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“To see others suffer does one good, to make others suffer even more: this is a hard saying but an ancient, mighty, human, all-too-human principle [….] Without cruelty there is no festival.”

―Friedrich Nietzsche

“A friend is known when needed.”

—Arabian Proverb

Chapter 1

IF SOMETHING SEEMS too good to be true, enjoy the hell out of it before it ends. That was Nelson Dupar’s philosophy.
His perfect life began when the hospital elevator closed him in alone with her. She stood six feet tall and dressed to wither other women. A mile of toned leg stretched between candy-apple high-heels and a black leather miniskirt. She flipped her dark hair, sending a wisp of perfume—or something—to his nose. Whatever it was, Nelson smiled. Standing so close to her was a treat. She made the 28-year-old self-confessed slob wish he owned an iron.
Nelson’s daily wardrobe was unimportant while buried in a tiny cubicle at the CPA firm. Today he wore his standard attire: scuffed gray deck shoes, wrinkled slacks and an untucked button shirt that failed to conceal his gut.
The woman moved forward to crowd the door and closed her eyes. Nelson leaned slightly to enjoy a deeper whiff of her while he sucked in to tuck his shirt. He then enjoyed an unrushed visual tour of this magnificent being’s backside, taking in her smooth curves, generous display of skin and hair that shined where it bent at her shoulder.
She sighed and wrung her hands.
“You okay, ma’am?” Nelson asked.
She shook her head, not looking back. “I’m always nervous in elevators,” she replied.
Nelson reached to pat her shoulder, but reconsidered. “We’ll be fine,” he said. “And if anything happens, there’s a hospital real close.”
She laughed a breath through her nose and bowed her head as if praying. When the elevator bumped and lifted, she teetered and pressed her hand against the wall to steady herself.
Nelson watched, intrigued. I wonder if she might faint, he thought. The slim chance of a CPR opportunity excited him despite having no training for it. The honorable thing to do, if she collapsed, would be to give her a little mouth-to-mouth, he reasoned. He’d seen it a thousand times on TV. Just ease her to her back and tilt her head. Her moist lips would part ever so slightly. He’d gently place his mouth over hers. And, not forgetting the chest compressions, he’d need to unbutton…
The elevator door opened, popping Nelson’s fantasy.
“Thank God,” the woman said as they stepped out.
“See? We’re elevator survivors!” Nelson said.
She laughed and turned to him. “Yes, we are!”
The brightness of the hallway added detail to her features. Her hair, almost black, contrasted with piercing blue eyes over a perfect smile. He wished she had fainted.
“You take care, ma’am,” he said, reluctantly turning to leave.
“Wait! What’s your name?” she replied, fanning her face.
From the side of his mouth Nelson whispered, “Clark Kent.” She laughed again—a bit longer than he expected.
“Nice to meet you, Clark, I’m Morana.”
“Actually, my name is Nelson, and it’s even nicer to meet you. Come here often, Morana?”
“Only as a last resort.”
“Some ‘resort’ this is, right?”
She laughed harder. Either he was on a roll, or she was just incredibly giddy after conquering the elevator.
They walked toward the hospital exit. Morana sidestepped moving gurneys and oncoming foot-traffic, hurrying to stay near him. When Nelson noticed that they had taken on the appearance of a couple, his chin lifted and his stride took on some swagger. As they passed through the crowded lobby, Morana drew intrigued smiles and lustful examination from people. Nelson knew she was out of his league, but for this fleeting moment, he relished being the nerd who baffled the jocks by seducing the hottest cheerleader.
Outside at the patient loading zone, their linked journey came to an end. Nelson pointed to the far side of the parking lot. “My car’s way over in the last row. You take care.”
Morana smiled. “Thank you for calming me with your comedy.” She extended her hand.
As they shook, Nelson said, “Hey, I’m here all week—be sure to tip the veal and try your waiter!”
Morana bent over in a belly laugh that turned nearby heads.
Flattering, but the line wasn’t that funny, Nelson thought. Never before had his cheesy jokes impressed any of the women he wanted. He scratched his neck, waiting for her to finish laughing.
She caught her breath and said, “You are absolutely adorable.”
“Thanks. You know, I get that all the time,” Nelson said, finger-framing his face.
She laughed again and touched his arm, saying, “Oh my God—I want to take you home with me.”
Nelson felt blood rush to his head as he realized that her flirtation might have traction. How is this possible? He knew that the moment Morana stepped from the dark elevator her first glance had swept up the details of his grooming and pegged his socio-economic rung, yet her enthusiasm toward him hadn’t dimmed.
“Hold on,” she said, digging in her purse. She handed him a business card. “Call me.”
Centered on the card was one word: Morana printed above a barely visible gray phone number. No company, no title and no address.
“Secretive much, Morana?” he asked.
“I can explain some other time. Please call me ‘Mo’ and call me soon.”
“Sure thing,” Nelson said. He watched her walk away—graceful, confident, gorgeous. Not a chance in hell, he thought.
He was wrong…
– End of Preview –

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