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The Retreat (A Clean and Sweet Romance Novella)

The Retreat

A Clean and Sweet Romance Novella

By Veda Whitfield

Copyright 2017 – Veda Whitfield

Shakespir Edition

This is a book of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is entirely coincidental. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents are all products of the author’s imagination or are used factiously.

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Table of Contents

Description

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

[]Description

She is a calm, health conscious yoga instructor. He is a wild, party loving, drunken, billionaire celebrity. Their lives are perfectly mismatched… or not?

Tamara Hope, health food specialist and yoga instructor, is all about living a balanced and healthy life and has recently opened her very own health retreat, where she meets Thomas.

Thomas Winter is a party-loving billionaire, who lives his life to the extreme – boozing, sex, and socializing. He can think of nothing worse than going on a retreat, but his agent promises him it will do his media image good.

Tamara and Thomas are like oil and water. He’s everything that she hates in a person, and he’s constantly teasing her about her lifestyle. She cannot wait for the week to be over. And yet… there’s something about him that makes her want to change him. But can someone like Thomas be changed? Does he even want to change? Should he be changed?

[]Chapter One

“Okay, everyone, you’re almost done. Now, take a deep breath in and a deep breath out. And again, a deep breath in and a deep breath out. One more time. And relax. Well done, class, you did great today. It’s always difficult coming to yoga on a Monday, but it’s a great way to start the week. Have a lovely day, and I’ll see you tomorrow,” Tamara said as she looked lovingly at her class. It had been a packed one that morning, which was always a pleasant surprise. She remembered when she first started teaching yoga. There had been three people in the class. Now, there were twenty-five.

“Hi Tamara. Thanks so much for class today.”

“It’s an absolute pleasure. Well done on being so dedicated. You’ve been here almost every day since you started,” Tamara said to Chantal. Chantal had been so nervous on her first day and had gone to the very back of the class to try to hide from everyone. But now, she was right up in front and joining almost daily.

“I didn’t think I’d love it this much. Also, when I first joined, I was so worried that everyone was going to be watching me. I thought I was going to make the biggest fool of myself.”

Tamara laughed. That was the biggest reason people didn’t want to join yoga. They were just so afraid. “And now, you realize that nobody cares about anyone else but themselves. Everyone is concentrating so hard on their own postures that they don’t even see the person next to them. Well, you’re doing great Chantal. I’ve noticed a big difference in you already.”

“Really? That’s good to hear. I feel different.” Chantal beamed. “Well, anyway, I just wanted to say thank you. Have a great day, Tamara.”

“You too Chantal. Oh, and before I forget, here’s a pamphlet for the retreat I’m starting. If you want to come, then just pop me an email or let me know when you come in again. We only have space for a few, but we’d love it if you could join.”

Chantal took the pamphlet and grinned. “Oh cool. I remember you saying that you wanted to do this. I’m glad you’re going ahead with it. Just put my name down. I’ll bring the money in tomorrow to pay. I definitely want to come.”

Tamara wanted to reach over and hug her. She was trying to act nonchalant about the whole thing, because she didn’t want anyone to know how nervous she was. What if she put the whole thing together and nobody came? Knowing that Chantal was coming was a huge weight off her shoulders. “That’s great news, Chantal. I’ll definitely put your name down.”

“Think there’s space for another two? I have two friends that would love something like this. The only reason they don’t come to yoga is because of their funny working hours. But I’m certain they could get time off for the retreat.”

“That sounds wonderful. Just let me know as soon as you can,” Tamara said. She didn’t want Chantal to know that she was the only one that had said yes, so far.

“Great. Thanks, Chantal.”

Tamara walked off, beaming to herself. She had one person, or possibly three, already secured for the retreat now. As long as she had a minimum of six, she’d be happy. Of course, if she managed to get more, she’d be over the moon, but she’d told herself that six would be good. The retreat was starting in a few weeks, so she needed to start advertising for it. The only reason she had taken so long to spread the word was because she was nervous. She walked out and went to the little café across the road, where she always went after her morning class. Her second class began in two hours, which gave her the perfect amount of time to get some breakfast and a well-needed cup of coffee. When she wasn’t doing yoga, she held health courses at the café, so all the workers knew her well. The moment she sat down, Wendy, whom she saw so often she now considered her a friend, came up to her with a cappuccino.

“One cappuccino with almond milk. Your breakfast is on its way,” Wendy said. Wendy knew exactly what she was going to order, because she had the same thing every single day. When she’d first started going to the café, she had experimented with a bunch of different options, but she had finally settled on her favorite – two poached eggs, half an avocado, spinach, bacon, and baby tomatoes. She was all about a big healthy breakfast to start the day, and she had plenty of time to let her stomach settle before her next yoga class.

“Thanks so much, Wendy.”

“How did today’s class go? I wanted to come, but then John called in sick, so I had to do his shift,” Wendy said and sat down beside her. The café was quiet, and the boss had no problem with the staff members sitting with Tamara as long as they got up when someone walked in. Tamara was almost a staff member herself, anyway.

“Full class today. We were even a bit squashed.”

“On a Monday? Wow, people are dedicated.”

“Or maybe my class is just that good?”

“I think you’re right there!”

Tamara laughed. “No, I’m just kidding. I doubt it has anything to do with me. Probably because summer is around the corner. Everyone is desperate for those summer bodies, now.”

“Don’t put yourself down. You’re an amazing teacher. You’re the only reason I got into yoga in the first place, anyway. Seriously.Any cute guys in the class today?”

Tamara chuckled. The two of them were single, and while Tamara had no interest in finding a man at the moment, Wendy could talk of nothing else.

“Yeah, a few actually. I’m getting more and more guys coming to the class now, which is pretty cool.”

“Right, that’s decided then – I’m coming to tomorrow’s class. Although, they’re probably just coming to ogle at you. I’m going to have to up my game tomorrow. I got these really short shorts, which I think will do just fine for this occasion. Do me a favor and try not to look so great tomorrow. Maybe don’t wash your hair. Or wear some old clothes.”

“Oh, please, Wendy. You’re gorgeous, and you know it. Anyway, you have all the guys falling at your feet, not me.”

“Yeah, but that’s because you’re not interested. I, on the other hand, am very interested. Very interested indeed.”

Just then, another waitress walked over and placed the food in front of Tamara. It looked amazing. “Thank you. This looks so good.”

“Pleasure!”

“Do you need me at all?” Wendy asked. She was obviously not at all interested in going to do her work. Luckily, the place was quiet, and the other waitress told her that she had it covered.

Wendy gleaned at Tamara, “Phew. I would so rather sit here with you.”

“I’m glad too. Hey… I just remembered… didn’t you have a date last night?”

Wendy groaned. “Don’t remind me.”

“Oh dear, that bad?” Tamara asked, while tucking into her eggs. They’d been done just right and oozed out onto her plate. Wendy pulled her nose up as she always did when Tamara ate her eggs. Wendy couldn’t eat eggs that were even slightly runny.

“Yeah… the date was a disaster. I probably should’ve known, though. There were so many signs. But I thought I’d give him a try.”

“You thought you’d give him a try, because he was so good looking. You chose to ignore everything else.”

“Yeah, you got me. But man, he really was good looking. And I am referring to him in the past tense, because the more I got to know him, the worse looking he became. He practically spoke about himself all night, which I don’t really mind all that much. I mean, I know people do that when they’re nervous. But he didn’t even have anything interesting to say. It was so incredibly boring. Mostly, it was about his gym routine. Seriously? Why would I be interested in his gym routine? Oh, and he told me that he gets girls so easily. Yeah, he actually told me that. Oh, and then… get this… he ordered for me!”

“What? No way! He actually ordered for you?” Tamara giggled. It was one of the reasons she enjoyed coming to the café so much. Wendy always had the best stories to tell. Tamara’s life was so boring in comparison. “What did he order?”

“Well, he chose steak and fries for himself, and then he said, ‘and the lady will have the same but with a salad’ – I’m seriously not kidding here. I mean, I should write all this down and write a novel one day.”

“You know, that’s not a bad idea. You have so many stories. I’d totally read your book.”

“I might just do that. So… I’m coming tomorrow to scout out some of those yoga boys. Surely, guys that go to yoga can’t be so into themselves. I think you should tell the class how well I’m doing too. It might make the boys notice me.”

Tamara giggled. “I can do that.”

“So, how about you, then?” Wendy asked, and Tamara groaned. She knew where this was going.

“What about me?” she asked, pleading innocence.

“Oh, come on, don’t play that game with me. Anyone you’re interested in at the moment?”

“Well, considering I saw you two days ago – well, no. Nothing has changed. I’m not sure when I would’ve found the time to meet someone between then and now. Also… you know I’m not interested.”

“How can you not be interested in finding a man?”

“Because I’m perfectly happy being alone.”

“Uh… you do realize you’re twenty-nine?”

“Yes, what has that got to do with anything?” Tamara asked casually.

“Does it not freak you out that you’re turning thirty this year and you haven’t found a man?”

Tamara laughed, “No. Why would it freak me out? I don’t need a man to make me happy. I have far too much going on in my life at the moment, anyway. I’ll figure that out in a few years.”

“A few years!” Wendy said. She didn’t even bother to hide the look of horror on her face.

“Yeah… a few years. Let’s say two, at most, then. By then, I’ll be more than ready to look for love.”

Wendy rolled her eyes. “Seriously? You are not right in the head. You know that?”

“I’m okay with that.”

“Come on… why don’t we go on a double date?”

“What? With who?”

“I don’t know. I’m sure we can find someone. Maybe two guys from the class tomorrow. Come on, it will be so much fun.”

“I think you and I have a very different version of fun.”

“Tell me about it. Anyway… I’ll twist your arm one of these days. Maybe I need to get you drunk, first. Yes! Now that’s a good idea.”

“You really don’t know me very well, do you? You know I don’t drink.”

“I’ve seen you drink!”

“Yeah, I mean, I’m not against it. I’ll have the odd glass of wine. But to be honest, I haven’t had a drink in ages. I can’t remember the last time I had one. I’m just too busy.”

Wendy whistled. “We really need to change that. But… I’m not going to push it. I know what you’re like. You’re already getting all uptight and defensive on me. But don’t underestimate your good friend, Wendy, here. I will make a plan.”

“I don’t doubt you’ll try. But never underestimate your good friend, Tamara. I’ll be onto you.”

Wendy laughed, “Anyway, enough about boys. Tell me about your retreat. Have you decided to go for it? I so wish I wasn’t working that week. You know I’d be there in a heartbeat if I could be!”

“I know. But yeah… I’m doing it. I started handing out pamphlets today. I already had one girl say yes, and she wants to bring two people with her. So, hopefully, that’s a good sign. Like I said, as long as I get at least six people, I’m happy.”

“Oh, I’m so sure you will. Do you have some pamphlets with you?”

“Yeah, do you want one?”

“Give me a whole bunch. I’ll give them out to customers today.”

“Really? Ah, that would be amazing. Thanks, Wendy.” Tamara reached into her bag and handed Wendy a stack. Just then, a group of people walked in and she groaned.

“Damn, I have to go. But I’ll see you tomorrow. Remember… be nice to me in class.”

Tamara giggled. “I will.”

Wendy went to attend to the new people, while Tamara ordered a cup of tea and sat for a little while longer. She overheard Wendy telling people about the retreat, and she couldn’t help but smile. Wendy was a good friend. When she walked out, Wendy gave her a big thumbs-up. She went back to her studio to get ready for the next class and thought about what they had spoken about. Wendy was always going on at her about finding a man. She just couldn’t understand why Tamara wasn’t interested. She wasn’t the only one. A few people had asked her the same thing, including her parents. But Tamara had no interest in finding a man, especially since she was doing so well with her business. It had taken a big leap of faith to start her own yoga company, and with the health sessions she held at the café and the retreat, she could finally say she felt secure in what she was doing. It had been hard work, and she’d slaved away for the past few years to get comfortable in what she was doing. A man would only get in the way. Anyway, she’d been hurt a few times by men, and she wasn’t prepared to go through any of that again. It just wasn’t worth it. She’d already wasted a few years of her life on men who didn’t deserve it. All she wanted to do now was concentrate on her work, build up her company, and focus on herself. She’d make room for a man another time. It didn’t have to be now.

[]Chapter Two

“Are you acting, or are you just partying?”

Thomas Winter was sitting with his father over lunch – a weekly routine that his father had instilled when he moved out of the house. Thomas knew never to break the arrangement. His father had been quite adamant as to the importance of them still seeing each other. Thomas didn’t complain. If it wasn’t for his father, he wouldn’t be in the position that he was in. He wasn’t sure that anyone would’ve even looked at him or considered him as an actor had he not been famous in his own right. The son to a wealthy billionaire came with many perks.

Thomas sighed, “Of course, I’m acting. Partying is just part of it; that’s all. It comes with the territory.”

“It does? But surely, you have to concentrate on actually finding work too? I know you’ve been in a film, but that was ages ago.”

Thomas knew that his father was right, but he didn’t want to admit it, especially not to himself. “That’s not how it works in the industry. I’m just starting out, anyway. And my film got a very good review. I mean, for a first-time actor, I’m not all that bad, don’t you think?” Thomas threw a charming smile at his father and a wink for extra measure.

“Your charismatic smile is not going to work on me, my boy. Remember, I know you better than all your fans. I know everything about you.”

“But come on, I was pretty good, wasn’t I?”

Thomas smiled again at his father, who couldn’t help but laugh, “Goodness, you’re lucky I love you. I always knew that your smile was going to get you in trouble, one day. But now, in all seriousness, what is actually happening with work? Anything lined up?”

“I have a meeting with Geraldine after this, actually. She said she has a few things to speak to me about, so I’m assuming it’s about work. Hopefully, she has some good ones for me. She’s good at what she does, and I trust her.”

“Good. I like her too. I tell you what – I’m surprised at your choice in career. I didn’t think this is what you’d choose. It’s not a bad thing, of course, but it’s still a surprise.”

“Yeah well, I mean… I thought about following in your footsteps, but let’s face it – I’m not as good as you are when it comes to business. I always knew I’d do terribly in that, and I didn’t want to fail. I hate failing. But I do like being in the limelight. So, I figured it was worth the shot.”

The decision to become an actor had actually been a surprise to him too. The whole thing had started when he was having beers with some of his friends. They were all settled down with jobs, and some of them even had families or, at least, serious relationships. Except Thomas. They kept joking around with him and telling him that he suited the lifestyle of p rich and the famous more than anyone they had ever met. The problem was, while he was certainly very rich, thanks to his father, he was not at all famous. And so, they convinced him to phone an agent. And that was when he met Geraldine – the woman who changed his life. She told him that he had the looks to go very far in the career. So, she sent him to some acting classes, got him a few small roles, and then finally landed him in a big blockbuster movie. He wasn’t the main character, but he had a big enough role for people to sit back and notice him. And once he’d had a taste of that, he knew it was all he wanted from life. It wasn’t even that he enjoyed the acting process so much. It was more a case of enjoying the limelight. Thomas Winter loved it when the whole world was talking about him. Suddenly, he saw his face appear in magazines and newspapers, and he was getting invited to events and parties and clubs that he hadn’t even known about before. It was hard not to get caught up in it all. He didn’t want to admit to his father that he barely thought about work. He figured he’d leave it up to Geraldine to sort out that part for him. The rest of the time, he was going to make sure that the public didn’t forget who he was. And what better way than by partying up a storm and staying in the headlines.

“Well, Thomas,” his father was saying, “I’m just glad that you’re doing something with your life. Your mother always warned me about giving you that money early, but I told her that I had faith that you would still want to make something of yourself. I wouldn’t have thought it was acting that you would choose, but I don’t really care what it is as long as you are happy. Now, you are happy, aren’t you?”

“What do you mean? Of course, I’m happy. I’m just slightly hung over today, that’s all. But you’re used to seeing me like this, by now, I’m sure. A good meal will sort me out. You know it always does. I’ll be back to my old self in no time.” Thomas hated it when his father got serious on him. Ever since his mother died a few years ago, he’d become a lot more interested in what Thomas was doing with his life. Before, he just let him do whatever he wanted to do. Now, it was as if he wanted to make sure that he was a good father, constantly checking in. He’d complained about it to someone once, and they’d reminded him that he was lucky to have a father that cared so much. Thomas had been taken aback by the comment, even though he knew it was true. He was lucky. But nevertheless, he wished he could just live his life without the constant check-ins.

“You sure? I only ask because I care. All this going out – is it not a little extreme? From the sounds of things, all you do is go out and party. And there’s just one girl after another. You’re thirty years old now. I know that’s not old, but shouldn’t you be thinking of settling down? Or at least finding a girlfriend? You’re just hopping from one girl to the next. It doesn’t make you look good, Thomas.”

“Don’t you mean it doesn’t make you look good, Dad?” Thomas couldn’t help but say it, then instantly regretted it.

“This has nothing to do with me, Thomas. I don’t care what you do, but I didn’t bring you up like that. I’m glad you’re having fun, and I know things are different now from how they were when I was growing up. But your mom and I met when we were young and stayed together all those years. Having that one person to count on is very special, and I don’t want you to miss out on that. I cannot push you to do things differently. I know it’s your life and that you have to do what you want to do. But you’re a good guy, and you deserve a wonderful woman, not someone who is just after your money and your fame. That’s not what I want for you, and it’s not what your mother would’ve wanted for you.”

“Yeah, but Dad, you are lucky. Not everyone finds that person. I certainly haven’t. If I had, then I probably would have a girlfriend or a wife by now. But the only way that I’m going to find that person is by going out and meeting as many girls as possible. One day, I’ll meet the right one.” Thomas was quite impressed with his speech. It wasn’t true at all, but it certainly sounded quite good out loud. And he knew it was what his dad wanted to be true. But Thomas had no interest in settling down. He was having far too much fun meeting and partying with girls. And they all seemed perfectly happy with hooking up with him without wanting anything serious in return. It was just the sort of set-up he wanted in his life. He got the chance to be free, while still having fun with girls – it was the best of both worlds.

“I guess you’re right,” his father was saying, and Thomas gave himself a mental pat on the back, “but just make sure you’re meeting the right sort of women at least. So far, the women I’ve seen you with have been the complete opposite of a girl you’d settle down with. Just be careful, Thomas. That’s all I’m asking. I’m only looking out for you.”

“Don’t worry, Dad. I will be. I’m just having some fun. But I have my head screwed on properly. I promise you.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” his father said with complete belief in Thomas. For a second, Thomas actually felt bad for duping his father. But he shrugged it off.

“So, should we order?”

“Let’s order.”

Thomas somehow managed to avoid telling his father that he had a party planned for that night. He was already hung over from a party the night before, and he knew his father wouldn’t take kindly to the fact that he was going out again. Perhaps, his father didn’t want to know, or maybe he really assumed that Thomas would never go out two nights in a row, but the fact never got mentioned. They had a good lunch and a good chat, and when Thomas walked off, his father handed him a wad of cash. It wasn’t necessary. Thomas had more money than he knew what to do with. Not only had he gotten a huge amount of money from his father when he had turned twenty-one, but he was now earning money through his own work. And yet, every time he met with his father, he’d be given ‘pocket money’ or sorts. It was a lot. More than anyone should have just lying in their wallet. And even though Thomas didn’t need it, he never said no to it, because nobody could have too much money, and he knew that he’d use it at the party that evening. Everyone wanted to hang out with the good-looking guy with a pocket full of cash. He knew how that seemed, but he didn’t mind. Being the rich guy in a group of people hadn’t lost its appeal. He didn’t even have to try to make friends anymore – they just came flocking right to him.

After lunch, he spent the day sleeping and then enjoyed an hour-long gym session, followed by a swim. After that, he picked up a take away meal and then got ready for the night ahead. He liked to arrive around ten o clock. He always found it was the best time to start the party; especially one that he knew was going to end up going on until the early hours of the following morning. A note on his fridge reminded him that he had a breakfast meeting with Geraldine the next morning, and he groaned. Thankfully, she’d made it quite late – almost a brunch – but he was sure he’d be arriving with dark glasses and begging for caffeine. He hoped that he wouldn’t forget and set an extra alarm on his phone, as well as another reminder, just in case. Geraldine hated it when he was late, and he needed to stay in her good books.

A cab pulled around at ten. He knew there was going to be lots of drinking involved, so he had decided not to take his car. He’d lost a friend once to drinking and driving, and it was now his number one rule whenever he went out. The party was being held at a restaurant down the road. The restaurant was owned by two comedians, who transformed the place into a party area once a month. The only way to attend was by invitation. So, when Thomas had received one, he knew that nothing was going to keep him away. The place was already full when he arrived.

“Thomas Winter,” he said to the man with the clipboard. The big burly man stood with a face that looked neither happy nor sad as he checked for his name, even though it was obvious who he was. But he supposed the man had been told to do his job, and he was doing it correctly.

“Mr. Winter. Ah, here we are. Welcome, have a great time,” the expressionless man said and opened the door.

“Thank you,” he said as he stepped inside. The music was pumping. The restaurant now stood like one giant dance floor. The only thing that remained the same was the bar area, which was now even more stocked with drinks than before. He headed straight there.

“Thomas, you made it,” Trevor said. Trevor was one half of the comedian act. Trent was the other, who Thomas could see across the room locking lips with some beautiful blonde.

“Hey Trevor. I see Trent is having a good time.”

Trevor snorted. “Oh yeah. He’s had his eye on her for a long time. He invited her specifically in the hopes that the two of them would get together. It’s not the first time he’s invited her, but she always ends up with someone else. Tonight, however, he put on all the charm. And by charm, I mean he showered her with drinks and gifts. Seems to have worked. She’s all over him. Now, what can I get you?”

“Surprise me,” Thomas said. It was a game he loved to play with people. It was always interesting to see what sort of drink they came up with, and he’d noticed that people loved being in control.

Thomas could see the twinkle in Trevor’s eyes. “Oh yeah? Surprise you? Okay then… are you sure you want to be surprised? Do you trust me?”

“I’m sure. I don’t really trust you, but that’s half the fun of it.”

Trevor laughed and turned around to survey his drinks. Thomas turned to look at the crowd, instead of watching him. It was a good crowd. He recognized quite a few people. Most were comedians, but there were a few actors and a few good models. It was obvious that they had chosen only the most beautiful women to attend, and Thomas smiled as he locked eyes with one, in particular, across the room.

“That’s Jenna,” Trevor said, “She’s one of the latest models. Very up and coming and extremely popular. She’s got the face for it, don’t you think? Oh and here’s your drink.”

Thomas turned around and laughed as Trevor handed him a large bulbous glass of something green. He took a sip and his eyes widened. “Whoa, what is this?”

“Do you like it?”

Thomas took another sip. “It’s actually pretty good. A little on the strong side, but nothing I can’t handle.” He laughed. “What is it?”

Trevor burst out laughing. “I have no idea. I would never be able to recreate it. It’s a bit of this and a bit of that. I honestly just threw a whole bunch of things together. But you’re right about the strong bit. Good luck standing after that. Oh, here comes Jenna.”

Thomas turned and saw Jenna walking their way. She greeted Trevor and then smiled at Thomas. “Hi, I’m Jenna.”

“Hi Jenna, lovely to meet you. I’m Thomas.”

“Oh yeah, I know that. Wow, what are you drinking? That has to be the greenest drink I’ve ever seen in my life. A Shrek drink.”

“Or the Incredible Hulk drink?”

“Nah, I like Shrek. Can I taste it?”

“You sure can. But good luck…”

Thomas handed her the drink and watched as she took a big sip. He thought that she was going to spit it out or grimace, but instead, she just smiled at him as she handed it back. “Oh wow, this is different. I like it. Trevor, can I have one?”

“Coming right up,” Trevor said and winked at Thomas.

Trevor managed to come up with something close to the same drink, and Thomas sat with Jenna for the next hour, talking and drinking. It didn’t take long for the two of them to get drunk. She dragged him onto the dance floor and leaned in to kiss him. Thomas couldn’t believe how easy it was for him to get girls, now that he was in the movie world. It had always been relatively easy for him, because from the time he was twenty-one, he was a millionaire. Now that he was a billionaire, as well as a movie star, they just fell into his arms without doing anything. He thought Jenna was pretty when he’d seen her across the room, but now he was drunk, he thought that she was beautiful.

“Come on,” she said and took his hand. She led him into some back room that Thomas didn’t even know existed. The room was dark, but Thomas could just about make out piles of tables and chairs. It must’ve been the storeroom where all the restaurant furniture was kept. Thomas wondered briefly how she knew about the room, but he didn’t have time to ask her. She had pushed him against one of the tables and had taken his hand and shoved it up in between her skirt. Soon, her skirt was down and so were his trousers, and he was pushing into her. They could still hear the music outside, and even though the room was dark, there was still a good chance of someone walking in. They hadn’t even bothered to lock the room. Thomas had slept with a lot of girls over the years, but doing it in a darkened room against a stack of tables was new for him. Afterwards, they giggled as they made their way back into the main room and looked around to see if anyone had noticed them. Nobody had.

“Another drink?” Jenna said, and Thomas grinned. Of course, he wanted another drink. And after that, he wanted to go into that dark room again. This was gearing up to be a party he was never going to forget.

Chapter Three

By the end of the day, Tamara felt more excited than ever about the retreat. She’d only started telling people that day, but she already had her quota of six. She was sure that she could reach ten people by the end of the week if she tried. She couldn’t believe it. The idea had come to her about a year ago, but at that time, she knew that she wasn’t yet ready to take on something so big. But the idea had stayed with her and had nagged at her slowly but surely. It was Wendy who had urged her to take the plunge.

“So, what if it doesn’t work out? Then you try again. And if it still doesn’t work out, well then, at least, you can say that you tried. You’ve got an amazing business. But I don’t see why this wouldn’t work. I think it’s a great idea,” Wendy had said.

“You sure? Would you go?”

“Of course, I’ll go.”

“Might just end up being you and me then,” Tamara had said.

“So what? How much fun would that be?”

And so, Tamara had put the plans into action. She’d found an amazing place to have the retreat and had booked it, despite not knowing whether anyone would show. When she gave Wendy the dates, she was disappointed to find that it was the one week that Wendy couldn’t make it. But she’d made the booking, and she knew that there was no turning back. The retreat was going to be for a full week, and she was offering yoga, health, and relaxation techniques throughout. She even organized a few people to come give talks on some of the days, as well as an amazing chef, who was going to teach people how to cook in a healthier way. Mostly, though, she wanted the week to be about getting away from the chaos of normal life. She wanted to teach people how important it was to relax and breathe and stretch. And she wanted them to walk away, having learned a few things about themselves and their bodies. Tamara was very good at planning, and she had made her way through her to-do list every day without fail. There was nothing much left to do now, other than make sure that she actually got customers. The rest was all planned.

After dinner, she got out her laptop to see if anybody had emailed her, and she was surprised to find that she had nine emails waiting for her. Eight were confirmations and one was a query. That meant she now had fourteen attendees! She couldn’t believe it. She picked up the phone and called Wendy.

“FOURTEEN!” she yelled into the phone.

“What? Fourteen what?”

“Fourteen people have said yes to the retreat.”

“Seriously? That was quick! You see, Tamara. I told you that people would be interested. I’m so proud of you.”

“Thanks, Wendy. I had to phone and let you know! If it wasn’t for you, I don’t think I would’ve taken the plunge. Thanks for believing in me. Now, I just need to get through this first one.”

“Once you’ve done one, the others will be easy. You’re a natural at this sort of thing. People feel good around you.”

“Thanks, Wendy.”

Tamara smiled and put down the phone. But the moment she did, her phone rang and she jumped in surprise. She supposed it was Wendy calling to remind her that she’d be at the class in the morning. But it wasn’t Wendy.

“Hello, I’m looking for Tamara Hope.” The voice on the other end of the phone was female, and Tamara had never heard it before.

“Uh, hello, yes, this is Tamara speaking.”

“Oh hi, Tamara. This is Geraldine Fisher. I’m an agent for the entertainment industry, working mostly with new celebrities. I came across your pamphlet today. Are you the right person to speak to about the retreat?”

Tamara was taken aback. She had no idea how her pamphlet had made it to an agent or why this agent was calling her, but she took a deep breath and tried to act as professional as possible. “Yes, absolutely, how can I help you?”

“I’d like to send one of my clients to you. Do you still have space?”

“We’re almost at full capacity, but I do still have a few spots available.”

“Wonderful! That’s great news. Please, can you put down Thomas Winter as one of the attendees? If you can, send me an invoice tomorrow. I’ll make sure it gets paid. I am very good with my promises – so I can assure you that payment will be made quickly and efficiently.”

Tamara wasn’t sure if she had heard correctly. Did Geraldine really just say that Thomas Winter was going to be coming to her retreat? “Thomas Winter – oh wow. For sure!”

“You know him then?” Geraldine asked.

“Doesn’t everyone? He’s quite the looker.”

Geraldine laughed. “He is. And I’ll let you in on a little secret – he’s even better looking up close. Don’t tell him that, though. I almost pretend as if he’s not that good looking at all, and it drives him insane. He’s got a big enough head as it is. I think this retreat is just what he needs, to be honest.”

“Well, we’re happy to have him. And yeah, this retreat should sort him out. We’re all about looking inwards, rather than outwards. The world has enough of that going on.”

“Thanks, Tamara. I’m going to let him know right now. I’ll be honest. He hasn’t given me the go ahead just yet. But I really want him to go onto this retreat, so I’m going to twist his arm. Please, can you email me all the details, so he knows where to go? If I don’t have all the details, that boy will have no clue. I’ll have to phone him on the day to remind him. He has his head in the clouds, but I’m used to it. I’ve had years of experience working with celebrities, and most of them are all the same. He’s a good boy, but he just needs a bit of calming down.”

“No problem at all. I’ll have the invoice and the details sent to you first thing in the morning.”

Tamara took down the details and then put down the phone. Even though she didn’t want to, she couldn’t help but let out a squeal too. Her very first retreat and she had a celebrity on board. She wasn’t sure if that was a good thing, but it was exciting, nonetheless. She phoned Wendy.

“You sure you can’t get time off for the retreat?”

“I wish I could. But sadly, not this time. Why? Are you nervous? Because you’ll be fine, Tamara. You don’t need me there at all. You’ve got this.”

Tamara giggled. “Well… it’s just that I got a call from an agent in the movie industry. Turns out, I have a celebrity on board.”

“What? Who?”

“Oh, nobody special, just Thomas Winter.”

“No way! Thomas Winter is going to be at your retreat? You’re joking!”

“I’m not!”

“I’m so unbelievably jealous, right now. Hey, didn’t you tell me the other day that you find him annoying?”

“I do. I mean, I don’t know him. But from what I’ve seen, he’s only interested in going out and partying. He looks drunk in almost every photo I’ve seen of him.”

“So, why are you so happy?”

“Uh… because he’s sort of beautiful,” Tamara admitted.

Wendy burst out laughing. “Finally! You’re admitting to liking someone.”

“I don’t like him. Not at all. In fact, I have a feeling he’s going to drive me up the wall. But I can’t deny that he’s quite easy on the eye.”

“That’s putting it mildly. Wow – this is amazing. This is going to be great for you. Once people know that Thomas Winter was at your retreat, they’ll be begging to go on the next one. I can’t believe that a guy like Thomas Winter is going to a health retreat. I cannot imagine him doing something like that. I wonder if it’s some publicity thing.”

“Could be. It sounds like the agent is making him do it. Maybe she thinks he’s getting a bad reputation. I wouldn’t blame her for that. He really does seem to have gone a little crazy in the last few months. He’s in every magazine I open.”

“Tamara, I’m so jealous. You better get me his number!”

“You deserve someone better than him, Wendy. But I will take a few sneaky pictures and send them to you.”

“You better!”

They spoke for a little longer, mostly about how insane it was that a celebrity was going to be at her retreat, and by the time Tamara put down the phone, she felt excited but nervous. Wendy kept going on and on about how nervous she would be that it made Tamara start to wonder if, perhaps, she should be just as nervous too. She went for a shower and then climbed into bed. No, don’t be silly, she told herself. Even though he’s a celebrity, he’s still a person. But she couldn’t help it – she really was nervous.

Chapter Four

The next morning, Thomas woke up to the sound of his alarm buzzing loudly in his ear. At first, he thought that he was still at the party and the sound was just part of some song. But when it didn’t stop, he opened his eyes and saw that he was home. He couldn’t even remember getting home. He looked around and was grateful to see that he was alone. But the mere movement of looking around caused a shooting pain through his skull. The memory of the green drink came to mind, and it took all his might not to run to the bathroom to throw up. Why was his alarm going off? And then he remembered – he had to meet Geraldine for a late breakfast. The thought of food made him feel as green as the drink that he had, and the thought of socializing was even worse. He still had an hour, so he walked gingerly into the shower and tried desperately to wash away the smell of alcohol that was permeating through his pores. Then, he took two headache tablets and sat still as he waited for them to work. He felt slightly better when he got to the restaurant and hoped she wouldn’t notice. But, this was Geraldine – of course, she would notice.

“Another big night?” she said as he walked over to kiss her hello. She crinkled her nose. “Did you even bother to shower?”

“I did shower!” he said defensively. What was she on about? Not only had he showered, but he’d covered himself with deodorant. He smelled fine.

“Well, then you must’ve had a hell of a lot to drink. Because no amount of shower could get rid of that. Wow, Thomas… you really don’t look so good.”

“I’m fine. I’m fine. I went out last night, and it ended up being quite the party. But you should be glad that I’m getting out there and socializing. Isn’t that what I’m meant to do?”

Geraldine sighed. She ordered two cups of coffee and then looked at him. “What you’re meant to do is work hard and stay out of trouble. It’s good to go out and meet people, and yeah, it’s good to be in the headlines every now and again. But not if the headlines are only about you going out and getting drunk. I shudder to think what we’re going to see next. You’re taking this whole thing too far, Thomas. And you are not a well-established actor yet. This is actually going to be bad for you. People are going to start seeing you as just a party boy.”

“Oh, come on, Geraldine. Surely, you don’t believe that. I’m more than that.”

“I know you are. That’s why I’m your agent – because I honestly believe that you are talented. You’re more than just a pretty face. I only work with clients that I truly believe in. But the world is just going to see what you’re portraying. And all you’re portraying is that you’re a rich kid, who likes to go out and flaunt it. You’re going to end up a washed-out actor before you even get the chance to make something of yourself.”

Thomas couldn’t believe what he was hearing. His head was pounding, and it wasn’t just from being hung over. Geraldine was always very straight with him, but he hadn’t expected this. “Uh… I’m sorry. I guess I just got carried away. I mean… I keep getting invited to parties. What am I supposed to do?”

“You’re supposed to go and have a good time. But you’re not supposed to get so drunk and do stupid things and hook up with every girl you come across.”

“I don’t do that.”

“Were you with a girl last night?”

Thoughts of Jenna and the darkened room came flooding to the forefront of his mind. He sighed and nodded.

“Listen, Thomas… I know what we can do to fix this.”

“You do?”

“Yeah. First, I actually have some jobs lined up for you that I want you to go try out for. I’ve managed to get you in, but I can’t have you going like this.”

“What do you mean? What do you want me to do?”

“I want you to get away for a while. Spend a week away from it all.”

Thomas rubbed his head. He was far too hung over to be thinking clearly, and he had no idea what Geraldine was going on about. “You want me to go away for a week? And do what?”

“I found the perfect place for you. It’s a retreat. They focus on health and wellbeing. They do yoga classes, cooking lessons, meditation – that sort of thing. I think it’s just the sort of thing you need. A week is probably not enough, but I think it will do you good. You need to take yourself away from your life at the moment and gain a bit more perspective about what is important and what isn’t. The retreat starts next week. After that, we can talk about work.”

“Geraldine… you want me to go on a health retreat? Have you seen me? That’s not exactly my sort of thing, you know.”

“Exactly. That’s why I think it will do you good. It’s only for a week, anyway. Just look at it as a holiday.”

“Do I have any choice in this?” Thomas asked, although he already knew the answer to his question.

Geraldine smiled at him and took his hand. She squeezed it. “I’ve already booked you in. Just do this for me, Thomas. Just one week. I promise.”

Thomas sighed. It was the last thing he wanted to do. But he wasn’t in the right frame of mind to argue with her, and he knew that he would lose, anyway. He needed to go to those auditions, and he had a feeling that Geraldine would only give them to him if he went to this stupid retreat first. He’d just play along. It was only a week. Like she said, he’d just view it as a holiday. “Okay, fine. I’ll go!”

[]Chapter Five

“Good morning, beautiful!”

Tamara laughed. “Hey Wendy. Wow, you’re phoning me early.”

“Yeah, I just wanted to wish you good luck for the retreat. Have you left yet?”

“I’m just about to. I want to get there early to set up before everyone arrives.”

“How’re you feeling?”

“So nervous, but also very excited. I can’t believe I’m finally doing this. Aw, I wish you were coming.”

“Trust me – so do I. I asked again, but they said they need me this week. The place has been booked for some conference two days in a row, so I’ll be on my feet a lot.”

“You just want to meet Thomas Winter,” Tamara teased.

“I still cannot believe you are going to meet him.”

“Me too. I just hope he’s a nice guy.”

“He seems like fun. But I still don’t see him sitting still long enough through o meditation class or a yoga class.”

“Same here. Who knows? Maybe he won’t even come.”

“Well, you better let me know. Anyway, I have to go. Call me when you’re back and good luck, Tamara! You’ve got this.”

“Thanks, Wendy. Have a good week.”

Tamara put down the phone and smiled. Wendy was a good friend. She might have joked that Wendy only wanted to come to the retreat because of Thomas Winter, but she knew that wasn’t true. Wendy would’ve come no matter what. With a deep breath, Tamara grabbed her bags and headed out. The retreat was only an hour’s drive away. She’d been there before and had been blown away that a place like that could exist so close to the hustle of city life. Once inside, it felt as if you were in the middle of nowhere. It was the perfect place to hold a retreat, and she knew that its close proximity was one of the most appealing parts to it. Nobody wanted to drive far anymore.

“Tamara, welcome. Are you excited? We have the place all set up for you,” Ronald said as she walked into the reception area. Ronald owned the place, and he’d been incredibly helpful throughout the planning process.

“I’m ready and good to go. As it turned out, it wasn’t nearly as difficult to get people to come on board. We sold out within a few days, and I already have people asking me about the next one. So, hopefully, this goes well, and it can become a regular thing.”

“Oh wonderful! That’s great news. Well, you know where everything is, so you’re welcome to walk around and settle in. Here is the key to your room.”

“Thanks, Ronald. The guests should be arriving in about two hours. Can you just show them to their room and ask them to join me in the dining room at twelve? I’ll be there to welcome them, and we can start the retreat from there over lunch.”

“Of course. That sounds great.”

Tamara went to drop off her bags in the room that had been dedicated to her. The room was beautiful, far better than her room back home, and she smiled when she saw the bouquet of flowers that had been placed for her next to her bed. A small envelope lay beside it with her name. Inside, there was a card with the words, ‘In silence lies truth. Welcome to your very first retreat. We’re happy to have you, Tamara.’ It was incredibly touching. Afterwards, she took a walk around to make sure that everything was in its place, went to say hello to all the staff, and then settled into the dining room to await her guests. She could feel her heart pounding as she saw the clock move closer to twelve. By now, most of the guests should be there, and soon, they would be joining her. She sat there trying to keep calm. Finally, she heard footsteps.

“Hey Tamara!”

Tamara smiled as Chantal walked in, followed by three women. They were all beaming at her. “Chantal, you made it. So good to see you.”

“Good to be here. These are my three friends I was telling you about – Tanya, Greta, and Pauline. This is Tamara, my yoga instructor.”

“Great to meet you all. Sit down. We’ll be having lunch in about half an hour. We’re just going to wait for everyone to arrive.”

Bit by bit, people started to arrive until everyone was there, except for Thomas. Tamara wasn’t sure what she should do, but when she saw the time, she decided to start the retreat without him. She knew he wasn’t going to come. Poor Wendy was going to be so disappointed. Tamara stood up and welcomed the group.

“We’re going to start by enjoying a delicious meal together. After that, I want you to spend some time relaxing on the grounds. There are some beautiful places to walk and a gorgeous lake to visit. When the lunch is finished, I’ll hand out the order of events, so you know exactly what is happening each day and where you have to be. For the rest of the time, feel free to relax and do whatever you want to do. Remember, this week is all about you, and I want you to walk away from this time feeling refreshed and happy. If there is anything that you don’t want to do or any questions that you have about anything, please come talk to me at any time. Now, let’s enjoy this delicious meal together.”

Everyone burst into applause, and the moment they did, about four people came out of the kitchen, as if on cue, with trays of food. Tamara had eaten at the retreat when she’d first visited the place, and she’d been blown away by the food. Everything was fresh and organic, and despite having no sugar or gluten, it was incredible. Murmurs around the table confirmed that everyone agreed with her.

“Do we get to learn how to make meals like this?” a lady from across the table asked. Tamara dug into her memory and remembered her being introduced as Angie.

“Absolutely, Angie,” she said and hoped that she had gotten the name right. Angie beamed at her, so she supposed she had been right. “One of the biggest things I want everyone to take away from this retreat is that it’s possible to eat healthy food that still tastes amazing.”

“Yeah, that’s one of the biggest reasons that I came, to be honest. I like food like this, but I have no idea how to make it. I always end up cheating, just because it’s easy,” Angie said and everyone around the table agreed with her.

“Sorry I’m late. Oh wow, it smells amazing in here.”

Everyone looked up and gasped. Of course, Tamara knew who it was, without even having to look up. She could see by the reactions on everyone’s faces that it was going to be Thomas Winter. When she did look up, she tried not to gasp. Geraldine had been right. Thomas was even better looking up close.

“Ah, you must be Thomas Winter,” she said and stood up to greet him.

He shook her hand and smiled. That was a smile that probably got him everything he wanted in life. It infuriated her immediately. She didn’t like people who got what they wanted simply by the way they looked. “Yes, and I’m sorry I’m late. I’ll be honest; I overslept. And then it was a mad rush to get here.”

“That’s no problem at all. I’m glad you could join us. My name is Tamara. Please sit down and join us. Everybody, this is Thomas, although I’m sure you all know him already. He’ll be joining us on this retreat. Thomas, please help yourself.”

“Don’t mind if I do. Hi everyone,” he said and smiled at everyone at the table. Nobody said a word. Their mouths were practically hanging open. Tamara wished for a second that she hadn’t agreed to him coming to the retreat. It was good for business in a way, but she was sure he was going to be a big distraction. Who could concentrate when a celebrity was sitting next to them? She hoped that, by the end of the retreat, everyone would realize that he was just a person.

Thomas didn’t seem to have any idea of the effect that he just had on everyone. Either that or he was used to it. He grinned up at Tamara after taking a few mouthfuls. “This is actually pretty good. I’m not usually a fan of food like this.”

“Well, that’s good to hear. We were just saying how important it is to keep healthy. Almost all problems are caused by not eating properly, and it’s not nearly as difficult as people make it out to be.”

Thomas laughed. “Well, this is delicious. But I’m not sure that I could live without alcohol and pizza. I mean… they do sort of go hand in hand, don’t you think.”

“There’s better things in life than alcohol and pizza.”

“There is? Like what? Oh, you mean sex,” he said nonchalantly, and the other people at the table gasped. Tamara could not believe what she was hearing. Had Thomas really come to her health retreat to talk about pizza, alcohol, and sex? What was wrong with him? Again, he didn’t seem to notice that what he had done was wrong.

Tamara took a deep breath and smiled. “You’ll see, by the end of this retreat, you’ll be a different person.”

He chuckled. “We’ll see about that.” Then he turned to the woman beside him and started talking to her. She went bright red and tried desperately to remain calm. Tamara inwardly groaned. Why did women always become so flustered in front of good looking men? Thankfully, the rest of the group finally started talking and eating again, although it was impossible not to notice that the atmosphere had changed. At the end, Tamara stood up to thank everyone and then handed them each their schedule. When the group dispersed, Thomas came up to her.

“Hey, I’m really sorry I was so late.”

“Nah, it’s okay. You didn’t do it on purpose. And anyway, you weren’t all that late. It’s fine. But do me a favor – try not to mention things like alcohol, pizza, and sex again. I mean, it’s your life, and you can do what you want, but this is a health retreat. It’s meant to cleanse the body and the mind. I know you’re a celebrity and a very popular one at that, but that only means you can easily sway the way some of these people might think. They came here for a reason, and I don’t want them walking away only thinking about the things you said.”

Thomas seemed taken aback. Perhaps, he wasn’t used to regular people talking candidly to him. Tamara’s heart was beating fast, but she was glad she had managed to sound so calm on the outside. “Oh… okay. Sure, sorry about that. I can’t help it. I get carried away. And you know this is not really my thing. My agent just wanted me to come. She thought it would be a good idea for me to take a week off from partying and all that. I think it’s a load of rubbish, to be honest, but what can I do? She’s my agent, and she finds me the jobs. Oh… I mean… I don’t think that what you’re doing is a load of rubbish.” Thomas suddenly sounded flustered. “I just mean that I don’t think I need to be here. That’s all.”

Tamara couldn’t help but smile. It was quite nice to see him flustered. He seemed more real when he wasn’t so put together. “Yeah, I had a feeling that you hadn’t come here on your own accord. Well… it’s just a week. Who knows? You might actually like it.”

Thomas laughed. “Who knows? Anyway, listen; do you know where my room is? I sort of ran in here in such a hurry, and my bags are still in my car.”

“Sure, come on. I’ll show you.”

Tamara took Thomas to his room. His room, just like hers and all the others, was beautiful, a whitewash of serenity. But Thomas just threw down his bags and then flopped onto the bed. “Thanks. It’s a bit small, but it’s cool.”

“Seriously? What were you expecting? A big room just because you’re a celebrity? You got the same room as everyone else. And to be honest… it’s a beautiful room. I’d give anything to have a room like this,” Tamara said. She felt annoyed that she hadn’t been able to keep her cool. But in that instant, she felt the heat rising to her face in anger. How dare he tell her that the room was small?

He smiled at her. He obviously found her very amusing. He held up his hands in protest. “Whoa. I’m not being nasty. I said the room was cool. It is cool. I like it.”

Tamara huffed. “Okay. Well, here’s your schedule. Take a walk around if you want or rest here. We’re keeping it pretty simple on the first day. We have a yoga class this afternoon and a talk before dinner.”

“Yoga class? I don’t really want to do that.”

“Well, you don’t have to. But it would be nice if everyone at least gave it a try.”

“Will you be doing it too?” he asked.

“I’m the teacher.”

“Oh yeah. Hmm… okay then. I’ll come along. If only to see you in your yoga outfit.”

“Seriously?” Again, Tamara could feel the heat rising to her face. The man infuriated her more than she wanted. It wasn’t often that she allowed people to get to her in this way. She was usually very calm and accepting of other personalities.

“Sorry. Just kidding,” he said and then he winked. “Or am I?”

“See you later, Thomas,” Tamara said and walked out. She could hear him chuckling as she left the room, which only frustrated her further. Thankfully, as she walked out, she was called by some of the girls, who had a few questions for her. But, of course, talk soon turned to Thomas.

“I could not believe it when I saw Thomas Winter walk into the room. How come he’s here? This doesn’t seem like his sort of thing. Oh, he’s so beautiful. How beautiful is he?” She swooned, and Tamara did her best to keep smiling.

“He’s very good looking. But he’s just a person like you and me. So, we must treat him like that. The last thing he’s going to want is everyone running, blushing, and not being able to talk to him. If you want to talk to him, then you must. But don’t ask him about other celebrities or anything. Treat him like a person. Just like the rest of you, he’s here to get away and relax.”

Everyone was nodding solemnly at her. “You’re right. But he’s so good looking!” they said and Tamara sighed. She hoped everyone would be able to concentrate. She knew the first day was a write-off because of him, but perhaps, by the morning, they would’ve forgotten that he is a celebrity.

Later, she set up for yoga and was surprised to see Thomas arrive as promised. He set up at the back and smiled at her. She smiled back and started the class. But halfway through, he stopped and sat on his mat. She walked up to him, “You okay?”

“I’m fine. Not my thing. I’m just going to watch.”

She sighed. “Okay fine. But join again when you’re ready.”

The rest of the class became very difficult to handle with Thomas constantly staring at her. She also noticed him eyeing all the girls who were doing everything in their power to get him to notice them. One girl had hitched up her shorts so they showed off more of her legs, and Tamara groaned. Thomas was clearly enjoying the sight. She was going to have to talk to him again afterwards, which was the last thing she wanted to do. Thankfully, the people near the front hadn’t noticed him at all and were enjoying her class.

“Well done, everyone. That was just a gentle class for the first session. If you are interested in doing a few one on one sessions, please let me know, and I’m sure we can make time for that. Again, if you have any questions, please feel free to come and talk to me. The showers are all at the end of the room. Please feel free to use them now and to spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing. We’ll all meeting in the dining room in two hours for dinner.”

Tamara started to pack up, and Thomas suddenly appeared at her side.

“Are the showers unisex?”

“Excuse me?” she asked. What was he on about?

“The showers. Are they unisex? I only noticed one room.”

“Yeah, they’re unisex. But the room has ten individual showers inside, with plenty of room inside each one. So, they’re all very private.”

“Well, that’s a pity,” he said and laughed. “Hey, don’t give me that look. I’m just kidding. I just noticed some very attractive women on this retreat. You included, of course. In fact, I’d go as far to say that you’re the most attractive of them all.”

“Thomas, I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t talk that way. You’re making me uncomfortable. And if you’re not going to partake in the yoga, then I’d also appreciate it if you didn’t sit there and ogle all the women. It’s very disrespectful.”

“Oh. Uh… sure. Sorry. I didn’t realize I was going to offend anyone. I’m only playing. You’re very serious – you know that.”

“I’m not, actually. I just don’t appreciate men like you, that’s all.”

“You sure do use the word appreciate a lot.”

“I’m just trying to be polite.”

“But you don’t really want to be, do you? You want to say a lot worse to me. I know it. You can’t stand me.”

“I don’t even know you.”

“Wow, you really do know how to keep yourself calm.”

Tamara looked at him. She’d never met a man like him before. He really wanted to push her buttons, and she wasn’t going to let him. “Thank you. I try. So, what exactly did you hate so much about the yoga class?”

“I didn’t hate it. Like I said, it’s just not my thing.”

“Ah, so you’re the sort of guy who doesn’t get involved in anything unless it suits him. Let me guess – you’re used to getting your own way?”

“That’s not very nice of you.”

Tamara realized that she might have overstepped the mark. “Sorry. Yeah, you’re right; that wasn’t very nice of me. I’m normally a very nice person. You just frustrate me, that’s all. And this is my first retreat. I’m just trying to do it right. Imagine if everyone here acted the way you did. I’d just have a bunch of people sitting around doing nothing.”

“I was kidding. You can say whatever you want to me. You have every right to. And yeah… I am used to getting my way. It sort of comes with the territory of being a rich kid and an actor. It’s no excuse, I know. But I promise to try a bit harder. Like I said, though… it’s hard when your teacher is just so good looking.”

Tamara rolled her eyes. “See you at dinner time, Thomas.” She walked away quickly before he could see that she had started to blush. She hated that, despite not liking him, he still managed to have that effect on her.

Later that evening, Tamara called Wendy. She was only going to phone her after the retreat, but she desperately needed to talk to her.

“Oh, I’m so glad you called. I thought phones weren’t allowed at the retreat.”

“Well, they are allowed. They’re just discouraged. But I wanted to talk to you. Nobody can hear me anyway, so it’s okay.”

“So, day one is done. How was it?”

“So far, so good. Lovely group of people, and they all seem very excited.”

“And Thomas Winter? Tell me he’s there.”

“Oh yeah… he’s here. Only, I wish he wasn’t.”

“What? Why not? Tell me he really is that good looking.” Wendy swooned.

“He’s better looking in real life. He’s the whole package – dark ‘just out of bed’ hair, deep blue eyes, and that slightly unshaven look that he manages to perfect. But… other than his good looks… he’s a nasty piece of work,” Tamara said. She wasn’t sure why she had decided to give Wendy the full breakdown on his looks. It wasn’t as if his looks had any effect on her whatsoever. She’d barely noticed them.

“What? He’s horrible?” Wendy asked. She seemed horrified at the thought that her beloved Thomas Winter was anything other than perfect.

“Well, no… he’s not horrible. He’s very charming, and everyone at the retreat has basically fallen head over heels in love with him, as you can imagine.”

“But not you?”

“Not me. Oh, I am not fooled by his looks like everyone else. I can see right through them. First, he arrived late for lunch. I wasn’t even sure if he was going to come, so I started the whole thing without him. Then, when he finally did arrive, he spoke about alcohol, pizza, and sex within thirty minutes of being there. He gave up halfway through yoga and spent the whole time just staring at the women. And he kept telling me that I was so good looking and that I was distracting him. He’s literally driving me insane.”

Wendy laughed. “He sounds interesting.”

“Interesting is not the right word. Infuriating, annoying, exasperating. All of the above. But not interesting. That’s the last thing that he is. In fact, he’s boring.”

“Sounds like he has a bit of a crush on you, though.”

“A crush? Not a chance. He speaks like that to all the girls. Trust me – he thinks that speaking to me in that way is going to get him into my good books, which it clearly isn’t. I don’t know how I’m going to get through this entire retreat with him around. I’m sort of hoping that he gives up tomorrow and just goes home. He clearly doesn’t want to be here. This was definitely his agent’s big idea. I’m not sure what she was hoping he would gain from it. But I don’t think a week is going to change him at all. He’s far too set in his ways.”

“He sounds like you.”

“What? He’s nothing like me. In fact, he’s the opposite of me.”

“Not really. You’re also stuck in your ways. You might be stuck in very different ways, but fundamentally, you’re both the same.”

“Yeah, but he’s wrong.”

Wendy laughed. “You see. I bet you he’d say the same thing. Now, don’t worry about him. This is your retreat. Don’t let him get to you. Like you said, the other people are great, and they actually want to be there. Just ignore him. He’ll either figure out what the whole thing is about, or he’ll get bored and leave. Just keep doing what you planned to do.”

“Thanks, Wendy. That’s exactly what I needed to hear. You’re right. I mustn’t let him get to me. That’s probably just what he wants, anyway. He likes pushing my buttons, and I’m letting it happen. I’m just going to pretend like he’s not even there.”

“Good. Although… don’t forget your promise!”

“Promise? What promise?”

Wendy sighed. “I want a photo of him!”

Tamara couldn’t help but chuckle. “Okay, I’ll send one.”

[]Chapter Six

It was halfway through day three of the retreat, and Thomas was already wishing it was over. Everyone seemed to have gotten used to him, and he no longer saw the sideways glances or the blushing faces of the women around him. In fact, he thought they might be annoyed with him. He overheard one of the ladies saying to her boyfriend that Thomas was such a typical celebrity and that he didn’t take anything seriously. When he had first walked into the room, they’d been all smiles. He hadn’t realized that everyone would be quite so into the whole ‘health’ thing, and he’d assumed that there would be a little bit more alcohol. Instead, they were only allowed one small glass of wine with dinner. He’d asked for more the first night, but Tamara had told him that they had only been allocated one glass. She said he should be grateful, because most retreats didn’t allow anything.

“We are not trying to detox you, though. We want you take whatever you have learned from this retreat out into the real world. That’s why we have still allowed alcohol and coffee and various other addictions,” she had said, and the whole group of people had clapped in agreement. But all Thomas could think of was that the retreat would be a whole lot more enjoyable with a second or third glass of wine. A bottle would’ve made it brilliant. But he’d decided not to push the matter, and he certainly hadn’t told Tamara that to her face.

Tamara intrigued him. He’d never quite met a woman like her before. She was absolutely beautiful. She had dark skin and jet black hair, and the years of yoga had given her a body that was most admirable. She didn’t have all that much in the way of breasts, but her slim figure allowed for this. And Thomas didn’t mind; he’d always been more of a bottom person, anyway. And she sure had a delicious backside to admire. Again, he wouldn’t tell her that. Tamara didn’t seem at all taken by him, like other women were. In fact, other than the occasional fluster, she seemed rather indifferent to him. He’d definitely bothered her at first. He could tell that she found him annoying and frustrating. He’d thought it was probably because she found him too attractive to be around. But lately, he’d started to wonder if he really just wasn’t her type at all. She barely spoke to him, and when she did, it was almost as if it were a chore for her. But when he watched her interacting with others, she was incredibly amicable and sincere. He spent most of the day watching her as she went about her business. She was incredibly focused. She had laser sharp eyes and a mind that never wandered. He could tell that she had put a lot of thought and effort into the retreat – every single thing had been thought about and attention was made to every single detail. It was impressive. But there was something about her that frustrated him. She was almost too perfect. While she was naturally beautiful and wore almost no make-up, she never had a hair out of place. Everything she did seemed calculated, even the way she spoke – as if she was too afraid of simply letting go. He wondered why she was that way. He wanted to see what she would look like with messy hair. He wanted to see what she would sound like laughing at a completely inappropriate joke. He was curious to know what she was like after just one drink. But Tamara was all work and no play, and nothing seemed to get her out of that mindset. He watched her now as she took them through a healthy eating regimen. He had to admit the food was delicious. He had never eaten food that was so healthy, and yet so tasty, at the same time. He’d never pegged himself for someone that would enjoy it. But he wanted to tell her that life was about balance –there was nothing wrong with enjoying the odd piece of pizza or burger.

“Okay everyone, so let’s go around the table. I want you to tell me what you have for breakfast most mornings. Don’t worry if it’s not healthy. Remember that we are all here to learn how to better ourselves. And the only way we can do that is by being honest with ourselves. Right, who wants to start?”

“Uh… I eat oats with a teaspoon of honey,” someone said.

“I eat toast with peanut butter. Two slices.”

“I don’t eat breakfast at all.”

“I eat fruit salad.”

And so it went until it came to him. “I don’t know, really. It changes. I eat out a lot, so whatever looks good on the menu. Also, sometimes, I don’t get up until lunch time. So, I just eat a big lunch instead.”

“Right, okay, that’s good. It’s interesting to see what everyone does,” Tamara said. He noticed that a look of frustration had crossed her face when he was speaking and then quickly went away. He supposed she had mentally told herself to take a deep breath. “Now, let’s take a look at some easy and healthy breakfast options, and then I’m going to take you through one of the recipes, so you can do this yourself. I have recipes printed for you to take home too.”

Thomas then listened as Tamara went through a list of ‘better’ breakfast ideas. Then she took them through the recipe that had been prepared for them. It was incredibly boring, and he felt himself zoning out. Instead, he sat watching her. He looked at the way her mouth opened and closed. He created a line around her body with an imaginary pen and noticed all her contours and curves. He wondered if she had a boyfriend but couldn’t imagine that someone like her would ever find the time for something like love. He wanted to tell her that she was missing out. He wanted to tell her that she didn’t have to be so perfect. And then… while he was thinking of this… he promptly fell asleep. When he woke up, everyone had left the room, except for Tamara, who was in the process of cleaning up.

“Oh no! I fell asleep,” he said and then cursed himself for simply stating the obvious.

“I see that. Glad you found the course so interesting,” she said, without looking up.

Thomas felt terrible. He hadn’t enjoyed it, but falling asleep was incredibly rude, even for him. “Oh no… it’s not that at all. I’m so sorry. Honestly, I didn’t mean to fall asleep. It really was interesting. I think I’m just so tired.”

“You’re tired? From what?”

“Uh… I don’t know. Maybe I’m just not used to all of this.”

Tamara sighed and looked up at him. There was hurt in her eyes that was impossible to ignore. “It’s okay, Thomas. But maybe just don’t do that in front of everyone. They were enjoying it. But seeing you fall asleep really made me look like an idiot. And out of all the things they are going to go home and tell their friends and family about, well, it’s probably that very moment. They’ll ignore everything else. The fact that the famous Thomas Winter fell asleep in the middle of one of my lessons – THAT will be what they tell people. And this is my job, Thomas. This is my very first retreat. I’m trying to make a good impression.”

“You are making a good impression. They love you, Tamara. It’s obvious that they are all in love with you and that everyone hates me.” He knew that this was true and figured it would be a good thing to tell Tamara. She was obviously very hard on herself.

“But don’t you understand? You’re the famous one in this equation. Even if they hate you, they’ll still go home and tell everyone that you were here. And they all look up to you, even if you don’t realize it. If you hate the retreat, then they’ll more than likely feel obliged to hate it too, even if they don’t. You have no idea what sort of influence you have over people. They might like me, and they might really want to be here, but the way you treated the whole thing will be one thing on their mind. Because if the great Thomas Winter hated it, then perhaps, they should hate it too.”

“I’m sorry. Tamara, I’m really sorry.” Thomas realized that he didn’t have anything more to say. He really felt sorry for what he had done, and he hadn’t quite realized the impact that he was having on her. It was something his father had tried to speak to him about many times. The fact that, just because life was easy for him, didn’t mean that it was quite so easy for other people. His dad was always telling him to walk in someone else’s shoes every now and again.

She looked up then and smiled sadly. “Thank you. For once, I actually believe you.”

“You see – I’m not all that bad.”

“You’re not all that great either.”

“Ouch.”

“Well, sorry… but it’s true.”

Thomas laughed. This woman sure had balls. “You’re right. It’s true. I’m really not all that great. And I didn’t mean to fall asleep. This whole retreat thing is just not for me.”

“Well, why don’t you just go then? I honestly don’t mind.”

He laughed again. “I’m sure you don’t. But my agent will kill me. She truly believes that I need to be here and that it will do me good. She has a whole bunch of auditions lined up for me, and I’m afraid that, if I don’t stay for the whole retreat, she’s going to pull me out of them.”

“Well, maybe you should at least try it then. I mean, I would personally prefer it if you left, but if you’re not going to go, then at least give it a try.”

“You’re hilarious, Tamara. I like how blunt you are with me. Okay then… you have yourself a deal. How about I spend the whole day tomorrow partaking in every part of the retreat? One day. If I hate it, then I’ll just spend the rest of the retreat in my room. If I love it, then I’ll see it through. We’re almost at the end, anyway.”

Tamara smiled. He wanted to tell her how nice it was when she smiled. It relaxed her entire face. “Okay, you have yourself a deal. One day. No complaints. Complete interaction. And no ogling at all the women.”

He grinned at her and winked. “Oh, you know I only have eyes for you, Tamara Hope.”

She rolled her eyes. “You really are exasperating. Now go – I have things to do!”

He stood up and saluted. “Yes boss.” And when he walked away, he turned around quickly and saw that she was still smiling to herself.

The next day, Thomas woke up remembering his promise to Tamara. Part of him groaned at the thought of spending the entire day doing what she wanted. But part of him was glad he at least had something to do. He decided to view it as a job. He was an actor – surely he could just act interested in everything. This was the perfect time to put his skills into practice.

After a quick shower, he went straight to breakfast with everyone else and smiled at everyone around him. They looked at him nervously as if he had ulterior motives, and he wondered how grumpy he had seemed to them in the past couple of days. “Morning Tamara,” he said brightly to her when she walked past him. She smiled and greeted him back, and there was genuine warmth in her eyes.

“This is good,” he said to the man next to him. “I don’t know about you, but I thought all this eating healthy business was going to be boring. But it’s actually quite nice. I’m going to try to eat this way when I get home.”

The man looked at him and seemed taken aback at the fact that Thomas was talking to him. “Uh… yeah, me too. I mean, I’ll be honest, I only really came here because my wife wanted me to. But I’m really enjoying it. It’s good to get away. I don’t even miss my phone at the moment. I feel like I can breathe here, you know.”

Thomas smiled and nodded. He actually knew what the man was saying to him. He’d felt the same thing the day before but hadn’t wanted to admit it. He also felt as if he were breathing better. It must be the wide-open space and the fact that he wasn’t tied to his computer all the time. He spoke easily to the people around him, and the more he did, the more they opened up to him. He felt bad about thinking that they were all idiots. They were all actually very nice people, and the more he got to know them, the more genuine they seemed. And for the first time in a very long time, they seemed interested in who he was as a person, rather than his money or his fame. It was quite a nice feeling. After breakfast, he went for a walk around the grounds. It was his first proper walk, and he was amazed when he got to the big lake. It was breathtaking. Little cushions had been placed all around, and he went and sat on one and watched his reflection move with the water.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it,” someone said to him, and he jumped up in surprise. He’d been so lost in thought that he hadn’t noticed her coming up to him. She sat down not too far from him and smiled. He remembered her, but he couldn’t, for the life of him, remember her name. And he knew why. She wasn’t the most attractive girl at the retreat. She was small and mousy and had unfortunately bad skin. He felt bad that he hadn’t bothered to learn her name.

“It really is beautiful. I’m Thomas, by the way.”

She laughed. “I know. I’m Sarah. We’ve actually met before.”

Thomas could feel the blood rushing to his face, a very unfamiliar feeling. “Oh, I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay. It’s not easy to remember everyone’s names. And I’m sure this must be incredibly daunting for you. The day you arrived, nobody wanted to leave you alone. And I’m sure you came on this retreat for the very reason of wanting to be left alone,” she said kindly.

That wasn’t at all the reason he had come on the retreat, but he didn’t want her to know that it had been forced on him. He suddenly wanted to be the sort of person that came to retreats to better himself.

“That’s okay. I’m used to it. It sort of comes with the territory. But I haven’t really given this retreat enough of my attention. I guess I figured I didn’t really need it. But to be honest… I’m happy to be here.”

She smiled. “And we’re happy that you’re here. Don’t worry – everyone has their own agenda. I’ve done retreats before, and sometimes, it takes days for people to settle into it. I’m glad this one is a week. The weekend ones don’t really do anything.”

“Thanks, Sarah. I’ve done nothing to deserve your kindness. I’m going to try and get into it today.”

“Even with yoga?” she said and grinned.

He laughed. “Even with yoga.”

“Tamara’s great, isn’t she? She’s so calm and collected. I think she’s just perfect for this sort of thing. I feel like I can learn a lot from her.”

“Yeah, she’s great. I mean… I fell asleep during her cooking lesson, and she’s still being nice to me.”

“I saw that. Everyone was so shocked, but Tamara told us all how hectic your life is and how tired you are from it all. She was so sweet about it. And we all felt so bad for you. One guy even wanted to go get you a blanket.”

Thomas didn’t know Tamara had done that. He’d figured that she’d scoffed at him with everyone else. Instead, she’d made him look like the good guy. “That’s nice of her. Tired or not, I shouldn’t have fallen asleep.”

“That’s okay. You’re going to try harder today, aren’t you?”

“I certainly am.”

“Well, I’m going to leave you then… it’s good to get some alone time in a place like this. Thanks for the chat, Thomas. And don’t worry – we’re all happy that you’re here.” Sarah smiled at him, and Thomas thought how pretty she actually was, now that he had taken the time to speak to her. Why had he not seen it before?

The rest of the day went by with ease. The talk with Sarah seemed to have put him on a good path, and by the end of the day, he knew that he wasn’t acting anymore. He even enjoyed the yoga class and found that his body felt better by the end of it. When it came to the cooking lesson, not only did he not fall asleep, but he volunteered to go up and help. And when he made jokes about pizza, everyone laughed and knew that he wasn’t being serious. Thomas woke up the following day and continued getting involved. He expected Tamara to come up and ask him what he was doing, but she just let him carry on, and he was glad for that. He didn’t want to admit yet that he was having a good time. And by the end of the week, Thomas started to feel sad that the retreat was coming to a close. He couldn’t believe how quickly things had turned around for him after he’d actually decided to make an effort.

On the last night, after a big celebratory dinner together, Thomas decided to go for a walk to the lake. He couldn’t sleep, and he wanted to know what it would be like there at night. He was surprised to find fairy lights dotting the trees, and when he lay down to watch the water; he was captivated by the beauty of the place.

“Isn’t it wonderful?” His head shot up in surprise. He thought it might be Sarah again. Instead, he saw Tamara walking towards him.

“Tamara, hey…” he said.

“I couldn’t sleep,” she said. “How about you?”

“Same. And I was curious to see this place at night. So much more beautiful than I thought it was going to be.”

“Mind if I join you?”

“Of course not,” he said. “So… last night, hey. Congratulations. The retreat was a huge success.”

“Are you being sarcastic?” she asked.

“What? No, not at all. Why do you say that? Couldn’t you see that I was having a good time?”

She laughed. “Yeah, you did seem to be enjoying yourself. I was surprised when your one day resolve turned into more. But… well… you’re an actor. I figured you were just acting to make the whole thing more bearable.”

It was his turn to laugh. “That’s exactly what I wanted to do. That was my plan all along. But turns out, I didn’t have to act at all. I… I had a good week. My agent was right – this really was just what I needed. And, Tamara, I have to say… I’m sorry for everything, for falling asleep in your class, for arriving late, for disrupting lessons, for talking about inappropriate things. I’m sorry.”

“Ah, that’s okay. It was actually really nice to have you with us. I like this version of you, by the way. You’re not so bad.”

He smiled. “Not so bad. Hmm… that’s a compliment coming from you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well… you’ve been pretty clear with how much you dislike me. So, hearing that I’m not so bad is a compliment in my books.”

“Sorry, Thomas. Ah… that’s not it at all. I do like you. It’s just…”

“I’m an idiot. I know. Hey… I’ve got an idea. Wait right here.”

Thomas ran off and came back with a bottle of champagne and two glasses. “What’s this? Where did you get this?”

“I brought it with me.”

“You brought champagne?”

“Well, not really. But I remembered yesterday that I still had a bottle of champagne in my car from some event. Strangely enough, I didn’t feel the need to drink it yesterday. But it’s the last day of the retreat, and you have lots to celebrate.” Thomas poured them both a glass and handed one to her.

“Oh, no, thank you, but I better not.”

“Why not? It’s not like we’re going to get drunk by sharing one bottle of champagne. And anyway… you deserve it.”

“Uh…”

Thomas could see how uncomfortable she looked. “Sorry… don’t you drink?”

“Oh, I do. I just. Well, I don’t know.”

“Oh, come on, just one glass then. I’ll have the rest.”

She looked uncertain but still took the glass from him. He watched as she took a sip and then smiled. “Okay, this is nice. Man, I haven’t had champagne in years.”

“Seriously? How come?”

“I don’t know really. I guess I’ve just been so focused on work. I’ve been working so hard to get my company going. I hold yoga classes every day, and I also host health courses at a café opposite my work. I guess I felt like drinking was sort of cheating.”

“I’m your opposite. I just realized that. You and I are polar opposites. I’m the sort of person that has champagne lying around in his car. Even though I drank some wine with dinner here each night, it was still the least I’ve had to drink in a long time. I can go through bottles in a night. I’m used to waking up with a pounding headache and throwing pain killers down my throat. I’m used to the sort of lifestyle where the only thing that concerns me is where my next party is going to be.”

“Wow… so this week must’ve been torture for you,” she said. He noticed that she was already halfway through her drink, so he topped her up and was glad when she didn’t refuse.

“Nah, it wasn’t. Well… it was at first. But it was good for me. I think I needed this wake up in life. I didn’t realize just how into myself I’d become lately and how few friends I actually had. It was the one thing I kept thinking about this week – how I didn’t have any true friends anymore. It’s my fault – I’ve been using my money to make friends. That’s not real friendship. This week has been good for me. But… Tamara… if there is one thing it has taught me, it’s that life is all about balance. You’re very good at teaching that,” he said.

“Thank you.”

“But you’re not very good at applying it to your own life.”

“What do you mean? Yes, I am.”

“No, you’re not. And it’s not just about drinking. You’re very disciplined – and that’s good. But you should also learn to let go a little bit. Let your hair down, so to speak. Life is also meant to be enjoyed and not everything needs to be planned. Sometimes, mistakes and failures are just as important as successes.”

“You’re wiser than I thought you’d be, Mr. Winter.”

“And you already sound slightly tipsy.”

“Well… I told you that I never drink. Now, top me up and let me hear more of your wisdom.”

Thomas laughed and filled her glass. And the two of them sat like that for what must have been hours, just talking, drinking, and laughing. By the end of the night, they were somehow holding hands, and Thomas thought that he’d never been happier. For the first time in his life, he wanted to kiss a girl so badly that he was too afraid to make the move. He didn’t want to ruin the moment. And the moment, just like Tamara, was perfect.

[]Chapter Seven

Tamara was flushed with pride when she left the retreat. Everyone had told her how much they had enjoyed it and how much better it was than they had expected. A few of them had even asked her to book them immediately on the next one. Tamara admitted that she hadn’t planned for another one, because she first wanted to see if she’d be able to pull it off. “Tamara, you were born to do this,” one of them had said. It echoed what Wendy had once told her, and she couldn’t believe that one of the attendees was now telling her the same.

She’d expected to wake up the next day feeling hung over. She hadn’t had half a bottle of champagne to herself in a very long time. But she woke up feeling great. Thomas had to leave early that morning, but when he left, he embraced her tightly and told her just how much the previous night had meant to him.

“Thank you, Thomas. It meant a lot to me too. And thanks for all the kind words.”

“And thanks for putting me in my place,” he said to her.

She tried to put away how it had felt holding his hand and concentrated, instead, on saying goodbye to everyone else. Then she packed up and headed home. She had a lunch planned with Wendy, who wanted to know everything that had happened, and she couldn’t wait to fill her in.

“Hey, Wendy,” she said when she walked into the café. They’d chosen to meet at a different café than the one where Wendy worked. Wendy sometimes preferred meeting outside of work. She said, when she went to her café in a social situation, she always felt on edge as if she should be working.

“Tamara! It’s so good to see you. This week has been so long without you.”

“How was work? Was it as crazy busy as you thought it was going to be?”

“It was. And more. But the upside to it all was that they were some of the best tippers that I’ve met in a very long time. And they all drank so much, so by the time they left, they kept forgetting that they had tipped me and insisted on giving me more. I made quite a bit of money this week. But it was exhausting. But how about you? How did the rest of the retreat go? And why on earth do you look so ravishing today? You look beautiful. All relaxed. Did you go to a spa or something before you got here? Did you get your hair done?”

Tamara laughed. “I’m loving the compliments. But no, I’ve done nothing. I literally came here straight from the retreat.”

“Seriously? Well… you look good. Very good.”

“Thanks, Wendy. I feel good. The retreat went so well. Some people have already booked to go on the next one. It went better than I thought it would. You were right – I was meant to do this. I cannot wait to start planning the next one. I have so many ideas. Nothing went wrong on this one, but I still thought of so many things that I could have done to make it better. The next one is going to be brilliant!”

“Ah, I’m so happy for you. No wonder you look so good. You are just flushed with happiness. You look like you were part of the retreat, rather than the person who ran it. You look more relaxed than I’ve seen you in a long time.”

“Well,” Tamara said nonchalantly, “that’s probably because I drank half a bottle of champagne last night, maybe more.”

Wendy laughed. “Sure, tell me another joke.”

“I’m serious. I honestly did.”

“What? Since when do you do things like that?”

“I know… it’s crazy. And I’m not even hung over.”

“You’re too happy to be hung over. So, what was that then? Were you all celebrating?”

“We were celebrating, actually. But it was just Thomas and me. He had a bottle in his car and decided we should share it. We drank it by the lake at night. It was actually more enjoyable than I thought it would be. I had forgotten how much I liked drinking champagne.”

“What? You drank it with Thomas? Thomas Winter? I thought you hated him.”

“I do. Well… I did. Turns out, he’s not so bad after all. He finally took the retreat seriously. And I think he actually quite enjoyed it.”

“And by the sounds of it, you enjoyed him.”

Tamara felt herself blushing. “What? No… it wasn’t like that.”

“So, nothing happened?”

“No. Nothing at all. We just sat and spoke. We held hands, but it was more in a friendship sort of way. Plus, I was tipsy. I get a little touchy feely when I drink.”

Wendy laughed. “You do? That’s brilliant. But seriously… let’s go back a few notches here. First, how did you end up having drinks with just Thomas and nobody else? And second, how did you end up holding his hand? And third, how was it? Oh wait… I have a fourth… where’s my photo?”

Tamara chuckled and took out her phone. As promised, she’d taken a few sneaky pictures of Thomas at the retreat without him noticing. But on the last morning, she’d simply asked him for a picture to show her friend. He’d laughed and happily obliged. Tamara showed the photo to Wendy, and she grinned. “You held hands with THIS man? Oh, Tamara, you lucky, lucky girl. Tell me everything!”

And so, Tamara told her the whole story and watched in amusement as Wendy looked at her, open-mouthed, throughout the tale.

“So, when are you seeing him again?” Wendy asked.

“Thomas? Uh… I don’t think I am. I mean, we didn’t make plans or anything. Like I said – nothing happened. We just shared a special moment together. He wasn’t as bad as I made him out to be.”

“Oh, come on, it’s obvious that you’re infatuated with him.”

Tamara could feel herself becoming flushed, and Wendy pointed it out. Tamara fanned her face. “No, I’m not infatuated with him. I mean… come on, Wendy. He lives in a different world. We’re such different people, and we want different things in life. This week might have done him good, but he’s not exactly going to become this yoga-loving, calm man. He’s not like that.”

“But the week was good for him. And you were good for him. And from what I can see, he was just as good for you. I’ve never seen you look so relaxed.”

“What? I’m always relaxed,” Tamara said. After all, she was a yoga teacher. Of course, she was relaxed.

But Tamara was surprised when Wendy snorted out a laughter. “What? You’re the least relaxed person I know. Everything always has to be perfect. You never have a hair out of place. You’re never late for anything. You never just go with the flow.”

“But… but aren’t those good things?” Tamara stammered.

“They are good things. But it’s also good to let loose every now and again. Just relax. You don’t always have to be so perfect. And Thomas is the only person that has actually managed to get that part of you out a bit. Honestly, Tamara… you look wonderful.”

Tamara didn’t say anything for a while. She just sat there staring at the coffee in front of her. She felt strange hearing Wendy say these things to her. She’d always considered herself to be a very relaxed and calm person. She didn’t know Wendy thought that way about her. And if Wendy thought that, it probably meant everyone else thought that too. Why didn’t she know that about herself?

“Hey, Tamara,” Wendy said kindly, “you’re a wonderful person. You’re someone I admire more than anybody in the world. But it’s okay just to let things be, sometimes.”

Tamara nodded. “I guess you’re right.”

“So… come on then… tell me a bit more about Thomas. Are you honestly going to tell me that you don’t find him attractive?” Wendy held up the phone with his photo as if to prove a point.

Tamara giggled. “Okay, he’s very attractive. He’s probably the best looking person I’ve ever met. But, Wendy… he’s so frustrating! He’s so incredibly charming and gets away with everything.”

“But… you like him?”

“No!”

“Come on; just admit that you like him. Just a little,” Wendy teased.

“I do not!”

“Just a little?”

Tamara chuckled. “Just a little.” She felt her eyes widen at the admittance. She looked at Wendy. “Oh! I do like him. Oh no! I don’t want to like a man like that.”

Wendy was giggling to herself now, obviously pleased that she had finally gotten Tamara to admit the truth. “Oh, come on… you said he wasn’t that bad. In fact, I think you saw a side to him that most people don’t ever get the chance to see.”

“Well… yeah… I guess I did. I liked that side to him.”

“So… what are you going to do about it, then?”

“What do you mean? I’m not going to do anything.”

“You’re not even going to phone him?” Wendy looked very disappointed.

“No. I’m not. He’s an actor. He’s the son of a billionaire. I’m a yoga teacher. We’re worlds apart. It was nice, and I’m glad I got to see that side of him. But I’m definitely not going to do anything about it.”

Wendy sighed. “Okay, fair enough. But will you at least come out with me sometime for a glass of wine? Just one? I feel like it’s a bit unfair that he got to see tipsy Tamara before I did.”

Tamara laughed. “It’s a deal.”

“Wow, you really are a changed woman.”

And after that, Tamara tried to put the thought of Thomas behind her. Admitting her feelings hadn’t come easily, but they were pointless. It had been nice to hold his hand, and it had been nice to get to know him on a deeper level. But the thought of anything actually happening between the two of them was ridiculous.

[]Chapter Eight

“You look different.”

Thomas was sitting with his father, having their regular weekly lunch. He’d missed the week before because of the retreat, and it was quite nice sitting with his father again. He’d thought a lot about him in that week and how much he took him for granted.

“I do? What do you mean?”

“Well… are you hung over?” his father asked.

“Hung over?No, not at all. I don’t think I even had a drink last night.”

“Well, there we go then. Do you realize that this is the first time in probably a year that I’ve seen you looking this refreshed? You normally arrive with dark circles under your eyes and the unfortunate stench of alcohol coming through your pores.”

“Surely not every time? I’m not always hung over.”

“Honestly, Thomas – this is a first for me. You look… well, you look really good.”

Thomas smiled. “Thank you. Actually, I feel good.”

“How was the retreat? I was very surprised when you told me you were going to it.”

“Tell me about it; I was surprised to go to it. It was all Geraldine’s idea. She just booked me, without even asking me. You know what she’s like. She had this grand idea that it was something I needed to go on.”

“And? Was she right?”

Thomas smiled. “She was. I hate to admit it, but she was. I’ll be honest though, Dad… I hated it so much in the beginning. I didn’t want to be there. And I thought that everyone was just so boring. I mean, they only spoke about healthy eating and about yoga and all this nonsense. But I promised the teacher that I’d give it a go for one full day and participate in everything. After that, I sort of started to enjoy it. My head felt clearer, and I felt better about myself. I think I needed something like that. And I thought a lot about you, Dad, and how much I take you for granted. Tamara taught me more about myself in one week than anyone has in a very long time.”

“Tamara?”

“Oh, yeah. She was the teacher. She’s a yoga instructor and does all these health courses. It was her first retreat, so she was very nervous, but she did such a good job. I kept telling her not to worry. She’s so hard on herself, but she’s one of the best people I’ve ever met. She just doesn’t see what everyone else sees,” Thomas stopped and looked at his father. “Uh… why are you smiling at me like that?”

“I’ve just never heard you talk about a woman that way before.”

“What? Well, I mean she’s a nice girl. That’s all. She taught me a lot about myself. But that’s her job.”

“And nothing else?”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, come on, Thomas; be honest with me and with yourself. You obviously like this girl a lot.”

Thomas didn’t say anything for a while. He just sat there thinking about what his father was saying. Since coming back from the retreat, he hadn’t stopped thinking about Tamara. She kept popping into his mind, and sometimes, he found himself lying in bed, thinking about her. She really was the most beautiful girl he had ever met – inside and out. He just wasn’t used to falling for girls like that, and the whole thing confused him. “I like her,” he said finally.

“I know you do. So why don’t you phone her? Or go see her?”

“I don’t know… I’m scared, Dad. She’s… well she’s not like the girls I’m used to dating.”

“You mean, for the first time, you actually found someone that you like? Because let’s face it, Thomas, those other girls were never something you were serious about.”

“Yeah… Tamara is different. I wouldn’t want to hurt her.”

“And you don’t have to. I’ve never seen you look so happy. For the first time in your life, do something good and follow your heart. You’re a great man, Thomas. But you’ve lost yourself over the years.”

“I’ve been an idiot,” Thomas said.

“You have been,” his father agreed.

Thomas laughed. “You sound just like Tamara. You are both far too honest for your own good.”

“Oh, I like this woman already.”

After lunch, Thomas walked away, thinking of nothing but Tamara. He bumped into an old fling that he had hooked up with recently, and after chatting to her briefly, he was even surer that Tamara was the right person for him. He’d never felt more sure about anything in his whole life. Why had he never noticed how superficial these other girls were? Instead of going straight home, he found himself walking to the park. He needed to think, and he’d always thought best when he was out in nature. He walked and walked until he had formulated a plan. He knew Tamara would be the sort of woman that would appreciate a well thought out plan.

[]Chapter Nine

Tamara sat waiting for her clients to walk through the door. The previous two days, her classes had been fully booked, so she expected the same that day. She got the room ready and then sat and waited. There was always someone that arrived early, so she was surprised when five minutes before the class nobody had arrived. At seven, when the class was meant to begin, there was still nobody. By five past, she started to get worried, and by ten past, she was beside herself. How did she go from a full class the day before to having nobody in her class that day? Was she losing her mind? She was about to start phoning some of her clients, when she heard someone open the door. Relief washed over her. She waited to see who was going to come through the door, expecting a few people to rush in, apologizing about being late. The last thing she expected was to see Thomas Winter come striding through. He was holding a yoga mat and a towel, and he was grinning at her in his charming way.

“Thomas? Am I dreaming?” she said and blinked a few times.

He laughed. “Do you normally dream about me?”

“Uh… no. I mean… I just –”

He laughed again. “Well… I certainly dream about you.”

“Thomas, what are you doing here? And where are my clients? And why on earth are you carrying a yoga mat?”

“Well, let me go through each of those questions. I’m here, because I wanted to see you. Your clients will be here tomorrow. I phoned them all to tell them that you had the day off. Don’t ask me how I got their numbers – I’m a resourceful guy when I want to be. And I’m holding a yoga mat, because I now own one. I’m not actually here to do yoga. I just thought it seemed appropriate to walk into a yoga class with one.”

Tamara stood back and regarded him with suspicion. “Uh… I’m confused. You phoned my clients?”

“I certainly did. I thought it would be nice for us to have breakfast together.”

“Breakfast?”

“Oh yes. I spoke to your friend, Wendy.”

“Wendy? You spoke to Wendy?”

“I did. She’s a lovely girl. She told me the two of you enjoyed a few glasses of wine together recently. She said she had me to thank for that. I’m not sure what she meant, but it was nice, regardless. Anyway… I know she works at that café you always go to. So, I’ve organized for them to bring us breakfast,” Thomas said. Then, before Tamara had the chance to say anything else, the doorbell rang. “Ah, that must be breakfast.”

Tamara watched as Thomas walked over to the front door. He walked in carrying a tray of food, with Wendy behind him carrying coffees. “Wendy… what’s going on?”

Wendy just grinned. She looked completely over the moon. Tamara could only imagine how giddy she must have been when Thomas had gotten in touch with her. The fact that she had said nothing about it to Tamara was very impressive. She handed Thomas the coffees and then giggled all the way out of the room and out the door. Suddenly, it was just the two of them. Thomas had placed the food and the coffee on the floor and invited her to sit down with him. He’d put out his yoga mat in front of him, where the food and coffees now sat.

Tamara giggled. “You do know that yoga mats are not meant to be placemats for food and coffee?”

“What? You mean I actually have to do yoga on this thing?” he teased. “That is not the reason I bought it.”

“Seriously, Thomas, what is going on?” Tamara still could not believe she was sitting with Thomas Winter in her studio. It still felt like a bit of a dream.

“What? You don’t like this? I made sure to get all the food you like, except I also got a little chocolate brownie for afterwards. It’s only little, but I thought it would be a nice addition to the otherwise very healthy breakfast.”

Tamara looked at the food. Everything was perfect. “It’s amazing, Thomas. I can’t believe you did all this. I just… I don’t know why you are doing it. I mean, I’ll be honest. I didn’t think I would see you again. I honestly thought the next time that I see you would be when I watched you on the big screen.”

“I didn’t think I would see you either. But, I haven’t stopped thinking about you. I cannot get you out of my mind. I’ve tried, but you just keep popping up. I even saw an old fling, and all I could think about was how much I wish I was talking to you. You’re the most amazing woman I’ve ever met, Tamara. And everyone keeps telling me how different I am. They say I look all radiant and stuff. And I know that’s because of you.”

Tamara giggled. “People keep telling me how different I am too. I didn’t realize I was so uptight before.”

“And I didn’t realize what a big ball of mess I was before. I think I’m falling for you, Tamara. I’ve never felt this way about anyone before.”

Tamara gulped. “I feel the same way about you. I didn’t really want to admit it to myself, but I’ve also never felt this way before. But… could it work? I mean, we’re both so different. You’re this big party animal, and I’m a yoga teacher who likes to keep healthy. You couldn’t find two more different people if you tried,” Tamara said as honestly as she could. She’d wanted to see Thomas again so badly, but she could never imagine how someone like him would want to be with someone like her. The fact that he was now sitting in front of her was proving her all wrong.

“And yet, somehow, I feel better when I’m around you. Maybe it’s those very differences that work for us. Maybe we need each other.”

“Maybe you’re right.”

“And anyway, I figured that I was going to go out of my mind if I didn’t at least kiss you once. I held your hand all night not so long ago, and the next day, the only thing I could think about was the fact that I hadn’t gone in for the kiss. I hadn’t wanted to ruin the moment, in case you got upset with me, but I woke up wishing I had at least tried.”

“Kiss me?” Tamara said, but before she had time to say anything else, Thomas leaned in to kiss her. Tamara felt her entire body cave into his. She’d never felt something like that before.

“Wow,” Thomas said, “I’m glad I came.”

“I’m glad you came too. I have to say – never in my whole life did I ever think that I would be sitting in my studio, kissing a movie star, while a delicious breakfast and a cup of coffee sat on a yoga mat.”

“You see – your life will never be dull with me around. Are you prepared to have a little more chaos in your life?”

“I am. And are you prepared to have a little more serenity in yours?”

“I am. You see – we’re the perfect match.”

“Or perfectly mismatched…….”

The Hacker’s Love

(A Clean and Inspirational Romance Novella)

 

Veda Whitfield

 

Copyright 2017 – Veda Whitfield

Chapter 1

James

He was always causing trouble. As a small child he was the one that other parents didn’t want their own kids inviting over. He was popular, even as a toddler, simply because he was far more intelligent than any other child his age and he knew how to use it to his advantage. He figured out from a young age that it was easy to get people to do exactly as you wanted, by simply changing the way you spoke to them or by the way you made them feel about themselves. This was a skill he took with him into his teenage years and then finally into adulthood. He knew exactly how to get everything he wanted because he was always two steps ahead of everyone else.

He should’ve taken this skill and used it in a positive way – a brain like his could’ve done great things in the world. But instead he did what most smart guys his age always did – he used it to make money for himself and he figured out a way to get rich quick without ever entering the corporate world.

When James Easton met Charlie he thought that all his dreams had come true. The two of them had met online when James had not only beaten him on one of the hardest online games of the moment, but had then went onto create a new one – something he described as ‘more challenging’ than the one before. Charlie had contacted James and asked to meet him. Of course James had immediately been suspicious of Charlie, who turned out to be everything that James had suspected. He was short, had no sense of style, and wore big bug-eyed glasses that made his eyes look huge. In other words he encompassed everything that one would imagine when trying to conjure up the idea of a nerd. Why would this nerd want anything to do with James, other than to idolize him? James had worked his way up the ranks of nerdville through the creation of his video game and seemed to be revered by all. When Charlie invited him out for a drink, James said yes and then instantly regretted it when he saw Charlie sitting at the table sipping a Coca-Cola. James had ordered a whiskey and sat down heavily in front of him, pretending to be friendly. To this day James had no idea why he had agreed to the meeting. Perhaps it was his serious lack of human interaction, or the idea that someone out there loved his work so much he wanted to meet him. Or maybe it was more serendipitous than that. But by the end of the meeting James knew that his life was never going to be the same again.

It was Charlie who had introduced him to hacking. It was something that Charlie himself had been involved in for many years but on a small scale. He had been looking for someone to get on board with him for a long time but he didn’t trust most of the guys out there.

“You have to be careful, James,” Charlie had told him, “A lot of guys think they are a lot better at this than they really are. They may be great at online gaming or solving computer crashes, but hacking is a whole new level. I’ve been doing it for a long time but I can only get so far by myself. I’m good, but I’m not great. But you James, you have greatness inside of you. You figured out a game that everyone thought was impossible, and then you went on to create another one which was even harder than the one before. You must know that everyone is practically in love with you. There are boys out there figuring out how to meet you, and girls dying to have your baby. I’m not exaggerating. In the computer world you are like the God. Why you said yes to meeting with me I have no idea. But of course, I’m not complaining. So… I have a proposal.”

And just like that James had been introduced into the world of hacking, with a promise that great things would come his way. Charlie wanted to start him off slowly. He taught him how to hack into people’s social media accounts and their emails, before moving on to bigger things like their bank accounts, their social security details. Charlie made James promise that he would never simply steal from anyone, but that all his targets were people that deserved to be punished. Charlie wasn’t a bad person, but he believed that the world was corrupt and that people like him and James could do something about it. His speech had enamored James who had always seen himself as an outcast desperate for a mission in life. Soon, he and Charlie were meeting on a monthly basis, and while he tried to keep those meetings purely online there were times when the two of them would still meet over a cup of coffee or a strong glass of whiskey – all depending on what was going on at that particular time in their hacking progress. Charlie had big plans for James, but the process was slow because he wanted James to be completely confident in his skills.

When James had gotten home that day, he had kicked off his shoes and started to work on his new mission. James lived alone, in an apartment quite small for someone who could easily afford more. But he had chosen it because it was a stone’s throw away from the beach – the one place that had the ability to keep him calm. He hadn’t grown up near the beach, but he had gone with his parents on holidays to the beach twice a year. Which meant that twice a year he felt relaxed and happy – and his parents finally got a break from his energetic childlike frustrations. There was something soothing about the sound of the crashing water, and while he didn’t go in much, he liked to sit and watch it. His apartment was situated on the 10th floor and when he sat on the balcony he had the perfect view of the beach below. It was where he liked to start each and every day, cradling a cup of coffee and watching the world go by. Then he’d go to his computer and his other life would begin.

He’d been at it for almost a year now, and his hacking had gotten more and more advanced. Just like Charlie had taught him he was very careful about everything he did. He checked, double checked and triple checked everything, making sure that nothing could be traced back to him. Charlie had taught him to treat his hacking almost as if he was going to get caught – so that he could always be forewarned of anything that might trail back to his computer. It was easy to get cocky and to become caught up in the idea that hacking makes you better than everyone else, so it was important to always get a daily dose of reality; which is what the mornings looking at the beach helped him to see.

It was hard not to get caught up in the lives of others and it was always amazing to see how much people put of themselves online. He found liars, cheaters, lovers, stealers – all admitting to their crimes to someone online – someone they obviously believed they could trust. Humans, it seemed, had an inability of keeping secrets to themselves, even to their own detriment. In the beginning this is what James had enjoyed best. James himself had been cheated on once by a woman, so he knew the feeling of betrayal that came with it. He always wished he could’ve known before he had invested so much of his time and energy on that one woman. So when he found a cheater online, he always took great pleasure in making sure that the other person found out. These were the easy cases – simple emails, or accounts read by the wrong person. He just had to sway them in the right direction and they would find out without once suspecting that an outsider had played a role in the affair. Once he had done that, he always washed himself from their lives – knowing that the longer he dwelled on them the more chances there were of him being caught. Everyone, except one.

Anna Rosemary Miller. Age: 27. Height: 5 feet 9 inches. Weight: 114 pounds. Hair color: dark brown. Eye color: green. Profession: online content creator. Dream profession: novelist. Favorite movie: Dead Poet’s Society. Favorite book: The Little Prince. Tattoo: stack of books up spine. Pet: dachshund named Ruler.

Best friend: Carla. Boyfriend/Husband/Partner: none.

James had only found her because her boyfriend at the time had been cheating on her. He’d done what he normally did and set out to make sure that she found out. Which she did. He followed her for a bit of time afterwards to see what would happen with the two of them. He was often surprised by how many people took back the ones that had cheated on them. When this happened he never intervened further. Well then you deserve each other, he’d shout at the computer and forget about them completely. He was pleased, however, to notice that Anna had broken up with the scumbag the day that she found out about him and had totally blocked him from her life. He immediately liked her for that. But there was something else about her, something that kept him coming back over and over again. Anna Rosemary Miller was beautiful. She wasn’t just beautiful to look at it, but she was beautiful to watch in her interactions with other people. He loved reading what she wrote for her clients, and he loved reading what she wrote for her own blog. He loved reading her emails, and watching her videos and looking at her pictures. He kept telling himself that he must stop – that what he was doing was not right, but he couldn’t help himself. Every night, once he had finished his work, he would scroll through her profiles and get to know her even more. Soon he felt as if he knew everything about her. There was only one problem – she didn’t know he existed.

And so, in a moment of insanity which he eventually put down to lack of sleep and perhaps too much caffeine, he sent her an email. And then he waited and hoped for a reply.

Chapter 2

Anna

It had been a few months since Anna had broken up with Tyron, and she was only now starting to miss the familiarity of having him around. Before that she was simply too angry to miss him. Of course, she wouldn’t take him back, she was far too stubborn and proud to ever take back a cheater, but that didn’t make it any easier to be alone. The worst part was that she didn’t even know it was happening. She always wondered how someone could be so blind to their partner cheating, but when it happened to her she realized that some people were simply better at lying than others – and she had just been too naïve to see it. It wasn’t that she ever thought she would marry Tyron but she had liked him a lot and she had always wondered if maybe she’d go from liking him to loving him. Well I know the answer to that one now, she thought mercilessly.

Anna worked as an online content creator. Hired by companies who wanted to look good but who had no idea how to do it. She would use information that they sent her and simply ‘fluff’ it up – making them sound far better than they actually were. She liked to think herself as the word version of someone who photoshopped photos for a living, and every day she hated herself for it. It wasn’t as if she made enough money to be able to choose her clients – instead she took on any job that came her way, whether she liked the company or not. It paid the bills, and she turned a blind eye to the way it made her feel. In the interim she concentrated on her own writing, working her way towards a novel that she had been working on for years, and various short stories. She didn’t share these with anyone, often pasting them into her blog and them quickly deleting them before she could hit send. It wasn’t that she thought she was a bad writer; it was more a case of feeling that she was simply okay. And she didn’t want to be just okay. She wanted to be great – like all the authors that she admired and read. She kept telling herself that one day she would be great – she simply had to keep writing and to keep practicing.

Anna lived alone, in a small apartment in the city. She had moved into the first place that she could find on short notice the moment that she had discovered Tyron’s infidelity. She hadn’t taken the time to find out why the price was so low for an apartment so central but once she had moved in it had all made sense. The neighbors, on either side of her, were very young, and they partied hard. Anna had no idea why they were never in trouble for being so loud or why they stayed in two different apartments but she assumed that they knew the owner of the building. She had a feeling the only way someone was ever going to stay long was for the rent to be low. So it was a matter of putting up with the noise and saving money or going to find something quieter and pay more. Anna had decided to put up with the noise, because not only was the rent low, but they had also turned a blind eye to her having a pet – which she knew was not allowed in most of the city apartments.

Ruler the Dachshund had become the most important man in Anna’s life since Tyron was no longer in the picture, and he certainly knew it. He had never been a fan of Tyron and he now loved all the extra attention he was getting from her. Now, he sat on her lap, his long body curled to fit on her as best he could, and he nuzzled his nose into her arm for comfort. Sometimes she wasn’t sure who was comforting who.

She was trying to work on her novel, the one that she had been working on for the past four years, but stared at the screen in frustration. She had everything she needed for the novel – the beginning, the end and even the characters all sorted out. She knew what the big surprise was going to be, and she had a sufficient amount of happiness, tears and fears to make every reader happy. But the moment she sat down to write she couldn’t seem to find the words to describe it all. Anna was a competent writer and when it came to her actual work she never had trouble finding the right words to say. Yet the moment she tried to write for herself she’d go blank. She knew it was because she was far too harsh on herself than she should be but knowing something and actually changing it were two separate things.

DKCOIE!! DKJVIJ WEW!! Wdkci e!!!! eeieiciieenci!!!!KHH

She hit the keys in frustration and Ruler looked up at her in surprise.

Her phone rang, and she knew immediately that it would be her mother – who called her at exactly the same time each evening. This equally pleased her and frustrated her. She wanted to tell her mother that not everything in life had to be so structured, and yet a part of her was also glad that when the phone rang at 7pm that it would be her mother. It was comforting.

“Hi mom.” She said.

“How can you say ‘Hi mom’ when you don’t even know who it is? What if it was your boss?”

“Mom, you call me at the same time every night. And anyway, why would my boss be phoning me at this time?” she sighed in frustration.

“Well, never mind. Just remember to have some manners. I did teach you about manners didn’t I?”

“Yes mother.”

“Good. So? How are you?” Anna was about to reply with a ‘well same as yesterday when you asked me’ but decided against it.

“I’m fine mom. Nothing new to report really.”

“Well no news is better than bad news.” It was an old adage that her mom used on a regular basis. It was followed closely by ‘If you’ve got nothing nice to say then don’t say anything at all’ and the even more popular ‘You better learn to cook if you ever plan on getting a husband’.

“Yeah, that’s true mom. And you? Any news on your side?” Sometimes it was simply best to divert her attention somewhere else.

“Well actually, I do have some news. Remember Shirley? That woman from your dad’s office with the big hair? Well she got caught with Russell in the print room! You know Russell? The bald guy. Sorry I don’t know how else to describe him. The whole office is going mental with the news. Your dad says it’s all everyone is talking about. I didn’t think Shirley had it in her.”

Anna’s mother used to work in the same office as her father but left when she had her children to become a housewife. She might’ve left the company but she never left the gossip and still took great pleasure in finding out who did what with whom. Anna was always the recipient of these stories even though most of the time she didn’t know who her mother was talking about. Of course, she always pretended that she did.

“No ways! Are you serious? With Russell?” Anna exclaimed and whistled to add to the authenticity of her response.

“Seriously! Well I say good for her. It’s about time she had a bit of fun in her life. And Russell’s a nice guy. Not sure if it’s anything serious, but I think it’s great. Which reminds me, what’s happening with your love life? Have you been going out at all? You’re not going to meet a man by sitting at home you know.”

Anna groaned out loud, “Yeah I know mom. But I’m not looking for a man right now.”

“Listen Anna, I’m sorry about what happened with Tyron, you know I am. But your dad and I never liked him anyway. He was always a bit too big for his boots. Speak to your friends; see if they have anyone they can set you up with. Go out a bit. It’ll be good for you. Just don’t sit around by yourself all day and night. It’s not good for you.”

“I’m not alone mom. I have Ruler on my lap. And he’s one of the best guys I know.”

“You know that’s not what I mean Anna.”

“I know mom. Don’t worry about me. I’ll phone Carla up and go out with her soon. I promise.”

“Good. You keep me updated then, alright?”

“Of course Mom. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

Anna sighed. She did love her mom and she counted herself lucky that she actually still had parents that were happy and in love. She was starting to see that that didn’t happen all that much these days. But sometimes the evening conversations were too much to handle. She’d tried ignoring them once, but her mother had arrived at her doorstep an hour later in a panic and then proceeded to tell her that she should never make her so worried ever again. Her father had been standing behind her at the door, mouthing a ‘I’m sorry’ and she had vowed always to answer the phone from then onwards.

She quickly called Carla, her friend since school who knew her mother almost as well as she did.

“Yo! Carla speaking.”

“Seriously, that’s how you’re answering the phone now?” She was aware that she sounded a bit like her mother in her accusations.

“Yeah, I’m trying out a more ‘street’ vibe. Do you like?”

“Hmm. No, not really. Try something new next time. I’ll tell you which is best.”

“Okay deal. Ha! I’m already thinking of some new personas to come up with. I like this game. So… let me guess… your mother just called you and now you’re so wound up you needed to vent?”

“You do know me far too well,” Anna sighed, “She’s trying to get me to go out again. To meet a new guy. Which I am seriously not ready for yet. I mean, I am ready. I just don’t really want anyone, you know.”

“You mean you don’t want to fall in love with someone and then have him hurt you again?”

“I wasn’t in love with Tyron!”

“Well, okay then, but you were in serious like of him. And he did hurt you badly even if you don’t want to admit it.”

“Okay. He did. But I’m really just not looking for someone now.”

“I hear you! But listen, come out with us anyway. There’s a group of us going to some comedy show on Saturday and at least it will placate your mother for a while.”

“Ah I hate comedy shows!” Anna whined, “Especially when I don’t find it funny! Because then I have to pretend to find it funny. And pretending to find something funny is just exhausting!”

“Oh you’re exhausting! Stop being such a grump and come with us. It’ll be fun. I’m paying.”

“Well… in that case. Okay, okay, I’ll come. But it better be funny!”

“It will be after a few glasses of wine.”

“Good point.”

Anna wasn’t sure if she should’ve phoned Carla now. Carla and her boyfriend Danny were always trying to rope her into doing things with them. She loved them both but hated feeling like a spare wheel and so tried to make excuses each time. But she knew she couldn’t avoid them forever. She wished she had asked Carla who else was coming but she had already committed to it and couldn’t bail out so it didn’t really matter.

She sighed and went back to her computer, looking through her Facebook and checking her emails. In other words, doing everything except what she should be doing – writing her novel. Looking at her emails she saw that she had one from someone that she didn’t recognize and she was about to send it straight to her trash folder when she curiosity got the better of her and she opened it up instead.

Dear Anna. I’m not quite sure how to word this without you thinking I’m a creep or a weirdo. Which I’m neither – I promise. I work in the computer industry and recently came by your blog. I was immediately impressed by your writing and your way with words. As you can see – I’m not so good with them myself. Admittedly I looked you up on Facebook (Again, this sounds strange, but don’t we all do this?) and I think you are absolutely beautiful. I’d love the chance to get to know you. If you don’t want to meet me, I understand. If you simply want to chat over email, that’s fine by me too. I don’t take many chances in life but for some reason I thought I’d take a chance on you.

Regards, James.

Anna read through the email in surprise. She wasn’t sure if she should be freaked out or complimented by what she had read. She also wasn’t sure if she should delete the email or reply. But there was something about the words ‘I don’t take many chances in life’ that rung true to her and she knew that she was going to reply.

Dear Readers

It means the world to me that you read my book, The Retreat. Writing is my passion and I look forward to your feedback.

So if you liked this book, I am asking you for a small favor. Would you be so kind to leave a Review? It would be much appreciated.

To continue with The Hacker’s Love you can sign up for my V.I.P. mailing list below. You will never miss a NEW BOOK release and you will get free books. Furthermore, you will have instant access to my finish reading FREE BONUS GIFT which is only available to my V.I.P. mailing list.

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Best Regards

Veda


The Retreat (A Clean and Sweet Romance Novella)

She is a calm, health conscious yoga instructor. He is a wild, party loving, drunken, billionaire celebrity. Their lives are perfectly mismatched… or not? Tamara Hope, health food specialist and yoga instructor, is all about living a balanced and healthy life and has recently opened her very own health retreat, where she meets Thomas. Thomas Winter is a party-loving billionaire, who lives his life to the extreme – boozing, sex, and socializing. He can think of nothing worse than going on a retreat, but his agent promises him it will do his media image good. Tamara and Thomas are like oil and water. He’s everything that she hates in a person, and he’s constantly teasing her about her lifestyle. She cannot wait for the week to be over. And yet… there’s something about him that makes her want to change him. But can someone like Thomas be changed? Does he even want to change? Should he be changed? If you love a clean romance with a warm and inspirational sizzle you will love this novella. Buy this sweet and clean romance novella today!!

  • Author: Veda Whitfield
  • Published: 2017-05-14 21:05:14
  • Words: 24389
The Retreat (A Clean and Sweet Romance Novella) The Retreat (A Clean and Sweet Romance Novella)