If there was any possible way I could get out of this without quitting I would. I had been singing all my life, in my house. But then that had been to escape my mother and my reality. Not in front of people. I loved to sing and the mirror and hairbrush had been my companions most of my life while I sang to my pretend audience. That had been fantasy.
I had never been sure my singing was even decent. My mother had loved to hear me sing but she had never been a good judge of anything.
I had opened my mouth to explain this to the lady who had introduced herself as “Macy Kemp, The Kerrington Club event coordinator” but she hadn’t let me say much. Instead, she informed the kitchen I was being used elsewhere and began dragging me behind her.
I had expected Woods to stop this insanity when he’d seen us but he hadn’t. He had appeared as confused as I felt but he hadn’t stopped this.
I looked down at the short, clingy, silver dress I was now wearing. The back was out and the neckline dipped low in the front. I felt bare. In more ways than one.
“They won’t be looking at you much. They are too busy in their little elitist herds. You just sing so they’ll have music and can dance if they want to,” Macy informed me as she shoved me up the steps toward the skeptical band members. I couldn’t say that I blamed them.
“You’re our replacement?” one asked with a hiss of annoyance in his voice.
“At least they’ll be looking at her body and won’t hear how bad we sound,” another grumbled and pulled his guitar strap over his head.
“What can you sing, sugar?” an older guy with a balding head asked.
I didn’t want to be here. I didn’t ask for this. I met each of their angry and annoyed glares with one of my own. I’d heard them earlier. They weren’t that good. Who did they think they were treating me like I was here to screw up their lives on purpose? If their lead singer had paid attention to his allergies this wouldn’t have happened.
I walked past each of them before turning to look at the one who had condescendingly asked me what I could sing. “I can sing anything you throw at me,” I replied then walked out on stage like the diva I was not.
The familiar tune of Adele’s “Someone Like You,” began to play and I was equally relieved I knew the words and sick at my stomach because the popularity of the song was drawing attention from the guests. I had been hoping to be ignored.
I joined the piano with the first melancholy lyrics.
Instead of looking out at the ballroom, I locked eyes with the piano player of the group. The approval in his eyes flashed with excitement and relief as I sang each line.
Just as I had in my room growing up, I blocked out everything else around me and I got lost in the lyrics and the music. This had been my way of coping with the craziness of my life. I used it now to deal with the reality of my life.
We moved on to “Ain’t No Other Man”, the Christina Aguilera version. It got the room to wake up some with the fun tune. So far I had managed not to make eye contact with Woods although I knew exactly where he was standing. I could feel his eyes on me.
“Can you harmonize?” the lead guitar asked me.
I nodded and he looked back at the other members and nodded.
Lady Antebellum’s “Just A Kiss” started up.
We had successfully made it to the bridge when I glanced out over the room to see Woods dancing with a tall elegant blonde. I knew I needed to look away. Seeing him and having an image of him with her on my brain would drive me crazy. But I couldn’t. She smiled up at him and talked as he looked over her shoulder at nothing really. He seemed cold. Nothing like the guy I’d been with.
This time he must have felt my eyes on him because he turned his head my way and our gazes met. Each word sounded like I was singing to him. I wasn’t. I couldn’t be. But it felt that way. As the song came to an end I tore my eyes off him and swore to myself I wouldn’t look his way again.
An hour later I’d conquered everything they’d thrown at me. Even the Bruno Mars songs. The pianist slapped me on the back and beamed at me as I walked off the stage.
“You killed it, sugar,” the balding bass player called out.
“Anytime you want to join us you’re welcome. Sure can’t sing duets with JJ,” the lead guitarist said. I assumed JJ must be the lead singer.
I threw one last smile over my shoulder. I wasn’t sticking around. I needed to be alone. Watching Woods hold his fiancée had been difficult. She’d been beautiful and perfect. She’d looked safe in his arms. I understood how that felt. Something about being with Woods made you feel safe. I envied her.
Spring Break was in full swing in Rosemary and Bethy hadn’t been exaggerating. This place was filled up with people. I worked five days a week and most days I worked two shifts. The money was good and I enjoyed working with everyone. Seeing Woods was easier now.
We managed to treat each other with polite indifference. It hurt sometimes when I thought he was watching me and I’d turn to look at him to find he hadn’t been looking my way after all. I wasn’t sure why I tortured myself with it. He shouldn’t be looking at me. He was engaged. My body, however, wanted him to look at me because it wasn’t aware just how off limits Woods was.
Today I was finally off work and so was Bethy. We had a day on the beach planned. I was excited about spending the day in the sun. It was warmer now than when I’d arrived a couple of weeks ago. Bethy wanted me to come to her condo to go to the beach because she was on the club’s private beach. Fewer people. I’d invited Violet to join us after her lunch shift and Bethy had mentioned inviting another cart girl named Carmen who got off later today too.
I glanced down at my last text as I pulled up to the condos where Bethy lived.
“Down at the beach. I have you a spot saved!”
I reached back and grabbed my beach bag then stepped out of the car. Looking up at the building in front of me I was in awe. This place was super elite. It was on club property and I knew after working here a couple of weeks that this place had to cost a fortune. Bethy’s cart girl paycheck didn’t even begin to cover the cost of this. Which meant either she got a deal because she worked there or Jace helped with the rent. Maybe a little of both.
I walked over to the boardwalk and then down to the warm sand. There were more people than I expected out here. I slipped my sunglasses on and then looked for Bethy. I saw her when she stood up and began waving her arms in the air.
Smiling, I headed down to the two bright, colorful beach towels she had laid out. Then I noticed Jace on the other side of Bethy as she sat back down. I looked around her and noticed another towel but it was empty although it had obviously been used.
“Glad you made it.” Bethy beamed up at me. “This towel is yours. Thad’s got that one behind us. He’s out in the water.”Thad. I could deal with Thad. I’d prefer Grant but Thad would do fine. At least it wasn’t Woods. But then, I doubted he came out here to lay on the beach during work hours.“Thanks for inviting me,” I told her as I put my bag down and dug out my sunblock. I’d already put one coating on before I left the condo but this sun was intense. I felt the need to put more on now that I was out here.“Don’t thank me yet. I hadn’t been expecting Thad to join us. You may be wishing you hadn’t come. I’m hoping he leaves you alone.”I smiled, thinking that Thad rarely left any female alone. Pulling off my cover-up I folded it and put it in my bag. I sank down onto the fluffy pink and yellow towel Bethy had brought for me to lay on.“I’ve never swam in the ocean before,” I said as I rubbed the lotion into my skin and watched the people out in the water. “I thought it might still be too cold but they seem to be enjoying it.”Bethy let out a small laugh. “It’s freezing. I won’t go near it until mid-May. But a lot of people like it that way. If you’ve never done it, then go test it out.”That was something I wanted to do. It was a part of living that I wanted to experience. I also wanted to surf but even with my inexperience I was pretty sure it required a lot more wave power to surf. Those waves weren’t very high.“Go on out there and try it. Don’t let me stop you,” Bethy urged.I smiled over at her and stood back up to walk the short distance to the water’s edge.The first splash of water to cover my feet was shockingly cold. I managed to stifle my squeal and force myself to stand there. My feet slowly sank into the wet sand and after a minute or so the water wasn’t so cold. I eased in further and had to stop again once the water crashed across my calves.“It’s easier if you just go all in and get the initial shock over with,” the familiar deep voice said from behind me. I guess Woods did make it down to the beach on occasion. I glanced over my shoulder to look at him. I was glad for the safety of my sunglasses.“Is that so?” I asked.He was standing on the shore wearing a pair of white board shorts and no shirt. His already dark skin looked even more sun kissed against the white shorts. That was unfair- to every female on this beach. He needed to wear more clothes.“The only way to do it. You keep easing in and you will never make it out there.”Why was he talking to me today? He’d acted as if I didn’t exist since the night in the room when he’d told me he was getting engaged. Why now? I looked back out at the water and tried not to think about the way his abs glistened in the sun thanks to tanning oil. He was an engaged man now. Dirty thoughts of him were prohibited.“You want me to go with you?” he asked and his voice was closer. Jerking my gaze back around I saw him taking several more steps in my direction. What was he doing?“Probably not a good idea. I’ll do this alone,” I managed to choke out.“You ever been in the ocean?” he asked as his arm brushed my shoulder. He was too close now.“No,” I hissed, wishing he’d back away. Far, far away.I heard Woods’ swift intake of breath and I glanced up at him. His eyes were on my body. Even though he had on dark sunglasses I could feel his heated gaze on me. Not good. Really, not good.“Damn, baby. Where’s the rest of your swimsuit?”The rest of my swimsuit? I turned my attention to my body to make sure it was properly covered. What did he mean? I wasn’t missing anything.“This is my swimsuit,” I replied.Woods’ head lowered and his mouth was too close to my ear. “That top is barely covering you up,” he whispered.Annoyed, I glared at him. “If you don’t like it, then don’t look,” I replied and started moving out deeper into the water. Getting distance from him was more important than adjusting to the cool temperature.“I didn’t say I didn’t like it. I fucking love it. That’s the problem.”I stopped moving. Why would he say that? Did he not care what he was doing to me?“You can’t say things like that to me. It’s wrong,” I replied angrily.Woods moved toward me again and I waited. This was a confrontation he wanted to have. I was going to let him have it.“You’re right. I shouldn’t. But would you rather I lied? I’ve done a lot of things to you Della but I haven’t lied. I don’t want to lie to you. I could tell you that I don’t care about you or that I don’t want you but that would be a lie. You want the truth? Because the truth is all I can think about is being with you again. I try not to look at you because all I can think about is hauling you off to the first closet I can find and kissing every inch of your body.” He was breathing hard and his jaw was working back and forth.Why? If he wanted me like that then why was he engaged to someone else? Shaking my head, I crossed my arms over my chest protectively. “I don’t understand you.”He smirked and shook his head. “No one does. But I’d like to explain it to you. Please. Just go have a drink with me. I need you to understand this.”His tactic was different but he was the same. He wanted me for an amusement. Someone to entertain him for a moment and then he’d find another. I wasn’t that girl. I shook my head and started to leave the water. I wanted the safety of the beach.“You won’t even let me explain?” he called out.I looked back at him. “The ring on her finger is the only explanation I will ever need.”