This is the third installment of the Secret Series. Don’t start with this post until you’ve read One: Sex & Lies and Two: Dirty Laundry to check out how Natalie and Eric’s crazy story began.
As a writer, I hate trying to make fetch happen. As a reader, I’m usually disappointed with romance books which have perfect bows in the end. Marriage, zero conflicts, perfect pregnancies, beautiful bouncing babies and everyone laughing at the journey which got them there. I knew I would have to do just this in plotting and writing Three and I’ve dreaded it. I started writing Three in 2016, in those two years I’ve deleted four drafts and have stared at a blank screen for far too many hours to count but, in the end, I wanted to finish Natalie and Eric’s story. How would I accomplish this, I have to follow tradition right?
My readers may not like it, no publisher in the world would allow this but, alas, that’s what makes self-publishing so free and unique. I’m going to tell you what happened. I will end the Secret Series but not with a traditional manuscript. I didn’t want to create conflict for a couple who were destined to settle in. Who really wants to read a book about a couple simply doing dishes together, paying bills, traveling and just, Netflix and Chilling? Some of you will say, you’d love that, others, not so much. This is Nat and Eric though. What’s funny is, the little of the writing I didn’t delete I feel my characters wrote themselves. It was as if they just wanted me to leave them alone and be done with their story. The story they wrote through me was much too fast for traditional publishing. I tried slowing them down and fleshing out the nuances but, it just wasn’t flowing right. They were trying to tell me to let go…and so I did.
This piece will include a segment of what I wrote, my thoughts and yes, even a bow. A crooked but beautiful bow. I want to apologize to my readers, I know you were wanting a traditional book and story but, I simply couldn’t hand you over a shitty one for the sake of completion. I hope this closes the book on these characters for you and I hope you still love them as much as I have.
Three: The Decision
Three: The Decision Copyright © 2018 by Victoria Catherine
Publisher: Write For Whiskey Press
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, organizations, events or locales is entirely coincidental. All sexually active characters in this work are 18 years of age or older. This book is for sale to ADULT AUDIENCES ONLY. It contains substantial sexually explicit scenes and graphic language which may be considered offensive by some readers. Please store your files and hard copies where they cannot be accessed by minors.
Visit my website at www.victoriacatherinewriter.com
You are spilled soy sauce, a shadowy picture holding my hand, you are the beauty in a Robie house window, you are the courage of a Skydeck ledge, you are the giggle in Living Room Forts, you are the relaxation of a water taxi, you are the comfort of a chest pillow and the excitement in Chinatown. You are life. You give me life, messy, lovely, complicated, heated and soft life. I look at you a feel alive.
Thank you, My Love
Wondering what I did huh? Did I click cancel and stay in Chicago, and relish in being a partner at my firm? Not quite. Ah, so it must mean I clicked purchase and ran off to Italy to be with the woman I love? Nope. I did neither. I powered off my phone, slipped it into my pocket, drove straight to my job and quit. Natalie was off to start a new life and damn did she look happy, in fact, she’s never looked sexier. I wanted that too, a fresh start, and I knew I couldn’t have it with a Naomi sized hole in my partner contract. Yeah, I worked my fucking ass off for the promotion but, that’s not why I got it. I got it because she compelled my dick wad boss to give it to me. I wanted my freedom, my conscience clear. I went into my office, typed up a pretty detailed resignation letter, signed my flimsy, for a big law firm, non-compete agreement and grabbed my personal belongings along with a company stapler (because why not). I emailed David Lehman, the founding partner of my firm, all the documents and never looked back.
That was a year ago and honestly guys, I’ve never been happier. Lina is doing great, she’s one year sober and the office manager of the law practice I opened six months ago. Marks & Associates is small but thriving. Tommaso Capuano is the other associate in the firm, he’s a great guy who has a fucking law library in his head. This guy, yeah, he could have been partner anywhere but, he’s not into ass kissing or being polished for a bunch of blue bloods. I actually went up against him and lost in my early days of law. He’s a defender of the little guy which works great for our firm; I can handle the bigger pricer corporate cases and he handles the not so lucrative ones but they put instant wins in our books. I know Tommy, as he prefers to be called, has the hots for my sister, and though I’ve threatened to cut his balls off if he tries anything with her, he’s 6’5 300 lbs, it’s a fight I know I won’t win.
I know what you all are wondering, am I dating, and yes, yes I am. I met a sweet girl, Rebecca Baylor, a few months after I had my epiphany. We’ve been dating exclusively for about three months and it’s been peaceful and stress free. Stress-free and kink free. We met at the Art Institute’s Van Gogh exhibit. Oddly enough, what attracted me to her was her plain look. Rebecca is extremely short, 5’2 on a good day. She’s was sporting this honey blonde school teacher high bun, no makeup, large round glasses with no glass and the dorkiest floral dress with white tights and black Mary Janes. I think she’s what people call hipsters.
I remember the first night we had sex. It was…ok. After having Natalie and Naomi, I was still in hard fucking freaky shit mode. I remember it being awkward, Rebecca is very vanilla in bed, which I don’t mind but, she’s also kinda rigid. She wouldn’t let me go down on her until about a week ago and I’m still teaching her how to give a proper blow job. Doesn’t seem all that great right? But it is. It feels normal, it feels simple, and the more she opens up and learns the more I calm my freaky ass down.
I’m actually on my way in to meet her. We’re meeting at Goya Gallery where she works as an art consultant. Rebecca can be very introverted, shy at times and as I said before, rigid in the sex department but, the art world is where she comes alive. I’ve seen her schmooze and flirt with some of the hardest millionaires in the city to make a sale. Her eyes light up and sparkle when she’s in her element and sometimes it pains me when we walk out because the light leaves her eyes before we make it to Rush street.
“Bray is a fantastic artist. We acquired seven of her pieces last week and we’ve already sold 3 before her show next month.”
I listen as Rebecca engages her client, getting them excited for next month’s show. The show she’s been molding into perfection.
“Will she have giclees or lithographs of her work? Seven seems like such a low number for someone the gallery has such faith in.” The purebred wasp can’t help but to sound dismissive as she eyes the artists work.
“Yes, Mrs. Luttrell, we have many of her prints and we are getting her shipment of ten more originals next week.” Rebecca falters for only a moment, lifting her chin and standing straighter as to not cower to the socialite. “The first seven are just a taste, I assure you.”
The Luttrell woman walks away slowly with a bit of a huff and Rebecca turns her eyes to me. They are large and seem to grow saucer size whenever she sees me. Her delicate and slightly crooked smile beams as she discreetly skips over to me, wrapping her arms around my neck for a kiss.
“Mmm Eric, I missed you today. Dealing with these so called art collectors is the absolute worst part of my day.” She groans a bit into my neck, it’s innocent as she makes sure not to graze or kiss me in public. Rebecca is not the biggest fan of PDA and I’ve learned how awkward she becomes if I give her more than a peck on the lips in public.
“I missed you too, it looks like your debut show is coming along nicely?” She slips her arms from my neck and looks around with pride.
“It is, isn’t it? Bray is my ticket to Globe.
Globe was a premiere art dealer. They didn’t have a retail location, only warehouses around the world in which elite art dealers and consultants worked with even more elite clients. Transactions are done through emails and phone calls, with money being wired from their very secure accounts. Rebecca had her sights aimed high. Globe didn’t care if a consultant sold a thousand Miros or Rembrandts they wanted to know if they could sell artwork of lesser publicly known but highly underground artists. This Bray person was her ticket. Rebecca thinks it’s a small group of artist painting under one name because of their ever changing style.
“Are you free yet babe? I thought we could grab some dinner. Maybe you’ll finally let me cook for you.”
“At your place? No, no thank you. I still can’t get over the women you had there. A dominatrix, and some woman you kinda sorta loved who you screwed on your kitchen counter.” She shivers at the thought. “I still can’t get over the fact that you told me about them.”
“Becs, I was three sheets to the wind drunk that night. I just got all low and reminiscing and everything just spilled out. I told you, I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, yeah well, until your place has been fully bleached down, I just can’t.”
“So, you’ve never fucked anyone at your place, the place I visit often? No cum stains camouflaging on your walls?
Rebecca’s face crinkles into disgust, indignation, and surprise at the same time.
“Eric, I’m not a virgin, yes I’ve had sex there before and no, there’s not” she lean in whispering into my ear, “ejaculation stains on my walls…Eck. I just know how wild you can be and I’m not like that. I don’t want to have sex with you in a memory box of your greatest lovers.”
We’ve had this discussion before and it gets us nowhere. I kiss her cheek and let it go.
“Plus, I’m working late tonight. Bray is flying in to meet with our team. It will be my first time meeting him…her…them.”
I feel a little disappointed but I can’t really get ticked, I’ve had a few late nights with cases recently. I whip out my phone to text Tommy and Lina to see if they would be up for dinner at Bull & Bear when I see her. I’m not a feeling kind of guy but, in this instance, I drop my phone as the feeling of a bolt of lightning hits me and the loud thunk shatter’s the classic quiet of the gallery.
Everyone turns sharply to the sound and myself, except for her. She’s just staring at me as if she noticed me from the moment she walked in. Rebecca reaches down and scoops up my phone.
“Uh, hello clumsy fingers. I think you cracked your screen.”
“I, uh, yeah, warranty” I stumble out, blinking like a madman to convince myself she s real.
“Rebecca if you can pry yourself away from your boyfriend I’d like you to meet Bray.” The gallery owner Gordon Stone looked at both of us with very little patience.
“Eric, It’s great to see you but this meeting is closed and private. I’m sure Rebecca will call you when we are done.” He gestured towards the door but none of it was registering. The only thing to snap me out of my trance was her smile. Her whole face lit up and she gave me a small wave.
My concrete feet finally become unstuck from the floor and I, for some unknown reason, walk over to her carefully, almost as if she were a doe I don’t want to scare off all the while I’m the one looking like a deer in headlights.
She too begins to walk towards me and though I can feel the entire room watching us, I don’t register them. The people have become statues and my only focus is her. We finally meet in the middle and she takes my hand.
“Hey Eric, fancy seeing you here.”
She smiles once more and without thinking I give her the softest hungriest kiss a man can give a woman. Cupping her face and taking more than I should I finally break away, breathing in her scent.
“Damn, I love you, Natalie Parker.”
I think my brain just collapsed in on itself. Eric’s hands feel like my own beating heart, so familiar, so needed. Why is he here? Shit, I don’t care why he is here, I only wish I could have more of him at this moment.
He just said he loves me right? The words fall from my lips as well and suddenly I am hyper aware of where we are. I hear a hitched breath and the distinct stomp of kitten heels on the marble floors. As I try to search for where the noise is coming from I see Eric’s eyes grow wide and I feel his warmth leave my face, he turns suddenly chasing after the noise.
Well, I know how to make a good impression, don’t I?
“Bray, eh…um, welcome to Goya Gallery. It’s an honor to finally meet you.” Gordon stammers and the air of sophistication leaves his face as he’s not quite sure what the etiquette protocol is. I, on the other hand, recover nicely.
“Thank you, Gordon, thank you for having me. Did my final shipment arrive?”
The Gordon Stone I’ve grown to know over the past six months comes back and he’s all sophistication and business.
“Yes, I just got word your pieces are at customs, Rebecca, the art consultant assigned to your show, will be picking them up personally this evening with our handlers.”
“Oh yes, Rebecca, we’ve been corresponding through email. It’s been a bit choppy, my villa and studio get horrible wifi. She’s been great, so attentive, when…can… may I meet her?”
Gordon turns to look at the other employees in the room as if he’s asking for Rebecca’s whereabouts and as the now uncomfortable silence and distance grow, their eyes avert mine. I dip my head down to catch Gordon’s attention. He stammers,“Could you excuse me a moment, I will go and fetch her now.”
So here I am, standing in the middle of a stark white gallery in contrast to my bright mustard cashmere sweater, eggplant curve hugging leggings, and my favorite knee high black stiletto boots. Everything is quiet and eerily still for a beat until I get a ping from my cell, it’s from Eric.
“Natalie, so much to explain. Please meet me for coffee tonight, your old place?”
At first, I smile, this surreal moment of stepping back into Chicago and bumping right into Eric, but it fades as I wonder what there is to explain. I didn’t come here for drama and I get a sinking feeling I’m in the middle of it. I text back,
“I’ll call you.”
I slip my phone into my purse and see a very flushed face young woman approaching. Her mouth is greeting me with a beaming smile but her eyes are nothing but ice and daggers.
“Greeting’s Bray, I am Rebecca Baylor.” She shakes my hand a bit too hard, that hard shake that goes well beyond confidence and borders on intimidation. Just as I’m about to let her know she should calm herself and let me go I see Sharon and Jake bouncing into the gallery like lovesick puppies, all smiles, and canoodles.
They’ve been in Italy with me the past month helping me pack and wrap my pieces for this show. Well, they say they helped but in reality, they wrapped two pieces and then fucked their way through Tuscany.
“Oooo this place is fancy Natalie. Babe?” Sharon turns to Jake “What if we held our ceremony in a place like this. City chic.”
“Whatever makes your eyes sparkle like that, I’m game” Jake nuzzles her ear and I try my best not to barf.
The room still has a suffocating sense about it and after an eleven hour flight, I simply cannot deal with hush tones and secrecy.
“Ok, everyone,” I speak up, rather loudly “there seems to be an elephant in the room and with this being my first show and all, I’d like to address it before my career making or breaking debut.”
Gordon is the first to rush up to me as he claps his hands together and the other worker bees spring to life and go back to their previous tasks. “No, no, no elephant here, I think your very romantic reunion just threw everyone off a bit. Rebecca and I will walk you through the show.”
With that, he takes my elbow and we begin our walkthrough.
“That Rebecca girl is either much too nervous and green to pull off your show or she doesn’t like your art. She was downright mute and cold.” Sharon scrunches her face as she sips her cocktail.
“I don’t care about her honestly, I don’t know what her issue was but, if it continues tomorrow during installation, I will speak with Gordon. I didn’t come all the way back here for some twenty-something to shit all over it.”
We clink glasses and both look to our phones as they go off at the same time.
“Jake wants to go to a Bulls game tonight, are you down?”
I didn’t tell her about Eric, she was too busy making out in the limo with Jake to notice I’d left and walked into the gallery. She’s in a love bubble and while they are cute together and I am the one responsible for their meet-cute their sappyness is making my dry spell very apparent.
My phone buzz was Eric, telling me he was down the street at the coffee shop. I’d never called him back but I guess he decided to try his luck anyway,
“I’m having drinks with Sharon. I can be there in ten minutes.”
Sharon is in a grinning text exchange with Jake and since the Bulls are obviously on their agenda I blow her a kiss, throw a twenty down for my watered down bourbon and head to the coffee shop.
Standing on the corner of Michigan and Randolph, not much has changed. If I stood looking through the window long enough I could see Eric and I sitting inside two years ago. My emerald green dress, knee-high boots and Eric wooing me with lines from the movie Friday.
He looks delicious. Relaxed navy blue T-shirt, khaki carpenter shorts which expose his strong calves, (I see Eric never misses leg day), trainers and a weathered fitted baseball cap. He looks normal, comfortable, he looks like he’s not trying to impress me because we are passed that, he looks like mine.
I make my way in and the busty barista Kathy greets me with a huge surprised smile. “The usual Natalie?”
“Yes, It’s crazy you remember.” I smile back.
“Two shot Red Eye with a splash of cream,” she yells back to the other barista. She gives me a wink as I sit across from Eric.
I look at him. His face is joyful but guarded. Hey, he’s the one running around kissing folks.
“Nat. Before…before we…I…before I begin…I just…”
“Eric? What’s going on?”
“Rebecca Baylor is my ex-girlfriend. Well, ex as of two hours ago.” He looks down, fumbling with his coffee sleeve.
“My Rebecca Baylor? The Rebecca Baylor whom you kissed me in front of? That one? Eric, what the fuck dude.” I wasn’t angry perse, I didn’t do anything wrong, and to be honest, I liked the sound of “ex” but this was going to make things hella awkward.
“Yeah, that one. Fuck,” he scrubs his 5 o’clock shadow with his hands “she was a great girl, different and what I needed to get over both you and Naomi but when I saw you, I just. Natalie, you’re mine. I love you and you being here is a sign.”
I sit back in my chair and let out the largest sigh as my coffee is delivered. Who needs caffeine when you have this much drama to fuel you? Seeing Eric, kissing him, saying I love you. All of this is amazing but, it just feels like way too much. I don’t even live here.
“Eric, I didn’t move back to Chicago. I have a home and studio in Italy. I have friends their, real not dad fucking friends.”
Eric grins, “Hey, how is Gwen by the way?”
I lightly kick his shin under the table. “Later on that.”
“Eric, I love you. It took a year, and a lot of painting to realize how much.” I take his hands in mine. “I just don’t think I want to move back here to start us up. I don’t want to throw my new life away.”
Eric’s eyes move from our hands to my face. It’s as if he’s searching for something. “How long are you in town for Nat?”
“A month, I’m staying at a condo on Illinois and Grand.”
“I can change your mind in a month.”
“No, but you can make me see God every day for the next thirty days” I smile.
He lifts my hands, softly kissing my fingers, “Stay with me instead.”
“Stay with me, Natalie. Give me a proper thirty days.”
I squeeze his hands, knowing staying at his place, playing house, is the worst decision. The worst decision but one I am thumbing my nose at because I say yes.
“Alright but, don’t think this will be some fantasy live in thing. I unapologetically fart, I wear sweats with holes in them, My Sunday hair wash day is my religion and I sleep with the T.V. on.”
“You never slept with the T.V. with me,” he whispers into my ear.
“Oh Eric, we never slept.”
Ok, they slept a little bit. Natalie did stay with Eric for the month, the month turned into six months until Eric decided to come to Italy with Natalie. For those wondering, Natalie used the artistic name Bray as an homage to her college art teacher. During their time in Chicago, Gwen, remember Gwen, yeah, she was hell bent on sabotaging Natalie’s show. She called in a favor to a former flame and customs officer to have Natalie’s paintings delayed entry into the US. While this did cause some panic amongst Natalie, Eric and Rebecca, who, despite being dumped and humiliated was determined to put on the show of her life, Gwen’s plan, in the end, was thwarted. Did she go to jail or get her ass beat again, Nah neither, she simply dug herself a deeper hole of isolation.
Natalie’s dad dumped her after his fresh herpes diagnosis. Gwen thought Emmanuel was a perfect meal ticket so she up and quit her job at the law firm, reading everyone within earshot for filth. Once her world came crashing down she wanted to destroy any semblance of happiness for her former best friend. I will say, I struggled with Gwen. She had a rough childhood and it did seem like her best friend had it all but, Gwen had the wrong attitude. Sure, she used that rejection and lack of love from her youth to push her through law school but, she was still painfully envious of Natalie having not only a great childhood but a great adulthood. In the end, it was never friendship, it was a one sided mean-spirited competition. I feel like I had to put Gwen down. I wanted her plans thwarted and for her to see, none of her anger or envy was clearing a path. I wanted her to lose and still be able to walk away, knees intact. She will grow, she just needs time to shake the bitter.
Natalie’s show was a hit, she sold every painting and was even contacted by an up and coming Chicago rapper who commissioned a piece for his album cover. While Eric and Natalie fucked on every square inch of Chicago, her heart was tugging to return to Italy.
I wanted to make their relationship work. I didn’t want drama to come between them, I was ready for their lives to start. Yet, I didn’t want one of them giving up their dream. Romance books tend to do that. Someone has to quit their job or move away from their family to be with their love and I truly couldn’t fathom either character doing that. I knew when I ended Two they would end up together, I also knew there was no way in hell he was getting on that plane that day. I actually thought a lot about the show Friends when Rachel got off the plane. It made for great TV but did she really give up her dream job for Ross? In my mind, she didn’t. Since Louis Vuitton loved her so much, I imagined they allowed her to work 6 months in Paris and six months in NYC and as for Ross, he did the same. He would actively teach for 6 months and write and publish the other six. It’s what I ended up wanting for Natalie and Eric.
After her very well received show, Natalie flew back to Elba, Italy, with Eric by her side. Because Eric wasn’t much of a trial attorney he could do a lot of research and work remotely, flying back when needed and living in Chicago full time June to December. Natalie, during that time, could still paint in the beautiful studio Eric set up on the third floor of his pricey greystone and market herself to other galleries in the States.
Wedding Bells??? Baby Booties???
No. They have love. As their creator, I feel their love is enough. I know the formula is to marry them off and for her to find out she’s pregnant when Eric realizes Natalie turns down wedding champagne, but, the Happy Ending formula doesn’t fit them. They are fly off to Paris to fuck in the Louvre bathroom or have an orgasm atop the Eiffel Tower type of people. I will say they did say small commitment vows in the glow worm caves of New Zealand, nothing official, just them and millions of tiny glow worms lighting their path.
Even though Eric disconnected from his club owning siblings, he made sure to help Lina get back on her feet after recovery and, at the urging of Natalie, still joins his family for their lively Sunday dinners when he’s in town. As for his disconnected siblings, Cara and Giovanni are now considered the Black Sheep as it turned out they heard rumors about the drug deals but were too money hungry to look any further to protect their sister.
As for Natalie and her mom, Beverly, they are as close as ever. Beverly is burning a hole in her passport and sending more postcards than Natalie can keep up with. She even has a traveling companion, a sexy 55 year old silver fox. Beverly is doing just fine without Emmanuel.
In the end, yes, I could have stretched this and forced in dialogue to make this into the final book of the series but my heart wasn’t there. I didn’t want my readers hanging on for years waiting for a conclusion that may have never come. So, a toast to Eric and Natalie may he stay finer than frog hair and she continues to follow her dreams.
P.S. I’d love to read how you thought Natalie and Eric’s story should have ended. Please leave any and all thoughts in the comments below.