This story picks up about a year after the last chapter, and continues with one of my favorite characters, Amberle. This installment is told entirely from her perspective.
It features several characters from some of my other work, and I’ll leave it to you to find them.
Please send me any comments or feedback you have, and I will try not to be so long in between chapters.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. But I was.
The signs were all there. I knew something was up. Nichole was up to her eyeballs in work. What’s new, right?
She’s that combination of workaholic and control freak that makes people very successful. And gives them heart attacks before they turn fifty. Her work ethic is admirable for its consistency and integrity. It’s also maddening because it can be consuming. And not in the good way.
But I knew that when I decided I wanted her in my life.
I don’t spend my waking hours pining away for her or waiting for her to come home and so I can ask how her day went. One thing I’ve learned in my retirement is that people need to stay busy, and that goes for both of us.
So I picked up some hobbies. I volunteer at charities which I support with my time and energy. I belong to a book club (which actually discusses the books, instead of just drinking and gossiping—we do that, too). I dote on my brother’s kids and Nichole’s nieces and nephews.
For the past year or so, I’ve been splitting my time between her apartment in New York and my house at the beach. Sometimes Nichole comes home with me, sometimes she doesn’t. The two of us travel a lot. Sometimes with our kids, and sometimes it’s just the two of us. We call or Facetime every night when we’re not together.
When it’s just us, she puts her phone down. She forces my homebody to go out in the world. I take her to quiet places where everyone is not vying for her attention or making noise. We hold hands and cuddle just to be close to one another.
The days are pretty good.
So when Nichole took all that and turned my life on its side, I was shocked.
Neither of us have ever been ones for grand gestures. I don’t think on that scale. Nichole is a big-city girl who isn’t impressed by much.
I generally don’t like New York in the winter. I’m a southerner, after all. I’ll take a Christmas in shorts and sandals over snowplows and freezing my ass off any time.
But because of some business Nichole couldn’t get away from, I found myself flying into JFK on Valentine’s Day.
Have I mentioned how much I hate the cold? And by “cold”, I mean anything under 60 degrees.
“Good afternoon, Miz Amberle.” The young man who met me as I exited the security area was in his early 20s. He had a thick Bronx accent, and is the nicest kid you’ll ever meet. I think he was our doorman Paulie’s nephew or second cousin or something. He took my carry-on bag and led me out of the terminal to the waiting car.
“How are you doing, Benny?” No one has ever told me his actual name or what his mother calls him, but I know for a fact that it’s not Benjamin. That’s how he introduced himself and that’s how everyone refers to him. He has a crush on Maureen. He was crestfallen to learn she’s been seeing a guy at college. But she’s still sweet to him, just like everyone else she meets.
I got in on the passenger’s side as he drove into Manhattan. As someone who grew up in a small town, city driving is something I really try to avoid. Nichole says that every driver in New York is the same brand of crazy, but that’s not me. So I’m happy to let other people handle all of that for me.
After a little while, we pulled up to Nichole’s building . . . er, our home . . . and I got out as Paulie opened the door.
“Welcome back,” he said with a wide, friendly smile. As always, his uniform was immaculate. He stood up straight and radiated a commanding presence that promised unmitigated friendship, but also made everyone around him aware that he wouldn’t take any shit. Benny retrieved my bag from the trunk. “Miz Galloway is in her office and would like you to meet her there. We’ll take your things up to your room.”
“Thank you, Paulie.” A long time ago, I stopped trying to tip him. He says Nichole pays him enough already. He’ll take money from other people, but I think he’s genuinely insulted when I try to give him money just for doing his job. Instead, I gently patted him on the arm as I passed by. He took my coat and warmly returned my smile and beamed.
I took the grand marble stairs in the lobby up to the mezzanine level, past the storefronts and restaurants to a nondescript glass door which led to Nichole’s business office.
“Good morning, Miss Amberle,” the receptionist looked up from her computer. I hate to be called “Miss” or “ma’am” but everyone on the staff does anyway, despite my insistence that things were otherwise. And they won’t let me address them by anything other than their first names. “She’s expecting you.”
“Thank you, Tina,” I paused casino oyna for just a moment at her desk, craning my neck to see through the window on the door into Nichole’s office. “Do you know what this is about?”
“You’ll like it.” Notice she didn’t answer my question. Her face was a blank stone wall.
Taking a deep breath, I pressed the door open.
Nichole sat at the small conference table along with a woman and a man. I didn’t recognize either. All three were dressed for a formal business meeting. Meanwhile, I was in a sweater dress, leggings and I looked like a slovenly American tourist who just got off a plane. At least I had washed my hair the night before.
They stood when I entered.
Nichole gave me a familiar—if business-like—hug and kiss. The other two reached out to shake my hand as my girlfriend introduced them.
“This is Erica Mendoza and Jim Tanaka.” Nichole motioned to the table and the four of us sat down. She paused for just a second, as if to gather her thoughts. The table was covered with binders, envelopes and folders. When she looked up at me, there was a flash in her eyes. Something I don’t recall ever seeing in her before. Apprehension? No . . . fear.
I gave her a nervous smile, wondering where this was going.
“You know that building on the corner of Sixty-Seventh and Columbus? It went on the market a couple of weeks ago, and we bought it.”
My eyes got wide.
“Well . . . we’re going to buy it,” Nichole fidgeted for a second. “I’m still trying to finalize the details of the financing, but we’re close. But the bottom line is that the seller needs to offload some debt . . . and he doesn’t want to sell to any of the big corporate landlords. So . . . I, uh . . . I made a move without asking you first.”
“You don’t have to ask me anything,” I reached out and took her shaking hand. “You’re the real estate mogul, not me.”
She took another deep breath before continuing. “I know you don’t like how much I work as it is. I can see the gears turning in your head, sweetheart. You’re wondering where this leaves ‘us’. And I understand that.”
Truthfully, that was the first thing that ran through my mind at the mention of Nichole expanding her small financial empire.
“So luckily, I think this comes with a built-in solution.” Nichole took a drink of her diet soda to clear her palate. “Erica is the general manager in our new building, and Jim is the chief financial officer. Where we’re eighty percent residential management and 20 percent commercial businesses; this property is about fifty-fifty. They’re going to take over the day-to-day operations of both buildings.”
“Are you going to let them?” I laughed nervously in spite of myself.
“Yes,” the nervous look she shot me made my heart skip a beat. I could see how hard this was for her. To give up control. But she was trying her damndest, which I appreciated. “I need to be less micro-manager, and more CEO.”
The rest of the meeting was Erica and Jim generally describing their duties and what they envisioned for Nichole’s business. They tried to explain it in terms a lay person could understand, but it went clear over my head, just as any financial discussions I had about McKayla’s business decisions used to.
Thankfully, Nichole didn’t try to overload me, and we stayed only for a few minutes longer before the meeting was dismissed.
“This calls for a celebration,” she took my hand and led me towards the elevator and up to our floor. We occupy almost half of the fourth floor now, having taken over another apartment when the residents moved out. We knocked out part of the wall, adjoining the spaces and giving us more room for our family to spread out. The trade-off for the extra space was losing some rental income at Upper West Side rates, but Maureen basically had her own space in our New York home if she wanted it.
I pressed my hand against the biometric pad next to the door. It read my fingerprints and the lock clicked open. My small suitcase was in the foyer. I pulled on the handle as Nichole unlocked the inner door.
The scent of vanilla candles filled our apartment. They were everywhere.
Nichole took my hand and walked me over to the sitting area by the couch. White lace drapes covered the windows, bathing the living room in soft light. Her palms were sweating.
I saw where this was going. My heart raced. Tears began to leak out of the corners of my eyes. We fell into the couch, which was probably for the best since we both were shaking.
From somewhere, Nichole produced a small box.
The lid opened. The mass of diamonds glittered under the glow of the sunlight and candles.
“When we met, I had lost the love of my life fifteen years ago,” she started, her voice nervous but firm. “I had two other failed marriages. I had never been with a woman before . . . not really. I work too much and I am too stubborn for my own good. But you bring out the best in me. You make me want to leave everything behind and run away with you. canlı casino You are beautiful and smart and funny. I love that you don’t need me, but you’re still willing to put up with my shit. I can’t imagine not having you in my life. Forever. I love you . . . Amberle Perry . . .
Will you marry me?”
I took her hands in mine and kissed her through the tears. Tears of joy. Tears of love.
“Yes,” I whispered. “Yes, I will marry you. I love you, Nichole.”
Nichole took the ring from the box and slipped it on my finger. Of course it fit perfectly.
We lay on the couch. Crying. Laughing. Kissing. Holding one another.
I took her in my arms, feeling her gentle touch on my arms. Time seemed to stand still while we cuddled.
Her hands cupped my face. Nichole’s lips were soft and gentle.
Tugging at her leg, I pulled so she was straddling my hips. I sank back into the plush couch when she leaned in to kiss me.
The buttons on her blouse came un-done quickly and I tossed her clothes away.
“What time will Stephen be home?” I whispered in her ear, my hands running up and down her back.
“He’s going to my brother’s after school today.” Nichole’s voice was taut with desire. She pulled my sweater dress over my head and dropped it on the coffee table, careful not to set it too close to any of the candles. My bra was similarly discarded.
I smiled to my lover . . . er, fiancée. She was topless and I buried myself in her chest.
Nichole’s breasts aren’t the voluptuous orbs that McKayla’s were, but I think they’re perfect. They’re still perky with wonderful pointed nipples on the end.
Suckling on her, I nibbled across her cleavage. She dug her hands into my hair when I hit one of those spots.
“Turn around,” I coaxed her off my lap and shifted myself into the corner of the couch. Nichole fell back into my arms. I reached around and cupped her breasts.
She turned her head and kissed me behind my ear. A shiver ran through my body.
Her skin felt so soft and warm against mine.
I ran my hands along her body. I opened her belt and the button on her pants.
Nichole let out a low, throaty moan as my fingers wound their way between her legs. I pushed at her bottoms until she kicked them away. Her thighs spread at my touch.
She was slick with excitement.
“Damn, that feels good,” she moaned in my ear.
My feet hooked inside of hers, keeping her legs open for me.
I clutched her breast with the hand that wasn’t circling the nub of her clit.
She caressed my arms, and squealed with delight when I pinched her nipples.
Our lips met again and again, making hungry, eager passes at one another.
Nichole began to buck her hips against my hand as I brushed her labia. One finger entered her. Then two.
I gave her breast a firm squeeze. She dug her nails into my arm and stifled a scream.
“Don’t stop!” she gasped.
My teeth raked her neck. My lips left a sloppy trail from the bottom of her jaw to her shoulder.
“Cum for me,” I cooed, blowing softly in her ear.
I felt her contract around my fingers and withdrew to press against her clit. My other hand held on to her tit desperately.
Nichole’s hips moved faster, perfectly in time with my fingers.
“Oh, fuck!” Her body tensed. Her teeth clenched. “I’m fucking . . . I’m fucking . . . cumming!”
Pulling Nichole to me, I sucked on the nape of her neck, just at the base of her skull. In that one spot I’ve found that drives her insane.
My hand was a blur, working over her sweet, wet pussy. She thrashed about, held only by my firm grasp, as the throes of her orgasm consumed her.
“Amberle,” she whispered, her voice hoarse, before trailing off. “I love you . . .”
Her body jerked wildly a couple more times as I brought her down. My fingers sloshed in her now-soaked panties, slowing but not stopping.
She lay back in my arms.
Gasping for breath.
I released my grip on her breast.
She sighed. Content.
Brushing the hair out of her face, I kissed her again. Tenderly.
Nichole’s eyes were closed. She nuzzled up to me.
“I love you,” she said softly.
“And I love you,” I returned, the words coming easily for both of us.
We held one another in silence for a long while, wanting nothing more than to feel each other’s intimate touches. The sun was setting, making the ethereal glow of the candles even more romantic.
“I guess we need to make an announcement or something,” I said finally, and reached for my phone.
“Not yet,” Nichole replied quickly. She suddenly got nervous. “I mean . . . we, um . . . I, uh, already made plans for dinner tonight. And I . . . I need you to act surprised . . . when I ask you to marry me. Again.”
“What was this about?” I gave her a quizzical look.
“We have a dinner reservation tonight, at one of those fancy, expensive restaurants you hate,” she grinned sheepishly. “I told my family I was going to kaçak casino surprise you and propose tonight. But I didn’t want to drop this on you with no warning.”
“What if I’d said, ‘no’?” I snickered. Truly, I appreciated her thinking this through, as she always does.
“I’d be up shit creek since they made me put a deposit on one of the prime tables for Valentine’s Day.”
“Then I can’t refuse.” I kissed her and we laughed. I faked a pout, though. “But I’m pissed that you beat me to it.”
“I’ll make it up to you.” The look in her eyes promised great things to come.
“You’re damn right you will,” I patted her arm and wiggled out from under her. “What time is dinner?”
“Good, we have time.”
I took her hand and kissed her fingertips.
“For you to show how much you love me.”
With that, I led her back to our bedroom, leaving the candles to burn themselves out.
We did make it to dinner on time.
Sure enough, her reservation was at some pretentious, overpriced New York rooftop restaurant near Chelsea Market.
It was romantic. It was probably costing a fortune. And it was perfect.
We held hands like giddy teenagers. It helped that we were both basking in a post-coital glow. Plus, it was Valentine’s Day.
Nichole was connected well-enough in the local business community that she had gotten us one of the best tables in the place. I think it helped that she was a city girl who promoted local shops and restaurants, and not some profit-mongering corporate entity or chain that was buying up Manhattan and pricing everyone else out.
That’s not to say she wasn’t a shrewd businesswoman; she could play hardball with the best of them, but she wasn’t out to cut anyone’s throat or stab people in the back. Her family’s business went back almost seventy-five years and had a good reputation in the community.
While in the elevator going up to the restaurant, I pulled out my phone, opened up an app and buzzed her a couple of times, drawing a sharp breath from her each time.
“I can’t believe you’re making me wear this thing,” she muttered. I gave her a good long, zap just for good measure.
Her nipples were poking out from under her dress. I made sure she wasn’t wearing a bra, and the bluetooth vibe in her pussy was fully charged.
“Keep that up and I’ve got another one that will go right up your butt,” I winked. “Slut.”
“Bitch,” she had to bite her lip when I hit the button five times in a row.
“Your bitch.” I reached over and gave one of her boobs a quick grope, just before the elevator door opened.
We’d had some snow a couple of days ago, so the roof was closed for dinner. Our table was next to a big floor-to-ceiling glass window in a space that was cantilevered over the street, giving us a magnificent view of the New Jersey skyline across the Hudson River, and a harrowing view straight down for anyone standing next to the glass.
I thought we were just getting a table for two with her family seated nearby, but it turned out to be a long table with sixteen seats. It appeared this was going to be an event. I was happy Nichole didn’t just spring this on me out of nowhere. That didn’t make the butterflies go away.
We were the first ones there, but soon afterward, her family started to arrive. Nichole’s mother Carole arrived with her big brother Nathan and his wife, Betsy. Nichole’s ten year-old son Stephen was tagging along with them, but none of the other children were there.
The rest of her family who live nearby came in as well: younger brother James and his wife, Cordie, along with youngest sister Melissa with her husband, Shannon. Nichole’s older sister Emily was stationed out in Los Angeles at the Air Force Space and Missile Center.
Everyone greeted us with hugs and kisses.
Nichole’s extended family also came, of course.
The two families were inseparable, both in their business and their personal lives. John and Elizabeth’s oldest son Michael was Nichole’s first love, and if not for a cruel twist of fate, would have been the person she was destined to grow old alongside. Their families remained close, and they were actively happy for Nichole and me.
Michael’s younger siblings were also there: Rhett and his husband, Felix, along with Courtney, the youngest of the kids. Courtney’s husband was out of town on business, leaving us with an odd number of people—and an extra seat—for dinner.
I had a good guess who that was for.
The restaurant assigned a pair of servers to take care of our table. They were running a prix fixe special for Valentine’s Day, so we only had to order drinks and select an entrée off a short list.
As soon as our drinks arrived, Nichole seemed to get fidgety. She gulped down pretty much a whole glass of wine as soon as it arrived. I gave her hand a sympathetic squeeze.
I saw her exchange a secret glance with her mother, who smiled and winked at me.
Mischievously, I reached for my phone and gave Nichole a couple of zaps. She shivered noticeably.
Nichole scowled at me, her face a mixture of annoyance and desire. I gave her a wide-eyed innocent look. She wasn’t having any of it.