe we’re always right about each other’s lives.” He wrapped his arm around Ryan’s shoulders. “I know that you and Charla aren’t over, just like you know that I’m in love with Poppy.”

“And Poppy is in love with you.”

Trevor nodded. “Okay, okay. Maybe. But she doesn’t know it. That’s the tough part, man, she doesn’t know she’s in love with me. How do I convince her?”

Ryan and Trevor stumbled out of The Banana Boat. “That’s a good question, Trev. I’m going to need to think on that.”

“That’s cool. Let’s go home, pass out, and figure out each other’s problems in the morning.”

Ryan turned to Trevor and pressed his finger into Trev’s chest. “Now that, my friend, is a kickass plan.”  

 

*

 

“Anything you forget, I’ll ship.” Poppy grabbed Charla’s bag from the driver. “But it feels like you got everything.”

Sadness tumbled through Charla. She would miss Poppy. Would she ever see her again?

“I’m coming to visit you,” Poppy said. “I’ve booked a flight from Hong Kong to Los Angeles.”

“Oh, Poppy , that’s the best news I’ve heard.” Charla fought to keep her smile while tears threatened her eyes.

“Yesterday was kind of a bitch, wasn’t it?”

Charla nodded. Yesterday would go down as one of her top-ten worst days. Not even Bertram and his horrible family had hurt Charla’s heart as badly as what had happened with Ryan. Impossibly bad. She pressed her lips together and refused to cry.

“Will you give him another chance?”

Charla shook her head. Her mind was completely blank. Would she? “I want to, but I don’t know. I just don’t know if I know how. After all that’s happened and he kept lying, and, wow, the more I think of it, the angrier I get, and then I feel like I understand why, and then I get angry again.”

“The speech was good though, wasn’t it?” Poppy lugged Charla’s bag to the skycap.

“It was,” Charla admitted. “Most of the staff think he’s okay.”

“The pictures helped of him in those horrible disguises. Plus being told why he did it. All the policy changes, hiring Antigua, and firing Orso, plus, you know, trying to beat Hughes’s ass—”

“What are you, his PR department? I didn’t think you’d forgive him that fast.”

“No, no, I haven’t. I won’t. It’s just that …” Poppy’s words trailed off, and she looked up into the sky as though searching for the right thing to say. Finally her gaze landed on Charla. “It’s just I think his intentions were good, and he was telling the truth about one really important thing.”

Charla didn’t want to hear the words she knew Poppy was about to say.

“I think he was telling the truth about you. The whole time. I don’t think any of his feelings were a lie. I saw him with you and you with him, and I just … Charla, you’re mad at him and you should be, but don’t leave Mesquale thinking that Ryan doesn’t love you, because he did, he does, as much as you love him.”

Charla swallowed, and the lump in her throat wouldn’t move. Poppy was right. The words Poppy said now were true, and the words Ryan had said to Charla on the beach were true as well.

“I know,” Charla said. “I just can’t.  Not now. Not right now.”

Poppy nodded. “I understand.” She pulled Charla into a hug. “I’ll miss you, girl.”

Charla nodded, and the tears finally slid from her eyes.

“But I’ll see you soon.” Poppy pulled back and wiped beneath her eyes. “Now stop that. Look, you’ve got me crying too. You’d think I actually had a heart with how I’m acting.”

“Well you did have a heart,” Charla said. “Before you gave it to Trevor.”

“Going to leave with that parting shot, are you?” Poppy backed away from Charla and smiled. “Be calling you once I get off this island.”

Poppy walked to the car and climbed in. She waved as the driver pulled away.

 

Chapter 16

 

Los Angeles didn’t feel like home. Charla’d found a room to rent in Topanga. A friend of a friend of a friend had helped her score the spot. Then one of the guys who lived there too told her San Surf needed a manager-slash-sales clerk. She’d applied and gotten the gig.

Maybe not feeling at home anywhere had been one of the reasons she’d been so keen to fall for Bertram. She’d wanted a place to call her own. A home. But Bertram and his family hadn’t been a home, and now Los Angeles didn’t fit her anymore either. For months she got up, she got dressed, she went through the motions. She fought the urge each day to call Ryan. To email him or text. He did what she’d asked and didn’t contact her, but with each day that passed, instead of feeling better, her heart broke a tiny bit more.

Charla stood in the front of San Surf and folded what felt like the hundredth T-shirt that day. According to Tag, the owner, she was hiding out. Ha. Hiding out from whom? She came to work every day. Sure she went home, fixed dinner, watched some TV, and went to bed, but that wasn’t hiding out. Was it? She walked to the stockroom and pulled out another box of Cali shirts. They needed men’s mediums out front.

“Yo, Char.” Tag walked in through the back door. His wet suit hung around his hips, and his feet were covered in sand. He’d caught some waves before work. “How you doin’ today?”

Charla tossed her boss a smile and dug five T-shirts out of the box. “Think we need to order another box of these.” Charla held up a T-shirt. “They’re moving really well.”

“Should be in the system. Just hit the button and make it happen.” Tag pulled the wet suit off his legs and threw it up over a rack in the back of the shop. He grabbed a pair of jeans and started pulling them on. “You had any thoughts?”

He’d asked Charla to run his Hawaii San Surf, but she hadn’t committed. She wasn’t ready for any kind of commitment. Her brain was still full of thoughts about Ryan and wondering how he was and what he was doing and how Mesquale was.

“I don’t know.” Charla’s gaze swept through the back room filled with boxes, shelves and disorganized clumps of merchandise. She could get lost in here organizing this room, but the idea simply made her tired. “I just … I don’t know what’s up for me next.”

Tag pulled a T-shirt over his head and walked to her. “No worries. You’ve got a place here. No pressure. Okay?”

Charla nodded. No, Tag wasn’t putting any pressure on her, but she felt the pressure within herself. Had she made the right decision? Her heart was heavy, and she didn’t think so. Ryan’s face was in her mind all day, every day, and she heard his voice in her head. Each night she felt his long, slow touch on her skin and would wake alone, and a hollow, dead feeling would clutch her heart.

BOOK: Last Call for Love
3.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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