EXCERPT from BECKONED, Part 1: From London with Love



If you had told her at the beginning of the evening that she would end up between the cool percale sheets of his bed she would have thought you were lying.  Of course, it wasn’t the exact scenario she had imagined because he was lying asleep in the guest room ten feet away.

What a gentleman.

She couldn’t believe that after eleven months of yearning she could be so close to him—and yet so far. Had she really flown thousands of miles to fall short of her dearest fantasy by mere footsteps?

Of course there was that minor snag that she didn’t want to dwell on…the fact that she had flown here to visit a different man than the one whose bed she now found herself in.

She rubbed her hands over the sleeves of the freshly laundered shirt he had thoughtfully left on the bed for her—imagining it was his arms instead of her own. She would have preferred a shirt that smelled like him, so she could feel like she was wrapped up inside his embrace.

She turned her face into the pillow and breathed in the scent that lingered there: a cool, woodsy smell like a forest of snow-capped conifers. A warm heat spread through her limbs, igniting something within her. She rolled over on her knees, pulled the sheets back and ran her nose all over the bed, deeply inhaling the musky evidence that his body had in fact been there at one time.

Fuck, this was really turning her on.


Chapter 1: It’s Complicated

July 3, 2001

Ah London, Angela thought as she emerged from the grimy Mile End tube stop of the London underground into the muggy summer afternoon. She drew in a deep breath of acrid air, and smiled despite the bitter taste in her mouth and the uncomfortable stickiness under her arms. Although she just got off a red-eye from Los Angeles, she felt full of energy and excitement. She had made it, and she couldn’t wait to start her adventure in London.

Travel was one of Angela’s great passions and she was hoping that her exploration of London would provide her with inspiration for the children’s books she was writing. Sure she had come to England’s historic capital at the request of a certain person, but he wasn’t the real reason she was here. No, the real reason was to taste the food, see the city and make memories.

She loved to imagine that she lived in the cities she visited and tried to experience them the way a local would, which was why staying at apartments was her favorite way to travel. When the offer of a free apartment in the heart of London was made to her, she knew she had to take it.

Ugh, humidity. She stowed her light wrap in her carry-on and twisted her glossy, mahogany hair up into a sloppy bun, securing it with the rubber band she always wore on her right wrist.

Always practical and thrifty—not to mention living on the strict budget of a budding entrepreneur—she decided to walk the 15 minutes from the subway to her dear friend Marco’s apartment, near Canary Wharf, instead of catching a cab. She studied the MapQuest printout that she brought with her and picked the most direct route.

Grabbing her black, wheelie bag with the giant piece of duct tape on it—nicknamed R2 because of its resemblance to a certain android—she started walking down the street purposefully.

The uneven sidewalk confirmed her decision to wear tennis shoes, but she was less happy about the jeans she was wearing as she could feel them begin to stick to her uncomfortably with perspiration.

She wheeled R2 over cobble-stoned streets and weedy, empty lots filled with broken glass, taking in the small storefronts with dirty windows and graffiti, and began to rethink the wisdom of her decision to walk.

This is definitely one of the dodgier walks I’ve ever done by myself and I look like such a tourist with my luggage.                        

She moved onto the largest street she could locate on her printout, hoping she might catch a cab or at least surround herself with more people, but the streets were deserted like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie, where the silence seems loud.

I guess everyone’s at work, she thought, swallowing the sizable lump in her throat.

Her heart was racing and a layer of cold sweat on her back made her shiver. She remembered the last time she felt this way.  It was in Washington, D.C. six-years ago where she spent the summer of her junior year in undergrad as an intern. She remembered a man, strung out on drugs, pretending to have a gun in his pocket and asking her for money. The streets had been quiet and deserted that day as well.

Get a grip!

She cleared the memory from her mind and picked up her pace as she puffed out her chest and lifted her chin; projecting the most confident walk her 5’-4”-frame could manage.

After ten minutes of speed-walking she arrived at Marco’s nondescript, off-white, utilitarian apartment building that bordered another empty, overgrown lot surrounded by a chain-link fence. The shiny new skyscrapers of Canary Wharf sparkled in the distance like the newly minted coins that had paid for them. Her shirt clung to her, damp from her sweat and the steamy humidity, but her relief at arriving safely at her destination was exhilarating.

Marco had not been able to take off work to meet her, but had left a key for Angela with an elderly neighbor. She knocked on the door to 5B and came face-to-face with a sweet-looking older lady in a yellow daisy house dress and matching slippers. Although the outfit bordered on the absurd, it was a sunny contrast to the sterility of the building’s white hallways and cold tile floor.

After getting the key, Angela walked over to Marco’s apartment, fit the large key into the industrial-looking lock and opened the metal, security door. She walked into his flat, closed the door, quickly slipping out of her shoes and sweaty clothes.

She glanced around the simply-furnished apartment. There was a couch, coffee table, side table and floor lamp in the living room all in various depressing shades of beige or brown. On the living room walls hung the only visible piece of artwork: a poster about a Picasso exhibit in a black plastic frame that must have been at least 20-years-old.

Clearly this apartment was a full-time rental.

Dressed only in her nude-colored skivvies, Angela walked over to the air-conditioning unit and snapped it on. It began to hum loudly; the cold air felt delicious against her overheated skin. She stood there, pirouetting from front to back, fanning herself until she felt that she was no longer sweating.

She walked back to the entryway, unzipped R2, threw on a pair of loose linen pants and a white tank-top, and dialed Marco from the European mobile phone she purchased during her time in Spain last year.

Ciao bella, cómo estás? Was your flight good? Did you get to the apartment okay?” he asked in the English/Spanish/Italian combination that they reverted to whenever they spoke to each other.

Although Marco spoke almost flawless English it was always with the thick, musical accent of his native Italian. The faint clacking of keyboards could be heard in the background. The worker bees at Marco’s high-tech start-up sounded busy at their computers.

Sí, sí, I did. The flight was fine…I slept most of the way. And yes, I got to your apartment okay.”

She pulled back the dark brown curtains in the living room to reveal a narrow patio and a view of the empty lot next door with Canary Wharf in the distance. She could just make out an abandoned car with no doors, almost obscured by weeds in the vacant lot.

That’s an interesting juxtaposition.

She walked back towards her luggage. “It’s a good thing it was daylight and I can take care of myself! You aren’t exactly living in the best neighborhood. I think I saw some rats mugging a pigeon outside.”

She grabbed her heavy Nikon SLR and returned to the patio door.

“Oh come on, it’s not that bad,” he said, exasperated.

“It’s not good either.” She used the heavy manual camera to frame the expensive, new high-rises of the wharf in the background with the abandoned car in the foreground. Click. Click. Click. She took a few different shots, changing the focal point of each one. She couldn’t wait to get the film developed back home. Maybe she would even use them as references for sketches.

He sighed. “Okay, so maybe it isn’t the best neighborhood. But unlike most of our school friends, I’m not working at a bank this summer. That flat was all I could afford. Besides, Canary Wharf is up-and-coming.”

Angela walked the five steps to the wall of white laminate cabinets adjacent to the front door that—along with a two-burner stove and mini-fridge—constituted the kitchen. “Let me know when it has come-and-went, okay?” She opened the flimsy cabinet door, grabbed a glass and filled it with water, which she gulped down thirstily.

“Okay, okay,” he chortled musically.

She walked over to the sofa and plopped down. It was uncomfortably soft. “So who else is in London? Maybe we can get a group together for dinner and dancing tonight,” she said hopefully.

Dancing was one of her favorite things to do, and it was even more fun in Europe where everyone liked to dance, versus the States where the dance floors were usually filled with groups of women and the walls lined with men holding their drinks and watching.

“There are a few of us here. Do you remember Federica and Edgar? They are both here, oh yes and Soren is here too, and so is—”

“Soren?” She sat up, cutting him off. Federica and Edgar were minor acquaintances, but Soren…just his name sent a thrill through her veins.

It had been almost eight months since she had seen him. Her face grew warm recalling how red his lips appeared against his pale skin. She rubbed the back of her neck unconsciously. Her almond-shaped eyes narrowed in thoughtful consideration of this new morsel of information. Suddenly her nebulous adventure to London was taking on a more purposeful shape.

“Yes, Soren is here and so are a few others. Why don’t I SMS you their phone numbers and you can reach out to everyone? I’ll also send you some ideas for dinner. Now, I have to get back to work. Let me know which restaurant you want me to meet you at and I’ll get there as early as I can. Ciao, ciao,” he said with finality, his tone leaving no room for further questioning about Soren.

But the questions came anyway.

What’s he doing now? Is he seeing someone? Has he ever mentioned me?

Her heart flip-flopped as she pictured Soren’s brooding, blue eyes that were the color of the ocean on a stormy day.

Soren is here.

She put the phone down and tried to remember the exact moment she had last seen him. It must have been just before Christmas last year. A light bulb went off.

That night at the club!

Her cheeks flushed as she recalled that evening and Thomas’ wandering hands. She remembered looking up and seeing Soren watching her with a desolate expression.

Her mobile beeped, jolting her back to Marco’s bland living room. She checked her messages and saw a list of names and numbers pop-up on the small screen of her phone.

The Europeans were crazy for “SMS,” which was called “texting” in the U.S. but still hadn’t caught on there because of how it was priced. It had taken her a while to get used to SMSing, but since it cost a tenth as much to text as to call in Europe, she had quickly embraced its utility.

She stood up and did a lap around the coffee table while she looked at the list again.

I’ll call Soren last, she thought, feeling anxious at the prospect of talking to him.

Most of the names on the list were just acquaintances; fellow students from the business school she had attended in Spain. But Federica and she had spent some time hanging out together so she decided to call her first.

She sat back down on the small, brown sofa—the scratchy fabric poking her through her thin linen pants—and dialed Federica’s number.

“Hello?” answered a smooth, refined voice that was surprisingly deep for a woman.

Federica came from a Swiss family that could trace its roots back ten generations and spoke with an accent that gave nothing but her wealth away.

“Federica, hi it’s Angela from Barcelona.” Angela wondered if Federica still wore her straight, blond hair in the sleek bob that she had sported back in Spain.

“Angela? What a surprise to hear from you. Are you back in Europe?” Federica asked, her voice as cool and quick as a well-honed blade.

“Yes, I’m in London for ten days. Marco gave me your number. I want to get a group together for dinner and dancing tonight. Can you come?” Angela asked brightly.

“Oh Angela, I wish I could, but I won’t be able to meet up until 10 at the earliest,” Federica answered, her voice heavy with regret as though she had a day of ordeals ahead of her. “You know these corporate internships, every night there is an infernal recruiting event and they notice if you aren’t there. And you know, you have to be there if you want to get a job offer next year—”

Angela interjected, “Right, I understand—”

Federica kept on speaking, “Why don’t you text me where you’ll be and I’ll do my best to get there. And let me know if you make plans for the weekend. I have to go now; it was good hearing from you. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye,” Angela replied in a detached tone, the majority of her attention still focused on the news that Soren was in London. From the list of names that Marco had sent her, the only person she really wanted to see was him.

Angela called or texted the four other numbers that Marco sent her, but everyone gave the same answer as Federica, “Sorry, I have an internship event; maybe I can be there later.”

Finally, the only number left was Soren’s. She entered his number and looked at it on the screen as she stood up and walked around the coffee table again; soothing herself with the movement.

She thought about the months she had pined after Soren and his relative indifference towards her. It seemed like she had always been the one trying to advance things between them.

I wonder if he’s thought about me at all.

On her fourth lap around the table she took a deep breath and then hit the green button on her phone to dial his number before she changed her mind.

She could feel the tiny butterflies beating out of formation in her stomach and her heart pumping out a presto tempo like an overly ambitious metronome.

Pull it together, she admonished herself as the phone rang.

On the third ring, Soren picked up. “Hullo?”

His voice was just as deep as she remembered.

“Hi Soren, it’s Angela from California. I’m in London. How are you?” There was a long pause. Her brows knit together, she wondered if this had been a good idea. “Soren, are you there?”

Another few seconds passed and then he stammered, “Um, yes. Uh, hi Angela. You’re here in London?”

She could tell from his tone that he was surprised to hear from her, but what she couldn’t tell was if he was happy to hear from her.

“Yes, I arrived today. I had no idea you were here, but Marco gave me your number. I was trying to get a group together for dinner, but no one is available. You probably can’t meet me either, but I would love it if you could,” she said, slapping her forehead as she came to a dead stop.

Did I just use the word love?

She stopped her pacing and stood in the center of the living room, clenching her jaw while waiting for his answer.

“Dinner, tonight? I’d love to. How’s 6pm?” he asked, his enthusiastic tone a contrast from all of her earlier calls.

She closed her eyes and exhaled in relief. The excited tone of his voice made her heart rate spike. “Six is great. Where should we meet?”

She resumed her pacing around the table, but her steps were lighter now.

“There’s a great Chinese place near Leicester square. I’ll SMS you the address,” he said. Angela could hear the smile in his voice.

Yum, Chinese, my favorite.

She wondered if he had chosen it specifically for her and her heart warmed at the thought.

“Perfect, I can’t wait to see you. I’m really looking forward to it.”

“Me too,” he answered quietly. He paused and then said earnestly, “Angela, I’m glad you called.”

His words sent a warm glow through her chest. “Me too. I’ll see you tonight.”

Angela disconnected the call and launched herself onto the couch, doing a full body wiggle; kicking her arms and legs vigorously as the rough upholstery scratched her bare arms leaving red marks.

She smiled at herself, basking in her good fortune. When she arrived in London, she didn’t even know Soren was here and now she was having a private dinner with him. She was almost able to ignore the irritating feeling of the sofa, but after a few seconds it reminded her of the reason why she was in London and her excitement subsided.

“Damn rules,” she said sullenly.


On the other side of town, Soren looked at his phone, stunned. He couldn’t believe what had just happened. If an angel had appeared to him in physical form and trumpeted his name, he would have been less surprised.

Standing up from his desk, Soren walked towards the wall of windows that overlooked the Thames. The summer sun was still high in the sky, and somehow the view of London looked brighter than it had earlier today.

His name on her lips was the sweetest sound he had ever heard. Angela’s voice echoed in his mind, lingering like a brass band.

He could vividly remember the last time he had seen her—walking away from him—unspoken words of love frozen on his lips.

He vowed that this time he would not make the same mistake again.


Chapter 2: Fire and Ice

Eleven months earlier

August in Spanish cities was a hot, humid affair for the few souls who were there to experience it. No one who stayed in the cities did so by choice, as the oppressive weather made daily life unbearable. Everyone who could afford to locked up their homes and businesses tight and headed for the shore, where the heat of a Spanish summer was made bearable by the Mediterranean’s briny breezes.

Unfortunately, Soren was one of those few who had to be in town. The decadently picturesque city of Barcelona, situated in the Catalonia region of northeastern Spain, was home to an excellent graduate school of business called the Barcelona Instituto de Negocios—or BIN for short—which was the reason he found himself in hot, sunny, passionate Spain instead of his native cold, overcast, stalwart Denmark.

While part of him couldn’t wait to get back to Copenhagen, he also knew that at almost thirty it was time for him to leave the nest and establish himself outside of his illustrious family.

Soren was one of about 100 students who had come to BIN a month early to take advantage of the school’s complimentary, Spanish-immersion classes. Although it wasn’t necessary to speak Spanish to attend BIN, learning the language would give him the opportunity to take more elective classes as well as help him navigate his daily life for the next two years since it was one of the official languages of the city, along with Catalan.

The thick, hot air was especially horrible for one used to the cool climate of Denmark. Although it was only mid-morning, he could already feel the sweat beginning to pool under his arms and at the base of his neck, where his shirt collar felt as heavy as a scarf.

Blasted Mediterranean sun!

He wasn’t usually the type to be easily flustered, but the moist heat of the city seemed to get under his skin in a most frustrating way.

He tried to ignore his discomfort as he quickly crossed the small campus on his way to Spanish class, running his hand through his thick mop of straw-colored hair. It was then that he heard a guileless laugh peeling across the courtyard, beckoning for him to turn his head and follow the unrestrained sound to its source.

His searching eyes found the wellspring of laughter: a dark-haired woman sitting twenty feet away. She was wearing a flowing, white sundress that looked as fresh as a winter breath and was seated across from another woman wearing long, dark braids and a forest-green top whose back was to Soren.

The laughing woman had smooth, honey-colored skin that was darker than his, but seemed pale against her chestnut hair which grazed her shoulders in a gentle wave. Her eyes blazed with intelligence and humor, and her dusty-rose-colored lips were full and shaped like a cupid’s bow.

He could just make out her singsong American accent, drifting across the courtyard.

That must be her.

He had heard murmurs amongst the men about a vivacious and voluptuous Californian exchange student, but had not met her yet. But, since there were only about twenty women currently on campus, he knew this had to be the one that was causing a stir among the male students—who outnumbered the women four-to-one.

The two women looked cool sitting on the brick steps of a white-columned building—known as The Temple—that served as the heart of the small campus. They were enjoying the shade provided by a thick curtain of ivy hanging off the facade of the Greek revival building. If they had been holding lemonade it would have looked like a scene from the American south. The women were talking as though they had known each other their whole lives and were so focused on each other, that Soren was able to stare at them openly without drawing attention to himself.

He watched, mesmerized, as the Californian reached into her bag and pulled out a tube of lipstick. His breath quickened when she swiveled the silver tube revealing a deep, pomegranate red and applied it deftly to her own lips further accentuating their erotic shape. He pulled at his collar, which felt even more constraining than it had a few minutes ago. He found her utterly captivating to behold, the way her passionate expressions animated her face was entrancing.

She exchanged a few words with her friend, nodded her head and then leaned forward and began applying the lipstick to the other woman.

Soren’s lips parted as he gasped lightly, watching her slowly drag the lipstick over the other woman’s lips. He was surprised at how his body reacted to the scene. There was something incredibly sensual about the gesture…as though the lipstick was an extension of her hand and she was gently caressing the other woman.

Soren allowed his mind to wander and imagined that it was his face she was caressing. His heart beat faster at the thought.

The Californian’s eyes twinkled as she squinted with concentration at her task and then—once finished—leaned back and studied her work like a painter considering a canvas she has just touched up. She smiled contently and began nodding her head vigorously, clearly telling the other woman that the color suited her.

Soren would never again see a tube of lipstick without thinking about this moment.

She stashed the lipstick back in her purse and picked up a sketchbook laying next to her. She narrowed her eyes and leaned away from the other woman, studying something on her face. Bending her head to the sketchpad, she made a few short, determined marks, and then returned to study her subject further.

Her sketching went on for a few minutes, until the other woman said something, calling forth the Californian’s unrestrained laughter again.

Soren couldn’t help but smile at the sound; it was so exuberant and carefree.

Once she finished laughing she took a deep breath and scanned the picturesque campus, seeming full of satisfaction with her surroundings.

Soren saw her gaze headed his way—like the broad beam of a searchlight—and felt his body tense in response. When their eyes connected she paused, tilted her head slightly to the left and flashed him a 10,000-megawatt smile full of blindingly-white teeth and vivid red lipstick.

He felt his heart skip a beat, perhaps short-circuited by the extreme voltage.

When she looked away he released a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.

The bells of the campus chapel began to chime lightly giving their warning that the new hour would be upon them in five minutes. The two women stood up and brushed off their clothes, getting ready to head to their classes.

Soren glanced at the bolted bezel of his Royal Oak chronograph—a gift from his father—and confirmed that he would be late for his Spanish class, a subject he was sorely in need of improving.

The realization jolted him into action. “Damn!”

He considered tardiness an intolerable character weakness.

When he hurried into the classroom and slid into his seat, Soren’s French friend, Enzo, leaned over and slapped him on the back. “What’s wrong Soren? You look even paler than usual my friend,” he said, laughing loudly at his own joke.

Soren narrowed his eyes at Enzo, who enjoyed making fun of his typically Danish looks of fair skin, blond hair and blue eyes. After a moment, he leaned towards him and whispered conspiratorially, “Have you met any of the Americans who are here yet?”

Enzo raised a brow, brown eyes blazing with curiosity and answered quietly, “Yes, why?”

“No reason,” Soren said quickly. He didn’t want to appear any more interested than necessary to his friend. Enzo did not share his sense of decorum or discretion and was the type of man who immediately grew interested in any woman that another man admired, out of pure competitiveness.

The skeptical look on Enzo’s face made it clear that he knew Soren was keeping something from him. Soren ignored his questioning gaze and attempted to focus on the instructor.

Time dragged on as he thought about the alluring scene he had witnessed in the courtyard. He wanted class to end so he could seek out the woman in the white dress and hear her singsong voice speak to him with her wine-stained lips. But part of him also felt slightly ill at the prospect. What could he possibly have to say that she would find interesting?

“Class dismissed,” said the thick-accented Spanish instructor, Ms. Garzon, whose ashen complexion and skeletal frame avowed her cigarette and espresso diet.

Soren and Enzo grabbed their books and headed for the always-popular school cafeteria, which was like a fine-dining restaurant in quality, but at affordable, student-budget prices.

The cold tile floors, and hospital-like steel and glass buffet carts clacked loudly with the sound of plastic, cafeteria trays, which was a sterile counterpoint to the food steaming tantalizingly under the heat lamps. The kaleidoscope of foods included beautifully stuffed bell peppers, a rich-looking seafood paella, soups, salads, fresh breads and a huge, dessert selection that included “mel i mató” a traditional Catalan confection made with a Ricotta-like cheese drizzled with honey, nuts and raisins that was a favorite of Soren’s.

The two men filled their plates with food, paid at the cashier and then filed into BIN’s dining room.

The institutional room was a deep rectangular space with large picture windows and glass doors on the right-hand side looking out onto The Temple and its plaza. The room held thirty rectangular, faux-wood tables arranged in two columns and surrounded by molded-plastic, stackable chairs in bright yellow and orange. The harsh, blue light of the fluorescent fixtures overhead buzzed noticeably, but were quickly overshadowed by the din of conversation as the students filled the space.

Enzo and Soren scanned the room for a place to sit when Soren heard a man call out, “Enzo over here!”

Soren followed Enzo’s gaze and saw a young, bald man with vivid green eyes waving at them energetically from a table about fifteen feet away.

They walked over to the table and Enzo introduced the two men. “Soren, this is Marco. He’s from Italy so don’t be surprised if he’s a little crazy,” Enzo said with a sarcastic gleam in his eye.

“Please Enzo, a Frenchman calling an Italian crazy?” Marco’s eyes sparkled humorously as he slapped Enzo on the back. Marco introduced the two men to the other seven men sitting at the table. There were seven different nationalities present at the table, but they were all conversing in English.

In fact, the entire cafeteria was a cacophony of accents speaking a single language: English, the language of the business world. Soren often wondered how much any of them actually understood each other, given that most of them were speaking English as their second, third or even fourth language.

Soren was at the lower end of the linguistic spectrum speaking only his native Danish and English fluently, although he spoke a smattering of German as well. Despite the intensive language class he was in, he wasn’t optimistic about adding Spanish to his repertoire; the musical romance language seemed to slip through the cracks of his comprehension like quicksilver.

A flash of movement caught Soren’s attention as Marco stood up quickly and waved vigorously towards the crowd entering the dining room saying, “Angela over here.”

Soren turned to see who Marco was motioning to and felt his heart begin to thump faster and his mouth go dry.

It was her, the American from the courtyard.

He quickly took a deep breath and assumed the coolly polite exterior that he used whenever nervous or uncomfortable. It was a typically Nordic trait often mistaken for aloofness or disinterest. I might not sweep her off her feet, but I also won’t look like a bumbling idiot around her, he thought, knowing that was the guaranteed outcome if he didn’t have his emotional armor in place.

Angela, and her friend from earlier, stood at the head of the table and smiled down at all of the men. He could feel the burn of her gaze as her twinkling eyes swept over them.

Ciao Marco,” she said to the table’s host. Her full red lips twitched up playfully, revealing the faintest hint of a smile.

He recalled watching her paint them earlier that day and a warm heat spread through his neck and ears.

Marco turned to the table of men, “Gentleman, this is Angela, she’s a second-year MBA exchange student from California and Charlene, also a second-year exchange student from Minneapolis. They will be here at BIN through the end of the year.”

As Marco introduced the men sitting at the table, Angela and Charlene approached each one and gave him a kiss on both cheeks, as was customary in Spain.

“This is Rikard Schneider, he’s from Berlin,” Marco said as the women and Rikard exchanged cheek kisses.

“This is John Taylor, he’s from London…Rolfe Bauer from Vienna…Curtis Gonzalez from San Francisco,” and so on around the table.

Soren watched, his eyes locked on Angela, as she made her way to his side of the table. He could see the look in Enzo’s eyes brighten as his turn approached.

“Angela, this is Enzo Besson, he’s from Paris,” Marco said as they kissed cheeks.

While all of the men so far had opted for the more usual cheek-touching-cheek-lips-kissing-air version of the Spanish greeting, Enzo turned his lips towards Angela’s cheeks and made a loud puckering sound when he came into contact with her. He then added a third kiss to the routine and said, “Three for the pretty ones.”

Angela’s eyes narrowed and her lips pursed in response. Soren got the feeling that she didn’t appreciate Enzo’s appreciation.

Soren was next; he was intimately aware of how wound-up his body felt—like a guitar string about to snap—as Angela approached. He studied her face for some recognition of their shared high-voltage eye lock from earlier in the day, but found none.

His reverie was interrupted by Marco’s voice saying, “Angela and Charlene, this is Soren Lund. He’s from Denmark…Copenhagen I believe.”

Soren tilted his head forward in the barest hint of a head nod when he remembered the local custom of cheek kissing. He still wasn’t used to the intimacy of it, and was torn between euphoria and nausea at the thought of being that close to Angela.

Angela remarked, “I’ve never met anyone from Denmark before. You’ll have to tell me all about it.”

“I will,” he said lamely, immediately becoming annoyed with himself at his lack of finesse. Soren hoped that the blush he felt was not registering on his cheeks.

It felt as though time began to slow down as he stepped forward with his right foot and placed his left hand on Angela’s upper arm in order to steady himself. Her skin felt hot under his fingertips. Angela was more petite up close than she seemed from across the courtyard; her large personality making her seem bigger than she actually was. He watched as she fluttered her thick, midnight-colored lashes closed and raised her head so he could bend down to her.

He leaned forward slowly, breathing in the subtle scent of roses while he brushed his stubbly right cheek against her powdery-soft skin. When he switched to the left cheek he felt her exhale slightly; the innocent puff of air sending a thrum of energy up his neck. He steadied himself as he pressed his left cheek against hers, feeling slightly faint at the contact.

She pulled away from him and gave him a shy smile before stepping forward to meet the man to his right.

He reminded himself to start breathing again for the second time that day.

Angela’s effect on him was disconcerting and unexpected.

He hawkishly followed Angela with his eyes as she approached the man to his right, feeling a twinge of resentment when she greeted him with the same enthusiasm that she had demonstrated towards himself.

The sound of a throat being cleared caught his attention and he swung his head back around, surprised to see Charlene standing there. Her full lips, still red with Angela’s lipstick, were smirking at him.

Hola Soren, mucho gusto,” Charlene said.

Soren knew she had just said “nice to meet you” in Spanish, but he was drawing a complete blank on the appropriate reply. He wasn’t sure if it was his poor language skills, or Angela’s lingering effect on his brain.

Probably both.

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