Title: The Spark
Author: Vi Keeland
Genre: Standalone Contemporary Romance
Release Date: July 12, 2021
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Check out this SNEAK PEEK of CHAPTER 1!
I’m definitely getting too old for this.
I tossed a pile of mail on the couch and plopped down beside it. It was barely six o’clock, and I wouldn’t have minded climbing into bed and calling it a day. I needed a vacation from my four-day mini vacation. Thank goodness I’d scheduled myself a weekend to recover. My girls’ trip/early bachelorette party in Vegas for my friend Anna—the one where we were all going to relax by the pool and get spa treatments—had turned into all-night clubbing and almost missing my flight home earlier today because I’d overslept. It had definitely been a while since I drank more than two glasses of wine in the span of a week, and I was feeling my ripe old age of twenty-eight before the sun had even set this Friday night. Thank God I didn’t have to work tomorrow.
I briefly considered going the hair-of-the-dog route and sucking back a vodka cran while zoning out on Netflix, but then my phone rang, crashing me back to reality.
Dad flashed on the screen. I should’ve just gotten it over with and spoken to him, but I didn’t have the energy. Nonetheless, allowing myself to avoid the stress speaking to my father would inevitably cause reminded me of the other thing I needed to do that I’d been avoiding all afternoon. Laundry. One of my least-favorite tasks—mostly because it required me to sit downstairs in my building’s dingy basement laundry room. Up until a few months ago, I would start my laundry and come back forty-five minutes later to make the switch to the dryer. But that practice had come to a halt after one of my loads went missing—an entire load of wet bras and underwear. Who the hell stole wet clothes? At least nab dry ones. Nevertheless, it was an expensive lesson, and now I didn’t leave the basement until my clothes were washed and dried.
Sighing, I begrudgingly went to the bedroom, where my suitcase still sat on the bed, and unzipped it. I’d packed a linen skirt on top that I hadn’t wound up wearing, and I figured I’d hang it in the bathroom and hope the wrinkles worked themselves out over the course of a couple of steamy showers. I hated ironing almost as much as I hated doing laundry downstairs.
But when I flipped open the top of the suitcase, my linen skirt wasn’t on top. At first I thought my bag must’ve been selected for search, and things hadn’t been put back in order… Though the wingtip shoe I lifted was most definitely not mine.
I rummaged through the suitcase in a panic.
Slacks, running clothes, a men’s dress shirt… A sickening feeling washed over me, and I scrambled to look at the luggage tag. I’d never filled out the identification card inside, but the leather had my initials embossed on the outside.
And this one…had no initials.
Crap. Crap. Crap.
I’d grabbed the wrong bag off the luggage carousel. I started to sweat. All of my makeup was in that bag! Not to mention a week’s worth of my best outfits and shoes. I needed to get it back. Rushing to the kitchen, I grabbed my cell from the charger on the counter and Googled the number for the airline. After wading through a half-dozen prompts, I reached a recording.
“Thank you for calling American Airlines. Due to unprecedented call volume, your estimated wait time is approximately forty-one minutes.”
Forty-one minutes! I blew out a rush of air. Great. Just great.
In the meantime, while I waited on hold on speakerphone, listening to staticky music, it hit me that whoever’s luggage I had might very well have mine. I hadn’t even checked the luggage tag to see if, unlike mine, the identification information was filled in.
I zipped back down the hall to my bedroom.
Donovan Decker—kind of a cool name. And he lived here in the city! Thankfully, Donovan even had his phone number listed. It couldn’t be that easy, could it? I doubted it, but considering I still had forty minutes before I could speak to someone at the airline, I wasn’t losing much for trying. So I swiped to end my call. I started to punch in the numbers on the tag, and then decided to hit *67 first to make my number private. With my luck, the guy wouldn’t have my luggage, but he’d be a total creeper.
I was caught off guard when a man’s deep voice answered on the first ring. I hadn’t yet figured out what I was going to say.
“Uhhh. Hi. My name is Autumn, and I think I might have your luggage.”
“That was quick. I just hung up with you guys two minutes ago.”
He must’ve thought I was calling from the airline. “Oh, no. I don’t work for American. I traveled home this morning and must’ve grabbed the wrong bag at JFK.”
“What are your initials?”
“Yeah, you know, the first letter of your first name and the first letter of your last name.”
I rolled my eyes. “I know what initials are. I just don’t understand why you would ask—Oh! Does that mean you have my luggage? I have my initials embossed on the luggage tag.”
“That depends on what your initials are, Autumn. The first letter matches.”
“My initials are AW.”
“Well, then it seems you are indeed the thief who clipped my luggage.”
Sure, I hadn’t checked my luggage tag, but it offended me that he was calling me a thief. “Wouldn’t we both be thieves? Since you’re in possession of my luggage?”
“I only took yours because it was the last one left rotating around the carousel. You see, unlike you, I checked the luggage tag the first time it passed, and when I saw it wasn’t mine, I left it for the rightful owner to claim. But the line at baggage customer service was twenty deep, and I had a meeting I was already late for. So I took the one I have hostage until the airline could sort it out.”
My shoulders slumped. “Oh. Sorry.”
“It’s fine. Are you here in the City?”
“I am. Could we possibly meet to swap bags?”
“Sure. When and where? I’m out now, but I’ll be back in an hour or two.”
The tag had an address on the Upper East Side, but I lived on the West Side, farther downtown. “Could we meet at the Starbucks on 80th and Lex?” That was closer to him, but at least I’d only have to drag the suitcase onto one subway.
“I can’t think of any excuse not to. What time?”
That was sort of a weird way to phrase a yes, and the way he emphasized the word excuse seemed odd. But hey, I was getting my bag back. So what if he turned out to be a little strange? At least I’d hidden my phone number, and we were meeting in a public place.
“How about eight?”
“I’ll see you then.”
It sounded like he was about to hang up. “Wait…” I said. “How will I know it’s you?”
“I’ll be the one holding your luggage, Autumn W.”
I chuckled. “Oh, yeah. Sorry…long week in Vegas.”
I bent and lifted the shoe from the top of the bag. Ferragamo. Expensive. And big, too. A quick peek revealed it was a size thirteen. The inner teenager in me couldn’t help but think big feet, big…. Plus, the guy had a deep, sexy voice. I would definitely be exploring more of the dude’s luggage after we hung up.
“I’ll meet you at eight,” he said.
“See you then.” I was just about to swipe my phone off when something hit me. Oh God! “Hello? Wait…are you still there?”
It took a heartbeat or two, but the sexy voice came back on the line. “What’s up?”
“Ummm… Did you…open my bag?”
“I unzipped it at the airport to make sure it wasn’t mine when I noticed the luggage tag initials.”
“Did you…see anything?”
“There was a pink thong on top, so that pretty much sealed the deal that it didn’t belong to me. But I didn’t rummage through, if that’s what you’re asking.”
I forgot I’d shoved that thong in at the last minute. It had been at the back of a drawer when I’d checked the hotel room one last time on my way out. But I’d take him seeing my underwear over the other stuff inside my bag. I blew out a sigh of relief. “Okay, that’s great. Thank you. I’ll see you at eight at Starbucks.”
“Whoa. Hang on a second—not so fast. You sounded pretty nervous that I might’ve gone through your bag. Are you hiding something sinister in there? I’m not going to be walking around with a suitcase full of drugs or something, am I?”
I cracked a smile. “No, definitely not. I just…I’d prefer if you didn’t go through it.”
“Did you rummage through mine?”
I glanced at the shoe in my hand. Taking out one measly piece of footwear wouldn’t be considered rummaging, right? Nah. “No, I didn’t.”
“Are you planning on it?” he asked.
I had no idea what the man looked like, yet I could tell by his voice that he was smiling now.
“Nope,” I lied.
“Alright. Then we have a deal. I won’t go through your bag, and you won’t go through mine.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
“Do I have your word on that, Autumn W? I might have some things I’d prefer you didn’t see in there.”
He chuckled. “See you at eight.”
After we hung up, I tossed the shoe back into the suitcase and bent to close it. But as I reached for the zipper, my curiosity got the best of me. Was he just screwing with me, or did he really have something in here he didn’t want me to see? Of course, I knew what I had in mine, which made me extra curious.
I shook my head and started to pull the zipper closed. About halfway, I laughed out loud. Who was I kidding? Now that I didn’t have laundry to do, I had almost a full two hours to kill before I met Mr. Bigfoot. This suitcase would taunt me all that time. I’d most certainly give in eventually, so why not put myself out of that misery and just take a little look-see inside now? Then I’d be able to relax. He’d never know I hadn’t lived up to my end of the bargain. Not to mention, for all I knew, he was elbow deep in my suitcase right now. In that case, it would only be fair that I got to go through his, right?
I nibbled my lip for a few seconds as a wave of guilt washed over me. But I quickly forced that out of my mind. Of course I’m right.
Feeling justified now, I unzipped the suitcase and took a minute to mentally note how everything was packed: a white dress shirt was folded on top, and two shoes were set on either side, heels facing up. I carefully unpacked those and placed them on the bed next to the suitcase in the same order. The next layer had more folded clothes: two expensive dress shirts, a pair of sweats, boxer briefs, and a few T-shirts, one of which had something emblazoned on the front—familiar lettering that began HA—so I unfolded it to see what it said. Harvard Law.
Ugh. One of those. No wonder he could afford Ferragamo shoes.
Underneath the pile of clothes was a white laundry bag—the kind a hotel gives you to put your dry cleaning in, but most people used it to separate their dirty clothes. With no desire to sort through smelly socks, I started to fold the clothes back into the suitcase, feeling a twinge of disappointment. But when I smoothed out the layers of the pile, I felt something lumpy and hard underneath in the plastic laundry bag. So I took the clothes back out and looked inside, hoping to find…I’m not sure what. Though what I found was definitely not what I expected.
The bag was filled with at least twenty or thirty of those little shampoo bottles hotels give out. Actually, a closer inspection revealed some were conditioner and a few were moisturizer. Buried on the very bottom were also three little sewing kits and half-a-dozen toothbrushes wrapped in plastic—the kind you could get at the front desk of a hotel when you forgot yours.
What the heck had Mr. Bigfoot done? Rob a housekeeping cart? This kind of stuff, though a lesser quantity, is what you’d usually find in my suitcase since I was broke all the time. But it wasn’t the type of thing you’d expect in the suitcase of a man who had gone to Harvard and wore seven-hundred-dollar dress shoes.
Now I was even more curious to meet Donovan Decker.
I arrived at Starbucks almost twenty minutes early, so I went online to treat myself to a flat white with honey almond milk. Even ordering it had me salivating, thinking about the sweet, creamy drink. Expensive coffee was my indulgence, but it didn’t happen too often with the five-dollar price tag and my skimpy budget.
I stood at the end of the counter, waiting for my drink and mindlessly scrolling on my phone, when a man walking through the front door caught my attention.
Now that was one good-looking man. Describing him as merely tall, dark, and handsome didn’t cut it, not by a mile. Jet-black hair framed a magnificent face with a chiseled, masculine bone structure, full lips, and a Romanesque nose. I wasn’t the only one to notice, either. I watched as the Adonis took a step back outside to hold the door open for a woman exiting the store, and the poor lady caught one glimpse of him and literally tripped over her own feet.
Seemingly oblivious that he’d caused the incident, he extended a hand to help her up, flashed a killer smile, and strolled inside. His bright blue eyes scanned the room, stopping right on my ogling ones. Embarrassed at being caught, I quickly diverted my attention back to my phone. A few seconds later, I was still pretending to be enraptured by my screen when footsteps came to a halt in front of me. I glanced up and blinked a few times. The guy from the door flashed a crooked smile.
“Were you able to control yourself?”
My forehead wrinkled. “Excuse me?”
His eyes danced with mirth, and his voice lowered. “I bet you couldn’t.”
I stared at him for an awkward moment before finally shaking my head. “What on Earth are you talking about?”
The man’s brows furrowed. “We made a deal, remember? I wouldn’t go through yours, if you didn’t touch mine?”
I’d watched the man walk in, stood right in front of him staring for at least a solid minute, and it took until now for me to notice he had something in his hand.
“Oh my God. You have my suitcase!”
He laughed but still looked perplexed. “What did you think I was talking about?”
“I…I don’t know. I was thoroughly confused.”
“I thought you saw me walk in.”
I did. But I hadn’t made it past your face. “No, I hadn’t noticed. Sorry. I guess I was just zoning out.”
The barista behind the counter yelled my name. I was glad for an excuse to put some distance between this guy and me. I needed a moment to gather my wits. Though when I returned, I still felt a little off-kilter.
“Thank you for meeting me to swap suitcases,” I said. “I’m really sorry I took the wrong one.”
I rolled his case forward and released the handle. But the Adonis didn’t do the same. In fact, he pulled my bag closer to his side.
“Before we switch…” He tilted his head and studied my face. “I’m curious to know if you kept your word.”
I mimicked his pose and tilted my head. “What if I say I didn’t?”
“Well, then you’d have to pay a penalty for violating the terms of our deal.”
I raised a brow, intrigued. “A penalty?”
He nodded. “That’s right. There’s a penalty.”
I laughed as I lifted my coffee for a sip. “I just got back from a girls’ weekend in Vegas. Pretty sure this overpriced drink just used up the last five dollars in my bank account.”
“I wasn’t referring to a monetary penalty.”
“What kind of a penalty, then?”
He stroked the stubble on his chin for a moment. “You’d have to have coffee with me.”
Did this guy really think that would be a hardship? I debated how to answer. If I told the truth, it would be embarrassing. I mean, I went through the man’s personal belongings. But the flipside was I’d get to check him out some more over coffee. Then again, I’d be agreeing to spend time with a complete stranger. Though…whenever I met a guy online, I usually met him at a coffeehouse, and I probably knew more about this guy after going through his suitcase than I would from an online chat. Not to mention, none of my online dates had looked like Donovan Decker lately. In fact, none had made it further than coffee in a while.
Adonis had been watching my face as I debated my answer. His smirk made me think he already knew I’d checked out his bag. So, what the hell?
I stood tall and met his stare. “Was the lady from housekeeping harmed in the robbery?”
His eyes narrowed for a heartbeat, but then a giant smile spread across his face. He held his hand out toward the seating area. “After you, Autumn W.”