Once she dreamed 2, p.5
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       Once She Dreamed - 2, p.5

         Part #2 of Once She Dreamed series by Abbi Glines
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  “It’s called Uncle Boons. Not a big tourist spot, which is always a win for me. Like I said the food is incredible. You can’t get Thai food as good as Uncle Boons anywhere else in the states. I’ve tried and failed and haven’t.”

  Uncle Boons didn’t sound very Thai, but then how was I to know? I’d never eaten Thai in my life.

  “Well, let’s go try this place out.”

  “We’ll need to take a cab from here. Walking would take an hour.”

  I hadn’t taken a cab in the city. Flagging down a cab sounded fun. “Okay, I’m good with that.”

  “I don’t do the fancy chauffeured shit like Hale does with his vehicles.” It didn’t sound like an apology. It was a statement without regret.

  “I want to experience a New York cab,” I honestly replied with excitement.

  He chuckled at the comment. “God, you’re a breath of fresh air. Didn’t know I needed it until I walked into Hale’s and you opened that mouth of yours.”

  My face flushed. I wanted to grin like an idiot because Ezra enjoyed my company as much as I did his. I really believed he’d come back to town just to see me in person. But I was afraid to think that thought. He could hurt me if I beamed it outward. No guy had ever had that kind of power over me. They’d all been from Moulton, Alabama. Sure, I’d been fooled by Hale and his wealth, but once I got to see him as he was, I realized he wasn’t what I thought. He appeared to be more at first. Then I’d gotten here and he’d changed. This should concern me about Ezra. He could change just as quick. What was it he really wanted? And when had I gotten so dang jaded? Apparently I was hardening.

  “Are you ever going to tell me about you? Where you’re from, why you work with Hale? How about your last name?”

  I was pushing but I needed some reassurance that he wouldn’t vanish forever. Then I could safely let my heart get silly, if I knew he was coming back.

  He was quiet for a while and I was preparing myself for Ezra not to respond. Finally he turned and there was a seriousness in his eyes that struck me deep within. Like he was alone and lost and abandoned.

  “I lived another life in the past. One that is dead to me now. Dead to me, and everyone that I knew. To protect you I can’t answer those questions. Matters can become what you don’t want. And become that way really quick.”

  Chapter Twelve

  That wasn’t the answer I’d expected. A dark and frightening response. Why would he need to protect me? Who was he? Who or what was Hale? I didn’t respond as my mind raced and we left to hail a cab, the elevator closing behind us.

  Getting in the iconic yellow taxi wasn’t as exciting as it should’ve been. My thoughts weren’t on the experience. They were replaying Ezra’s words again and again in my head. How was his past life dead to him now? I didn’t understand what he meant. I knew asking more questions would be pointless, he wouldn’t respond if I did.

  His hand slid over mine. I jumped, startled by the contact. “For tonight can you just forget about that? I leave in the morning and I’ve no idea when I’ll get back to the city.”

  My chest ached when he spoke of leaving. I’d grown accustomed to having Ezra around. Being near him. Wanting to be with him. “Why do you have to go?” I asked, letting my emotions take hold, showing more than I should’ve permitted.

  He sighed. “It’s my job. I’ve done it for a long, long time.”

  That I understood. But the actual job scared the hell out of me. Nothing peaceful and safe could come from the answer he’d given in the elevator.

  I tried to shake loose the foreboding that had settled in my chest like a worry. Like a fret that had no reason. I wanted to enjoy tonight. Ezra’s answer didn’t make me want him less.

  “I can do that.”

  He squeezed my hand. “Thank you. It is greatly appreciated.”

  The cocky guy I’d met just last week hadn’t turned out to be what I thought. I’d judged two men incorrectly. Hale and Ezra both in a row. I was beginning to think I sucked at first impressions and their meanings as it regarded me. That, or my dreams cloud my judgment. Dreams weren’t a safe reality. Not when you wanted them so badly you didn’t think them through. Hale was someone I thought Hale could never be and the worst kind of man imaginable. I’d come to New York to work for a monster, when his ultimate goal wasn’t to hire me, but to groom me like a dog or a pony. Ezra then patiently spoke.

  “I started working for Hale a year ago. What I do isn’t important. But things aren’t always what they seem and I need you to remember that.”

  I nodded. I didn’t have to remember that. I’d just had that same revelation. Hale wasn’t what he seemed. Now I had to make a decision to keep this dream or leave it and wait for the real one, though by leaving I’d lose Ezra. I wasn’t sure I could do that. Unless he left and didn’t return. Maybe this was the last thing we’d do together and then he’d vanish forever.

  Before I made my decision I needed to find out what it was Hale did for a living. “I guess that means you can’t tell me what it is Hale does with his time? He wasn’t very open and direct about his actual job.”

  “That’s because his ‘actual job’ is a gigantic goofy farce. His father gave him money and a title in his business. That’s oil in Texas and Alaska, with a whole bunch of South American interests. Hale wanted more so he bought up other companies. Small businesses mostly, hotels and restaurants, and even a few old bars. He generally plays while his hirelings run it beneath his terrible gaze.”

  That was the most information I’d received from either of them thusfar.

  “Yesterday he bought the bakery where your mother is employed. And yes, you can read into that. He didn’t do it to improve her working conditions and he’ll use it to lean on you. I’m breaking a rule by telling. You aren’t supposed to know. Hale does nothing if it doesn’t gain him something. He’s not a giving man Sammy Jo.”

  My jaw dropped. He bought the bakery? “What could he possibly want with the bakery? He’s not going to tear it down? My mother needs that job to live.” Panic suddenly ate the rest of my emotions. The little bit of money I sent home wasn’t going to meet their needs if she lost her job at the bakery.

  “It won’t change anything except maybe the owner. And like I said, it’s to lean on you.”

  Frowning, I looked up at Ezra. “He won’t be the owner?”

  Ezra sighed. “He has no use for a bakery in Moulton, Alabama. But he does have a use for you. Giving your mother a bakery is his way of controlling the variables. Of buying you indirectly.”

  Oh.

  I sat there torn between relief and fear. Mother wouldn’t lose her job, but she might own the place because of him. If I made him happy by staying. If I became the ‘Samantha’ he desired.

  “What have I done?” I whispered.

  He didn’t have a response. “For now, just continue as you are. Let him decide his next move. I’ll know before you and I’ll find you. We can then prepare your reaction.”

  This wasn’t how I expected our night to go. But knowing I had Ezra on my side did help ease the fear. He seemed strong enough to help me. Ezra wasn’t scared of Hale’s power. I doubted he was scared of anyone. He had his own secrets I could never know, which should terrify and consume my interest, though they didn’t, not in the least.

  “Now you know the worst. Let’s forget it and enjoy our night.”

  That couldn’t be the worst. What I didn’t know had to be worse than that. I knew that and he knew that I knew.

  The cab stopped and Ezra handed him a twenty. “Keep the change,” he said. He then opened his door to climb out. I took his hand and followed to the curb.

  We were headed for the restaurant before I realized I hadn’t even looked around, inside the cab or into the city. There was no memory to tuck away. The interior of the car or its details. My mind had been somewhere else. I didn’t want my entire night to not be recalled in the future, because of what Ezra had told me. I wanted to enjoy his company. When would I see
him again?

  “I’ve never had Thai food, like I said.”

  “You like spicy food?” he asked.

  I nodded and then I said “yessir.”

  “Then you’ll love it. It can be the hottest.”

  I was sure Ezra was right. In Moulton the most exotic restaurant was an Italian place that served pizza. They had red-checkered table clothes and a limited pasta selection. There were candles on the tables with Italian music playing on the speakers, which set the mood. It was owned by a guy named Willy. Willy Joe who also worked as a welder. His wife Fanny ran the place.

  The Thai restaurant was like an underground bar with colorful people and intriguing decorations and I forgot about my current predicament. I let myself soak it all in. Filed it away in my memory. It was another dream come true.

  “I think you’re right. I’m going to like this.”

  He squeezed my hand. “Love. You’ll love it.”

  Chapter Thirteen

  Thai food was different, but delicious. Ezra ordered a la carte and we shared five dishes because I couldn’t make up my mind. The bottle of Pinot Gris that Ezra had ordered was good and worked well with the hotness. And once again I drank too much, though it was due to the spicy food.

  I was giggling when we stepped from the cab to the street. Ezra had his arm around my waist. My hands and head didn’t feel very steady and I couldn’t walk without weaving. The whole shebang was hilarious to me.

  “You’re a light weight,” he teasingly said.

  “No, I’m just not a big drinker.” I then stopped, hiccupped and laughed. “Normally I have moonshine punch at the barn dance once a year.”

  “Moonshine, huh? That’s impressive.”

  I leaned into him as we walked off the elevator and approached Hale’s front door. “It’s not as yummy as the wine… moonshine isn’t… actually it’s not yummy at all. It tastes like burnt stream water, if that were even possible.”

  I laughed and he laughed too. “No, I guess it isn’t yummy. What moonshine I’ve tasted was sour and harsh. But after a glass it got better. After two I forgot where I was.”

  I started to punch in the code. Ezra did it instead. How did he know the code? He’d never walked in before. Hale must trust him to give him those numbers with a kabillion expensive things waiting inside for the taking.

  “You need a shower. I’ll make a pot of coffee.” He led me inside without mauling me. I’d heard stories but with him I felt safe.

  I agreed a shower would feel wonderful. “Okay,” I replied. “Good suggestion.”

  I started to walk away and then I changed my mind. I wanted a kiss again. The kind he’d given me before. If he was leaving I wanted something to remember. Was I the one mauling him?

  Tripping to Ezra I grabbed both of his arms and stood on the tips of my toes, pressing my mouth to his own. He quickly wrapped his arms around me and I was glad for the support and embrace, otherwise I would’ve sprawled on the floor.

  He didn’t stop me, but instead, returned the kiss and let me taste the exotic food and wine still lingering on his tongue and in his mouth. I moaned, at least I thought I moaned, because Ezra didn’t strike me as a moaner.

  His hands scaled my spine in creeps until his thumbs were inches from my breasts. I wanted to arch my back so he could cover them both with his hands. Before I invited Ezra to continue he set me back away from his reach. I was cold and wanted his warmth.

  When I opened my mouth to protest he raised an eyebrow and showed who he was. “You’re drunk Sammy Jo and might regret it. As good as you feel and taste, I won’t take advantage where I shouldn’t. Your offer is sweet and sexy. And yes, I’d love to paw you, but I think I will pass till you’re sober.

  I should feel good about that. But I didn’t, I felt frustrated. With myself, because I’d drank too much. I wanted Ezra to do whatever he felt and I needed him to do it right now. Sammy Jo Knox was on the verge of begging. That’s how aroused I was. I just referred to myself in third person. I must be losing my mind.

  “Go get that shower,” he said, nodding his head toward my room.

  I didn’t want to shower, unless he went with me, but I turned and did as he said. If I stayed in the room where I could see him I would rip off my clothes and plead. In the morning I had a feeling that would be embarrassing, though right now it seemed like heaven.

  The water helped clear my head, as well as make me sleepy. I considered turning on the cold, but then vetoed that stupid idea. Thoughts of kissing Ezra danced through my head and I spent some extra time cleaning areas I knew he would touch and kiss. I was so well scrubbed that I glowed.

  I dried off with a wrap around towel. My cotton sleep shorts and white tee shirt felt nice against my skin. I saw no reason to get dressed if he would be leaving soon. My bed looked nice and snug. Ezra would be gone tomorrow, so the bed would have to wait.

  When I walked into the kitchen he poured a cup of coffee and extended his arm to me. “This will help, though actually it won’t, drinking coffee drunk is a myth. Tap water and aspirin would be best. Coffee just seems more appropriate.”

  I took it, thanked him and sipped it. The blend was sweet and creamy, the way I liked it… and how the hell had he known how I liked it?

  “It’s perfect,” I told him. “Am I that easy to read?”

  He shrugged as if it weren’t a big deal. “I’m just observant, though it’s becoming a rarity. Most people never look around them.”

  Observant wasn’t the description I had in mind, but I had to let it go and do it quickly.

  “How was your shower? Feeling sober?”

  I wanted to inform him of what I’d been doing. Then I didn’t, but almost did. My God, it was like I was tracking him. Like hunting a wounded beast. “Nice. I’m better now.” And still willing to get naked if you wish.

  He glanced at his phone and grimaced. “Before I leave there’s something I need to do. It’s another sleepless night for me.”

  I didn’t want him to go, thought we had all night, but apparently that was ending.

  “Oh,” I replied, wanting to beg, without managing to shame myself. My drunk must be wearing thin. I actually felt sense returning.

  He took a step toward me, slid a finger under my chin and said “Sammy Jo, don’t look so sad. It makes it hard to go and I have to. Work is calling me in.”

  I nodded and hoped he would kiss me. Give me something before walking away.

  “I’ll be back sooner than I planned. I can now admit that. You have my number if you need to call.”

  “Okay,” I replied, feeling the excitement that Ezra would be returning.

  “Jesus,” he muttered, sliding his hand from my chin and into my hair. He then yanked me against his chest. We kissed, this time deeper, and maybe a little darker. Definitely, it was more intense. I did not want this to end. I did not want him to go. His job was important and ultimately I knew that his work had brought us together.

  I soaked in his smell and the feel of his body. If he changed or I left and this didn’t proceed I was sure this moment would remain special throughout my life. Ezra was extraordinary. A weird mix of contradictions. He was intense and intriguing, yet there was vulnerability in his eyes that didn’t seem to fit. He was like a dog, a breed unto himself, who’d been hurt and couldn’t trust. He shied away when you got close, but you knew he could eat you alive.

  The words he’d spoken about his past before being dead haunted me and wouldn’t relent. Did he truly mean them or were they meant to explain the severity of something he’d done?

  He pulled away from me and shook his head. “You make it hard to leave.”

  I started to say “then don’t.” He anticipated my response, then put a finger directly on my lips.

  “I have to go.”

  Again, I watched him leave. I wished I could join him to wherever he was going, but would I want to see what he did, once he reached his destination.

  Chapter Fourteen

  The wee
k passed by really slow. I saw some more sights, called home and talked to momma and my siblings were chatty and full of questions. Even Henry asked when he could see me, and that made me cry for a while. I talked to Jamie about her pregnancy, which was making her really ill, though Ben was being great about it. From her stories about the vomiting I decided that a baby wasn’t for me until later. Much, much, much, much, much later. Momma had never complained carrying Henry. I wouldn’t have known if she was sick. She hid the sickness and never said a thing. Jamie was different, softer, not tough, and I was guessing that was generational. My mother was incredibly durable. But loving just the same.

  I almost texted Ezra twice then stopped myself before I did. I wasn’t drunk anymore and remembered I was raised not to chase boys or men. If he wanted to talk to me he’d get in touch when he could and had the time. And I was wishing that time was now. I looked at my phone a million times a day to see if he’d texted or called. That was pathetic and I knew it. I did it anyway, because the man had pulled me in and I couldn’t quit thinking about him.

  By the time day seven rolled around I was mad as hell at him. He’d not called or texted. It was as if last week hadn’t happened. I didn’t like games and this felt like a game and I wasn’t going to play. If he called I wasn’t answering. His window had passed and he’d failed.

  I hadn’t studied for Hale’s parties like he said I should because what was I supposed to study? He’d been vague and assumed I knew what he meant. I was aware I didn’t know my proper social graces, but how could a website help me? Was I supposed to sit manikins around a big table and pretend to entertain them?

  I watched people from that world, or what I assumed were from that
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