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Authors: Charisma Kendrick

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The Opium Room

BOOK: The Opium Room
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THE OPIUM ROOM

By: Charisma Kendrick

Copyright © 2013 by Charisma Kendrick

All rights reserved

 

Publisher’s note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.”

 

PROLOGUE

I still have the key to the apartment I shared with Brandon. I never gave it back after I moved out, and he never asked for it—probably because he was too enamored with his new girlfriend to give it a second thought. Ten years of marriage down the drain after he hooked up with a childhood friend on Facebook. I never thought that would happen to us. Still doesn’t feel real. That’s why I choose not to think about it. I refuse to cry.

But I almost did last night.

On the way home from water aerobics, Kate and I decided to pull into Ye Ole Fashioned Ice Cream. Makes a lot sense to get ice cream right after a workout, huh? I’ll blame my irrational idea on my screwy state of mind. Divorce will do that to you. No logically thinking woman would do such a thing, would she? And poor Kate—I think she just goes along with whatever will put a smile on my face these days.

Anyway, we got out the car and started walking toward the door when through the large glass windows, I caught a glimpse of Brandon inside. His hoochy, husband–stealing girlfriend was feeding him ice cream. That’s right—feeding him. And he was loving every bite.

Bastard.

Kate and I scurried back to the car, but we should have gone in anyway; it’s not like he would’ve taken his eyes off of that bimbo long enough to notice me. After Kate dropped me off at home, I was so pissed off from having seen that shit, and not getting my ice cream, that I considered going to his apartment and leaving my mark. I still have those soap crayons that I used to leave him sweet messages on our bathroom mirror. I was about to go to his place, let myself in, and leave an outline of my naked body on Brandon’s shower wall. Stir things up a bit for the lovebirds.

Then I remembered Honey Boo Boo was on.

CHAPTER ONE

—Lea

Her butt was asleep. Lea Engle had only been driving on I–20 for two hours, but it felt like much longer. She didn’t travel often, but as freelance website developer, she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to attend a networking conference with others in her field.

It was a miracle that she’d been able to pencil this five–day event into her schedule. She had to put Glitzy, her canine companion, in the kennel. Had to remove her name from the volunteer roster for Tuesday and Thursday at the Children’s Hospital, and cancel her usual water–aerobic classes for Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

She’d had to reschedule helping her mother defrag her computer on Friday. She felt really bad about that because her mom’s computer had been sluggish for over a month now, and that thing was her life. When Lea told her it’d be another week or so before she could get by there to fix it, her mother had said, “Oh, don’t worry about it, sweetheart. You go to Atlanta and try to relax for a change.”

Relax. That word had no place in Lea’s vocabulary. There was too much to be done. And when she did sit back for five minutes and attempt to watch television, all she could think about was catching Brandon with his bimbo.

She was restless. That’s why when she did sleep, she was
gone.
Once when Kate hadn’t been able to get a hold of her for a full day, she’d let herself into Lea’s apartment with the spare key Lea had given her in case she ever locked herself out. Unable to shake her awake, Kate actually thought Lea was dead until she felt her pulse.

There was no alarm clock loud enough to wake her; Lea had tried every one on the market. And it was a good thing her apartment, or any of the connected apartments, had never caught fire; there wouldn’t have been flames hot enough.

So, sometimes for days, Lea wouldn’t even bother to sleep. It was too much like a trip to another world and the re–entry was always hell.

“In fifty feet, take exit 56B,” the robotic voice on the Garmin GPS told her.

That came up on her fast. She didn’t recall the GPS system giving her an “in one mile” warning before this one saying she had to get off the interstate
now.
She took the exit so fast, the GPS system went flying out of its bracket onto the floorboard. In the process, it also came unplugged and turned off. She didn’t have time to fuss with it. She knew from looking at the directions online earlier that the convention was being held at a hotel right off the freeway. And she remembered the name of the street. Charlotte Street. Or was it Charlottesville St? She wasn’t positive, but it was one of those CHAR names.

She was still groggy. In anticipation of the event, she’d only slept for one out of the past twenty–four hours. And that wasn’t really sleep. It was a combination of equal parts dozing and changing positions until finally she gave up and got out of bed.

Nighttime was never a good time for her. She was getting tired of being alone. Tired of checking out scary noises at night when a man should be doing it for her. Tired of being keenly aware of everything around her, like the crickets outside chirping too loud, or the humming of the air conditioning unit turning on. If she could feel a man’s slow breathing on her neck, strong arms wrapped around her, and the rising and falling of his chest against her back, maybe she’d drift off to sleep with ease.

But with men came heartache, and she’d had enough of that.

A mile past the freeway exit, she finally found her street. Charleston Street. Close enough. She turned onto the street and kept her eye on the numbers on the buildings situated along the way. She was looking for 1210. Right past the fancy restaurant at 1208, she saw a hotel with a red awning out front. That was her place.

All parking was in the rear of the swanky restaurants and hotels that lined the street, making the unique buildings the focal point. After nosing into a space behind the hotel, Lea grabbed her purse, and trekked the

rose–lined path to the front of the hotel. The huge awning spread fifty feet down the red carpet–covered front entranceway.

As she walked the carpet, she looked down at what she was wearing: a lavender, floral–pattern sundress topped off with a cropped short–sleeved cardigan. Cream–colored strappy sandals matched the cardigan. Dressed summery, not night–on–the–town–like, she wasn’t appropriately attired to walk inside—hadn’t expected it to be
this
fancy.

A door attendant stood on each side of the glass double doors holding them open. She walked through the glowing purple entryway into a soaring lobby with a high, backlit onyx ceiling. She stopped for a moment, marveled by the scenery: oversized columns and angled niches complemented by limestone flooring, and a sleek modern–looking check in desk. This hotel exuded mystery and exoticism. It certainly didn’t look like a place to hold a business convention. She saw it more as a romantic getaway where high–profile couples would come for a honeymoon.

Lea got in line at the check–in counter behind a flaxen–haired, bouncy–mane beauty, with a larger–than–life designer bag swung over her shoulder. She was wearing a form–fitting, color block, sheath dress exposing every square inch of her toned, flab–free arms. After a minute, she shifted her bag to the other arm, ran her fingers through her first–rate follicular blowout, stuck out a bony hip, and propped her free hand on it. Lea looked all around, waiting for a legion of men to trip over their own feet as they stared at her autoerotic sequence of repositioning. Shockingly, no one face planted into the limestone.

Lea splayed her fingers through her own shoulder length, not straight, not curly hair, hoping it would fall down into something resembling a style. She teetered, nearly falling over in the process.

She was so not sexy, unlike the woman coming out of the in–house salon, with long, slender legs covered in tight leggings, and a shamrock green, silk top tucked into her tiny waistband. Black, strappy heels crisscrossed over the top of her delicate feet.

At the check–in desk, a pretty brunette said, “Welcome. My name’s Karrigan.” She extended her hand across the marble counter.

Lea shook her hand. “Lea Engle.”

“Do you have reservations with us, Lea?” Karrigan asked, while she typed on a computer.

“To be honest, I’m not completely sure. I’m supposed to attend a five–day convention for Global Website Developers, but I’m afraid I’m in the wrong place. This isn’t the Sedgewick, is it?”

Karrigan gave a sympathetic smile. “Oh, no. This is 1210 Charleston Street. The Sedgewick is at 1210 Charlotte. That’s the next street over.”

Wonderful. Lea rubbed her weary eyes, grateful that she’d used a very light–hand applying her mascara.

A man walked out of a connected office into the check–in area followed by a sultry brunette. He shook her hand, said something about staying with us again, and she strutted off. Lea didn’t look at him directly, but from the corner of her eye, she could tell he was handsome. And the brunette—she turned and blew him a kiss.

Lea’s stomach growled and it was audible despite the flowing waterfall sculpture of a naked god right beside the desk. “I’m sorry to have wasted your time,” Lea said, pointing as she pivoted in the direction she came from. “You said The Sedgewick is on the next street?”

Karrigan opened her mouth to answer, but the man standing beside her interrupted. “The Sedgewick?” he said, his eyebrows arching over a pair of seductive mocha eyes. “Karrigan, do we have an unsatisfied customer here? We can’t allow The Sedgewick to steal away our guests.”

While he was addressing Karrigan with his words, his eyes were addressing Lea, hypnotizing her. She couldn’t move. Couldn’t speak. He wasn’t just handsome—the hands of Michelangelo himself had molded him. His honey blond locks were short on the sides and meticulously blown upside down. The tips stood straight up. A dimpled chin led to thin, manly lips and strong cheekbones, and his sun–kissed complexion matched the tips of his golden hair.

“No, Fox,” Karrigan said to Mister Sun–kissed perfection, “she’s not an unsatisfied customer; she came to the wrong place. She’s attending a convention at the Sedgewick.”

Fox? His name is Fox? Could that be more appropriate?

This man wasn’t wearing a boring black suit. No, he wore a violet dress shirt and offset that with a dark purple tie with a swirly magenta design. Lea had never found a person more physically attractive, not even her ex–husband, Brandon.

The phone rang on the desk, and Fox said to Karrigan, “Why don’t you get that, sis, and I’ll finish up with…” He gave Karrigan a need–more–information look.

Karrigan smiled, told him “Lea,” and walked around Fox to pick up the phone.

“Lea,” Fox said, placing both hands on top of the desk and leaning forward. Her name damn sure sounded good coming from his lips.

“Yes?” she managed to whisper. Her voice had never gone out on her so quickly. Another, even louder, hunger pang came out.

“Let me buy you dinner here at the restaurant.” He gestured to his right and Lea looked inside the opulent, dark–lit, restaurant with black leather booths situated around mahogany–stained tabletops. Above the entrance, a purple, neon light read,
The Remedy
, in curvy letters. “We’d really like to earn your business for your future visits to Atlanta.”

“Oh, I really should get going.”

“Must you?” Fox asked. He looked at his wristwatch and said, “It’s after five o’clock; that seems awfully late in the day to begin a conference.”

“No, it starts tomorrow.” Lea felt another hunger pang coming on and added, “I just wanted to get into town early so I could get settled in,” to drown out the embarrassing sound.

A line was starting to form behind Lea, so Fox asked Karrigan to assist them when she finished the call. He held up a finger, mouthed “one minute” to Lea, and walked back through the connected office and out a side door.

Lea was standing to the side admiring the sculptured fountain when Fox approached her. “I apologize for not introducing myself. My name is Foxworth Kemp,” he said, extending his hand.

Lea shook his hand. It was much larger than hers and had just the right amount of strength and tenderness. She hadn’t touched another man since Brandon, and the way he held on longer than what seemed adequate, made her stomach flutter. He looked about her age, but she wasn’t sure how to address him. Obviously, he held a high position at the hotel. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Kemp.”

He waved with one hand. “Come on with all this mister stuff. Just Fox. Listen, I know this seems a little forward, but seriously, on behalf of myself, not the business, I’d like to buy you dinner at Remedy. Trust me; I think your stomach would thank you.”

Lea smiled, her cheeks warmed with embarrassment. “You heard that?”

“Yeah,” Fox said with a laugh.

He was standing awful close and Lea caught a whiff of his cologne with notes of cedar and musk. He smelled as good as he looked. The very nearness of him made her weak in the knees, but she shouldn’t stick around. She simply didn’t need the stress of a man in her life right now. She’d dedicated the last ten years of her life to one—wholeheartedly—and look what she got for it: cheated on. Love was no longer a priority.

BOOK: The Opium Room
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