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PERFECT HALVES SERIES
© 2017 by Scarlet Leaf
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publishers, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a newspaper, magazine or journal.
All characters in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Scarlet Leaf has allowed this work to remain exactly as the author intended.
PUBLISHED BY SCARLET LEAF
If while dating on the Internet, someone asks you for money, keep in mind that this is only a story – it is pure fiction and has no relation with reality.
I dedicate this novel to all the people out there who are trying to find their soul mate.
Keep safe and keep true!
CHAPTER ONE 9
CHAPTER TWO 14
CHAPTER THREE 25
CHAPTER FOUR 35
CHAPTER FIVE 39
CHAPTER SIX 54
CHAPTER SEVEN 64
CHAPTER EIGHT 73
CHAPTER NINE 89
CHAPTER TEN 97
CHAPTER ELEVEN 106
CHAPTER TWELVE 134
CHAPTER THIRTEEN 166
CHAPTER FOURTEEN 182
CHAPTER FIFTEEN 198
CHAPTER SIXTEEN 208
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN 216
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN 220
CHAPTER NINETEEN 227
CHAPTER TWENTY 243
Present day – July 19th …
The young woman was sitting in a cushy armchair in the lobby, a magazine open on her lap. She pretended being lost in a story she was reading.
Her huge blue slouch-hat was designed to cover half her face and matched the short summer dress, showing off her long, tanned and shapely legs.
A pair of big, black sun-glasses completed the ensemble. She looked like Audrey Hepburn in Charade. Hidden behind the black lenses, her eyes carefully watched the people coming to the front desk and speaking to the receptionist.
She had already arranged with the much younger man at the front desk to signal her when the person she was interested in would come. He was supposed to raise his hand, as if he’d said ‘just one moment, please’. Then, he was supposed to turn away for a couple seconds and check something on the monitor.
Since her watch began, two couples had already passed by the front desk and talked to the clerk. They’d just taken their keys and left immediately, so she didn’t bother with them anymore.
Finally, after a few more minutes of impatient waiting, a tall, dark man came to the reception area and addressed the clerk. The clerk nodded and raised his hand, the sign they’d pre-arranged. He checked his computer screen for a couple of seconds, nodded again and, then, took a bag from behind the counter and handed it to the man.
He took the bag with a nod and, turned around. His eyes brushed expertly over the people in the lobby. He gave the impression he was just mildly curious, yet she noticed he analyzed everyone carefully. She watched him furtively so she wouldn’t be exposed.
She imagined her appearance didn’t impress him. After he’d looked her over, from head to toe, taking his time when he swept over her legs, he turned around and went toward the elevators. Probably, he didn’t think she posed any kind of danger and he didn’t worry about her.
Again, her senses perceived nothing clear about him and that annoyed her much more than before. She realized she had stumbled onto the first person in the world she couldn’t read at all. That frustrated and infuriated her to no end.
She’d believed she’d be able to sneak a peek into his mind once she’d be in his presence. It made sense she wouldn’t encounter any barriers when she was near. Apparently, she’d been wrong. The man always remained completely opaque to her vision.
When he disappeared from her sight, she stood up with lazy and fluid moves. She laid the magazine on the table next to her armchair, as if she’d had all the time in the world. She smoothed her skirt with long and light strokes and then, her eyes swept over the hotel lounge, furnished with taste and comfort in mind.
With lazy strides, she walked to the front desk. The clerk beamed at her, warmly. He hurried forward to do her bidding as if the other person at the front desk hadn’t mattered at all.
She noticed his rush to serve her and believed the huge tip she’d given him earlier determined his behavior. Yet, something else lay behind the young man’s grin. He’d enjoyed their game and even imagined all sorts of thrilling scenarios in his head. His age, but also her appearance had fueled his imagination. Her hat and big sunglasses and the vague clandestine air of the entire affair she’d involved him in, had made him feel like James Bond or someone similar.
“ I’ll be leaving this afternoon, I think. I won’t be waiting until morning. Of course, I’ll pay for tonight, though, no worries,” she said to the young receptionist, with an apologetic smile when she realized he’d been hoping that something more would happen and the adventure wouldn’t end there.
Yet, she’d been interested in only one scene, and that had already ended, although the result disappointed.
“ We’re very sorry you’re leaving, ma’am. Didn’t you like your suite?” the young man inquired, and his worry wiped the smile off his lips.
“ Oh, yes, I did, don’t worry,” she reassured him with a wave of her hand and a bright smile. “But, you see, I’ve already rented a house on the beach for a few days and I’ve been thinking I should take advantage of it right now, you know?” she beamed brightly at the clerk again. “There’s the sea and a pool just for me… Would you mind preparing the bill before I get back downstairs with my luggage?”
“ No, of course, not. Your bill will be ready, ma’am,” the man reassured her and rushed to the computer to prepare it.
Always present day – July 19th …
The young woman left the lobby with her usual lazy stride and headed to the row of shiny elevators, lining the wall on top of a three-step staircase. She pressed the button to call one and waited, playing with her scarf and admiring the geometric motif of the carpet in the hall.
She was deep in her thoughts and failed to notice the dark-haired man behind the column, although the fine hair on her neck stood straight up warning her of danger.
The man watched her unwaveringly, a frown between his eyebrows.
She didn’t know he’d heard her conversation with the clerk and, in a way, she didn’t care. She’d already decided to move on and, now, she was anxious to leave everything behind.
She went to her suite and, in less than ten minutes, she returned downstairs. She hadn’t bothered to unpack upon her arrival that morning and she didn’t have much to do to gather her things.
She paid the bill, leaving another sizeable tip for the front desk clerk, who had helped her a lot and asked the valet to bring her rented car to the front of the hotel.
She’d rented a small convertible, nothing fancy, something just to get around. The valet had already lowered the top of the car and that little thoughtful gesture brought a smile on her lips. She felt her vacation had finally started.
The valet put her only suitcase in the trunk and the bag with her laptop in the back seat of the car. He bowed slightly when she gave him a folded banknote, together with a big smile.
Once seated in the car, she turned the key in the ignition first and then she turned on her navigation system, inputting the address of the house she had rented on the shore.
Now, she felt secure enough so she took her hat off and shook her head. Her hair fell all over her shoulders in thick, curly honey-coloured waves and the afternoon sunrays reflected a few shades of red here and there.
Relief set her free. She knew things would get back to normal now and she wouldn’t face any more restlessness or unanswered questions. Life as she knew and loved was back. She had control in her hands and knew beforehand where she stood with the people around her. Happiness for her meant no more uncertainty to drive her crazy and fill her sleepless nights with anxiety.
She drove her car slowly along the hotel driveway and turned onto the road toward the beach. She failed to notice a black SUV, a few cars behind, pulling out and following her. But then, she didn’t think to look for something like that.
She drove steadily in her usual prudent manner. She wasn’t in a rush. The house would be available to her whenever she got there.
She was on vacation after all. She’d completed the business she had to take care of, and, now, it was only the sun, the ocean and her. She would lie on the beach in the morning and swim in the pool in the evening.
She’d already planned to keep far from the world and any kind of stress. She needed peace and solitude for a change.
She admitted it had been somewhat interesting to taste those uneasy feelings although they stressed her at times. They’d brought some spicy restlessness and she didn’t regret she’d felt a little different for a while. It had been somehow… educational.
Yet, it was nice to be herself again and find her old routine. She welcomed a future when she didn’t have to find an explanation for things that weren’t meant to be explained.
The vacation house she’d rented wasn’t very far from the hotel. It took her only fifteen minutes to arrive at her destination.
She drove in front of the bungalow erected right on the edge of the beach and she stopped her car to admire the little house and the surrounding area for a few moments. She liked it. That was going to be her oasis of peace for the following ten days. The view, as well as the sound and smell of the ocean, made her stop regretting she’d left Montreal and taken a few days off.
After a few minutes, she drove her little convertible under the shelter improvised for parking a car and turned off the engine. She got out of the car and put up the top. She’d paid for insurance but she still didn’t want to have problems when she’d return the vehicle.
The woman breathed greedily the salty air of the sea. The breeze tousled her hair and she grinned. A brief jolt of pleasure swept over her body. It’d been a while since she took a vacation for more than a couple days.
She took her suitcase out of the trunk and opened the back door to pick up her laptop. She strolled up the paved road to the house and looked for the keys under the flower pot on the right of the door where the broker had told her to look. She went inside, closing the door behind her.
The interior was everything she’d been promised and more than she’d expected. She never trusted the photos displayed next to rentals and she’d thought the broker was just talking the house up to make her lease it.
Yet, the house was vivid and cozy at the same time. The furniture in the living room appeared light and comfortable. She left her laptop on the top of the little coffee table and went to have a look at the bedroom.
She needed to climb a flight of stairs to get there but the room pleased her. The sunlight warmed the yellow of the walls and the brick-coloured cover of the bed.
She knew she could find her peace of mind in there. She’d already connected with the house and now, she felt as if she’d always been a part of it.
She left the suitcase on the floor next to the bed. She didn’t bother to change out of the designer dress she was wearing. She went out on the patio facing the sea at the back of the house. She wanted to enjoy the rest of the afternoon.
She poured a glass of wine on her way out and picked up her cell phone because she knew he’d call. He’d always call and she didn’t see him breaking his habit just then.
On the patio, she found a few wicker armchairs and an oval table for six. A big colourful umbrella loomed over them. She left her glass on the table and turned to look at the beach.
On the sand, beyond the patio, two deck chairs waited for her on the edge of the pool if she wanted to sunbathe. Just a little farther, maybe a two–minute stroll, she could enjoy the waves of the sea.
She left her cell phone on the table as well and sat in one of the armchairs. She stretched her legs onto another chair and relaxed. The last few days’ tension seeped out of her body slowly.
She closed her eyes for a few seconds and let her mind wander. She didn’t want to think of anything but disperse the impressions of that day. She wanted them behind in the past where they belonged. She’d already fulfilled her purpose.
She had scarcely had the time to decompress for a couple minutes that the phone rang. She glanced reluctantly at the display and, as always, it showed ‘private number’. She scowled and her scowl made her look much younger than her years, almost like a spirited teenager.
Experiencing a perverse streak, the woman let the phone ring a few times and only then she answered.
“ Kate, is it you, sweetheart?” the very well known male voice came over the line.
“ Yes, it’s me, of course,” she said trying to cover a growl in her throat.
That was a stupid question. Who else could answer my phone? It had never happened before.
Besides, in moments like that she simply loathed that word ‘sweetheart’. She was distressed because she couldn’t discern sincerity or insincerity in his words. That drove her crazy. She didn’t understand why he was the only person she couldn’t read. It was maddening not to know what he was thinking and what his intentions were.
“ Thank you, my love, I got it. You are fantastic,” he continued and the tone of his voice woke the dormant butterflies in her belly.
His voice was low and hoarse, and made her picture a cowboy holding a glass of whiskey in one hand and a cigar in the other. Probably a reminiscence of her childhood days when she loved to watch westerns. Goosebumps covered her arms whenever she heard his voice, and she resented herself because her IQ dropped to two digits. She’d thought herself smarter than that.
‘ Of course, I am,’ she thought, ‘fantastically stupid, maybe,’ but she replied something completely different, “Then everything is alright, yes?”
“ Yes, my love,” he answered and paused for a few seconds. “You sound so close now. I can’t usually hear you so well,” he said with wonder in his voice.
“ Probably, you’ve got a good line,” she replied flippantly and her lips arched in a derisive smile.
Of course, he could hear her better. They were both in the same town, for Christ’s sake, but she wasn’t about to tell him that. She hadn’t gone through all that trouble to reveal such information now.
“ Now everything will be all right,” he continued in a firm voice. “I’ll finish everything here and come to you.”
“ Don’t hurry on my account,” she replied without thinking, and then she closed her eyes tight in frustration.
Kate was afraid he’d understand what she meant and she wanted a clean break up. She didn’t want to drag that so-called relationship any longer.
“ What do you mean?” he asked in the same hard voice he used whenever he got angry.
His voice had a lower pitch now and Kate perceived that hint of authority, which she loathed deeply.
Kate didn’t like his attitude. He probably thought she’d respond to his demanding voice and behave accordingly. That reaction was innate to him and he couldn’t censor his words, and yet, she still abhorred it.
“ I mean I might have to leave the country for a while, Ryan. Family problems, you know,” she said just in passing. “Of course, my phone won’t work outside the country as I don’t have roaming. I’ll call you when I can, all right?” she said in a conciliatory voice.
She didn’t feel conciliatory right then but she wanted to end the conversation and cut all ties to him.
Ryan didn’t answer anything for a while and silence grew menacing.
“ Are you still there?” she asked after almost a minute.
“ Yes, I am. I’m here, Kate. And when I say here, that means here,” his reply came heatedly.
Not a second later, heavy footsteps sounded on the veranda surrounding the house. Kate glanced there and saw Ryan coming to her. An ugly scowl tugged at the corner of his lips. He turned off his phone. The expression on his face didn’t announce anything good.
Three months earlier – April 15th ….
“ Come on, Kate, you must try it. You never have time to go anywhere or to meet someone. That shop of yours is taking up all your time. This is your chance,” Ellie tried her best to coerce Kate. She was staring Kate down with her big puppy eyes.
Kate smiled. She couldn’t find fault with poor, sweet Ellie. She was always trying to find happiness for everyone else even though her own was questionable. Kate knew Ellie didn’t have anyone special in her life.
“ I don’t know, Ellie,” Kate replied with a shrug. Indecision tightened her lips. “You know, there are all sorts of loony people out there,” she continued with a large wave of her hand. “And besides, I don’t think it’s really safe to meet someone on the Internet. I’ve heard so many stories about everything that could go wrong,” Kate explained to Ellie.
Kate didn’t truly believe that it was safer outside in the real world than it was to connect with someone on Internet. There were enough crazy people everywhere, in the streets, shops and bars. She’d read enough minds to know what ugly thoughts crossed people’s minds.
“ Okay, Kate, maybe you’re right,” Ellie agreed with for a moment. “But we both know that you’re smart enough to read into things. You have that special touch with people and you’ll know if something’s wrong. Of course, you won’t go meet a guy if he doesn’t seem all right,” Ellie tried to reassure her. She picked up her tea cup and sipped some of the hot tisane Kate had prepared for her just a few minutes earlier.
“ Yes, Ellie, but a guy might seem all right and he might not be, you know that,” Kate insisted just to rile Ellie a little. She didn’t like anyone mingling in her life. “The bad ones are like that,” she said with a wide wave of her hand. “And of course, I’m one of the good girls and that’s exactly why I’ll choose the worst of them,” she joked but Ellie took her at face value.
“ Don’t be so negative,” Ellie replied slapping her arm. “Come on, Katie, let’s make a couple of nice salads, as you promised, and then you’ll open your computer.”
“ What’s the relation between salads and my computer, Ellie?” Kate simulated misunderstanding just to tease Ellie.
Ellie rolled her eyes and scowled at Kate, “You know what I mean, don’t play games with me. We’re going to eat and prepare a profile for you at the same time. I know the best dating site.”
“ Have you tried it?” Kate threw over her shoulder in her way to the kitchen.
“ Me? No,” Ellie mused and followed her.
“ Then how do you know it is the best?” Kate glanced back at her.
“ One of my colleagues used it,” Ellie explained with large gestures. “And she got married, a little while ago. She said it was the chance of a lifetime,” she made sure to add.
“ I see, Ellie… Have you thought that she might have been one of the few lucky ones?” Kate asked, reluctantly opening the laptop she’d left on the kitchen counter earlier when she got home. “The statistics are not very encouraging,” she continued.
She’d learned that throwing statistics in a conversation always won points. No one bothered to verify her statements and she came up ahead.
Ellie dismissed her reply with a quick wave of her hand and went to gather the ingredients to prepare the salads.
Kate looked after her, not wanting to give in so easy, “You know I’m right, Ellie. Tell me, would you do it, if you were in my place?” she insisted.
“ Me? No, of course, not! And you know why? I’m sure you do. It’s because I’m not good at reading between the lines. I take everything at face value and that always gets me into trouble. You know it,” Ellie explained, reminding to Kate about her bad choices from the past. “But you’re not like me, Kate. You’re smart and you know people so you do have what it takes for such a thing.”
Kate smiled. She couldn’t do anything else but smile. Ellie had always put her on a pedestal, and sometimes she felt ashamed because of that. That was one of the reasons she never could refuse Ellie.
“ Okay, I imagine I can handle this,” she shrugged. “I am pretty sure no one can trace me and find out who I am…” she thought aloud. “Maybe just the town if they know how to use my IP address, I think…” A frown appeared between her eyebrows. “Anyway, I’ll not answer back to any wacko out there. I won’t give any pertinent information about me...” Kate continued pensively. “Okay, Ellie, now, we’ll finally see if I’m smart enough to deal with something like that,” Kate concluded and Ellie jumped up and down with glee.
As a matter of fact, Kate had a strange feeling about that whole dating thing. She felt as if something had touched her. It was like a sign that something with deep consequences was about to happen and she didn’t like it at all.
Ellie laughed at her concerns and, after they made the salads cheerfully, they went back to the computer.
“ Look, this is the site I was telling you about,” Ellie showed Kate. “You see, Kate, they have so many questions. You can’t get it wrong. You will find just the right guy, I’m telling you,” Ellie beamed at Kate.
“ Yes, they have questions, but with predefined answers. Look at this here. Do you think any of this is me? What else can I choose?” Kate asked frustrated.
“ Yep, you’re right,” Ellie conceded. “It’s a little too rigid.”
“ And imagine the guys have the same problem. Most of these answers don’t apply to me so I suppose any guy filling in this form will find himself in the same situation. Even if he doesn’t want to lie, he will. He doesn’t have a choice if he wants to continue with the form,” Kate said, always frustrated.
“ Just choose something close enough. There must be something that might work for you,” Ellie insisted. She didn’t want Kate give up.
“ Yes, I can do that, if I want to create a new me from scratch, there is. But I think that I must choose something. They don’t let you move on otherwise,” Kate scowled.
They needed about two hours to answer all the questions in the questionnaire. Both were exhausted and only Ellie experienced something like a triumph.
“ Now, you have to choose a picture. Choose the best one you have, of course,” Ellie thought to specify.
“ I don’t think so,” Kate replied, shaking her head. “I have to choose the worst I have. If someone likes me in that photo, then he’s a keeper,” she grinned maliciously at Ellie.
“ You’ve always had a very strange sense of humor, Kate,” Ellie shook her head astounded. “God, everybody puts the best they have out there. No one will try to attract a possible match with the worst mug shot possible. It’s like using your passport photo, Kate, for God’s sake,” she exploded.