Icing the Competition

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 Abby Clement is a frequent dreamer. Daytime, nighttime, doesn’t matter. Abby dreams of a man with no face, or rather, a man whose face is always just out of focus. And though this man is the epitome of passion and desire, she has no idea why he plagues her every thought. Abby has been in a healthy monogamous relationship for the last three years. It has even been suggested that tonight, their third anniversary might be the night her handsome and adoring boyfriend proposes. But why does the very thought of that suddenly make Abby very nervous?

It’s not a good nervous either! Shouldn’t she be excited about the prospect of marrying the man she’s liked since high school? Maybe it’s that word, “liked,” that’s causing all of her recent doubts and confusion. Has neither of them really said ‘I love you’ in the last three years? As the night wears on, and things turn out far differently than her addled mind had suggested, Abby begins to look at her relationship more closely, perhaps her friends are on to something after all?

And just when Abby decides she likes things exactly as they are, a chance meeting with the star Captain of the local NHL team, the Savannah Slashers, leaves her more confused than ever, and swooning after him, though she’s sure she’ll never see him again. Besides, they hadn’t even exchanged phone numbers! And why should they have? She had a boyfriend, and she’d told him as much, even if it hadn’t stopped him from kissing her so thoroughly she could still feel the effects of it the next day!

Abby proceeds to put the encounter behind her, even if her dream man now resembles the rogue hockey player! No, she must forget about Dean Kirk and his passionate kisses! But as Abby tries to hide her betrayal from her friends and boyfriend, Dean has decided he can’t live without her. Dean vows to do whatever it takes to win her over, after all, he’s never been afraid of a little competition before. So imagine Abby’s shock when she goes to work like any other day, only to discover a beautiful vase of flowers and a pair of season tickets!

Of course, the vague note along with the tickets does nothing to help her lay her emotions to rest. What should Abby do? She has no idea. The man of her dreams has just made a generous offer, he and the rest of the Savannah Slashers have agreed to promote the beloved animal shelter where Abby works as a public relations manager. It’s exactly what they need, but would no doubt put Abby in close contact with a very virile man, one she’s already discovered she would be hard pressed to ignore.

Despite her reservations, Abby agrees, even taking her boyfriend Joey to a game as was suggested, hoping she doesn’t have to deal with Dean directly any time soon! Of course, wouldn’t you know it, Dean’s obviously thought of everything and after distracting a now possessive Joey snags a moment alone with Abby to tell her how much he’s thought about her. Stirring the very emotions she longed to forget! And right under Joey’s nose at that! Did the man know no bounds?

As things heat up between Abby and Dean, on and off the set of the photo shoot for her shelters calendar, featuring adoptable pets and the men of the Slashers organization, Abby continues to shy away from her devoted and now frustrated boyfriend. Joey seems to realize things are amiss, even if Abby refuses to acknowledge it.

Duty bound, however, Abby decides to give her relationship with Joey one more chance, because surely throwing away three years on a whim is a bad idea. Dean reacts to the news, and as Abby has been dedicated to him for the past few months, physically and emotionally if not in name, he doesn’t understand why she feels the need to attempt the revival of something obviously dead. Abby has a big heart though, and would gladly sacrifice her own happiness if it meant saving the hearts of others, thus Joey deserves the chance to prove he can make her happy. Even if he is unaware, though suspicious, of the fact that their recent abstinence is due to her growing affection for another man.

When things come to a head, and Abby is left free to pursue a relationship with Dean, another problem arises, one that leaves Abby feeling foolish and heart broken. But can Dean provide a logical explanation? Abby isn’t so sure and decides to ignore him instead, something that Dean has no tolerance for, forcing Abby to listen to him despite her reservations.

In the end, Dean proves his love for Abby in a most romantic way and even though they’ve only known each other a few months, Abby and Dean are convinced they were meant for each other. After all, hasn’t Abby dreamt of him from the very beginning?

Chapter 1

Abby

Come with me Abby, just for a little while,” he coaxed softly, extending his upturned palm towards her.

Daydreaming again, she could all but see the sparks of passion that emanated from his outstretched hand. The sun was just cresting over the horizon, colors exploding against the pale blue sky. She knew the sand beneath her toes would be warm, and if she looked out at the ocean she would be sure to see dolphins bobbing playfully in the far off waves.

But turning back toward the man before her, Abby tried her best to catch a glimpse of this handsome stranger. The contours and shapes of his masculine face blurred before her, forever just out of focus.

Though he often haunted her, both day and night, offering Abby a passion she had never known to exist outside of her dreams, she had yet to discern what this dazzling creature looked like.

Oh, she knew his body well enough, and she could describe exactly how each and every muscle felt pressed up against her, but his face always remained on the outer fringes of her awareness. Intriguing her further.

And as they walked along the beach today, watching the sunrise, and the way its rays played over the cool ocean water that lapped gently at their feet, Abby gave in, and just enjoyed the heat of his palm against hers, and the sensations he always evoked.

Abby? Girl, what are you still doing here? Aren’t you going to be late?”

Snapping back to reality, Abby looked up from her computer screen to see her co-worker, Monica, as her overly made up face poked around the doorframe of her small once-attic-now-converted office. Pushing back from the desk she stretched and looked at the clock above her on the back wall.

Wow, four-thirty already huh?”

Nodding, Monica sauntered in and placed a stack of folders in the incoming slot on Abby’s desk. “You two lovebirds have a hot date tonight right?” she asked as she fluttered her lashes and stroked one plump brown finger down the side of a photo on the desk.

Abby picked up the photo, and glancing at it briefly, smiled before setting it back down. “Yeah, we’re going to dinner at 29 South in Fernandina. It’s kind of our place. We reconnected there a few years ago, had our first date there too. Three years ago today, actually.”

Monica slumped into a chair on the opposite side of the desk, putting her feet up on the edge as she lounged back. “Ooh Three years! You think he’s going to pop the question?” she asked suggestively as she waggled her bushy eyebrows.

Looking more closely at the figures in the picture, Abby’s smile softened. “I don’t know. It would be quite romantic though wouldn’t it?”

The photo had been taken a few months after they’d started dating, at an adoption event for the shelter where Abby worked. Her coppery red hair hung loosely curled around her shoulders, and her baby blue eyes shimmered as laughter lit her face. Her boyfriend Joey had his arms around her, and though you couldn’t see it as his head was turned towards her, his dark blue eyes were deepened with admiration, and his shaggy blonde hair fluttered in the wind.

A small black puppy was wiggling helplessly in Abby’s arms and had become entangled in her hair. The puppy, a lab mix named Rodger had been successfully adopted. Abby and Joey consummated their relationship that very evening. It was a day Abby would most certainly never forget.

Well, I don’t really know much about romance, I tend to like my wine out of a box you know. But after three years he better be considering marriage or it’s time to dump that boy.” Monica continued, as she picked at her nails.

Abby chuckled softly, “I don’t know Mon, I kind of like things the way they are. I haven’t even thought about marriage myself, so I certainly couldn’t fault him for it. Could I?”

Monica was silent a moment as she pondered the question. “Is he good in bed?” She finally asked.

Monica!” Abby yelped.

What? It’s been three years Abby! He’s obviously attractive, he has a good job, he’s faithful, and blah blah blah. There must be something wrong if the two of you haven’t even discussed marriage in all that time!”

Our sex life is just fine, thank you.”

Okay, okay, I’ll back off,” she said holding her hands up in surrender. “But seriously girl, you need to get out of here. The place isn’t going to burn down without you, you know.” Monica stood up and smoothed out her blouse.

Abby watched her walk out and after flipping through the paperwork left on her desk logged off her computer and shut it down.

Maybe Monica was right. Was there something wrong with her relationship? She hadn’t really given it much thought. Joey was a fixture in her life, she knew his family, and he knew hers. They celebrated holidays together, had regular date nights and often spent two to three evenings at one or the other’s house.

Joey worked for a busy accounting firm in Kingsland, just across the border in her hometown, and aside from her public relations job with the shelter, she was active in a number of rescue organizations and events. They lived busy lives, but did that mean they should still be living separate lives after three years of dating?

As she locked the door to her office and waved to co-workers on her way out, Abby thought long and hard about her relationship with Joey.

She could still remember the first time she had seen him.

Freshman year of high school, she was standing in formation with the rest of her ROTC group, when he walked past her with the color guard. He was a year ahead of her, but he was so cute, with his platinum blonde hair cut into a high and tight, and his eyes the color of the sea. His cheeks were a little chunkier then, and he was certainly the shy quiet type, but boy oh boy, had she crushed hard on him.

He was always nice to her, but back then, her hair was often frizzy and out of control, she had acne like nobody’s business, and though she had legs for miles, the rest of her hadn’t quite filled out yet, giving her more of a tall gangly appearance with a bit of a boyish figure.

So when she ran into him again a few years back, she never would have thought they would have gone out on one date, let alone entered into a long term relationship.

She could still picture it, walking into 29 South with her friend and co-worker, Riley, gushing about the plantation style restaurant, the down home type food, and the retro style black and white checkered walls and floors. It had become a staple of their girls’ night out.

He was sitting alone at one of the tables outside on the deck, a paper splayed out in front of him and a mug of coffee in one hand. Still handsome as ever, his face had slimmed down and his hair, now shaggy, fell just above his eyes. And oh those eyes, they were dark and stormy as ever. When he looked up and caught her staring, it had taken him a minute, but once he realized who she was, both shock and pleasure were evident on his face.

Normally not so bold, Abby just couldn’t help herself, she told Riley to get them a table and strode right up to him, pulling out the chair opposite his and plopping into to it as if he had been waiting for her all along. And as they say, the rest was history. One date led to another and another.

Surely they had enough in common, or so she had thought. But maybe that was the problem. Climbing behind the wheel of her little pickup, Abby ticked off their common interests one by one as she turned the ignition and pulled out of the parking lot.

They both loved to read, probably had a small library between them. Both had bachelor’s degrees and stable jobs with decent incomes. And while Abby was soft of heart when it came to animals, Joey was slightly nonplussed. He didn’t mind her own personal menagerie of animals that she owned and fostered, but aside from that one adoption event that he had attended with her, he pretty much held back from that aspect of her life. He did have a lovely saltwater fish tank in his townhouse, but rather than call them pets, he usually referred to them as a nice display piece.

Jeez! There had to be something they had in common, she thought.

Edging towards frustration, Abby turned onto the interstate and guided her little blue truck into the far right lane.

They had similar tastes in movies, but musically, he tended towards R&B, whereas she was more into alternative and classic rock. But they both shared a love of Italian food! That was something, right? And they were certainly good together in bed. Weren’t they? She knew what he liked, and he pleased her well enough.

Yeah, they had a good foundation to build on.

Nodding to herself as if trying to convince her brain she knew what she was talking about, Abby almost missed her exit and cut off the driver behind her, earning herself an angry honk and the middle finger from the older gentleman who was driving a Buick.

Concentrating once again on her dilemma, Abby figured there was nothing wrong with her relationship. They were happy together and liked things just the way they were. So why was she getting so worked up over the opinion of a twice burned divorcee?

Good things take time to marinate right? Great, now she was comparing her relationship to a piece of meat. Well, is it prime rib or ground chuck Abby?

She laughed aloud to herself at the turn her ridiculous thoughts were taking. Joey was a good man, she was happy, and that was that.

So why did it suddenly feel like something was missing?

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Author

April Cronin

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