Home > The Only One

The Only One
Author: Lauren Blakely

Prologue
Penny

Ten years ago

 

The clock mocks me.

As the minute hand ticks closer to eight in the evening, I wrack my brain to figure out if I got the time wrong. Maybe we picked two. Maybe he said ten. Maybe we’re meeting tomorrow. My chest twists with a desperate anxiety as I toy with the band on my watch.

But as the fountains of Lincoln Center dance higher under the waning light, I’m sadly certain there was no error in communication.

The only error was one of judgment.

Mine.

Thinking he’d show.

Drawing a deep, frustrated breath, I peer at my watch once more, then raise my face, searching the crowds that wander past the circular aquatic display at Manhattan’s epicenter for the performing arts. This fountain is so romantic; that’s why we chose it as the place to meet again.

One week later.

Foolishly I hunt for the amber eyes and dark wavy hair, for the lean, tall frame, for that mischievous grin that melts me every time.

I listen for the sound of him amidst the melody of voices, wishing to hear his rise above the others, calling my name, apologizing in that sexy accent of his for being late.

My God, Gabriel’s accent was a recipe for making a young woman weak in the knees. That was what he had done to me. The man melted me when I first met him last month in Barcelona at the tail end of my summer of travels across Europe.

When I close my eyes and float back in time, I hear that delicious voice, just a hint of gravel in his tone, and a whole fleet of butterflies chase each other in my belly at the resurgence of that faraway romantic dream.

I open my eyes, trying to blink away the inconvenient intrusion of memory. I should go. It’s clear he’s not coming tonight.

But, just in case I mixed up the times, maybe I’ll give him one more minute. One more look. One more scan of the crowd.

I let the clock tick past eight.

I still don’t see him.

I’ve been here for more than two hours, sitting on the black marble edge of the fountain. Scouring the corners of Lincoln Center. Peering left, then right down Columbus. Circling, like an animal at a zoo—pathetic modern-day female waiting for male to stay true to his word.

Sure, one hundred twenty-plus minutes is not much time in the grand scheme of life, but when the person you’re waiting for doesn’t show, it’s a painful eternity of disillusionment.

I wish we had picked midnight to meet because then I’d have an excuse for him. I’d wonder if midnight meant yesterday or perhaps today. But “six in the evening, on the first of the month, as dusk casts its romantic glow over Manhattan”—his words—is perfectly clear.

He was supposed to be on his way to New York for a job. I’d already landed a plum assignment in this city. Fate appeared to have been looking out for us, and so we’d made plans. One week ago, we’d drunk sangria and danced on the sidewalks of Barcelona, to street musicians playing the kind of music that made you want to get close to someone, and he’d cupped my cheek, saying, “I will count down the days, the hours, the minutes until six in the evening on the first day of September.”

Then he’d taken me to his room, wearing that dark and dirty look in his hazel eyes. A look that told me how much he wanted me. Words had fallen from his lips over and over that last night in Spain as he’d undressed me, kissed me all over, and sent me soaring. My Penelope, give me your body. Let me show you pleasure like you’ve only imagined.

Cocky bastard.

But he was right. He’d made all my fantasies real.

He’d made love to me with such passion and sensuality that my traitorous body can still remember the imprint of his hands on my skin, the caress of his delicious lips leaving sizzling marks everywhere.

Standing, I run a hand down my pretty red sundress with the tiny white dots and the scoop neck. He loved me in red. One night we’d walked past a boutique that sold dresses like this. He’d wrapped his arms around me from behind and planted soft, sultry kisses on the back of my neck. “You’d look so lovely in that, my Penelope. And even lovelier when I take it off you. Actually, just wear nothing with me.”

I’d shuddered then.

I hurt now as the memory snaps cruelly before my eyes.

I turn away from the fountain, swiping a hand across my cheek. The seed of discouragement planted in the first minutes after he failed to appear has sprouted over the two hours I’ve waited for him. It’s twisted into a thorny weed of disappointment that’s lodged deep in my chest.

There are no two ways about it. My three-day love affair under the starry Spanish sky with the man who whispered sweet nothings in my ear while he played my body like a virtuoso pianist isn’t getting a second act.

Gabriel has my email.

He knows how to reach me.

He chose not to.

Que sera, sera.

I refuse to cry.

With my chin held high, I walk away.

The rest of the night, the hurt deepens, burrowing into my bones.

The next day, shame wraps itself around that weed in my chest, dominating my emotions. Shame for having believed him. For having bought the damn dress. For having hope.

When I open my closet, I swear the red dress laughs at me. I huff, yank it off the hanger, and stuff it in a grocery bag. I grab the pink one I wore the day I met him, then the soft yellow skirt I had on the next day we were together, which made for such easy access. When I pull down the silky blue tank next, I’m walloped with a reminder of his reaction when he first saw me in it.

His eyes had widened, and he’d groaned appreciatively. “Beautiful.”

It was all he’d said, then he’d kissed the hollow of my throat and blazed a sensual trail up my neck, along my jawline to my ear, and whispered, “So beautiful in blue.”

I’d melted.

I’d believed all his sweet, swoony words. He’d said so many things that had set my skin on fire, that had made my heart hammer, that had made my panties damp.

Even now, as I clutch the clothes I wore with him, then didn’t wear with him, goose bumps rise on my flesh. I squeeze my eyes shut and tell myself to burn the house down.

It’s the only way.

I leave my apartment, march ten blocks uptown, and donate the bag of clothes to the nearest Salvation Army.

When I return home, I open my laptop and find the folder with the photos I took of the two of us. I’m tempted, so temped to grab a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, run my fingers over the pictures, then download Skype and call his number in Europe to ask why the fuck he didn’t show.

But I can’t be that girl. I start my first job tomorrow. I need to be a responsible grown-up. I can’t be the clingy twenty-one-year-old who isn’t able to deal with being ditched.

I’m Penelope Jones, and I can handle anything.

I bring the folder to the trash, then I call up his contact information. His email address. His stupid phone number in Spain. I slide his name to the garbage can, too. My finger hovers over the empty trash icon for several interminable seconds that somehow spool into a minute.

But as I remember the way I felt last night, all alone at Lincoln Center, it’s wholly necessary to stab the icon.

Let him go.

A clean break.

For the next ten years, I do my best to keep him out of my mind.

Until I see him again.

 

 

Chapter One

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