by Marcia King Gamble
“That’s one helluva together woman you hooked up with,” Jon said as they perched on bar stools at the neighborhood brewery, chugging a couple of cold ones. “I wish I could find one just like her.”
“Laila and I are no longer a couple. Hopefully we can remain friends,” Hudson answered.
Over the neck of his beer bottle Jon gave him a narrow-eyed stare. “You’re one crazy dude. That woman is prime rib.”
“Don’t you think I know that? But I can’t be involved right now. It’s not fair to her. Not until the business is on more stable ground.”
Hudson guessed Jon would be all over him when he found out he’d broken things off. He’d often suspected his partner had a thing for Laila. Jon had made no secret he thought she was hot. What’s more he respected her and thought she was one of the most talented copywriters around.
“You just made one of the biggest mistakes of your life, bro.” Jon confirmed. “Quality women are hard too find.”
“You should talk. You can’t even remember the last time you dated.”
“I’m just being selective. My tolerance for drama is nil.”
Not wanting the conversation to continue in this vein, Hudson scanned the crowd. The bar was packed with casually but professionally dressed patrons on their way home from work. The majority were Information Technology types judging by the conversations he overheard.
He and Jon had needed to unwind after a stressful day. Their injured employee had nothing more serious wrong with him than a couple of bumps and bruises. It was now left to be seen whether or not he would sue.
What really tore up Hudson was breaking up with Laila. Although it had been a long time in coming, he hadn’t handled it well. But all things considered she’d been gracious and hadn’t thrown a fit. She’d surprised him by coming all this way from Fort Lauderdale and he hadn’t known how to deal with it.
Now that it was done and over with he could fully concentrate on the business. But deep down, he felt lousy. The alcohol was doing nothing to soothe his guilty conscience or erase the memories of the hurt reflected in Laila’s wide brown eyes.
“Anything you want to talk about?” Jon asked, waving a hand in front of his face.
“Yes, as a matter of fact there is. We should talk about getting Scott Wilkinson on board as soon as we can. With the kind of case load we’re both handling, we need someone on board ASAP; a person who can give one hundred percent of their time to production.
For the next fifteen minutes the men discussed their finances, and the need for additional personnel. At the end of the conversation they’d more than justified going ahead and applying for that loan.
“I’m going to take off,” Jon said, slapping a couple of crisp bills down on the bar. “I’d like to be straight with you though, so you don’t think I’m doing anything underhanded. I’m going to call Laila and ask her to dinner. I don’t think it’s right that she’s left to her own devices on Valentine’s night.” He held up his hand stopping Hudson from interrupting. “Don’t worry. I’ll make sure she understands this is a business dinner. We’ve always enjoyed each other’s company so it definitely won’t be a hardship on my part. And she does work for us.”
Although Hudson had been the one to engineer the break up, he was still ticked. Given the number of single women in the Sammamish Valley that Jon could take out on Valentine’s night, he’d chosen Laila, something seemed off with that.
* * *
When her cell phone rang, Laila debated picking up. She didn’t recognize the incoming caller but hesitated letting the call go to voice mail. It just might be a client?
“Laila Writes,”she answered.
“Hi, hon. How are you doing?” The male voice was one she couldn’t immediately identify.
“Who is this?”
“Oh, Jon. Sorry about that. I guess I wasn’t expecting to hear from you.”
“I wanted to catch you before you made other plans. I was thinking that we might have dinner the day after next?”
“On Valentine’s night?” Her voice sounded too high.
“Yes, ma’am. Hudson told me you and he broke up. I’m here to offer you a shoulder to lean on. I thought we could keep each other company and get some business done at the same time.”
Dinner with Jon sounded inviting. Laila had always liked him, and it was certainly a better alternative than sitting around feeling sorry for herself. She’d decided for the next six months, she’d bury herself in work, and when time permitted she’d do some exploring of the beautiful countryside. There was so much she wanted to see.
“Give me your address and I’ll come by around seven to pick you up,” Jon said.
Laila gave him the information and then hung up feeling much happier. Jon Woods had always treated her with the utmost respect. He was a good friend and right now she could use one.
A cold nose nudged Laila’s shin. She reached over to scratch Mariner behind the ear. The dog always in tune with her moods plopped down on her feet. He must have sensed she was a little off today.
In some ways it was good knowing where she stood with Hudson. They’d never discussed a future together but he’d been an integral part of her life for over a year. She was comfortable with him and used to his ways. Now it seemed strange to suddenly be free again. She should have felt liberated instead she felt weird.
At least now she could explore what was out there. She’d encountered a few men on her morning walks. Most were the outdoors type and in great physical shape. Jon wasn’t exactly what you’d call chopped liver either, but the two men were business partners and friends, and that presented problems.
For the next two days Laila familiarized herself with the little town. She decided if she was going to be on Whidbey Island for the next few months then better make the most of it.
On one of her walks she came upon an outdoor café that attracted an interesting cross section of people, primarily dog owners. The animals contentedly lounged at their owner’s feet, ears up, listening to the animated conversations surrounding them. Out of sheer curiosity, Laila wandered in with Mariner.
“I haven’t seen you around before,” the blonde who poured her coffee said.
“That’s because I’ve only been here a few days,” Laila answered, smiling back at the server.
“Where do you come from?”
“That’s a long ways away,” a woman seated at an adjacent table leaned over, interjecting. She looked to be of mixed race. “Would you like to join me?”
“I’d love to.”
At the woman’s feet was a hyper Chihuahua who kept circling. Mariner’s tail was thumping like crazy and Laila guessed the little dog was female.
The server helped Laila move her coffee to her new friend’s table.
“I’m Dara and this is Fiesta,” the light skinned woman with uncontrollable bouncy brown hair began. “Is that beautiful dog a boy or girl?”
“Mariner’s a boy. And yours?”
“Fiesta is definitely a girl and a huge flirt. How come I haven’t seen you before?”
“Because I’ve just moved here.”
Laila explained about the house swap.
“How cool! There aren’t too many of us living on Whidbey Island,” Dara confided, lowering her voice and confirming her ethnicity. “How come you moved here of all places?”
Laila explained she was a freelance copywriter. For some inexplicable reason she felt comfortable sharing why she’d come to Washington on a whim and why she’d felt the need to find out what Hudson was up to.
“And what did you find?” Dara asked, her gray eyes widening with curiosity.
“I confirmed what I knew in my gut. He no longer wanted to continue the relationship.”
“That’s got to be tough.”
“Nothing I can’t handle.” Laila tried for a bright smile “I’d suspected he wanted out for a while but now rather than guessing I have closure. What do you do?”
“I play violin with the symphony.”
“As in the Seattle Symphony? How cool.”
“I love what I do.”
For the next half an hour Dara regaled her with outrageous stories of life on Whidbey, and the colorful characters that lived on the island. It turned out the two women had a lot in common including having similar upbringings. Both were children of navy men and used to picking up and moving on a whim. Finally they exchanged phone numbers and Laila prepared to head off.
“You can find me here most mornings,” Dara shouted over Fiesta’s high pitched keening. The Chihuahua was already having separation anxiety. “There’s also a Copywriting group that you might want to join.”
“Call me and we’ll schedule another time to get together,” Laila suggested, making a motion with her hands. Mariner meanwhile barked a fond farewell to his friend.
Two days later Laila was all dressed up and waiting for Jon to pick her up. He’d made reservations at a restaurant in Seattle overlooking the sound. Laila was looking forward to their evening out, so far Valentine’s Day really sucked.
All day long Laila had been forced to watch delivery vans wind their way up the mountainous roads laden with goodies. She’d tried her best not to dwell on the fact that there would be no flowers for her today, not even the yellow roses that she loved. She’d not expected to be this upset. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t seen the break up coming.
Mariner lay on the couch; his big black nose pressed against the glass pane, woofing and drooled intermittently. Jon must be here.
Laila opened the door to a well dressed Jon. He thrust a red rose at her. She’d always thought him handsome, but to her mind Hudson was the better looking of the two. Jon was more muscular than his partner. He had bitter chocolate skin and a goatee that he kept neatly trimmed.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetie,” he said, kissing her cheek and handing her a box of truffles. “By the way, the chocolates are compliments of Hudson.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Why would he not?”
“We broke up.”
Jon draped an arm around her shoulders. “That doesn’t mean he stopped caring about you. I hope you’re hungry. We’ll talk more over dinner.”
Carrying her rose with her, Laila followed Jon out to his Sports Utility Vehicle. They caught the ferry with just minutes to spare and after a half an hour drive arrived at the restaurant.
“This is great,” Laila gushed when they were seated at a table with a wonderful view of the sound.
The establishment was a popular one and packed with couples, some on dates and the more established clearly taken with the food.
“It’s one of my favorite restaurants,” Jon admitted. Hudson and I have business meetings here. Usually we get our choice of tables.”
Jon had to bring him up. Where was Hudson? Was he home alone, or out with her replacement? She didn’t want to think about him being with another woman. She was determined to enjoy Jon’s company and hear more about the work they were here to discuss.
“Laila you’re a million miles away,” Jon said, waving his hand in front of her face as she stared off into the distance.
“I was asking how you felt about coming in to work at the winery, a couple of days a week?”
Laila scrunched up her nose.
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
“Why because of Hudson? Put him aside and put on your business hat. As I mentioned before I’m not happy with the content on the website. I’d like to have the whole thing rewritten and post some more enticing pictures. This is where your graphic design and copywriting skills come into play. I also need you to design a label for the bottles and flyers to hand out. We’re also discussing distributing a monthly newsletter as well. There’s plenty of work to do.”
“Work that doesn’t require me being on the property. Why do I need to be on the premises to write copy?” Laila asked, an eyebrow raised. Seeing Hudson everyday would be agony.
“Because you need to get a real feel for the business. It just translates to better copy. Think of those royalties we’ve offered you on future wine sales. They could be quite considerable once the winery takes off.”
Laila felt the tug of temptation. Those royalties could make a big difference in her life and the exposure could put her in the league of Master Copywriters. Laila had always wanted to set up a scholarship for under privileged youth who dared to dream. While she lived comfortably, she’d never had excess money to do something really philanthropic. Going to the vineyard might also help put structure to her week. But could she deal with running into Hudson?
“Let me think about it,” she said not wanting to appear too eager.
The waiter chose that moment to appear and take their order.
“Why aren’t you out tonight with your significant other?” she fished the moment the server was out of earshot.
Jon smiled enigmatically. “What brought that up?”
“It’s Valentine’s night and we’re not exactly a couple.”
“Ever thought you might be doing me a favor, keeping me from getting depressed.”
Laila blinked away the moisture gathered in the corner of her eyes. Jon had been doing a good job of keeping engaged until now. She would have a good time if it killed her.
Buying herself time, she gazed around the crowded room. The stem of the wine glass almost snapped as she spotted the couple on the far side of the room.
“Why that rotten, lying bastard,” she muttered through clenched teeth.
“Have I offended you?”
Jonathan gazed in the direction she was looking. A man who looked a lot like Hudson had his head inches away from a woman with a mane of hair and the contents of an entire cosmetic counter on her face. A polished fingernail tapped Hudson’s cheek.
“Oops! Not good. I had no idea Hudson would be here,” Jon confirmed gently. “We can leave if you’d like.”
“No, why leave. I’m going to pretend that I don’t even see them.”
“Talia Chisolm is one of Hudson’s clients. He’s representing her in a very nasty divorce,” Jon explained, taking Laila’s hand as if that would ease the pain.
“No need to explain anything to me. Hudson and I are no longer going out, remember?”
Then why did it hurt so much seeing him with another woman? And why had she just made up her mind to accept Jon’s offer to come into the winery and work?
She wouldn’t fall apart because Hudson Godfrey had decided she was not what he wanted. There were plenty of other fish in the sea.
It was high time to go fishing.