Love Reversed
Zenobia Renquist
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2011 Zenobia Renquist

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Cinnamon spotted Calhoun walking away from the outdoor banquet back toward the hotel. He must have forgotten something in his room. The man didn't act like he wanted to be at the retreat even though he had paid a lot of money to get a room at the overbooked hotel hosting it. He showed no interest in the people or the events, and actually seemed annoyed to be there.

So why come? It made no sense.

Normally something like that wouldn't bug her but he drew her eye. It had to be the full sleeve of tattoos that covered his right arm from his wrist all the way up the back of his bald scalp.

Beautiful art, no matter where it was located, always caught her eye. Calhoun's sepia-colored tattoos had clean, sharp lines defining each of the religious symbols -- Ancient Egyptian scarabs, Chinese dragons, Celtic runes, and so on. She could only guess he wanted to cover all the bases.

She would love to meet his tattoo artist just in case she ever got up the nerve to actually get ink of her own. The pain didn't deter her. She just didn't know what she wanted or where she wanted it. That had to mean she wasn't ready to get one.

Asking about tattoos and artists would have to wait. She had another reason to seek out Calhoun, so she followed him to the back of the hotel near the delivery and loading area. While she didn't want to miss the rest of the dinner, she did want her bracelet back. Calhoun had said he could fix it easily. His wandering around had to mean it was finished. If not, she would rather he simply return it so she could get it fixed somewhere else.

Calhoun entered a glass door that had Employees Only embossed on it in big, bold lettering. He wasn't an employee. He had arrived on Hawaii the same day she had. That's how he ended up with her bracelet. It snagged on his suitcase at the baggage claim carousel while she tried to retrieve her own bag. The result -- a broken bracelet clasp.

The door slammed shut behind him, and Cinnamon waited. He would come out any second after he realized his mistake... if it was a mistake. Though she couldn't reason why it wouldn't be a mistake. Maybe he'd gone in search of a restroom, which meant he would exit any minute.

She watched the door, but Calhoun didn't exit. While the cool night breeze felt good against her legs, she couldn't stand there forever, waiting for him. When a big cheer sounded from the area where the banquet was taking place, Cinnamon glanced in that direction then looked back at the door. Still no Calhoun.

Well, whatever he was doing in there was none of her business. She turned and headed back to the banquet. She had paid a lot of money to get to Hawaii so she could visit with Dannah Ridge, a legendary black actress who had been Cinnamon's idol from the moment she laid eyes on the woman. Some people even said Cinnamon looked like a younger Dannah, except Cinnamon's breasts were bigger, and her cheeks sported dimples instead of a beauty mark.

A rustling sound drew her attention back to the employees' entrance. Two men carrying a wriggling, writhing duffel bag between them went through the same door.

Cinnamon frowned. Maybe it was paranoia talking, but that bag had looked a lot like a person struggling to get out. She shook her head, dismissing her silly ideas. Too many cop dramas had her seeing crimes where there were none. Except... she couldn't stop staring at the door.

Had the men run into Calhoun and attacked him for being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or maybe Calhoun was meeting them. He had crashed the party. If not for Dannah's fellow actor and long time paramour Flint East, Calhoun would have never gotten a room at the hotel because they were booked solid for the all-star retreat -- an event featuring actors of old and their adoring fans.

Did that mean Calhoun had crashed to do something shady? And maybe Flint East was helping him and that was how a room had miraculously become available?

Cinnamon found herself walking toward the door. Despite Calhoun's rough exterior and gruff attitude, she couldn't see him as the type who would harm someone without just cause. Her instincts about people were usually right.

As she reached for the doorknob, she muttered, "This is the part in the horror movie when the audience writes off the woman as TSTL for not minding her own business and then laughs when her stupidity gets her killed."

Thankfully, her life wasn't a movie, especially not a horror movie. She still hoped her nosy nature didn't get her into trouble.

She slipped past the door quickly, throwing a glance over her shoulder to make sure no one had followed her or raised an alarm. Everything remained quiet. She looked for clues to Calhoun's whereabouts. The door led to a long corridor with doors at odd intervals. Cinnamon didn't plan to check the doors in case people were behind them that might object to her being there. She did peek into the few rooms with open doors.

Nothing.

If Calhoun and those mystery men with the duffel bag were there, they were hiding. She shrugged and chalked it up to a loss. Calhoun had to come out some time. She would get her bracelet back from him then.

Someone grabbed her from behind, clapped their hand over her mouth, and pulled her back into the shadows against a solid chest. She prepared to employ every technique she had learned in self-defense class.

"Next time you want to sneak up on me, try wearing less perfume, Cinnamon." Calhoun whispered those words so close to her ear that his hot breath feathered across her cheek. "What are you doing here?"

She pulled his hand down and whispered back, "What about you? I doubt you're an employee. And what happened to those two guys with the duffel bag?"

"Saw them, did you?"

"Yes. They came in right after --"

Calhoun put his hand back over her mouth and backed up farther into the room. Cinnamon didn't understand why until two more men with another writhing duffel bag walked past.

She waited for the sounds of their footsteps to fade before she pulled Calhoun's hand down once more and whispered, "Tell me those guys aren't carrying what I think they're carrying."

"What do you think they're carrying?" Again Calhoun spoke with his mouth close to her ear. His rumbling voice sent shivers up her spine whose cause she would contemplate when she wasn't in a potentially dangerous situation.

"A person trying to get out."

"Beauty and brains. Perceptive women like you are dangerous."

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