Authors: R.M. Alexander
Matter of Choice
Copyright 2014 R.M. Alexander
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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Editing and proofreading by TJ Loveless of
Cover Design by Seductive Designs
Image Copyright © BigStockPhoto/Yuri Arcurs
To My Husband and Children
I couldn’t have done it without you
Thoughts of gratitude:
I give thanks first and foremost to God. All the glory goes to Him.
I want to thank my husband and children for putting up with the long nights, and sometimes busy days. Without their love, patience, and cheerleading, I’d never have gone the distance. I love you with all my heart!
I want to thank RM & JM. Your undying love and support mean more than I can ever put into words. Thank you for being there
through the good, bad and ugly.
Thank you to all my family and friends who didn’t give up on me even when times were at their
bleakest. You know who you are.
To TJ Loveless: I am so glad we met on AQC! You’re not just my editor or business partner, but a friend. Thanks for all the collaborating, kicks in the shin and shots in the arm!
Rachael Orman: You are awesome! Thank you for all your hard work to make sure Matter of Choice had a chance!
I want to thank Jade Hart for the inspi
ration, tips and encouragement.
Thank you, Carrie at Seductive Designs, for the wonderful cover art. You are amazing!
Thank you to my ARC readers, who suffered through the remaining typos, blunders and misspellings to give Matter of Choice it’s first chance in the public eye.
Thank you to my readers and fans. You are all awesome, and your support still boggles my mind. Thank you!
If I forgot to mention you here, please know, it’s only because I’m trying to put this down on paper. You are not forgotten in my heart.
Shannon Winters relaxed into the leather Thomasville chair and tapped on the down arrow, paging through unrecognizable names. Her shoulders relaxed. It was going to be an easy day at the Grande Marquis - no actors, no political figures. Just every day people, ready to begin their vacation from the rat race.
Being upstate along the banks of the Hudson River just outside of Paree, New York, famous names on the guest list was a normal occurrence at the Grande Marquis. They came from the city, or D.C., many flew across the country, to call the hotel their destination of choice. The Grande provided refuge from the demands of paparazzi and tourists eager to pull camera phones out. That kind of thing wasn’t tolerated. The attention to detail carried weight, and as much respect as Shannon had for her employees, the burden of the overly rich and famous remained joyfully on her shoulders, to ensure they were granted the same privacy as other guests. No one to blame if something went wrong, although things rarely went wrong. She made sure of that too.
Still, she would stand in the lobby and greet the majority of them personally. That was the job, and Shann
on liked it. Loved it, in fact.
She took a bite of breakfast, lukewarm from sitting too long on the plate, and spun the chair, eyes closed and head back, rolling the softened English muffin and tender egg between her teeth before swallowing. Late nights and early mornings demanded easy workloads. For this morning, at least, it app
eared that demand would be met.
The ring of line one interrupted the quietness, and Shannon sat up, blinking away sleepiness, and reached for the receiver. Naomi, the daytime front desk clerk, voiced forced discomfort through the line. “We have a problem in the lobby, Ms. Winters.”
Shannon’s heart sank, intuition waving the familiar red flag, screaming an identity she yearned to deny. It could be a guest, or a visitor, she reminded herself. “Did you call security?”
An awkward silence, and then, “It’s Mr. Winters, ma’am.”
Shannon pulled the constricting air through her nostrils.
So much for faulty intuition
. “Thank you Naomi. I’ll be there in a moment.”
She laid the receiver in the cradle, and watched as the red light blinked off, then pushed the plate aside, appetite ruined. It’d been a good week since Greg’s last disruption. The hope there wouldn’t be another was short-sighted and plain optimistic. Greg was becoming infamous for public bad behavior which knew no bounda
ries for rearing its ugly head.
Not even her place of business.
Shannon locked the computer, rushed out of the office and down the carpeted hallway towards the public areas of the hotel, past the managerial offices of the salaried employees-housekeeping, maintenance and customer service supervisors wouldn’t be in for another hour. She wouldn’t ask for their help if they were in. Her husband was her problem.
Opening the ‘Employee Only’ door, she stepped into the main floor’s south wing corridor. Heels clicked against marble flooring as she hurried to the towering lobby and familiar boisterous baritone.
“Welcome everyone. You’re going to love it here. Love it! Let’s all be friends, find the bar and share a drink. Or two. Or three.” Greg’s laugh reverberated against the white and pink marble, amplifying every drunken slurred syllable.
She nodded absently at guests as she turned the corner, neck needled by raised hairs. Greg Winters stood in the middle of the four-story expanse. His short ebony hair stood at prickly attention, the thickened black shadows of more than a day missed in shaving dressing his narrowly chiseled features, a beer bottle gripped within thick fingers. Clusters of guests gathered around, others passing in effort to ignore the scene. Some whispered to one another as they shot under-eyed glances in Greg’s direction. Others kept their gazes trained on the floor, the artwork on the walls, the furthest reaches of Mid-Hudson River visible through the floor to ceiling windows gracing
the east side of the building.
Shannon weaved around them all with a thick spine, and stoppe
d to stand behind her husband.
A hand rested on her shoulder. “Would you like for me
to escort him out Ms. Winters?”
She turned to face the head security guard for the Grande. “No, thank you, Stevens. I’ll take care of this. Please tell Naomi to offer the guests a voucher for a free dinner on the night of their choice for the interruption.”
“Yes, Ms. Winters.” He nodded and turned down the hallway toward the door she’d exited moments before, then disappeared out of sight.
Shannon drew in a breath through her teeth, and rushed for Greg as he raised a bottle in the air at a passing couple, splashing them with drops of brew. She whispered an apology as they hurried away, and made a note to pay for dry cleaning, or even new clothes, if need be. Whatever
it took to satisfy her guests.
But right now, her sole focus was defusing the situati
on before it escalated further.
She reached for his hand, heart shuddering as he flinched away. “Greg, Greg, come on.” Sidling next to him, she pressed his hand, still tight around the bottleneck, gently downward, ignoring a scathing glare. No doubt he resented the intrusion, but it didn’t matter. He’d come to her only sanctuary, allowing him to ruin it was not an option. “How about you come rest in one of the guest rooms? I have a vacancy. You can watch some TV, maybe get some sleep.” Shannon rested her other hand on a fading biceps, now alien against the memories of gym-toned masculinity.
Greg snatched his arm from reach, defiance hardening the charcoal of his eyes, his voice a snarl. “I don’t want to sleep. I want to party.” He pushed against her weaker hold and raised the bottle with a grin, surveying the room. His voice bellowed, pressing the gathering crowd together as conspiratorial whispers were drowned in the outburst. “Where’s a pretty date wanting some great entertainment? I’ve got it right here.” He gestured towards a gyrating groin, barking laughter.
The words and gesture cut hard. With eyes closed, Shannon found her center and muttered words more damaging to her sanity than his feral actions, “The entertainment will begin later.” Her eyes opened into a hard stare. “First, you should lie down. You’ll want to be at your best for
the party tonight, won’t you?”
He lowered the bottle, the spark in his eyes lit with alcohol. His head tilted to the side, and slowly nodded. “Okay. Yeah. I would want to be at my best to impress the ladies, wouldn’t I? Lead the way. I better hurry if I’m going to get my beauty rest.” Greg’s laughter roared against the marble. “Beauty rest. That’s a good one, isn’t it? A guy like me needing some beauty rest. Imagine that!”
“Yes, yes, a good one. Follow me, and I’ll lead you to your room.” Shannon reached for the nearly empty bottle of imported beer. “And how about I take this for you? I can have another sent to your room.”
Greg stared down at the tinted green bottle, then nodded. “Okay,” he repeated. “Just don’t leave me high and dry, or I won’t be
leaving any tips, understand?”
Shannon nodded, understanding she was one he could easily discard. He already had.
Feeling the eyes of guests who attempted stealthy glimpses of the scene playing out before them, she also understood the situation didn’t need to escalate with falling tears and the violins of self-pity. Neither had done any good over the past two years. Robotic numbness-she thrived on it now. No, that was wrong, she thought with gritted teeth, not thrived. Existed.
“I understand, sir.”
She didn’t bother looking at Greg as she led him, side by side, hand hovering near his wrist, across the lobby, head high. Stares pelted her back, but no longer stung. Somehow, along the way, she had grown accustomed to the curious, disgusted and angry glares, and knew they weren’t meant for her. No one had any reason to guess Shannon was married to Greg. Affection had long ago played out, lost in the car accident that changed their lives forever.
But she knew something else, too, as they stood side by side, riding the elevator to the second floor as comfortable strangers unable to find words to share. The tears held successfully at bay moments before would come. Behind closed doors, where the façade of contentment an
d happiness wasn’t a necessity.
They would fall later, when Greg would no doubt have a guest in his room, doing things husbands sho
uld only want to do with wives.
Things he had no interest in doing with her. Shannon wondered if the pain would ever not exist, or if she would ever feel anything more than empty, lonely, and unloved.
Shannon rested her head in open palms, the office chair rolled tight against the cherry oak desk. Settling Greg down in the guest room hadn’t been hard. Not for him. He was asleep almost before his head rested against the down-filled pillow. Alcohol-induced sleep, no doubt, and he’d probably wake with a whopper of a headache. But,
right now, he was comfortable.
She had played the dutiful wife, as always. The role she was so accustomed to, and hated. For better or for worse didn’t seem to quite cover the relationship she had with the man to whom she shared the vows ten years before. But still, she covered Greg with the plush duvet, wiped the sweat from his brow with a dampened washcloth, pulled the darkening drapes against the morning sun until th
e room faded to grayed shadows.
No kiss goodbye, no “I love you”, no trace of shared affection. Old hat, new way of life. The longing to feel the touch of her husband’s fingers against her bare skin, the touch of affection and desire, was left unanswered a
nd untended since the accident.
A gentle knock on the door and Shannon lifted her head as it opened with a crack, Lauren Hopkins’ head erupting through like a turtle’s head from the shell. “Good morning. How was last night? No problems?”
The trembling in Shannon’s gut died. A welcome distraction to quiet the anguish, the thoughts revolved to the night before.
The annual banquet for the who’s who throughout the valley was no small task to prepare for or run. The special events team, along with housekeeping, had done a wonderful job in pulling together the tablecloths, music and menu. The podium for the guest speakers played host to the mayor of New York, a senate leader and one of the leading men in Hollywood who boasted undying love for the city he was born in sixty-some years earlier. Shannon’s role was babysitter to the
event, but also honored guest.
The evening didn’t come to a close until four in the morning, the latest Shannon had kept in a long time. Two hours of sleep in a vacant room on the third floor was hardly enough to call a catnap, but it was all she allowed herself before returning to the office.
Shannon shook her head, face dropping for a moment. She recovered, but knew Lauren must have noted the expression. A problem at the event hadn’t been a concern; her staff was the best New York state had to offer. At least, she liked to think so. But the question stirred a familiar ache she forced aside before answering. “No, it was about as perfect as I could hope for. We’ve been awarded next year’s banquet already.”
The honor and joy of being awarded another year of hosting the event fluttered in her stomach. It could just as easily been taken elsewhere, somewhere closer to the city, perhaps, taking its handsome increase to the bottom-line with it. But it was more than profit to Shannon. She loved the hotel and its guests. They’d come for a weekend, sometimes longer, and the Grande offered a premium escape from jobs and lives. She knew they were always happy to arrive, sad to leave, and that made her feel good. Not ev
erything in life was a failure.
“No sign of Greg?” Lauren’s question cut through the straying thoughts.
Shannon looked away. “No, not at the banquet.”
Lauren settled into the chair opposite of Shannon’s desk, bobbed jet-black hair tickling her lips. She was all modern, and New York cosmopolitan style, without the attitude. She tucked the strands behind an ear. “Couldn’t ask for better than that.”
Shannon shook her head. “No, I suppose not.” A weak smile and Shannon’s attention returned to the computer screen, marveling only for a moment how different the two friends were from one another. Lauren radiated big city way of life with the sleek hair and en vogue attire. With light brown hair which sprung with natural curl when allowed free, Shannon owned all the glamour money could buy, and the natural beauty to back it up. What set her apart, she knew, were roots in a Wisconsin farming town, populated more by century old homes and cornfields than people. It was the kind of place everyone knew one another, and happy to help, never ignoring a stranger passing on the street. That down home kind of life was tethered to her like a weight, sometimes complimenting her shapely curves and model-worthy legs, and other times holding her back from completely cutting it loose in a world that adored slick thinking and business ruthlessness.
Shannon was certain that down home mentality drove her to personally attend to guests when possible, and earned her the reputation of customer service extraordinaire. And if that was the case, it was fine with her. Values and morals were sometimes in short supply
in a world driven after power.