Tug and Pull: Meet Alexa & Mateo

An Excerpt from Masked Intent: A Modern-Day Morality Play


“…the best breakfast you’ve ever had. Hands down.”

I’d searched my brain for a polite rejection but could find none. Instead, it was painfully clear that my faculties no longer had jurisdiction here because I was completely focused on what my heart and body obviously want. I wonder what it would feel like with your hands down my…

Certain that my dirty thoughts would grow little feet and dash over into his brain, I’d turned as swiftly as I could to hide my face and head towards my SUV. About 20 minutes later, we arrive at our destination, but I am no less shaky than I’d been when I agreed to go with him. Aptly named, The Breakfast Nook is tucked well out of sight, solidly off a well-traveled thoroughfare that bisects Middleburg, Virginia. The quaint hamlet oozes the image that Loudoun County craves and trades on. A bedroom community nestled in the ultra ‘burbs, quite well west of Washington, DC, the median income is more than twice that of most other places in the nation. The neighbors view owning horses as a matter of both course and privilege. But often, sadly, the attitude and breeding of the horses supersedes that of their owners.

Mateo slices his motorcycle into one of the shoebox-sized spaces without effort. I, on the other hand, seem to have forgotten how to park as I watch him tear off his helmet, shake out his hair, and dismount the mammoth bike. It really isn’t fair that I have so much trouble resisting my connection to him. We are just friends, and this is just breakfast. We are just friends, and this is just breakfast. I chant silently to myself as I train my focus on the optics and away from the man. It’s a stupid meal, for heaven’s sake, I remind myself as I maneuver my midnight blue BMW X5 through a ridiculously tight lane that opens (but just slightly) to a sad little parking lot with crackled asphalt backing the restaurant. But that’s just it. It really isn’t just breakfast. This is a tipping point, following months of interest, curiosity, and fascination, which for me has become a primal desire that I can’t indulge. At least, I won’t let myself indulge it. My marriage taught me all about the vulnerable underbelly of a relationship. How small wounds left to fester and ooze undetected can eat away at your vital parts until you no longer recognize what’s left or what you’ve become. My divorce brought comfort and restored my life. I know this. And yet, I find myself falling deeper into Mateo. Wanting more than I know how to handle. I swear as my resolve to resist him melts away with whatever is left of the concentration I seem to need to ease my truck between these too-tight lines. Looks like whoever owns this lot has a passion for compact cars only. 

I look up from this parking fuckery to see Mateo standing to the side observing my vehicular struggle with poorly masked glee. Yet, I can swear I see arousal radiating from him in pulsing waves, washing over me and frying my brain. Stopping my heart. He crosses his arms against his broad chest and trains his eyes on mine. He knows he’s rattling me and seems rather pleased with himself. But I can’t care about that just now. I watch as his amusement shifts back to desire, which makes my cheeks grow hot. Damn him!

After what seems like much too long, I shut off the engine and reach over to grab my purse from the passenger seat. I ease open the door and squeeze through the narrow passage. As I make my way to him, I’m again undeniably captivated by his presence. To say he’s handsome is wholly inadequate. Smoky green-gray eyes, a striking complement to his olive/tan, sun-kissed skin, remind me of jade and feature flecks of amber and sunshine, rendering them focused, penetrating, and hypnotic. But he isn’t just unbelievably attractive. He’s charismatic. He towers over most people in every way … and not just because of his height. It’s hard to ignore his presence and power, which not only seem to draw people near, but also aid him in reading and deciphering their motivations. I should know because the man breaks me down with just a sideways glance. I’ll never admit it, but I suspect I don’t have to.

Yes, Dr. Mateo Da Rocha, Psy. D., is a delicious, lust-filled fantasy. This friendship I thought we could have is real and rich. But it’s become so much more than that as he continues burrowing his way into my life and heart. I shake myself back to reality as I mentally pour cold water onto this treacherous mix of arousal and panic vying for my full attention.


Over the next hour and a half, we enjoy our breakfast as I pry my way into this beauty’s life. Alexa is light, goodness, and all kinds of sexy. I swear her eyes flash at me with what can only be a described as a promissory note for lose-your-heart sex. And I’m sure she doesn’t even know it. Looking into her golden-brown-and-amber eyes is like staring into the sun longer than you should. You know how you see those floaty circles of light afterwards? Just like that, it blinds me when I look at her, and that scares the crap out of me. For real. It’s like a flame that promises to scald me to the core, but I can’t resist getting closer to it. I need to feel this heat. Once I thought that I could fuck her out of my system, but I can’t go there. A random, mindless encounter could never scratch this itch. Instead, I’ve been breaking her down slowly, gently, bringing her around to realize this until she’s forced to submit to the connection we share. My sudden interest in running is probably my best opportunity to bring her around to my way of thinking, so it’s time to make a strategic move.

“So,” I begin once our table is cleared of dishes and we sit sipping cups of the best coffee in the charted universe, “how should we tackle our training?”

She purses her lips but doesn’t respond immediately. I know her well enough at this point that I can almost see her brain at work, but on what, I can’t say. Not saying I’m a mind reader. But I assess people with near precision whether they want me to or not. Getting at Alexa has always been a much tougher hack.

“Are you sure you want to do this, Da Rocha?”

“Of course. Why wouldn’t I?”

“I don’t know. You didn’t exactly seem to be at home on the trails,” she says. It’s more a challenge than a statement, but I’m not taking that bait. When I don’t respond, she lets some of her frustration show. “Look, stop shitting me. This is the only training club you could find?”

There are lots of ways to play this. Did I figure she’d figure me out? Of course. Did I think she’d call me on it immediately? Hell no. She’s not pissed, but I’ll need to be careful. A little white lie never hurt anyone. There was no bad intent or malice behind my ruse. I could come clean on that, and I probably should. But I also think I need a way to turn this to my advantage. While I figure out what that is, I’ll buy myself some time.

“The only one? No, of course not. But it’s the one with the best view.”

“See, that right there,” she says, pointing a well-manicured finger my way, “you want me to believe—”

“I want you to believe in what you feel.” This sums up our dilemma in simplest terms. I may flirt with her on purpose, but I do it for a few reasons. I can admit that I enjoy how she reacts when I do, but more important, it keeps her focused on what’s between us, the proverbial elephant in the room that she keeps trying to ignore. She’s been fighting herself to find her reasons to say no because she won’t, can’t, doesn’t want to trust in what we could be. I don’t know which. I don’t even know if that’s the only reason for her resistance. I just need to remove all the whys from her mind and replace them with why not.

“Let’s say hypothetically that I arranged our chance meeting hoping to give us more time together. Your life demands order, so what better way to find more time with you than to schedule it in with something you’d planned on doing since you won’t give us a chance to explore what this is.” I laugh, and it’s appropriately naked and self-deprecating. Somehow, though, I feel lighter having rid my brain of the words. “I can think of a lot worse things I could do, so that wouldn’t really be considered shitting you, now would it?”

She gives me a smile that makes my knees unsteady while she considers me much like a teacher does a clever, mischievous student. “Well, it doesn’t make you a lying liar that lies. But you obviously have an angle.”

This might be the time to fold. How I show this hand matters, though. I may use fun and flirty as my default setting, but she needs to understand that I’m serious – about her, about us, about learning more about what us means even if I can’t quite be sure I know that myself just yet. “I need to peel back the rest of your layers, Lexi. But I’m willing to earn the right to what I want.”

She studies me with interest and a little apprehension, too. “And that is?”

I shake my head, amused but a bit frustrated as she holds my feet to this fire. “You know what I want, love. You want it, too, because if you didn’t, you’d shut me down completely. But you don’t. So, the question is why you keep resisting. That’s one of the things I want to know.” I stand from my bench across from her and motion for her to move over so I can slide in beside her. I lean forward to close the space between us even more and reach for her hand, stroking her fingers absently. “But there are other things, too. So, for the next few weeks, we’ll play a game. Let’s call it The Reason Why Not.”

“What’s with you and games?” She laughs but it’s a fair question. It may even be one of the reasons she prefers to believe I’m not all that serious about getting her to change her mind considering that I’ve hit her with a couple of these made-up gems of mine over the months.

“They’re fun and non-threatening,” I answer her finally. “But that’s not the question you need to be asking.”

She groans and gives me a reluctant smile. “I’ll probably regret this, but what should I be asking?”

“You need to know how the game will work, love. So here it is: We’ll play for a few weeks. At the beginning of each week, as we set our training goals for the race, of course, we set a goal to help fill in one huge blank about each other. When we share what we learned at the end of the week, that moves us one step closer to an actual date. Four weeks. Four new reasons to tell me yes.”

“You’re a smug, SOB, Da Rocha. Even if it’s yes,” she sighs, “the answer still has to be no.” She smiles and relaxes but just slightly, thinking she’s won.

“Think so?” I counter, all in for the challenge because I’m more certain than ever that what she’s feeling is something very different from what she wants me to believe.

“I’ve told you this.” There’s something sad and conflicted in her eyes, which is a new feature to this on-repeat conversation. I nod as I try to decide if I like this look on her.

“You have. Still not listening, though.” And now seems like a good time to close this out before she finds her way out. “We usually hang out some each week anyway, so it won’t be like adding something completely new to the schedule. We’ll just have a bit more ground to cover when we’re together. We’ll work out the rest as the weeks go on. Sound like a plan?”

“No,” she answers quickly with a panicked laugh, “I haven’t agreed to play your game, Da Rocha.”

“But you won’t say no.”

“Mateo,” she searches my eyes, her own pleading and desperate, “I’ll never deny that there’s an ease between us, and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I’m drawn to you, sure, and that’s all good, but I don’t know if that’s enough to sustain a relationship. What’s more, it frightens the hell out of me.” I silently urge her to continue because so far, I don’t see the big issue. This is also the most candid she’s been about her feelings. She looks away briefly and closes her eyes like she’s steeling herself to say or do something she really doesn’t want to. “You could have any woman at all.” No sooner do the words rush from her lips that she clamps them shut. She didn’t mean to say that last part aloud, but this, this simple, vitally important piece of our puzzle, is what has the potential to fuck me up the most unless I can help her navigate past my reputation and begin to see me. The me I want to be with her anyway.

“Apparently not,” I counter, “because the one I want can’t seem to trust that what I say to her – to you – ishow I feel. I don’t meet women who intrigue me the way that you do. Who are half as beautiful as you. Who are as self-assured and as self-possessed as you. All I’m asking,” I grab for her hand and squeeze it because it’s time to close this out, “is that you drop your shields and give me the chance to show you that you can trust me and that what we can be together is worth the risk. So, for the next four weeks, no more hiding. No more deflecting.”

“Mateo, I don’t know if I can—”

“Say yes.”

She stares at me for a moment, the fear evident in her golden-brown eyes. Still, somehow, thankfully, she agrees, and after a mini debate over the tab, I settle, and we take off. Let the games begin.

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