Simple Tryst of Fate The Tryst Series Book 1 by D.M. Barr Genre: Contemporary Dark Romance
A desire for a more conventional life once propelled travel writer Dani Barrett into a disastrous marriage. Ten years later and newly divorced, she’s back on the road with a series of rules to protect her heart and a secret sideline as an erotica author.
On a press trip, she meets James Aldridge, a charming yet cynical publisher who arouses her interest. Little does Dani know James is secretly an investigative journalist with his own kinky streak, and that rather than writing a travelogue, his undercover probe into political corruption will suck her into a treacherous journey across South America that could either end at James's gravesite or in his loving arms.
A gal’s passion for a certain man might waver—or even disappear—but her hunger for travel never fades. I realized that upon arriving at the American Airlines counter at JFK Airport where Miguel, the effusive P.R. person for Turismo Argentina, greeted me. His excitement over escorting our two-week excursion from New York to South America matched my own as a member of the press group attending.
“Ms. Barrett, welcome! We’re so lucky to have you,” he gushed. “You are going to have the time of your life, I promise—the mountains, the beaches, the cities, the food—and then you will tell all your readers to visit us too!”
He rocked back and forth, ball to heel, a simmering kettle with steam seeking escape as it reached a boil.
“Am I the first to arrive?” I asked the dark-haired publicist as I glanced around, noting a dearth of fellow reporters.
Back in the day, before my post-wedding ten-year hiatus, one of my favorite parts of any press trip was discovering who would make up my new, short-term family. There was always a character or two you’d never want to separate from and another whom you’d spend the entire trip trying to avoid.
“I’m afraid so but not for long. After you go through security, please enjoy a drink or two in the Flagship Lounge, and I’m sure they’ll join you shortly.”
Sounded good to me. It was seven o’clock with over two hours to go before boarding, and a glass of wine would help me relax and survive the eleven-hour flight ahead.
Overeager tour escort that he was, Miguel personally ushered me to the check-in desk, where the skeptical agent compared the long-haired brunette in my passport photo to the passenger with the golden blonde bob who stood before her. Dani Barrett Part Two, the Divorcée Years. Only the green eyes remained the same.
Once I passed muster, I headed to the lounge, which was as expansive as I remembered from years before. Flying business class had its perks. I helped myself to some canapes and asked the bartender for a glass of chardonnay before plopping down in the corner, keeping one eye on the entrance.
A tall, athletic man with short, tawny hair, light blue eyes, and a black leather jacket walked in. When I realized it was Liam, my heart skipped a beat. Originally from Ireland and one of my favorite partners in crime from the old days, together we’d climbed pyramids and punked the journalists no one liked. Like me, once he’d married, he’d stuffed his passport into his filing cabinet and tried to live a more grounded life, during which time, we’d sporadically stayed in touch. Unlike me, I was fairly certain he and Hugh were still together.
Liam saw me, and his face brightened. “Dani Barrett, what the hell? What are you doing here?” He rushed over, dropped his duffle, and hugged me tightly. “I heard about you and Turnip Head. I’m so sorry, but happy to see you back in the saddle, as it were.” His brogue was faint but still adorable.
“You never did like Tony much, did you?” I accused playfully.
“It’s my job. A big brother from another mother is never going to think anyone is good enough for his sis. Smart thinking, as it turns out, keeping your maiden name.”
“My byline was my one relic from my former life. Couldn’t let it go, no matter how much he protested. Though ‘Dani Heard’ might have worked well if I’d started a gossip column.”
“Don’t think I’d want you penning a scandal sheet. You know too many of my secrets.”
Little did Liam know that I did have a pseudonym now, and at age 35, a writing life he knew nothing about. My plan was to keep it that way.
We tightened our hug one more time before plonking down onto one of the lounge’s myriad sofas. “So, who are you working for? How did you get this gig?” he asked.
“Remember Peter Grant? My old office mate at Travel Industry News? He’s now managing editor at Travel Biz Report, and when he heard about my divorce, he asked if I wanted to do some freelance pieces, starting with this trip. Since I’d never been to Argentina before…”
“Not bad, Dani. Getting out of New York in March means swapping a fortnight of mercurial spring weather for eighty-degree temps and a string of four-star hotels. Good trade, I’d say.” Not to mention, the locales might inspire some new plotlines for my alter-ego, erotica author Fuller Cox, a side hustle that allowed me to explore my sexual fantasies, at least in print. It also helped pay the bills.
“How about you, Liam? I thought you gave up travel writing. Decided to let Hugh and his bottomless trust fund keep you in the style to which you wished to become accustomed.”
“Yeah, that lasted about six months. I got antsy, and he hated me getting underfoot while he wrote his magnum opus, so we decided I’d go back on the road. So far, it’s working out great, absence making the heart grow fonder and all that.” He pointed at my wine glass. “You want another?”
I shrugged. “Why not?”
He beckoned the server over. “The lady will have a…still drinking Chardonnay, Dani?” I nodded. “I’ll have a Jameson, neat.”
We sat like two hopped-up teenagers as we waited for our drinks, discussing what kind of adventures the next two weeks might bring. “Hope you won’t be accosting the locals, like you did in Venice,” he teased.
“I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.” I smiled, wide-eyed, and feigned ignorance.
“Your Honor, may I present Dani Barrett, travel writer and somewhat impulsive groupie,” Liam addressed an imaginary judge to his left. “It is alleged that during a luncheon at the Gritti Palace, Ms. Barrett confronted a bloke at a nearby table that remotely resembled Chris Hemsworth when his female dining companion retired to the ladies’ room. This supposed lookalike—who was on his honeymoon, by the way— was so flattered, since he was so not Chris Hemsworth, as I’d clearly told her—that he asked Ms. Barrett to have a seat…then his new wife returned from the powder room to discover the two of them clinking champagne flutes.” Then Liam turned his attention back to me. “Good thing she had a sense of humor.”
My face heated from the memory as I sipped the wine the server set down moments before. “A possible Hemsworth encounter was worth the risk. No jury would convict. Leave it to you to remind me of such an embarrassing moment,”
“I still have the photos,” Liam kidded.
“Jerk.” I mock-punched his shoulder, just like a little sister would.
“Better a jerk than a hussy.”
I cocked my head. “Hussy? Are you time-traveling in from the mid-1700s?”
Liam launched into what I was sure would have been a witty retort when his gaze tracked a distinguished man who’d just entered the lounge, and his smile turned into a scowl. The newcomer was someone I hadn’t traveled with before. He had straight black hair, parted at the side, and a salt-and-pepper beard and mustache that gave him a professorial look. The expensive suit didn’t hurt either. Six feet tall, in his early forties, and if I hadn’t sworn off men forever, I might have called him eye candy for the more discriminating (read: older) eye. That still left him as a possible inspiration for a leading character in one of my future novels.
“Speaking of men who aren’t good enough for you…”
I was surprised by Liam’s vitriolic tone, so out of character for a man who punned his way through life. “Who is he?” I murmured, as the man in question wheeled his carry-on toward a gaggle of other writers who had congregated while we were chatting.
“You ever hear of Aldridge Publications?”
“Yeah, aren’t they the parent company for some of the major travel trades? Based in London, I think.”
“You think correctly. That’s James Aldridge, the owner…and a first class prick.”
Uh oh. Trouble brewing before we’d even boarded the plane. “You never worked for Aldridge, did you?”
“No, but Hugh did, years ago when we first got together. He went out on a limb, suggested a column on travel for alternative lifestyles. It had never been done before, at least not to that extent.”
“Gutsy,” I said.
“Yeah, but unfortunately ill-conceived. Not only did they shoot it down, but they also gave him the boot a few weeks later.”
That was a little shocking, even for back then. The trades had been covering gay travel for decades. “They admitted they fired him for suggesting the column?”
Liam scrunched his face. “Nah, of course not. They said it was due to cutbacks. Hugh said let it rest, but I always suspected something different.”
It’s not that I wanted to disagree with my friend, but if there was the possibility of a misunderstanding, I wanted to clear it up before any grudges turned toxic. Especially since Miguel had informed me, they’d limited the group to only ten reporters plus escort. With that size crowd, you wanted the group dynamic to remain copacetic. Otherwise, morale plummeted faster than hungry travel agents descending upon a platter of shrimp.
I watched as James shook the hands of the other journalists. He seemed a friendly enough fellow, and funny too, based on the giggles of the women he greeted. Even if Hugh’s editors had been closed-minded or homophobic—and that was still an unproven theory—would the firing of a low-level reporter have even reached James Aldridge’s attention? Then I wondered why I was making excuses for a man I had yet to meet.
“You will be polite, won’t you, Liam? This is my first trip in a while. I’d really prefer if it remained scandal-free.”
Travel writers were a tight-knit and somewhat incestuous family. Tales of troublemakers spread fast, almost as rapidly as gossip about the lascivious couplings that often occurred on the road. Great fodder for bodice rippers but not for real life. Unlike others who might have less interest in keeping their reputation pristine—or who were staff writers and therefore had a bit more job security than a freelancer like myself—I had to be more diligent about keeping my impulses under control. I didn’t want to be caught in the backlash and lose out on any future press trip invites.
Liam squinted with incredulity. Was it because I’d doubted his theory over Hugh’s firing or my commonsense request to play nice when we were traveling free on the sponsor’s dime? Apparently the latter because he stood up and took James’s outstretched hand when the publisher reached our sofa.
“I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m James Aldridge, your stalwart travel companion for the next fortnight.” His accent was upscale, his vibe a bit “tweedy” as the Brits put it, but his smile belied the stiffness of his introduction, as if mocking his own formality.
“Liam Kelly.” Liam forced a half-smile and gave the hand a cursory single shake, clearly not matching my appreciation for James’s undeniable charm.
“For a New York departure, quite the UK contingent,” the publisher mused. Then he shifted his hand my way. “I gather you must be from Scotland or is it Wales?”
Staring into his dark, soulful eyes, I smiled so hard at his quip, I nearly sprained my jaw. “Sorry to disappoint, I’m just plain, old, boring American, Danielle Barrett, but my friends call me Dani.” Oh God, what a moronic comment. I’m surprised I didn’t end my intro by trilling, “tee hee hee.” If only I could be as smooth and daring as my fictional characters.
If James thought I was partially brain-dead, he didn’t let on. Instead, he gave my hand a private squeeze that warmed both my palm and my nether regions. “Dani it is, then. I’m sure as we get to know each other better over the course of our travels, you’ll prove far from plain, old, or boring.”
I willed my quivers not to betray my excitement over the prospect of future encounters when Miguel, accompanied by a man with an American Airlines “Concierge” badge, poked James on his shoulder. He released his grip and excused himself, though remained close enough for me to overhear the ensuing conversation.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, Mr. Aldridge, but two seats have just opened up in first class and since you are one of our most prolific frequent flyers, we wanted to offer them to you and a companion.”
“Well, that’s quite kind of you.” He looked over his shoulder and noticed me listening. “Would you care to join me up front, Ms. Barrett?” I could have sworn I caught his eyes twinkling.
The offer took me aback, but without looking, I could sense Liam’s utter disapproval. “That’s so kind, Mr. Aldridge—”
“Excuse me, but I just invited you to first class; I think that puts us on a first name basis.”
“That’s so kind of you, James,” I corrected myself, “but…Liam and I are old friends, and we haven’t seen each other in a long time. We have ten years to catch up on.”
“Well then it’s settled, isn’t it?” He turned back to the American Airlines concierge. “Please give the two tickets to Mr. Kelly and Ms. Barrett.” Then he looked back at me. “Unless it’s Mrs. Barrett?” Cute. “No, Ms. will do nicely, but you don’t have to—”
He shook his head. “It’s a non-issue. American has an excellent business class section, and I will be more than comfortable. You catch up with Mr. Kelly now, and perhaps we can get to know each other better when we land in B.A.” Another blinding smile.
You can always spot a well-traveled man by the nicknames he uses to refer to various international cities, like “B.A.” for Buenos Aires or “Joburg” for Johannesburg. A kindred spirit.
“Uh…I’d like that,” I spluttered, wishing he’d turn away before I tied my tongue into a tighter knot.
The concierge forced a smile and directed his attention to Liam and me, his two newest upgrades. “If you’ll give me your boarding passes….” We gratefully handed them over. Then he turned back to James. “Mr. Aldridge, regardless of where you’re sitting, I’ll make sure you receive first class treatment.” The two walked toward the ticket desk, Miguel following like a puppy dog.
“Looks like it’s going to be a nice flight,” I said to Liam, attempting to appease.
“Sacrificing two first class tickets doesn’t make him any less of a prick,” he said. “One that obviously wants to get inside your pants. Don’t let him, Dani. Your heart’s taken enough of a pounding lately. You don’t need it being mishandled by some backstabber.”
“No worries. You know my rule.” A rehearsed disclaimer that, since meeting James Aldridge, even I didn’t believe anymore. I’d counted on an exciting trip. Just how exciting only time would tell.
By day, a mild-mannered salesperson, wife, mother, rescuer of senior shelter dogs, competitive trivia player and author groupie, happily living just north of New York City. By night, an author of sex, suspense and satire.
My background includes stints in travel marketing, travel journalism, meeting planning, public relations and real estate. I was, for a long and happy time, an award-winning magazine writer and editor. Then kids happened. And I needed to actually make money. Now they're off doing whatever it is they do (of which I have no idea since they won't friend me on Facebook) and I can spend my spare time weaving tales of debauchery and whatever else tickles my fancy.
The main thing to remember about my work is that I am NOT one of my characters. For example, as a real estate broker, I've never played Bondage Bingo in one of my empty listings or offed anyone at my local diet clinic.