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A War of Hearts
Author: Karen Lynn





 It was another chilly autumn day in New York City, the piercing cold wind a precursor to the blistering winter to come. A day to forget all the heartache, nightmares, and past mistakes. To begin refreshed, renewed, and dump your sorrows down the toilet. He had to laugh thinking about it. Was anyone aware of how powerful and persistent those little demons gnawing away at your brain could be? How hard it was to drown out those voices shouting that death would be better than this? Maybe if others did it would all be different.

 When he sought the refuge of the park that day it was for the pure, unwavering relief, plain and simple. His head had been throbbing with jagged images of despair since he had gotten up that morning. All he needed was an isolated place to escape to for a few hours.

 Hoping it was the least visible spot in Central Park, he sprawled out on an old beach towel, his backpack, drawing pad, charcoal, and bag of weed beside him. The multi-colored trees failed to shield his eyes from the sunny autumn sky as he took a long hit of his joint while he shoved the baggie back in his backpack. His chest heaved as he exhaled, his eyes darting between the bluish swirls of smoke and a forlorn looking squirrel crunching among the brittle yellow and brown leaves.

 Deep in one of the many crevices of the park, the chaotic madness of the concrete jungle—just a stone's throw away—seemed nonexistent. Here he would block out the pulsating rhythm of the streets, at least for a while. He would close his ears to the blaring horns of the endless stream of yellow cabs, the continuous whirring of cars and buses zooming past, the laughter, shouts, cries, barking dogs. He didn't want any reminders of life that existed far and apart from his own. Today there was no Manhattan.

 Today, his mind would be as pristine and pure as a blank canvas. He was alone and happy, not fighting to stay afloat in a sea of millions. For this one day, he wouldn’t be just another struggling artist yearning to make a living doing what he loved.

 Closing his eyes, he succumbed to the relaxed, weightless state of mind. He wasn’t running away from the nightmares in his head, just seeking a brief reprieve. A temporary solace. At least for a while, he would drift into oblivion. Happy 30th birthday!

 After several minutes, an unusual urge made him peer off into the distance. It wasn't the hypnotic sound of loud salsa music he could hear echoing through the trees—it was more of a feeling, a premonition, telling him something, or someone, was spying on him, hidden behind a couple of protruding rocks and bushes.

 Why couldn't he enjoy his buzz in peace, at least one day?

 It’s my damn birthday! Hauling himself up, he tried to focus on the sudden flash of what appeared to be fiery red hair. Maybe it was a dog, an Irish Setter. There’s no way I’m taking home another stray. Nope, not today.

 Then she sat up. Her face was shielded by a cascade of long, thick copper hair. With his curiosity peaking, he squinted his eyes for a better look. Something wasn't right with her. He scanned the area assuring himself that she was alone. It was just the two of them and the squirrels amongst the trees. Even they were wise enough to hide out of reach. Any woman with half a brain wouldn't be alone in a deserted part of Central Park by choice. Still, he didn't want to go over there because some chick was stupid! What the hell, it was her business. He had his own issues to take care of with a day filled with meditation, relaxation, and art.

 But an overwhelming interest forced him to go towards her. Once again acting against his better judgment, he moved closer, peering down at her as she crouched over, hugging her knees to her chest. The only sounds he concentrated on were those miserable, anguished sobs.

 "Hey. Are you okay?" He found himself stooping to touch her arm, anxious to see what she was hiding. Without answering, she jerked, flinching while grasping her knees tighter.

 "Hey... I'm just checking. You know it’s not safe for women to be in the park alone,” he grumbled, his voice husky. Why the hell am I touching her?

 Silence. Except for the sniffling and muffled sobs that seemed to be tapering off.

 "Why do you care?" A tiny whisper trickled through the heavy blanket of hair.

  Trying to get a clearer picture, he caught a glimpse of her wet eyes peeking up at him. The glare of the late afternoon sun seemed to radiate from them, almost blinding him. But he was certain they were sparkling emeralds, green with little specks of gold. She made no effort to move away.

 His interest had now reached a feverish peak.

 With a sigh, he tried to play it cool. "Maybe I don't," he said while instantly fretting over his words.

 He stood watching her, listening to the persistent sniffling, as she brushed the rest of her hair away, finally revealing her beautiful face. She slid back in slow motion, staring at him with such intensity he felt like he was a barbaric invader. He became rigid, surprised by the effect her tear-soaked, rosy face had on him. The image of a peach, a delicious, juicy one, came into his mind. He suppressed a laugh.

 It was difficult to determine her age, especially with the puffiness of her eyes and face that accompanied a good cry. But he guessed she wasn't more than a few years younger than he was, which was a good thing.

 "Don't worry, I won't bite!" He shook his head with an amused expression.

 "Why don't you just leave me alone?" Her voice was sweet and soft, but tinged with irritation.

 "No problem. Just wanted to make sure you're all right. It's not the safest place to be hanging out by yourself.” With a shrug, he stepped back a little, hoping to put her more at ease. If she’s not into it, I’ll back off. No big deal.

 "You think I'm stupid? I know that!" she shot back, her face reddening even more as she jumped to her feet on the defensive.

 Unfazed, he let his eyes slide along her body. He’d always had a keen eye, very observant and fast. Without wasting a minute, he studied the toned curves of her slim body, the ample breasts. She wasn’t very tall, at least next to him, but had great muscular legs and a cute little butt. He settled on the uniqueness of her face, taking in the high cheekbones splattered with freckles, full lips, and big green eyes filled with regret. A creative spark ignited in his head. With all those images in his mind, he could create a beautiful nude painting. Picturing the splash of shapes and colors across a huge canvass, he smiled.

 "I never said that!" He grinned. "You don't look stupid—naïve, maybe.”

 "Right! It figures. How would you know?" She rolled her eyes not attempting to hide her sarcasm. Then, without being too conspicuous, she assessed him. He towered over her, incredibly tall and muscular. His wavy, brown hair fell way past his shoulders. With a smooth, light tan complexion, he had a kind of exotic mixture of raw sensuality and strength. But is he dangerous? There was an innocent sparkle in his eyes, but that could be deceiving. On guard, her eyes glued on his, she was poised to run.

 He stood transfixed while he felt her eyes penetrating his soul. It was difficult to think with coherence in this hazed state of mind, but he knew he didn't want her to run away. Not yet. He could tell she was frightened even though she expelled a defiant energy while she stood rooted in place. And she’s sexy as hell, in an innocent sort of way.

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