“You know I’m right, anak.” My mother’s shrill voice calls from the opposite end of her luxury hotel room.
“Uh-huh,” I mumble.
My body aches to bolt out the door and to my own room, but I stay squatted over her purse, searching for her blood pressure pills. I knew coming to Taipei would be a mistake.
Someone had to help mom move from Taipei to Sacramento, and my darling sister made it clear she would not be that “someone.” That left me.
Naomi was too busy. Of course she was. My older sister is always too busy. “You know how it is, Layla,” she said to me the afternoon we met to talk about it. “With tax season coming up, it’s just impossible.
I rolled my eyes before agreeing to go, but under one condition: that she pay for separate hotel rooms during our entire stay. If I had to spend all the daylight hours with my mother, I’d sure as hell want the evenings to myself.
But this evening, our final evening in Taipei before flying home to Sacramento, is testing the last shreds of my patience.
I continue to rifle through her bag even though I’ve already spotted the pills. I need the distraction. If I look up at my mother, I’ll yell. And then she’ll yell and cry, and give me the silent treatment. Our subsequent conversations will consist of me asking her questions, and her giving terse, one-word answers. And then this whole trip will reach a new level of unpleasant.
So I continue looking for pills while taking slow, steady breaths.
“You’re not getting any younger, anak,” she says.
She’s twenty minutes into lecturing me about getting married and having a family. I should be used to it by now. After all, my tragic single status at the age of twenty-eight is my conservative Filipino mother’s favorite topic of “discussion.” Although discussions between my mother and me consist of her lecturing me while I endure in silence.
However, at this point, I can barely hold back a scoff. Maybe it’s the fact that we’ve spent the last five days together and I’ve hit my limit. Maybe it’s the condescending way she’s spoken to me this entire trip. Or maybe it’s because of the barely disguised loathing coating her tone.
There’s certainly no affection in the way she calls me “anak,” her favorite Filipino word of endearment for my sister and me. I don’t know why she calls me that. She despises everything about my life.
“Enough, mom,” I say.
“I’m just trying to help, Layla. Look at your sister. You could be like her. Good job, beautiful family, and she’s only thirty. You just have to work harder.”
Even when she’s not present, Naomi always wins. The golden child who met all the expectations our mother set for us: college, respectable job, marriage, kids. Naomi hit all four. She’s a corporate lawyer married to another corporate lawyer. Her husband is Taiwanese, just like our dad was. She gifted our mother her first grandchild, a baby boy named after her. Bryan after Brynne. Nothing I do, not even helping her move across the ocean, can complete with that.
To my mother, I’m a lowly freelance illustrator who dropped out of college.
I bite the inside of my cheek to keep from screaming. “Mom. We’ve been over this. I like my job. I don’t want to get married. I don’t want to have kids—”
She waves her hand at me like she’s shooing away a fly. “You don’t know what you want.”
I could remind her that I’m gainfully employed and have never once asked for her help since I graduated high school. I could remind her that it’s me, not Naomi, who took a week off from work to help her pack up her apartment. I could reminder her that I’m the one who’s flying with her to Sacramento because she hates traveling alone. I could remind her that it will be me, not Naomi, who will unpack everything for her in her new place.
But the mere mention of Naomi’s name and it’s game over. It’s Naomi’s guest house my mother is moving into. Naomi paid for her plane ticket and our hotel, therefore Naomi is the savior. I’m simply the less impressive adult child who’s lugging her shit from place to place.
My jaw clenches. I keep my head down to avoid her judging eyes. The last thing we need the night before a transpacific flight is a blow-out argument. We’ve had plenty of those my entire life.
“If you just tried, you could meet someone. You’re so pretty, anak. Then you could settle down, start a family—”
“Mom. Stop.” My voice booms against the walls. “I’m sorry I’m not more like your favorite daughter Naomi, but it’s too damn bad. I like my life. I don’t want to change it. Deal with it.”
I stand up and toss her bottle of pills on the bed. The rattling noise makes her jump.
Even now as I glare at her, I’m stunned. We look so similar, but couldn’t be more different. We share the same long black hair, tan skin, and thin, petite frame. It’s our faces that trip me out. Our identical button noses, almond-shaped brown eyes, and rosebud mouths. She’s me twenty-five years from now; I’m her on time delay. I bet it kills that her lesser daughter looks almost exactly like her.
I pause to catch my breath. “And I’m sorry Naomi couldn’t be here to take you, but she had to work. Like always. I’m here whether you like it or not. You bitching about my life isn’t going to change that. So stop.”
Charged silence fills the space between us for nearly a minute.
She crosses her arms and turns toward the window. “I don’t understand you.”
Eyes shut, I press a fist against my forehead. “Whatever, mom. Goodnight. I’ll check on you in the morning.”
The slam of the door echoes through the hallway as I walk toward the elevators. I punch the down button with the side of my fist. I can’t bear to sit in my hotel room and stew. Alcohol is the only way to calm my nerves before our twelve-hour overnight flight tomorrow.
The elevator doors open to the majestic hotel lobby. Every surface is made of either marble or onyx. It’s some upscale five-star show-stopper I can’t remember the name of in my haze of fury. As I power-walk to the bar connected to the lobby, it’s already past ten. Hopefully a stiff drink will repress my sour mood enough to get a decent night’s sleep.
I walk through clear glass doors into a dimly lit lounge, and glance down at my outfit. Ripped jeans and a black tank top. I tuck a fly-away chunk of hair back into my messy bun. I’m pathetically under-dressed compared to the power suits filling this space. The unimpressed look that one of the servers shoots me confirms I stick out like a sore thumb.
I plop down on a stool near the back corner, hoping the low mood lighting will hide my clothes. Broad, blazer-clad shoulders infiltrate my peripheral vision as I scan the paper menu on the bartop.
“Come here often?”
I roll my eyes at the familiar line spoken in an unfamiliar accent. Australian, I think.
“Nope,” I answer without looking up.
“Let’s celebrate your arrival then.”
He sets a short glass on top of my menu. The amber liquid swirls, reflecting the light from the fixture above. When I look up, dark eyes and a smug smile greet me.
“Name’s Cameron. What’s yours?” He sits on the bar stool to my right. My body instinctively scoots to the left.
I let out a heavy sigh. “Look, I don’t mean to be rude, but it’s been a long day. I’d just like to be left alone.”
He scoffs, but the smug smile doesn’t budge. “Then why are you here dressed like that?”
“Don’t tell me a hot little thing like you came down here in your ripped jeans and tight vest to be left alone.”
He turns his body to me and leans his face closer. The sour stench of alcohol burns my nostrils.
“You have no right to speak to me like that.” My voice is a low, icy calm.
Before he can finish, a massive pale hand lands on his shoulder. The interruption steps out from behind my drunken pesterer. He hovers around six feet tall with the build of a brick house. Rugby player, if I were to guess.
His thick fingers clamp into the drunk’s shoulder as he spins him around. The drunk winces.
My gaze bounces between them. I have to remind myself to breathe.
“I think you should leave her alone.”
“Look mate, this isn’t your concern.” The drunk speaks through gritted teeth.
“Wrong. If you’re going to harass women and ignore them when they ask you to leave them alone, I’ll make it my concern to remove you. Now leave. And take your drink with you.”
His clipped accent rings against my ears. Irish, I think. Possibly Northern Irish. I’m not well-versed enough to know the difference, but it doesn’t matter either way. Both drive me wild.
The drunk stumbles away, drink in hand.
A handful of seconds pass before I realize I’m staring open-mouthed at the handsome stranger who saved me.
“Thank you,” I finally say.
Instead of smiling like I think he will, he frowns.
“Thank you’s not necessary.”
My stomach drops at his curt words. The serious expression makes his green eyes stand out against his angular face. A five o’clock shadow adorns his cut jaw. The dark shade matches his cropped hair perfectly.
“Oh. Okay. Buy you a drink then?”
The evergreen sandalwood scent of his cologne hits me. It’s making it nearly impossible for me to speak, it’s so intoxicating.
His forehead relaxes as the corner of his mouth tugs into a half-smile. “No need. You have a nice night.”
He walks past me and into the lobby of the hotel. My eyes follow him as he waits by the elevator. I turn my head in an attempt to look away, but it’s no use. My eyes are glued to his body. I scan broad shoulders, a thick chest, and muscled legs. That perfectly tailored slate gray suit is doing an abysmal job of hiding his cut body.
The ding of the elevator doors is a reset button to my brain. I finally look away. Hot air huffs up my chest and out of my mouth. I signal the bartender and order a Scotch. It glides like gasoline down my throat, but it’s the distraction I need.
One Scotch and two glasses of whiskey later, I’m pleasantly drunk. I head to my room. I flip on the lights and open the window. The cool breeze rustles the crimson curtains lining either side of the massive window. It takes up almost the entire wall.
The stunning view almost makes up for the pouty silence I’ll face from my mother tomorrow. I gaze down at the courtyard below. A pool with crystal blue water sits at one end; a multi-tiered marble fountain rests on the other. Antique-style street lamps line the perimeter, casting a soft glow against the exterior of the hotel. I scan the other side of courtyard-facing hotel rooms. All of the windows are darkened, save for the room directly across from me. It’s past midnight after all.
I pull my hair loose from its bun. Long waves fall onto my shoulders as I close my eyes. Goosebumps prick my arms as the chilly air hits my skin.
Against the darkness of my lids, the stranger’s image appears. The alcohol has done nothing to help rid my mind of him. He infiltrates the deepest recesses of my brain. That square jaw, those broad shoulders, that mess of ebony hair, the milky gleam of his pale skin. I run one hand over my breasts; the other slides down the front of my jeans. The sensation makes me moan.
I open my eyes. The hotel room across from me, the one with the lights on, is covered with curtains. No one can see me. I could let loose right here if I wanted.
A soft chuckle falls from my mouth. I can’t do this standing up. I’ve never been able to. I back up two steps until the backs of my knees hit the edge of the bed. I fall down and rest my head at the foot of the bed. My clothes land in a pile on the floor. I skim my hands over my naked stomach. The light touch both tickles and arouses.
I shut my eyes once again. It’s always more intense if I can’t see. My mind wanders. I wonder what might have been if the stranger had taken up my offer of a drink, if he had indulged in one too many like me. If he had walked me to my room.
I bite my lip and glide my hands across my body, pretending they are his. I massage my breasts, the insides of my thighs, the curves of my hips. My breath quickens the farther down I reach.
Those thick, powerful hands that inflicted such pain with a single grip must be calloused. I just know it. My fingers trail farther down until they encounter the wetness of my folds.
A sigh leaves my trembling mouth. I slide my middle finger into my slit, then out. Loud moans slip from my lips. I repeat the in-and-out motion slowly, deliberately, until there’s a pressure building in my midsection.
I lift my hand to my mouth and wet the pads of my first two fingers. I lightly tap my clit. I’m so sensitive that my hips automatically buck. With my eyes still closed, my mind loops through images of the stranger’s perfect face. His frown burns in my brain. A brooding expression meant to intimidate, but instead intrigues. I could stare at those frown lines on his forehead all day. My mind switches to the half-smile he flashed me. My breath catches, and I press my eyelids down harder. Gentle crow’s feet flank each green eye. Perfectly straight, pearl-white teeth. Thick lips. I’d give anything to nibble on them.
The images racing through my brain power my hand. I’ve switched to my palm now. I’m rubbing in tiny circles and the pressure is building to an unbearable peak.
A gust of wind flies through the room, causing the curtains to make a whipping sound. My eyes flip open and I instinctively look out my window. The nearby window that was illuminated is now darkened, but I can make out a figure standing in front of it. It’s undoubtedly male and is peering directly into my room.
Every fiber in my body freezes. As my eyes adjust to the darkness in the window, I make out more features. Broad shoulders. Dark hair. An impeccably cut gray suit. If it weren’t for the lamp lights in the courtyard casting a glow onto the first few floors of nearby hotel windows, I wouldn’t have noticed him. But the soft light hits him perfectly. I can’t make out his face, but I know it’s him. I’d know that killer body anywhere.
The stranger stands perfectly still as he watches me.
My arms fall to my sides, my fists twisting into the comforter. I want to cocoon myself in the sheet, but something in my brain orders me to wait before I act. It’s the same part that compelled me to stare at him as he stood by the elevator two hours ago.
A slow exhale eases my racing heart. Flames from the fire burning in my midsection lick my brain. I’m still wildly turned on, despite the interruption. I gnaw at my bottom lip while this new electricity rushes through me.
The thought of him watching as I pleasure myself, growing harder by the second, sends a wave of excitement through my body. My nipples tense while the idea tumbles through my head.
I can keep going. I’m safe in my room. I’m in control.
I turn my gaze back to his window.
I smile to myself. “You’re in for quite the show,” I whisper, even though I know he can’t hear me.
I close my eyes and let my hand resume its slow, measured pace against my most sensitive spot. I whimper as each circle of my palm brings me closer to the inevitable edge. My moans grow louder the moment I pick up the pace.
I picture his face watching me, his jaw clenching while I touch my body. His chest heaves, his heavy breaths matching my own labored rhythm. In my mind, his voice is ragged. He commands me to keep going, to never, ever stop.
The heat builds, then crests. I whimper. When climax crashes over me, a deep howl leaves the base of my throat. It morphs into a high-pitched squeal. My legs flail. Each calf cramps. My back arches so high, the top of my head presses against the mattress.
When I come down, I check the window. The interrupting stranger hasn’t budged. I squint to get a better look and watch his chest rise over and over. I think he likes what he sees.
I lick my hand and start again. It doesn’t take long to get me to a second orgasm, maybe a few minutes. The third one is quick to arrive as well. I press on, losing count after four. I only stop when my hand cramps and my legs can flail no more. All my limbs feel like jelly on the wrinkled white comforter. I’ve done a number on it too. It’s soaked with my sweat and juices. My lungs feel scraped out, as though I’ve sprinted a marathon. I glance at the clock. I’ve been at it for nearly an hour. Christ.
I steal another glimpse of the stranger’s window. He’s still standing there in the darkness, but the top half of his body is a shade lighter than his bottom half. He must have taken off his jacket at some point.
My eyelids feel as though they’re filled with cement. Sleep isn’t far off. I don’t even bother to turn the lamp off. I pull the comforter on top of me and roll over.
The blare of my phone alarm wakes me. I blink until I can see straight. It’s eight o’clock and my head is pounding. Slowly, I pull myself up while gripping the nightstand. I rub my temple with the heel of my hand. It soothes the pounding somewhat, but I need pills if I’m going to make it through the day.
I crawl to my purse on the other side of the hotel room and yank out a bottle of aspirin. Leaning on the edge of the bed, I dry swallow two pills. My head falls against the mattress as I relive last night. Through my headache, I smile. Pleasuring myself in full view of a sexy stranger is something I’ve never done before. I think I’d like to do it again.
A white envelope rests near the bottom of the door. Must be the bill for the stay. I sigh, thankful that Naomi is covering the cost for this extravagant hotel.
Streaks of dried sweat pull at my skin as I crawl my naked self to the door. I’m in desperate need of a hot shower, but I take a moment to rip open the envelope first. I find a handwritten note instead of a typed invoice. It’s several seconds before the words sink in:
I should have taken you up on that drink. Thanks for the show. You were incredible. -Rob
A smile slides across my face as I read and reread the note. I trace my finger over the phone number scrawled below his name. Maybe Taipei wasn’t such a disaster after all.