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by Sarita Leone
Description: Maya knows love never ends. She follows the man who claimed her heart through eternity, hoping that each time they meet and fall in love they will put an ancient curse to rest. She knows she will follow Joaquin--the question is, will he follow her? Only time, and their hearts, will tell.
eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: February 2010
4 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [235 KB]
Reading time: 147-206 min.
"I really enjoyed this book and the characters. They were lively and pleasant. The secondary characters added much to the plot. This is a great afternoon read. I would suggest the author expand this book by using Maya's past attempts at finding Joaquin. All in all it is a well written book."_Readers Favorite 4 Stars!
"I just don't see how you can go off and leave me like this!" Gloria slammed a manicured hand down on the desk. As if steeling herself for battle, the leggy blonde tossed her long, straight hair. Blue-eyed, with clear skin and a dazzling white smile, she was the epitome of beach girl chic--without the beach.
But now, on the verge of a full-blown hissy fit, she looked more like a thundercloud than a ray of sunshine. A fully laden, black, ready-to-burst thundercloud.
Maya contemplated reaching for an umbrella.
"I told you I was going to go. We've been over this again and again. You knew this day was coming, Glory. I told you when you first started working here and that was five years ago! It's not as if I've pulled this part of my life out of the air like a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat. You assured me that you could deal with this, remember?"
"But what about the Santorelli wedding? Have you forgotten how big that one is?" Gloria's voice held a note of barely-controlled panic.
The open laptop beckoned. Maya let her gaze linger on the screen's image of the handsome-as-sin Texan. The photo had been taken at a business luncheon, and showed Joaquin Shademan at his eye-catching best. Even viewed through media filters, it was apparent the man had charisma. His eyes, so dark and mysterious they were nearly black, seemed to bore right into her soul, uncover the secrets of her heart, and lay her entire being bare.
Her hand shook as she powered down the device. There would be plenty of time in the coming days to consider the man who had stolen her heart so many lifetimes ago. If things went as she planned, Joaquin's gaze would soon be locked with hers, and there would be no need to search for him on the World Wide Web.
A sigh escaped as the screen went black.
Maya looked at the files on her nearly cleared pine desk. Almost done. So close to getting on with her life...
Still, a couple of loose threads to be tied up before she left this all behind. First on her list, the near-hysterical woman standing just a few feet away.
She carefully considered the woman who stood on the other side of the room. Gloria could deal with this situation, and deal with it well. It was one of the reasons she had been hired. Maya had known instinctively that Gloria was qualified to take over in her absence.
Now, she just had to convince her assistant she was capable of rising to the task.
Placing the folders she held down on the desk with a sigh, she sat back in the butter-soft leather chair behind her desk and motioned for Gloria to take the one on the other side. She waited until Gloria sat before speaking.
"Listen, you knew I was going to go away for a while. It's not a surprise to you." Maya chose her words carefully and spoke slowly.
"I chose you for this position because I knew--really knew--that you could take over running the shop when I was gone."
Maya smiled. "And I know now, after working with you for so long, that I chose correctly. You are completely capable of handling anything that comes up in my absence. And I'll be checking in periodically, as I promised. But I'll be phoning to chat, not for any other reason. You don't need me to be here, or to consult with you. You can take over for me, Glory. You won't have any problems, you'll see."
Gloria raised her perfectly tweezed eyebrows. "What about the Santorelli wedding?" Her voice was much more controlled than it had been only moments earlier. "It's a biggie--what if there's an issue with the dress?"
Reaching for the cup of herbal tea that sat, nearly forgotten, on the edge of her desk, Maya shrugged. Her dark eyes flashed as her smile broadened.
"You'll deal with it." She took a swallow of the tepid drink and let it soothe her throat before she continued. "Besides, the gown is done and it's gorgeous. What could possibly come up now?"
As she said it, she knew that it was a ridiculous question. There were a dozen last-minute items that might pose major problems with a custom wedding gown even after the gown had been constructed and its design approved by the buyer. They both knew that up until the moment the bride walked down the aisle, the gown shop wasn't done with its part of the contract.
Theoretically, the dressmaker's obligation was complete once the dress left the shop. But in the bride's view? The gown maker hadn't done her job until the "oohs" and "aahs" were echoing inside the church.
So Maya knew that anything could happen with Carlotta Santorelli's gown, even at this point.
She also knew that if anything happened with that gown or with any of the others they were contracted to deliver in the next seven months, Gloria would have to deal with it. Without her.
"Ah, you know what could come up now--you know it as you say it," Gloria answered. She was finally grinning again and her usual calmness was returning, exactly as Maya had hoped it would. "You're just saying that because you're leaving no matter what I say. Aren't you?"
Maya nodded. Her thick black hair had long since pulled free of the sleek chignon she wore for work. It cascaded around her shoulders.
"I am. I have to go, Glory. We've discussed this so many times. You can run the shop while I'm gone. And the time will fly by, you'll see."
She finished her tea and put the mug down on her desk. She stared at the dwindling pile of folders and wondered, not for the first time, if she had gone over every important issue with Gloria. She thought she had, but who knew? There could always be something she had overlooked. If there was, she hoped it was a minor issue, something that the other woman could easily deal with.
And if it wasn't something that Gloria could handle...well, then that was too bad. Whatever happened after Maya left, it was inconsequential in comparison to what she was going to be dealing with. She knew that she might never see the little shop again.
There were regrets in her mind and heart, but they were few. Her destiny might not include the business she had worked so hard to build--she might even be declared dead before the end of the year. If that happened, Blushing Brides would pass to Gloria when her carefully written will was read.
Maya loved the shop, loved designing and sewing the intricate bridal gowns she was locally famous for making. She especially loved the feeling of satisfaction she got every time a blushing bride said "I do" in one of her creations.
She loved it all but she was willing to leave it behind.
"I don't think the time will fly. I think it's going to drag without you. The clients won't be happy, the staff won't be thrilled to be working just for me and I'm certainly going to be lost without you here. So the time isn't going to fly, my friend." Gloria scrunched up her nose and smiled ruefully.
Maya scooped up the folders and shuffled them as she stood. When she was satisfied with their arrangement, she shoved them into the tall file cabinet behind her and slid the drawer closed. The lock got a quick turn with a small silver key before Maya turned back to where Gloria was still sitting. With a small smile, she held out the key on her open palm.
"It's all yours now, Glory. Just be yourself and everything will come together for you. I promise."
Gloria looked dubiously at the key. When she stood, she reached for it and took it with shaking fingers before thrusting it into the pocket of her pressed khakis with a grimace.
"I do." They laughed over the two small words. They were words that they heard often, words that could be either serious or silly depending on the question they answered.
"All right, then, as long as you've given me your word." Gloria took a deep breath before she squared her shoulders and tossed her hair back. The thunderous look was gone from her attractive face. "And promise you'll come back, okay? I don't want you just doing a Jimmy Hoffa on me--don't fall off the face of the earth without a trace, you hear? Promise you're not going off on this adventure with the intention of never being seen again--promise?"
It had taken Gloria longer to ask the question than Maya thought it would. She gave her assistant credit for having bitten her tongue for so long, but there was no way the question could be honestly answered. If Maya told the truth she would sound like she had taken a high-dive into the loony pool.
A half-truth was the best she could offer.
"I can promise you that I don't intend to go off and disappear. That's not my intention--not at all. You have to believe me when I say that I mean to leave and come back, so keep your chin up and keep the shop up and running. I'm counting on you."
Gloria opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She closed it with a nod, and accepted Maya's feeble explanation.
It was always hardest before she left, she knew that and expected it, but it still didn't make the leave-taking any easier. No matter how often she did it or how much she prepared herself and those closest to her for her departure, it was still difficult. It was one of the many things that she had come to expect in life.
It was one of the last things that would be predictable for her. After she left on her journey, Maya wouldn't be able to predict anything much once she got to her destination. It was always that way. * * * *
The apartment looked empty without the personal trinkets and touches that had turned the cozy rooms in the turn-of-the-century Victorian into her unique space. The only things left within the bare walls were the large pieces of old-fashioned furniture she had bought from antique stores and at the consignment shop on the corner.
She passed a hand over the tall armoire in the corner and smiled, remembering the sunny afternoon she and Helen, her upstairs neighbor, had rolled the maple piece down the sidewalk on a borrowed dolly. They had enlisted the help of a stranger to get it up the stairs and put it into place in the corner. It hadn't been moved since its arrival, and she wondered briefly about the mountain of dust bunnies that must surely be living behind it by now. She shook her head and shrugged her shoulders.
The dust bunnies were no longer her concern. She would probably never see her apartment again, or any of the things she had so carefully collected. There was no help for it, and no time for remorse.
Maya's most beloved belongings were already in her Range Rover. Some of her things, most of them actually, had been locked in a storage unit across town. The key to the unit was in an envelope with her attorney, tucked into the packet containing her will.
Gloria would appreciate the unexpected bequests if Maya failed to come back to Chicago. It wasn't a huge estate by any means, but with the shop and a few investments it made a tidy sum. A small windfall was still a windfall.
As Maya gathered up the last carton and a lush philodendron in a hand-painted pot, she took a final look at the place she had called home for the past ten years. She had enjoyed living in Wicker Park.
She indulged in one final glance around the place before she pulled the heavy oak door shut behind her.
The first part of this life was over.
She hoped the second part would be as satisfying as the first had been. * * * *
Passing the Sears Tower and Buckingham fountain made Maya's eyes water, but only for a moment. The Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park gave her a fleeting twinge of homesickness. She refused to look at the New Maxwell Street market, empty beneath the grey January sky but with the hint of laughing summer crowds wrapping Canal Street like a warm hug on the chilly day.
Maya turned onto Lakeshore Drive, avoiding going anywhere near Blushing Brides. She would have cried if she had to see the gaily-striped awning at the shop one more time. She didn't want to cry as she left so many safe, familiar things behind.
It wasn't until the Range Rover was on the interstate and she was headed toward her new life that Maya breathed a sigh of relief and felt some heaviness lift from her heart. A new feeling came over her, one she had felt many times in the past. She recognized the sensation, the tingling thrill of anticipation at the promise of seeing him again.
He wouldn't recognize her, but she would know him. That, for now, would have to be enough.