Twisted Perfection
Author:Abbi Glines

Della

If there was any possible way I could get out of this without quitting I would. I had been singing all my life, in my house. But then that had been to escape my mother and my reality. Not in front of people. I loved to sing and the mirror and hairbrush had been my companions most of my life while I sang to my pretend audience. That had been fantasy.

 

I had never been sure my singing was even decent. My mother had loved to hear me sing but she had never been a good judge of anything.

 

I had opened my mouth to explain this to the lady who had introduced herself as “Macy Kemp, The Kerrington Club event coordinator” but she hadn’t let me say much. Instead, she informed the kitchen I was being used elsewhere and began dragging me behind her.

 

I had expected Woods to stop this insanity when he’d seen us but he hadn’t. He had appeared as confused as I felt but he hadn’t stopped this.

 

I looked down at the short, clingy, silver dress I was now wearing. The back was out and the neckline dipped low in the front. I felt bare. In more ways than one.

 

“They won’t be looking at you much. They are too busy in their little elitist herds. You just sing so they’ll have music and can dance if they want to,” Macy informed me as she shoved me up the steps toward the skeptical band members. I couldn’t say that I blamed them.

 

“You’re our replacement?” one asked with a hiss of annoyance in his voice.

 

“At least they’ll be looking at her body and won’t hear how bad we sound,” another grumbled and pulled his guitar strap over his head.

 

“What can you sing, sugar?” an older guy with a balding head asked.

 

I didn’t want to be here. I didn’t ask for this. I met each of their angry and annoyed glares with one of my own. I’d heard them earlier. They weren’t that good. Who did they think they were treating me like I was here to screw up their lives on purpose? If their lead singer had paid attention to his allergies this wouldn’t have happened.

 

I walked past each of them before turning to look at the one who had condescendingly asked me what I could sing. “I can sing anything you throw at me,” I replied then walked out on stage like the diva I was not.

 

The familiar tune of Adele’s “Someone Like You,” began to play and I was equally relieved I knew the words and sick at my stomach because the popularity of the song was drawing attention from the guests. I had been hoping to be ignored.

 

I joined the piano with the first melancholy lyrics.

 

Instead of looking out at the ballroom, I locked eyes with the piano player of the group. The approval in his eyes flashed with excitement and relief as I sang each line.

 

Just as I had in my room growing up, I blocked out everything else around me and I got lost in the lyrics and the music. This had been my way of coping with the craziness of my life. I used it now to deal with the reality of my life.

 

 

 

We moved on to “Ain’t No Other Man”, the Christina Aguilera version. It got the room to wake up some with the fun tune. So far I had managed not to make eye contact with Woods although I knew exactly where he was standing. I could feel his eyes on me.

 

“Can you harmonize?” the lead guitar asked me.

 

I nodded and he looked back at the other members and nodded.

 

Lady Antebellum’s “Just A Kiss” started up.

 

We had successfully made it to the bridge when I glanced out over the room to see Woods dancing with a tall elegant blonde. I knew I needed to look away. Seeing him and having an image of him with her on my brain would drive me crazy. But I couldn’t. She smiled up at him and talked as he looked over her shoulder at nothing really. He seemed cold. Nothing like the guy I’d been with.

 

This time he must have felt my eyes on him because he turned his head my way and our gazes met. Each word sounded like I was singing to him. I wasn’t. I couldn’t be. But it felt that way. As the song came to an end I tore my eyes off him and swore to myself I wouldn’t look his way again.

 

 

 

An hour later I’d conquered everything they’d thrown at me. Even the Bruno Mars songs. The pianist slapped me on the back and beamed at me as I walked off the stage.

 

“You killed it, sugar,” the balding bass player called out.

 

“Anytime you want to join us you’re welcome. Sure can’t sing duets with JJ,” the lead guitarist said. I assumed JJ must be the lead singer.

 

I threw one last smile over my shoulder. I wasn’t sticking around. I needed to be alone. Watching Woods hold his fiancée had been difficult. She’d been beautiful and perfect. She’d looked safe in his arms. I understood how that felt. Something about being with Woods made you feel safe. I envied her.

 

 

 

Spring Break was in full swing in Rosemary and Bethy hadn’t been exaggerating. This place was filled up with people. I worked five days a week and most days I worked two shifts. The money was good and I enjoyed working with everyone. Seeing Woods was easier now.

 

We managed to treat each other with polite indifference. It hurt sometimes when I thought he was watching me and I’d turn to look at him to find he hadn’t been looking my way after all. I wasn’t sure why I tortured myself with it. He shouldn’t be looking at me. He was engaged. My body, however, wanted him to look at me because it wasn’t aware just how off limits Woods was.

 

Today I was finally off work and so was Bethy. We had a day on the beach planned. I was excited about spending the day in the sun. It was warmer now than when I’d arrived a couple of weeks ago. Bethy wanted me to come to her condo to go to the beach because she was on the club’s private beach. Fewer people. I’d invited Violet to join us after her lunch shift and Bethy had mentioned inviting another cart girl named Carmen who got off later today too.

 

 

 

I glanced down at my last text as I pulled up to the condos where Bethy lived.

 

“Down at the beach. I have you a spot saved!”

 

I reached back and grabbed my beach bag then stepped out of the car. Looking up at the building in front of me I was in awe. This place was super elite. It was on club property and I knew after working here a couple of weeks that this place had to cost a fortune. Bethy’s cart girl paycheck didn’t even begin to cover the cost of this. Which meant either she got a deal because she worked there or Jace helped with the rent. Maybe a little of both.

 

I walked over to the boardwalk and then down to the warm sand. There were more people than I expected out here. I slipped my sunglasses on and then looked for Bethy. I saw her when she stood up and began waving her arms in the air.

 

 

 

Smiling, I headed down to the two bright, colorful beach towels she had laid out. Then I noticed Jace on the other side of Bethy as she sat back down. I looked around her and noticed another towel but it was empty although it had obviously been used.

 

“Glad you made it.” Bethy beamed up at me. “This towel is yours. Thad’s got that one behind us. He’s out in the water.”

 

Thad. I could deal with Thad. I’d prefer Grant but Thad would do fine. At least it wasn’t Woods. But then, I doubted he came out here to lay on the beach during work hours.

 

“Thanks for inviting me,” I told her as I put my bag down and dug out my sunblock. I’d already put one coating on before I left the condo but this sun was intense. I felt the need to put more on now that I was out here.

 

“Don’t thank me yet. I hadn’t been expecting Thad to join us. You may be wishing you hadn’t come. I’m hoping he leaves you alone.”

 

I smiled, thinking that Thad rarely left any female alone. Pulling off my cover-up I folded it and put it in my bag. I sank down onto the fluffy pink and yellow towel Bethy had brought for me to lay on.

 

“I’ve never swam in the ocean before,” I said as I rubbed the lotion into my skin and watched the people out in the water. “I thought it might still be too cold but they seem to be enjoying it.”

 

Bethy let out a small laugh. “It’s freezing. I won’t go near it until mid-May. But a lot of people like it that way. If you’ve never done it, then go test it out.”

 

That was something I wanted to do. It was a part of living that I wanted to experience. I also wanted to surf but even with my inexperience I was pretty sure it required a lot more wave power to surf. Those waves weren’t very high.

 

“Go on out there and try it. Don’t let me stop you,” Bethy urged.

 

I smiled over at her and stood back up to walk the short distance to the water’s edge.

 

The first splash of water to cover my feet was shockingly cold. I managed to stifle my squeal and force myself to stand there. My feet slowly sank into the wet sand and after a minute or so the water wasn’t so cold. I eased in further and had to stop again once the water crashed across my calves.

 

“It’s easier if you just go all in and get the initial shock over with,” the familiar deep voice said from behind me. I guess Woods did make it down to the beach on occasion. I glanced over my shoulder to look at him. I was glad for the safety of my sunglasses.

 

“Is that so?” I asked.

 

He was standing on the shore wearing a pair of white board shorts and no shirt. His already dark skin looked even more sun kissed against the white shorts. That was unfair- to every female on this beach. He needed to wear more clothes.

 

“The only way to do it. You keep easing in and you will never make it out there.”

 

Why was he talking to me today? He’d acted as if I didn’t exist since the night in the room when he’d told me he was getting engaged. Why now? I looked back out at the water and tried not to think about the way his abs glistened in the sun thanks to tanning oil. He was an engaged man now. Dirty thoughts of him were prohibited.

 

“You want me to go with you?” he asked and his voice was closer. Jerking my gaze back around I saw him taking several more steps in my direction. What was he doing?

 

“Probably not a good idea. I’ll do this alone,” I managed to choke out.

 

“You ever been in the ocean?” he asked as his arm brushed my shoulder. He was too close now.

 

“No,” I hissed, wishing he’d back away. Far, far away.

 

I heard Woods’ swift intake of breath and I glanced up at him. His eyes were on my body. Even though he had on dark sunglasses I could feel his heated gaze on me. Not good. Really, not good.

 

“Damn, baby. Where’s the rest of your swimsuit?”

 

The rest of my swimsuit? I turned my attention to my body to make sure it was properly covered. What did he mean? I wasn’t missing anything.

 

“This is my swimsuit,” I replied.

 

Woods’ head lowered and his mouth was too close to my ear. “That top is barely covering you up,” he whispered.

 

Annoyed, I glared at him. “If you don’t like it, then don’t look,” I replied and started moving out deeper into the water. Getting distance from him was more important than adjusting to the cool temperature.

 

“I didn’t say I didn’t like it. I fucking love it. That’s the problem.”

 

I stopped moving. Why would he say that? Did he not care what he was doing to me?

 

“You can’t say things like that to me. It’s wrong,” I replied angrily.

 

Woods moved toward me again and I waited. This was a confrontation he wanted to have. I was going to let him have it.

 

“You’re right. I shouldn’t. But would you rather I lied? I’ve done a lot of things to you Della but I haven’t lied. I don’t want to lie to you. I could tell you that I don’t care about you or that I don’t want you but that would be a lie. You want the truth? Because the truth is all I can think about is being with you again. I try not to look at you because all I can think about is hauling you off to the first closet I can find and kissing every inch of your body.” He was breathing hard and his jaw was working back and forth.

 

Why? If he wanted me like that then why was he engaged to someone else? Shaking my head, I crossed my arms over my chest protectively. “I don’t understand you.”

 

He smirked and shook his head. “No one does. But I’d like to explain it to you. Please. Just go have a drink with me. I need you to understand this.”

 

His tactic was different but he was the same. He wanted me for an amusement. Someone to entertain him for a moment and then he’d find another. I wasn’t that girl. I shook my head and started to leave the water. I wanted the safety of the beach.

 

“You won’t even let me explain?” he called out.

 

I looked back at him. “The ring on her finger is the only explanation I will ever need.”

     

 

 

Woods

 

 

 

There were orders I needed to make that Juan, the head chef, had placed on my desk yesterday. Phone calls I needed to return and a fiancée determined to get me to decide on a date for our wedding. Was I doing any of those things? No. I was torturing myself instead.

 

Della needed a bigger bikini top and Thad was about to lose the use of both his hands. Grinding my teeth I tore my eyes off Thad rubbing sunblock on Della’s back and shoulders. Thad had managed to get her to go into the water with him. I had sat here and watched every agonizing second of it. Her squeals of laughter and Thad’s need to keep touching her had jealousy raging through my veins. I had no right to be jealous. We’d had hot sex. That was it. I knew nothing else about her. But I wanted to.

 

I wanted to know where she was from. It was obviously the south. I wanted to know if she had brothers and sisters. Who gave her those blue eyes that I’d seen gazed over with pleasure? Did she like to dance? Where had she learned to sing like that? She’d completely blown me away at the Delamar event. There was so much I’d never get a chance to know.

 

“Your shoulders are looking pink. I’d have thought with your complexion that you’d be used to the sun.” Thad said and I couldn’t keep my eyes from shifting back to look at her shoulders. He was right; they were pink.

 

I stood up and walked over to the rental stand.

 

“Give me an umbrella,” I told the young guy I’d hired only two weeks ago before the Spring Break rush hit.

 

“Yes sir,” he nodded, “you want me to go put it in the sand for you too sir?”

 

No. I wanted to do this myself. “I got it. Thanks.”

 

I took the umbrella. My eyes locked with Della’s when I turned to walk back that way. She was watching me curiously. Thad was saying something in her ear but she wasn’t paying attention to him. Her complete focus was on me.

 

“Move,” I ordered Thad giving him little time to actually follow my command before shoving the pole to the umbrella into the sand and starting the circular motion it took to get it to burrow deep enough so that it stood up and didn’t fly away.

 

“The umbrella isn’t gonna reach you from there,” Bethy said with a smirk.

 

“Didn’t get it for me.”

 

“Oh, you got it for me? How sweet but I’m working on a tan,” Bethy replied thoroughly enjoying herself.

 

“Then move over. Della’s shoulders are pink.” There I’d said it. She’d wanted me to admit it so I had. Let Della think about that one for a minute.

 

“You got it for me?” Della asked. I could hear the surprise in her voice and I didn’t look up at her until I had the umbrella secure.

 

“Yeah,” was my only response before I walked over and picked up my towel. It was time I left. She didn’t want me here and I shouldn’t be.

 

“Thank you,” she called out as I started to leave. I nodded without looking her way.

 

“You leaving?’ Jace asked.

 

“I have some work to do.”

 

“Don’t forget Friday night at the Sun Club,” Bethy said grinning up at Jace who chuckled and shook his head.

 

It was Jace’s birthday and Bethy was determined to celebrate it with a night of partying at the only club in town. She’d rented out the place with a little help from Grant who was friends with the owner. It was invite only.

 

“Wouldn’t miss it,” I replied.

 

***

 

 

 

A night of drinking, dancing and karaoke was not something that interested Angelina. But at least I’d done my duty and invited her. She’d quickly said no and made up the excuse that she needed to fly to New York to get fitted for her wedding dress. That would take a few days so I was all for it.

 

Bethy had gone all out on the decorations. Shot glasses had been glued to the back of a large piece of wood to spell out twenty-four. There was a small light in each shot glass so the effect was pretty damn cool. I spoke to a few people as I passed but I was scanning the room for Della.

 

I was going to try and talk to her one more time tonight. Watching her laugh and talk to Thad and Grant like they were old friends was about to kill me. I wanted that too. I knew she wasn’t seeing either one of them but they were getting to know her. Grant had said something about Della wanting to learn to golf and I’d been instantly jealous that he knew something personal about her. Something I didn’t know.

 

“You know Woods, once you get engaged it’s expected for you to show up with your fiancée to events,” Bethy said as she stopped in front of me and held out a shot of something that looked like whiskey.

 

“She had to go to New York,” I replied and took the glass from her hand.

 

“Hmmm, interesting,” Bethy drawled then walked away.

 

I downed the shot and set the glass on the bar. Della came walking out of the ladies room and I took a minute to appreciate her tiny blue jean shorts and those boots I’d seen on her once before. I knew exactly how she looked in nothing but the boots. The black lacy top she was wearing was strapless and when she raised her arms even a little a small sliver of her stomach would show.

 

The girl sure knew how to dress to drive a man insane.

 

“Stop lusting, bro. You sealed your fate already,” Grant said with a chuckle as he walked up to me.

 

“I’m not married yet,” I muttered and shot him an annoyed glare before looking back at Della.

 

“No, but you will be. If you’d wanted Della more than the VP job you’d already have her. You made that choice and I’ve known you long enough to know you’re sticking with it.”

 

“It’s more complicated than that.”

 

Grant crossed his arms over his chest and stared at me. “Really? How so?”

 

I didn’t want to explain how I felt about Della to him. This wasn’t his business. He out of all people should know what it feels like to want someone you know is a really bad idea. He’d been there, done that, and gotten burned. He just didn’t know that I knew about it. He thought it was a big secret. Nothing with Nannette was a secret. Ever. His former step-sister was all kinds of fucked up evil. He’d known that most of his life. This thing that I had with Della was different but just as impossible.

 

“You know just how complicated things can get, Grant. I know you do,” I said in a low voice meant only for his ears.

 

Grant’s eyes narrowed then he smirked, although it wasn’t an amused one. More of a disgusted one. “Who told you?” he asked.

 

No one had told me. I’d watched it happen. Not much went on in my club that I didn’t see or hear about. “No one else knows. I saw it. I don’t think anyone else did.”

 

Grant’s face looked sour. “It’s over.”

 

I nodded. “I figured. No one can stay close to her for long.”

 

We stood in silence and both watched Della. When her eyes finally turned and met mine, I decided to make my move. We were talking tonight. I wasn’t letting her blow me off again. Not this time.

     

 

 

Della

 

 

 

I shouldn’t have looked at him so long but I hadn’t been able to keep pretending he wasn’t staring at me. In a weak moment I met his steady gaze and saw the sadness in his eyes. He had secrets hidden inside. I knew what that felt like. The stupid part of me wanted to reach out and help him.

 

Luckily the smart rational part of me knew that he was walking this way and I needed to move. He would want to explain again. I didn’t need his explanation. I understood. Tonight was about having fun with new people. Not me running off to find a dark hole to hide in if my crazy started to break through.

 

I only made it two steps before his large hand wrapped around my upper arm. “Please, Della. Don’t. I just want to talk.”

 

Again with the sadness. It was even in his voice. He was hurting somehow. I’d hurt for so long all alone. Identifying pain in others was easy for me. I was drawn to it in some strange perverse way.

 

“What do you want, Woods?” I asked without looking at him.

 

“To talk. I just want to talk.”

 

He wanted to talk. Fine. We could talk if it would give him some closure. Maybe ease that sadness in his eyes that haunted me. “Okay. But we talk in here.” Being alone with him wasn’t going to happen.

 

“Fair enough,” he replied.

 

I finally turned around and stared up at him. He really was beautiful. Sometimes it was easy to ignore. But up close when he was completely focused on me it was harder. I’d seen those eyes glowing with passion. I knew what his mouth tasted like and I had heard his cries of pleasure. I never would again, but those memories were hard to forget.

 

“Come sit with me,” he said, gently pulling my arm toward an empty table in the corner.

 

I took the seat across from him putting the safety of the small cocktail table between us. He had something he wanted to say and the sooner he said it the sooner I could get away from him.

 

“What is it you want to talk to me about?” I asked.

 

Woods ran his thumb over his bottom lip thoughtfully and I jerked my eyes away from his face. I didn’t want to look at those lips and remember.

 

“About the other night. I was trying to be honest with you, and I screwed it up. I shouldn’t have let you leave without explaining everything to you.”

 

I knew sitting down that this was the only thing we had to talk about. It still didn’t ease the pain that came with it. I had been so open and free with him. And no, he hadn’t been honest.

 

“If you had been honest you wouldn’t have had sex with me before telling me you were about to get engaged. I didn’t even know you were in a relationship. And one so serious! Were you with her back when we… the night we… met?”

 

He rested both his elbows on the table and leaned forward.

 

“No. I wasn’t. It isn’t a real relationship, Della. Not like you think it is. It’s a business deal. Her father’s company merging with my father’s. We aren’t exclusive… or we weren’t until I gave her the ring.”

 

A business transaction? What? “I don’t understand,” I finally replied.

 

Woods let out a soft bitter laugh. “You wouldn’t because it’s screwed up. My grandfather built the Kerrington Club. It’s been successful down here but it isn’t in the big leagues. The Greystone name being joined with the Kerrington name would open doors for my father… and me, that couldn’t be opened before.”

 

Greystone? Where had I heard that before? “Your fiancée is a Greystone?” I asked, trying to understand what he was telling me.

 

“Yeah, she is the only heir to the Greystone name. Her father and mine see this as a winning solution for them both. I will one day control not only Kerrington but the Greystone empire as well.”

 

Wow. So, people really did marry for reasons as shallow as this. Is that why he seemed sad? “Does she make you happy?” I asked, watching his face for any sign of an answer instead of listening to just his words.

 

“No. But she wants this arrangement as well,” he replied. The regret etched in his face hurt my heart. I didn’t like that he’d had sex with me without telling me all this but I still didn’t want him to be so sad. We only got one life and that was it. I knew that better than most. I’d lost the first part of my life locked away. He would lose the last part in a very similar situation. His heart would be locked away. Unused.

 

“This is what you want?” I finally asked.

 

He didn’t reply right away. Instead he stared at me intensely. My heart picked up its pace and I realized it always would around Woods. He had connected with it and I couldn’t stop that. I had tried.

 

“Yes, and no. I want what I’ve grown up knowing would be mine. I want to take my rightful place in my family’s business. I’ve worked hard for this. But… I don’t want Angelina.”

 

His eyes said more than they should. I dropped my gaze and stared at my hands resting in my lap. I had a decision to make. I could continue to push Woods away or I could forgive him. I could be his friend. Nothing more. He’d given me a job when I needed one. I would leave soon. The day would come when I left anyway. Until then, maybe I could share memories and moments with Woods. We could find the happiness in life together. New experiences. His last taste of freedom and my first taste.

 

Lifting my eyes, I met his steady gaze. He was waiting on something from me. “Can we be friends? Even after everything else? We could just start over,” I suggested.

 

The muscles in Woods’ neck moved as he swallowed. I wondered if I’d read him wrong. If he had just been needing closure and nothing more. But his eyes said something different. “I’d like that.”

 

Smiling, I reached my hand out toward him. “Hello, I’m Della Sloane.”

 

A crooked grin touched Woods perfect face and he slipped his hand into mine. “Woods Kerrington. It’s nice to meet you Della.”

 

His warm touch caused me to shiver and I pulled my hand away and stood up. “I’m going to get a drink. Save me a dance tonight.”

 

He nodded. “Without a doubt.”

 

 

 

Bethy met me at the bar. I had planned to take a deep calming breath after getting far enough from Woods to think this through. But instead I managed to smile at her like nothing was wrong.

 

“Can I ask what the handshake was about?” Bethy said, sitting down on the stool beside me and ordering two lemon drop shots.

 

“We’re starting over. This time I know he’s engaged and we’re going to be friends.”

 

Bethy nodded but I could see the disbelief in her eyes.

 

“Really, we are. Nothing more,” I assured her.

 

The bartender slid both of the pale yellow drinks our way.

 

“I believe that you believe that. But Woods doesn’t want Angelina. So you see if I’m skeptical about him keeping it friendly between the two of you, I have reason.”

 

Even Bethy knew he didn’t want to marry Angelina. I didn’t understand this. Would it be so bad not to connect his name with hers?

 

“It just seems like he’s sacrificing his happiness for money and gain. I don’t think that will end well.”

 

Bethy threw back her shot and then wiped a drop off her bottom lip with the pad of her thumb. “It will be a disaster. He’ll be miserable. But he thinks this is what he wants out of life. No one can convince him otherwise. In their world of money and power this is what they do. It’s why Tripp took off running. He didn’t want to play that game.”

 

Tripp? He’d had that kind of ultimatum too? But he’d left. He’d run. He hadn’t sacrificed his happiness. He was living. There was no cage holding him in. Cages were suffocating. I hated the idea of Woods living in one.

 

“I’m just passing through. While I’m here I think we can be friends. I like him. I want to get to know him. When I have his memory to pull out one day and think about I don’t want it to be just the sex. I want to know the man. Is that wrong?”

 

Bethy picked up my lemon drop and handed it to me. “No. It’s not. Now, drink up. I need someone to get the karaoke going and- tag you’re it.”

 

I shook my head. “Oh, no. Not me.”

 

Bethy nodded. “Yes, you. I’ve heard about your amazing vocal skills. It’s time I heard them. Come on, do it for me. Please.”

 

I took the shot glass and quickly downed the tangy drink.