As promised, please enjoy the first Chapter of A Hollaway Castle Valentine, upcoming sequel to
Christmas at Hollaway Castle
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PS - this is an unpolished portion of an upcoming novel, and I welcome any advice and feedback. Please remember to keep your comments positive, and...
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A Hollaway Castle Valentine
>>>>> Jacoby was wiping his nose again. Victoria glanced across the pizza parlor in order to give him enough time to stuff the wet tissue back in his pocket, and made a mental note of which hand he used — in case he attempted to touch her with it.
Their date wasn’t going well.
But then, she’d written him off the moment she said yes, so it really wasn’t his fault. He sniffed and leaned across the table, clasping his hands close to hers. She sat back and lifted her glass of water just to pull her hands away from any attempt at flirting.
“So, you say you’ve worked at Avalon for ten years?” He asked. “That’s a long time. And now you’re a manager.”
Victoria nodded politely before draining her glass in hopes that the night would end sooner.
“A planning company…” Jacoby mused, looking back at her with his eyebrows lifted. “So you write out invitations and stuff? Blow up balloons?”
She debated whether or not she should go into all the details. In the end she merely settled with yeah.
Jacoby nodded and turned his attention to the small paper menu.
The venu he’d chosen dated him more than he realized, as most of the building was filled with highschool and early college students. But at least the local band in the corner was good. The guitarist in particular was very talented.
Victoria glanced back at the band to find he was staring at her. She meant to look away, but instead she felt her lips lift into a smile. The man smiled back and leaned into his seat like she was suddenly the entertainment instead of him. She couldn’t help but notice how well cut his features were, and the way his black hair hung neatly to the side in a well groomed sweep. He was very handsome.
“I think I’ll have the calzone,” Jacoby said, rather loudly. Victoria’s head swung around, and she could feel her cheeks warm with the feeling of being caught. But Jacoby’s eyes didn’t stray to the back of the room, and he seemed genuinely unaware of the last few minutes… and the increased danger their date was now in. “What would you like Victoria?” He said her name in a breathy slur, like he was trying to sound romantic.
Victoria cleared her throat. “It’s Tori, please. And I think I’ll just have a salad and breadsticks.” The quicker we can end this night, the better. Tori thought with increasing discouragement. She was beginning to hate herself for ever saying yes. She felt absolutely no attraction to Jacoby, and instead a slow buildup of repulsion was crowding her insides. But she knew why she’d done it — and it made sense, in a strange way.
She was trying to get back at Oliver. Her long distance relationship with him was something she’d been prepared to sacrifice for, even though he was in England most of the year, and she had her work in Salt Lake City. She thought he’d been willing to sacrifice too. But when he’d suggested they not remain exclusive, it had left her feeling so empty it was like she was balanced on a tightrope that had suddenly been pulled out from under her. She hadn’t been strong enough to tell him her feelings then, so she had agreed when really what she’d wanted to do was argue. There was no one else she wanted to be with, and watching Oliver’s face from the tiny window of an airliner as it rose into the sky and faded from view was one of the most devastating moments she’d ever experienced. She hadn’t planned to date anyone else… ever. The only problem being, she hadn’t told Oliver that. She had only hoped that his feelings were the same. Her heart sunk at the thought, and she gazed down at the tabletop.
“So Vic — Tori,” Jacoby said. “Tell me something about yourself. You seem a little shy, but that’s okay. I don’t mind.”
Tori’s eyes flickered up, and she swallowed the pain in her throat. “No, I’m not shy,” she said quietly, although she guessed it wasn’t convincing. “I’d love to tell you a little about myself.”
Their plates were set down on the table before she could continue, and Jacoby didn’t waste time in stacking two pieces of pizza together and plunging them both into his mouth. He smiled back at her as best he could and waited for her to continue.
“Well,” she managed, wondering if she should be worried about the bulge that appeared in his throat when he swallowed. But he lifted his glass of cola and washed it down quickly before taking another bite. “I’m very close to my parents. My mother is actually in remission right now and had to have surgery a couple months ago. She’s doing very well — it’s amazing how skilled some doctors are.”
“I enjoy traveling, although I’ve only really been to London…” her explanation trailed off as she pictured the tall pines and majestic forest that had surrounded Hollaway Castle. It had been incredible, especially blanketed in snow. She absently reached for the delicate gold castle that hung around her neck.
“London is dirty,” Jacoby mumbled through his fourth slice of pizza. “Too many people and not enough air — for me, that is. But I’m glad you liked it.”
“Uh… yeah. Thanks,” Tori answered. She shoved a breadstick in her mouth and chewed quickly, stabbing pieces of her salad at the same time. After one more bite, and a swig of water, she pushed her plate forward. “Well, thank you for a fun night.” She said.
Jacoby shifted the large amount of food in his mouth to one side. “But you’ve got half your plate left,” he complained.
“I’m full.” Tori stated. Her gaze swung again to the back of the room to where the guitarist was watching her again. She held his gaze for a moment, wondering if there could ever be anything between them. It was like a challenge for her heart to feel something for him, but her heart wasn’t listening. She tried harder.
“No wonder you’ve got such a great shape,” Jacoby said, his mouth finally clear of food. Tori looked back at him and didn’t smile. “I mean, you’re shapely,” he corrected. “Not shapely, but your shape is…” Jacoby turned a little pink. “It’s good,” he finished, running the back of his hand across his forehead.
Tori broke into a smile, feeling a small bit of guilt at puting him through a terrible date. “Thank you,” she answered before getting up from her seat. “I’m sorry, but I’ve got a few phone calls to make.” She leaned down and kissed his cheek as she left. “Goodnight.”
A grin stretched so far across his face that his lips turned white. “Goodnight!” he called, turning in his seat to watch her walk away. In the next instant he was pulling her salad across the table.
Tori rounded the back of the restaurant and escaped to the girls bathroom.
Grateful to be the only one using the facilities, she took a moment to study the curves of her face. It was difficult for her to see the beauty there, but she supposed there was nothing really wrong with her appearance — just maybe a little unextraordinary. She overlooked the brilliance that her almond shaped eyes and dark silky hair possessed together. Any stranger would risk a second glance only to admire her a moment more. For a fleeting second she pictured Oliver’s face and wondered why he’d wanted to see other people. Had she not been enough? The idea that he might have met someone more interesting or beautiful than her was like a tiny flame in her chest. And it threatened to burn hotter with each speculation.
With a groan she abandoned the mirror and escaped into the hall. But in her haste to leave her dismal thoughts behind, she nearly ran into the guitarist she’d been smiling at all night. She gasped and her feet skidded to a stop, but she was still off balance.
His hands came up, bracing against her arms gently. “Hold on there angel,” he laughed, still holding her. “Don’t fly away too soon.” He glanced across her surpised face slowly, and a smile lifted his lips.
But even though she’d admired him from across the room, she hadn’t meant to encourage him quite so much. He didn’t seem to need another word from her, and he leaned closer. His hands trailed from her arms to cradle her face gently. And then his lips settled against hers. It all happened so quickly she hardly knew how to react. But instead of pushing him away, she found herself nearly breathless with emotion. She gripped his jacket, pulling him closer and getting lost somewhere between reality and dreams. Every pain she’d felt in the last week was absorbed in the one act of kissing him. It wasn’t until he leaned back and her lip shook that she realized she was crying.
His eyes widened with shock. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I didn’t mean to scare you.” His dark eyes were sincere, and he brushed a hand across her cheek, wiping away a tear.
Tori worked to catch her breath. Her heart was throbbing, and the pain she’d tried to escape had somehow only grown. “No,” she shook her head and tried not to lean into his strength — this complete stranger. She didn’t even know his name. “It’s not that.” She waited for the throbbing ache in her throat to settle. “I just…” her lip shook again, and she brushed a hand across her face, trying to steel her emotions. But it wasn’t working. Her despair had suddenly overflowed, and she knew that in mere minutes she would break down. “I’m sorry,” she choked, forcing the words out and looking at him through suddenly blurry eyes. “I have to go.”
She whipped around, nearly running from the restaurant. Jacoby was still sitting at his table eating, and oblivious to anything around him. Normally it would have been a hilarious sight to her, but it was like her normal self had vanished. She felt overrun by a stranger — an emotional one — a needy one. Someone she would despise. After all, she was the top manager to a multi-million dollar company. She always had a course of action. There was never a doubt in her mind. And yet here she was running from a pizza parlor and abandoning both her date and a total stranger she’d tried to take all her grief out on.
It wasn’t her.
She was glad when she’d reached the steps to her townhome, and she was also glad she hadn’t shared her address with Jacoby — he seemed the type to follow her home, if he knew where her home was.
Once safely inside, she stood frozen. The night had been nothing short of bizarre, and her heart was still threatening to strangle her. In one final effort, she closed her eyes and pulled in a long, steady breath, filling her lungs. Holding the air trapped, she waited until her heart had reacted and then released her breath slowly. It worked. Her mind calmed, and the confusion over Oliver gradually faded away.
The room around her was chic and elegant, and entirely new to her. She’d recently made the switch from her small college apartment to something more grown up, and it was just beginning to feel like home. With her heart now pacified, she could pay attention to other things — like her stomach. It growled angrily.
She quickly gathered a skillet and a block of cheese. A drop of butter in the hot pan spit and sizzled, and she placed a piece of bread over it. Stacking on slices of sharp cheddar cheese, she topped the comfort food with anothe slice of bread and covered her stomach as it growled again.
When it was finished, the grilled sandwich was warm and gooey. She pulled a piece off eagerly, allowing the steam to escape for a few seconds before tossing it in her mouth. The warmth it shared felt good, and helped to clear her head a little more. As much as she’d been struggling with the idea of seeing other people, it wasn’t like Oliver had broken up with her. He wanted to keep seeing each other, but he’d said he knew how hard long distance relationships were. He’d tried to make them work before, and he didn’t want to ask it of her.
She huffed before taking the last bite of her sandwich. It sounded like a line, and she had quickly shut herself off instead of talking honestly to him. Maybe if she’d told him the truth about how deep her feelings were… but her fear that he was only trying to let her down gently felt like too much of a risk.
With a sigh she headed to the shower. It wasn’t until she was standing in hot water with steam billowing around her that she could finally relax. It was the last day of weekend for her, and she began to fill out mental to-do lists for the week ahead.
When she laid down in bed her professional self had taken control again, and she finally felt ready for whatever the following day might bring. <<<<<
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