|Gabriel accepted the two frozen margaritas the nearly naked waiter offered and set them on a small, glass table. Drops of water slid down the sides of the glasses. Even condensation was lazy here. The sun was warm, and the surf crashed against the beach only yards away from his toes. The scent of suntan lotion infused the air with coconut.
“Hmm,” he murmured. He loved Cancun.
“You always choose this memory,” Cass said.
He squinted at his wife. Her bikini strained the bounds of propriety and desire tugged at him, swirling through a flash of pride she was his. He knew other men stared at his wife, as she knew other women stared at him. They laughed about it, secure in their mutual affection.
“It’s my favorite.”
“You know this is only a recollection of a moment in time.”
“Stop trying to ruin this for me. Sip your margarita, drip the condensation on my stomach, and I’ll chase you to the water’s edge, okay?”
“Sorry, handsome, not going to happen. It’s time for you to wake up.”
“Do you know how much snow is out there?”
She smiled at him. The expression that had once lit him from inside instead caused an ache, a bereft pain like he’d lost a part of himself. Melancholy didn’t belong in this memory, damn it. He hated it when she screwed with his dreams.
She laughed this time—a treasured sound he’d never again hear while awake. He pushed himself up onto his elbows. She looked different. Not like she did on the beach in Cancun. But closer to the age she was when she…when she left him.
“I have to wake up, don’t I?”
“Always, my love. But today, your future waits for you.”
Gabriel Foxx’s arm shot out to silence the bleating alarm. He rubbed sore eye sockets with the heels of his hands; they were gritty, as though the beach he’d dreamt of had thrown sand in his face. When he dropped his hands, sunlight bounced off his wedding band. He sighed while rubbing it with the pad of his thumb in a familiar habit. He should take it off. But he couldn’t bring himself to remove the ring, even though he knew how far away its delicate mate rested.
He sat up, swung his legs over the side of the bed, and stretched. He was too sore for his age. The inches upon inches of frozen precipitation had caused his knee to ache for days now. He rubbed the offending joint, cursing one bad slide into home base as he did each morning. He had no reason to hide his nakedness; he lived alone despite his mother’s constant nagging to hire a live-in housekeeper. She couldn’t understand that between the cleaning woman that came by twice a week, the groundskeeper’s crew, the team working his crops, and the handful of reliable friends Gabriel had made in Trappers’ Cove, he was far from lonely.
After relieving himself and brushing his teeth, he wandered through the house, aiming for the kitchen. Second only to his home gym, this was his favorite room. The entire outside wall was enclosed in specially treated glass. He had an amazing view of the forest that buffeted his land, and he could just make out the edges of farmland he’d cleared for his crop. He stood in his kitchen, his back against the island, admiring his largesse as he swallowed down the first blessed hit of caffeine with a silent salute to the creator of the timing mechanism on his coffee pot. It may be cold outside, but the inside was cozy, the coffee was hot, and the snow dazzled. The view reminded him of a scene from an old Bing Crosby movie.
Gabe exchanged coffee for a cold bottle of water and headed to his gym. He preferred to start his days with a workout and a swim before he showered. He found the exercise particularly cathartic following one of his special “dreams.” When he got to the basement, he threw on a pair of shorts; he had no reason to cover himself, but he wasn’t comfortable lifting weights bare-assed. By the third rep of thirty deadlifts, he had worked up a sweat and put the visit from Cassidy behind him.