He’s very near, inches from my face, black pupils gleaming with mischief. Sweat pearls on his face, making him look sexier than ever. Long, black hairs glue to his forehead and cheeks. He smells of soap, his close shave making him look baby-faced. Seemingly at ease, the heaving of his chest regular, he stares into my eyes. I can’t believe his confidence. Modelling is his profession, but how does he stay so fucking calm? “You wanna give me a smile?” he whispers, warm breaths brushing my chin.
Before I can step back, he slides an arm around my waist and pulls me close. Our chests touch. Can he feel my heart pound faster through our clothes? I’m fucking sold. “You owe me,” he says. “Oh? For what?” “For being rude, earlier.” He’s right. With all that happened in the bar since, I had forgotten. “True. I owe you an apology.” His hand slides down the small of my back. “No, a dance.” I approach my lips so close to his ear, I could give it a nibble. “I’m a lousy dancer.”
The burning South-European sun shines high above our heads when Laurie and I stroll on the promenade, arm-in-arm, high heels clanking in rhythm on the asphalt. The air, smelling of flowers, warm sand, and salty water, is so warm it’s hard to breathe. We walk at a relaxed pace, dodging hurried passers-by and taking leisurely stops to admire elegant vitrines, but our hold to one another is tense and our movements somewhat static. Let’s face it: both of us have a heavy heart.
“What the hell were you thinking?” Laurie throws me a glance in the bathroom mirror through the open door. She points an accusatory tube of red lipstick at me. “That was so impolite.” I shrug, wordless, and return to the view from our open window. Despite the late afternoon heat, life buzzes on the promenade below, a long road flanked by palm trees that separate us from the shore. I lean against the wall, hiding from the burning sun as it sets on the Mediterranean Sea.
I’m wearing a simple, but beautiful, black, sleeveless evening dress, my precious Ankh pendant, and brilliant black highheels. Crippling nervousness raids my guts as I near the buzzing conference hall on the top floor, turned restaurant for the evening. Is Yushka there already? If he is, how will he behave, and how should I react?
After a long, agitated night, I’m sitting opposite Laurie in a restaurant on the second floor, next to the bar. Low murmurs of conversation and the clink of cutlery and glasses fill the high-ceilinged space. There’s only the two of us at our table, but I expect others to join us soon. In about twenty minutes, we have to attend the first photo shoot of the conference, starting with authors and respective cover models of already published books. Meaning Yushka and I will be face to face again.
As I approach the chatty group, a mix of flowery perfumes floats mid-air, assaulting my nostrils. Another joke sparks more cackling, a cacophony so loud I swear the roof will lift. God, you’d think we were in a hen house, not the majestic, high-ceilinged lobby of Hôtel la Provence. No way do I have the patience to wait for the elevators. I sweep the lobby for an escape. Above a third aluminum door, a sign indicates a staircase. So, I’ll climb the three stories up to my room. No problem.
There he is, among scattered chairs and tables. Lying on his back on a bench with his eyes closed, long black locks spread on the T-shirt folded underneath his head. The sun caresses my face and arms while I pace along the steel fence, seeing glimpses of sand behind tall palm trees on the other side of the street. I pivot to check Yushka out, but he hasn’t moved. I turn back, lean against the fence, and glance at the crowded promenade below while tapping an impatient beat on the metal.