Cougar Summer will be a part of an anthology of contemporary romance novellas to be released soon. More details coming soon…In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek…enjoy!
My fortieth birthday is in two weeks, five days, four hours, and twenty-nine, …wait twenty-eight seconds. I cannot believe that I’m about to be forty with no husband or even one child. I’m not even fortunate to say I have been divorced, or I called off an engagement. When I turned twenty-five with a sexy man in tow, I just knew that by the time I turned thirty I would’ve been married at least two years. That fineness did not translate into husband material and by thirty, my career as an editor for a small publishing company had just taken off so I didn’t care. I had a girls’ trip to Vegas at thirty-five and didn’t give a fuck. But forty. Forty is old.
My best friend, Gail, has been married twice and is now engaged to be married for the third time, swears that it’s more embarrassing when you fail at marriage. I don’t agree to disagree on this one. I will never understand her plight, because she’s had three different men who wanted to legally claim her to the world, and she has a son. Society looks at single, never been married much differently than a twice married divorcee. She might be called out for not keeping a man, but I can’t even get one. Okay, I can get one, but one that wants to be a husband is a long story worthy of a peach Bellini and three lime Margaritas.
I’m the middle child and the only girl, so though I don’t have the middle child syndrome, it does get downright depressing to attend another family gathering with my youngest and oldest brothers’ wives and children in tow. And my parents who are still blissfully together after forty-five years, have tried to set me up with every single male from church and from their respective jobs before they retired from teaching. I’m poor Auntie Nya to my family and to my friends I’m Anya, the bold and the beautiful, with no responsibilities to anyone but myself. Problem is I want to be tethered to someone. And if for some reason I am unable to be impregnated, adoption is a viable option. Besides, it has taken me more than two years to lose forty pounds, I don’t necessarily want to gain any weight any time soon.
“What are you thinking about this early?” A deep voice interrupted my depressing racing thoughts.
I looked to my left at Neil, the handsome, internal medicine doctor, I’d been seeing off and on for years. Maybe I should say “fuck buddy” because we rarely went out anymore. “Nothing. I need to get up for work.”
“Aren’t you already on leave?” He propped himself up on his elbow.
“Yes. But I still have a few meetings I have to attend since I’ll be gone for six weeks.”
He reminded drily, “a trip you neglected to tell me about. Like, I wouldn’t mind spending a few days in Costa Rica.”
“We’re not in a relationship, so I don’t have to tell you any of my plans.” I rolled my eyes. “This isn’t a leisure trip. I’m going there to work. I’m having writer’s block and I need to finish this novel and get it to my publisher.”
Neil reasoned, “So I can’t visit one weekend out of the six weeks you’ll be there?” He scrutinized my face. “Are you going with someone else?”
I placed my pillow over my head and groaned at this pointless conversation. He calmly removed my fluffy barrier, waiting for an explanation. I used to believe that when he questioned me about my whereabouts, seemed jealous or made me believe he wanted something more, he really did. I can be fooled once, okay, maybe twice, but not three times. “Nope, not doing this with you again, Neil.”
He frowned and once upon a time I would have smoothed the wrinkles in his forehead and kissed his full lips. “Doing what?”
I turned on my side to face him. “You and I are only good for fucking. I don’t need you to follow me to paradise and pretend we have more than what we have.”
Neil smooched me quickly and declared, “I love you.”
Unimpressed, I responded, “You love yourself more.”
His head jerked slightly back at my nonchalance. “What happened to ‘I love you back’?”
“Noting you didn’t contradict me.” I threw the covers off me and moved to the edge of the bed searching with my feet for my slippers. Ready to begin my day without one Neil Sanders.
Neil’s strong arm snaked around my waist and he pulled me back down beneath him. He slowly raised my black satin negligee up my thighs. “You know you love me.”
I looked into his dark brown eyes slightly hooded by his lids as he hovered over me. “I do but what we have is not enough and I’m too old to pretend otherwise.”
His eyes were sad though he cracked a smile. “I forgot you’reabout to be a cougar.”
I popped his shoulder. “Shut up. You’re only two years younger.”
Neil grinded his hard dick against my sex. “Three years younger for three months and once you’re forty, you’re officially a cougar. Let me at least visit you for your birthday, and we can relax on the beach and make love.”
I couldn’t stop the welling of tears at the image of us enjoying my birthday together. “No. I want to spend it reflecting on my life and why I’m still alone.”
His eyes now soft, he said, “I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize anymore. You’ve made it clear on more than one occasion that you don’t want marriage or family. And I finally accept that this needs to be our last time.”
His eyes widened. “Last time for what? For sex? Seeing each other? Anya, I love you.”
“Neil, we want different things and for too long I thought I could change your mind. We don’t want the same things and you have that right. I just don’t want to have meaningless sex anymore.”
“It’s not meaningless when two people love each other.”
“We love each other but we stop being in love a long time ago. Now we only get together when we need some.”
“You’re forty now, you can’t still want to have children? We can start over. Just you and me.” He kissed my neck. “I can’t imagine you not in my life.” We had been a couple for more than a year when he dropped the bombshell that he didn’t want marriage or children. At the time he was finishing his residency and I assumed he only felt that way because he was so busy starting his career. We broke up a few months later but over the last eight years either he or I would miss and call the other. He would hint that he wanted more, and I would get excited about us. I finally paid more attention to his actions than his words and protected my heart. Unfortunately, I had needs and hadn’t had anyone serious since I was thirty-seven. Neil called right after that break-up and we began causally dating and fucking, and over the past several months, we stopped all pretenses and just spent time sexing.
“You thought that because of my age I would stop wanting a family?” I shook my head, weary of this stale conversation. “As long as I have a period, I’ll want a child and if for some reason I can’t conceive I want to adopt. I want to be a mother and a wife. Honestly, at this point, if I had to choose, I would rather be a mother. And since we both know how you feel about being a father, we need to stop wasting anymore time.” I tried to move, but he held me captive within his arms. “Let me go, Neil.”
“I hate hurting you. If I ever want a family, it would be with you. You would be a wonderful mother. I’ve been thinking…”
“Get off me, now.” I hit his muscled arm, struggling against his strength to move him from above me.
I stopped fighting him and gazed directly in his eyes. “No, you always do this. Give me hope when you know that deep down, you don’t want children. I know you can be faithful and it’s one of the reasons I still deal with you at all. It really is okay. Neil, I stopped being angry and disappointed a long time ago. However, I’m not playing the fool for you anymore.”
He implored. “What if I don’t want us to be over?”
“There is no ‘us’,” I responded firmly. “And you have no choice.”
He looked down for a second before meeting my unwavering stare. “Can we at least share one more meal? I’m hungry.” Although a fanatic health nut, he was a glutton for my cooking, that wasn’t always healthy.
“Fine, what do you want to eat?”
Neil smiled as he opened my legs and made my pussy his breakfast.
“I’m still trying to understand why you want to leave the country by yourself. What if something happens to you over there?” Gail lamented as she enjoyed her pasta while I picked at my grilled chicken salad. We’ve both struggled with our weight over the years. She’d given up the fight and had become comfortable with her curvy thickness. I liked my new size and planned to maintain it.
I signaled to the waitress to refill my unsweetened tea. “Did you forget I used Theresa to handle everything? She’s the best travel agent this side of the U.S. I’ll be staying at the de La Rosa Villa. I already gave you the details and the name of my host. The Villa is handling the hour travel from the airport. I’ll be fine.” I checked my phone to see if Neil texted again. He had been insistent that the other night wasn’t our last time and sent me sexy texts throughout the day. I found myself drifting back into him, which I hated because Neil was too damn stubborn and selfish to really change his mind. “Besides I’m way behind on my novel. This has been a busy season at the company, and I focused so much on editing, I’ve had little time or even the creativity to write. I need to be inspired and a change of scenery will do the trick.”
“There are several small cities in Cali and forty-nine other states. Why Costa Rica?”
“Blame Theresa. You should see the bad ass villa where I’ll be staying and it’s in my budget.”
“But it’s your fortieth birthday. We’ve celebrated every birthday together for the past fifteen years.” Gail and I met when I started in the intern program at Kemet Publishing. She was the administrative assistant to the Copy Editor. I’d never been away from Jackson, Mississippi, my hometown until I was hired as an intern. Gail had been wise beyond her years though we were the same age and she’d helped make San Diego my new home.
“That’s why we’re having dinner now, the night before I leave. And we can always celebrate again once I get back in July.”
Gail sipped on her pina colada. “Okay, then tell me why you won’t even let Neil visit?”
“You know why. If I want something different, I can’t keep doing the same thing.”
“Neil loves you. Maybe he’s finally coming around.”
“It’s been years, and nothing has changed. He’s not coming around and I have to be stronger this time to ignore him. I want what you and Brian have. I really think he’s the one for you.”
Gail said softly, “I thought Calvin and Tyrin were the only ones for me too.”
I shook my head. “I didn’t but you were too caught up in them to see what was clear to everyone else. Brian is different and good for and to you. Trust me, three times is a charm.”
She beamed in agreement. “Neil is good to you, too.”
I twisted my lips. “He can be selfish and doesn’t want a wife and children because he doesn’t want any other responsibilities outside of himself. I honestly believe that the only reason he has never disrespected me, is because he was taught how to treat a woman by his single mother. I’m not giving him credit just for being nice to me, that’s the least any man should be towards me. And it doesn’t matter that he never fucked over me with another woman, he’s not the one because I would be settling for a lifetime of girlfriend status. My parents have been married forever and I’ve seen the beauty of long-time love and commitment and I don’t want anything less.”
She raised a sharply defined brow while sipping on her fruity drink. “Then why do you keep checking to see if he texted?”
I smiled sheepishly. “I admit, it’s flattering that he’s doing his best to keep me in his life. Maybe getting away for six weeks will help me stick to my guns when it comes to Neil. I can’t waste any more time on him, period.”
Gail sighed. “Such a shame. He’s such a pretty man.”
I raised my glass to hers and we clicked them together. “I know.”
Less than twenty-fours later as I navigated through the small airport toward the exit, a friendly Latina woman held a sign with my name. I walked toward her. “Are you with the de La Rosa Villa?”
She nodded with a bright smile. “Ms. St John?”
“I’m Marisa.” She spoke English with a strong accent. “Come this way, the car that will bring you there is right outside.”
I followed her, trepidation in every step. “So, you’re not my driver?”
“No, Raul will be your driver during your stay with us.”
“How far away is the Villa again?”
“Close to an hour and a half. We’re not in the city.”
Suddenly fear crawled across my skin. I’m in a foreign country alone about to get in a car with a stranger. A male stranger. An hour trip, now an hour and a half seemed so long. Maybe I should have found a nice little Airbnb in Los Angeles instead of flying across waters to a Latin country. I searched the airport, to see if there were any other signs with my name. When I didn’t see any other posters, I started memorizing my scenery and pulled my cell out to secretly take pics of Marisa and the black, dusty jeep, where an older gentleman rushed to assist me with my bags.
Marisa spoke to him in Spanish and he nodded. I wished those three years of Spanish I took in high school and college worked. He tilted his head toward me and I realized he probably spoke no English.
As he placed my bags in the back of the jeep, I asked Marisa, “Does Raul speak English?”
“Only a little. But it’s okay. He drives guests back and forth all the time. He will make a stop midway in case you want to go to store and buy snacks. The Villa provides meals, but snacks are up to you. If you need anything on the way, he can understand basics like if you need to use the restroom.”
I settled in the backseat. “I already have snacks and I used the restroom as soon as I landed. Please tell Raul to drive me directly to the Villa. In fact, I want to call ahead to the Villa.”
She smiled kindly. “Don’t worry. If it’ll make you feel better, I can get Theresa on the phone, and she can reassure you that we will get you safely to the Villa.” Before I could respond, she pulled out her cell and hit one number. “Yes, Ms. St. John arrived safely. She wanted to speak with you.”
Hearing Theresa’s loud voice immediately allayed any fears. “Anya, you will be fine. I think it’s a bold and courageous decision to travel by yourself and anytime you need to call me about anything, I’m here. You’re in good hands. Zacarias and his staff will take good care of you. I’ve already told them of your purpose and that you’ll want to do a few excursions. Everything is ready for you to relax, unwind and give the world a beautiful love story.”
“Thank you. I’ve been wondering if I made a smart decision.”
“Of course, you did. Trust me, the de La Rosa Villa is an oasis, a heaven on Earth. Me and my husband traveled there two years ago, which is why I can personally vouch for your stay there.”
“Okay. I’m going to chill and trust the experience. I’ll send you a text once I make it to the Villa.” I passed the phone back to Marisa and smiled in gratitude. “I’m ready.”
Toward the end of the ride, if Marisa had been correct in her estimation of arrival, the road became unpaved, bumpy, muddy, and winding. I found myself holding on to the back of the passenger seat, thankful I didn’t have motion sickness.
Raul called over his shoulder, “Lo siento…sorry.”
“No, no. I’m fine. Soy bien.”
Watching the lush greenery, a mix between a jungle and a forest, I started to feel like the character, romance author, Joan Wilder from those Romancing the Stone movies, my mom loved so much when I was a young child. This was going to be an adventure, getting to know myself all over again. Excitement stirred within at the thought that I had nothing but time to self-reflect and create as I celebrate a beginning of a new decade. Turning forty may not be such a bad thing after all. Finally, we made it over a steep hill, and I clapped in pure delight at the scenery before me.
The Villa was magnificent, and pictures didn’t truly capture the beauty of the way the sunlight beamed through all the floor length windows surrounded by gray, beige, and white stones. Or the bright green landscape with pops of color from the flowers surrounding the home and lining the now paved pathway.
We pulled up on the circular driveway directly in front of the massive red door, and I stepped out into the heat, hugging myself that this would be my home for the next six weeks. I’d done well in my career and had good financial sense, but this place was way beyond my means, and I had gotten a serious bargain. I walked closer to the Villa, marveling in the architecture, so spellbound by the sight before me, the voices behind me were almost a whisper.
“Hola.” A deep voice broke through my trance-like state.
I turned around and found myself awe-struck again but at the male specimen before me. He was beautiful. If you can call a man beautiful. He tugged on the top of his tight curly hair that he wore sponge-style as he addressed Raul in Spanish. He looked at me for a moment and smiled before Raul asked him a question. The contrast between his chocolate brown skin and his lighter brown eyes were striking. His thick brows had a natural arch, his nose perfect over slightly pouty lips. He was clean-shaven though judging the fullness of his hair and his slightly hairy muscular legs revealed by the long cargo shorts, he probably had to shave daily. I could tell that facial hair would only enhance his keen features.
His biceps, half-covered by the sleeves of his light blue t-shirt, flexed as he grabbed my largest suitcase from the back of the jeep. I caught a movement in the corner of my eye and saw a smirking Raul. I blushed and looked way, hating that he caught me ogling the latest staff member who I hadn’t met yet.
“Bienvenidos, Anya St. John.”
Impressed the beautiful stranger pronounced my name correctly, I greeted him warmly, “Hola, como te llamas?” Most people called me An-ya instead of A-nya. Blame it on my parents who wanted my name to be a combination of their names, Amos, and Nya.
His smiled widened. “Hablas Espanol?”
I shook my head vehemently. “No, no. I can only say basic things in Spanish.” I searched my brain for how to communicate to him in Spanish. My travel agent swore that at the Villa, people were bilingual. “Um…un poco ingles…no hablo Espanol.”
“I speak English,” he said with a slight accent and lifted my Louis Vuitton satchel higher on his shoulder. “Call me Zac.”
“You’re Zacarias Garcia?” I asked surprised that this gorgeous man would be my host. I expected an elder Latino gentleman, not a youthful, American-looking cocoa brown-skinned virile one.
“Zac, please. My name is way too long.”
“It’s such a nice name.”
His brown eyes framed by long lashes twinkled. “Querida, mi mama would agree.”
“What does that…never mind.” I hesitated thinking, I may have misunderstood that he’d just called me a term of endearment. I would have to look at the translator app on my phone, later.
“Yes?” There goes that gorgeous smile again, this time flashing his perfect white teeth. Swoon.
I took a breath and started speaking again, “Thank God, you do speak English. Not that I mind learning your language, just I’m a little slow when it comes to languages. By the time I learn to say, ‘what’s a good restaurant in San Jose’, I’ll be boarding on the plane back to the states.”
“You’re funny.” He grinned wide. “I don’t mind teaching you while you’re here. We have six weeks together.” He gestured toward the large house. “Come, I’ll show you around your home away from home. I promise you will enjoy your stay. We’ll have a good time.”
Why is he acting like we’re here together? I am in another country, maybe that’s how men here behave. I followed behind him, enjoying the view. He had a tight ass that his beige cargo shorts emphasized with ever step he took. His biceps flexed while pulling my luggage past the front door and down the pathway toward the back of the house. He was also a young man, couldn’t be no more than late twenties, thirty may be pushing it. I couldn’t always tell age in men, but something told me he was way too young for me. Initially I didn’t feel comfortable with Neil being younger than me. My father was three years older than my mother and I think somewhere in the back of my mind, I believed men should be older than their women. And this man in front of me was off limits, even if he was of an appropriate age to date. No more men without long-term commitment.
Breaking the comfortable silence, I asked, “So, you live here?”
He slowed his pace so I could walk alongside him. “Yes, I have a place that’s nearby on the property, but my office is inside on the first floor in the back of the Villa. I’m never far. So, if you need anything or get scared, I’m here. You should already have my cell.”
I raised my hand to my chest, wondering again why I decided to venture so far away on my own. “Why would I get scared? Should I be?”
He smiled reassuringly. “No, I meant that this is a quiet place and at night you can hear the perfectly harmless howling monkeys that can be annoying at times. Usually people travel in a group when they stay here. You came alone and this is such a big house. I just want you to know that I’m here if you need me.”
“I asked for a smaller space, but the owner said he would charge me the small space rate for the large house since no one is reserving the Villa until later this summer.
He looked down for a moment before his brown eyes twinkled. “He usually doesn’t do that. He must like you.”
Blushing, I said, “He doesn’t even know me. My travel agent set it up.”
Zac gave a knowing glance. “He doesn’t just let anyone stay in his home.”
“Wait, this is his actual home? I thought this was one of his properties?”
“He’s always traveling, so he allows people to use his home. Three days after you leave there’ll be a wedding here.” He gestured toward a large veranda replete with a vibrant blue infinity pool with the mountain and beach in the near distance. “During your stay we’ll begin to get the place ready for them. We won’t disturb your area, but we are building a gazebo on the lawn past the pool for the bridal party. We’re actually going to have a specially made clear platform placed on top of the pool so that the bride and groom can appear to stand on water as they recite their vows.”
I walked past him, marveling at the heavenly vision before me. “I would love to get married at a place like this.”
“Are you getting married soon?”
I hugged myself and stared wistfully at the golden horizon. “No, I just think about it all the time.”
“He’s a lucky man. You’re a beautiful woman, Querida.”
I turned back to look at Zac not bothering to correct him of my singledom, too busy wondering why his inappropriate comment felt anything but.
“Let me show you around so you can get some rest. You must be tired after all the traveling. I’ve made that trip several times.” He led me into the huge glass double doors to the modern gourmet kitchen.
Surprised I asked, “You travel to San Diego often?”
“Well, California. I have family in Los Angeles, and I’ve been to San Diego a couple of times. It’s a beautiful city.” He placed my bags down. “Meals are served on the veranda so you can enjoy the mountains and beach in the distance. Breakfast is for nine every day. If you ever want the staff to prepare lunch or dinner besides tonight, let them know a day in advance. Feel free to use the kitchen whenever you want up to two hours before any mealtime to give staff enough time to prep. Dinner will be ready for seven. Does that time still work for you?”
I stifled a yawn. “Yes, I only need a couple of hours to settle.”
“You are tired.” Zac frowned in concern. “Look, why don’t I take you to your suite and either after dinner or tomorrow morning I can show you the entire villa. You’re here for the next few weeks, you don’t have to see everything right now.”
“Is it really that much more for me to see?” I glanced around the large room.
He raised one thick brow. “Yes.”
“Wow. Okay, then you’re right, show me to my suite.”
He picked up my bags again and led me to a shiny light brown wooden staircase. I admired that he carried my heavy bags as if they weighed nothing. I watched the movement of his muscles in his back, calves, and triceps as we climbed the stairs. Damn, he probably has women after him all the time.
Focus on the moment, Anya. “So, is there any particular way I should dress for dinner?”
“No, this is your vacation. We only suggest mealtimes so that our staff know when to report to work since you didn’t request around the clock help. I’ll be around for dinner to introduce you to the rest of the staff and then I’ll disappear until you need me. I’m handy and can fix most things. You’re here to write, right?”
I responded proudly, “Yes.”
“What’s your genre if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Romance,” I said raising my head a little higher, knowing that most of my friends and family thought I should be working on the next great literary novel. I had just completed a novella and it’d been received so well that my boss signed me on with the company to publish my own novel.
“Romance?” His grin widened. “I bet it’ll be a spicy story. I would love to read your work.”
“You read romance?”
“You sound surprised?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know too many men who read anything other than crime stories or non-fiction.”
Zac backed away smiling. “I’m not most men. See you at dinner, Anya St. John.”
Once he closed the door, I looked up at the ceiling. “You know what I’m trying to do, and you place that man in my path. I better get my pray on.”