“Please enjoy, Monsieur and Madam Andrews,” the server bowed lightly as he took his leave. That first bite of bananas foster was absolutely incredible, and the perfect way to cap off the perfect meal.

Cole was still suffering from the exorbitantly taxing palate of spices, and he had already gone through several glasses of water with the meal.


“I told you to drink something other than water,” I teased him lightly after another scrumptious bite. “These aren’t the kinds of spices you’re used to. Water’s just going to wash them all over your tongue. You need something to cancel them out. Here, have another sip of wine…”

I handed him my wine glass, and he eagerly took a swing of the vintage. Setting it aside, he seemed somewhat more comfortable, and excused himself from the table for a few coughs. He’d been stifling some small coughs all meal, but I naturally attributed that to the spicy food.


After we paid our meal and tipped the server handsomely for his expertise and courtesies, we went out for a night on the town. A tip-off from a local sent us in the direction of Frenchman Street, to the “best-kept secret” in the music world, a jazzy cocktail bar that was full of spirit, personality, and incredible acoustics. While we were a little overdressed for the event having come from one of the most exclusive restaurants in the city, we still blended in well with the crowd and enjoyed the passion of the four-piece jazz ensemble that played incredible, soulful jazz and blues from the stage.

Cole was far more relaxed here, away from the streets of New York. Anywhere near his building or home the paparazzi were always hunting for him, but nobody knew whom this young, sharp-dressed man was down in the Deep South.

I was pretty relaxed as well. This was my kind of crowd and my kind of city.

As the musicians worked their magic, I felt myself happy in Cole’s arms, leaning against his body and absorbing the very soul of their performances. We had to keep up appearances, after all… It didn’t even occur to me at the time that we were intimately wrapped around one another while enjoying the passionate, soothing music.

Chapter 15

Cole

New Orleans was an incredible choice. I had wondered about destinations still in the New England area, but Kiona had picked a rather inspired spot. It was my first time down in New Orleans, and I was pleased to have gotten to experience it before I had to stare down the painful realities of my life.

But I wasn’t ready to face them yet.

I needed a few distractions first.

Kiona turned out to be an admirable one overall. When I brought my sleepy bride back to the hotel room, I let her take the bed while I slept on a couch in the living room. I normally woke early, just to get the day started right. It was my way of going about things. To my surprise, my eyes opened at ten o’clock in the morning – with a blanket draped around myself, while she was back in bed and asleep.

The rest of the trip, we did the touristy things in the city – visiting the boardwalk, taking a few historical tours, spending time at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and Zoo, getting lost in the party-fueled throngs of the French Quarter, even seeing some magnificent views of the Mississippi River and the New Orleans skyline.

I wanted to freeze the moments in time. Those three days were some of the best of my life – delighting in a beautiful companion, temporarily free from the worries of the business world, and able to enjoy some of the luxuries I’d earned for the first time in incalculable years.

If only.

Instead, I ignored the ticking bomb deep inside me that I held hidden from the world. I focused on enjoying my time with Kiona and making this whole relationship as real as an arranged marriage could appear, never trying to take advantage of her even in her warmest, most romantic moments.

Maybe she was a little too good at her job. It was no wonder she’d managed to fool all of my staff. The ways that she looked at me sent a crystal clear message. Her eyes would glaze over slightly, only to grow fiery with passion as a smile crossed her face. Growing to know Kiona, I knew that the money was in the back of her mind – she was sincere in her budding attraction to me. She had to be if we were going to pull this off.

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