ACAPULCO NIGHTS was a Write Affair finalist (Kensington Books) on Wattpad as an “Editor’s Pick.”
Even in paradise, divorce is hell.
Suzie’s fiancé, James, is pressuring her to pick a day for their wedding. She’s cancelled three dates, and he’s starting to wonder if she really wants to get married. But how does she go about telling her fiancé that she’s already married to a man in Mexico? She needs a divorce, and she needs one fast. Her marriage has been a secret from her best friend, Janice, her fiancé, even her own mother, and she wants to keep it that way.
When Janice asks her to come along on an all-girl vacation to Acapulco, Suzie leaps at the chance. A search on the Internet gives Suzie all the information she needs to track down her husband, Joaquin, while out of the country and finally get that divorce.
Unfortunately, Joaquin won’t give her up so easily.
When James appears in Acapulco unexpectedly, all hell breaks loose, and Suzie stands to lose everything she’s ever loved.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
My inspiration for writing this book came from my sophomore year of college when I studied abroad in Mexico for a semester. I had my own love affair with a sexy Mexican man and found a spark of a story in that experience.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Characters sort of create themselves, to tell you the truth. Typically, I start with the spark of an idea for a story and then write. My character usually emerge as I write. Joaquin, the long-lost husband, definitely was based around the Mexican man I dated many years ago. But he is still fictional!
By K.J. Gillenwater
Joaquin Hernandez de León. A name I hadn’t thought about in more than ten years. Finding my husband on the Internet stunned me for a moment. I couldn’t breathe.
The soft yellow walls of my home office disappeared, and my gaze narrowed at the web page in front of me.
“Hey, Suzie! Are you almost ready to go?”
In a flash, I hit the print key on my computer and minimized my Internet browser window.
“You’re going to miss your plane.” James, my fiancé, stood in the doorway.
I sat with my back to him, trying to regain my composure. I felt the heat in my cheeks and knew if I turned to look at him, he would know something was up.
I fussed with a stack of papers next to my computer. “I’m almost ready to go. Sorry it took me so long to find what I needed.” I spun around in my chair.
James had that cute little frown on his face I loved. He looked aggravated and adorable all at the same time.
I smiled. “Why don’t I grab what I need here, and you start warming up the car in the garage?” Seeing the printed pages waiting in the tray of my printer, I itched to pick them up and read them.
“We need to get going. It takes a lot longer to get through security nowadays, remember?” He looked at me expectantly.
As casually as I could, I switched off my computer and then swept the newly printed papers out of the tray. “Just some ideas for places to see while Janice and I are in Acapulco.”
I folded them up and jammed them into the pocket of my carry-on. As I zippered my bag closed, my stomach dropped at the deceit.
“Could you put up your tray table please, miss?” The flight attendant stood right next to my seat.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” I had been daydreaming. James had been on my mind and the uncertain look on his face as he shipped me off at the airport in San Antonio. I wondered what my fiancé was thinking right now as he drove to his conference in Dallas. It would be reassuring to have him in the seat next to me before the nerves set in again.
“Well, we can’t have this tray table down, if you want to land.” She gave me the perky smile that apparently had been issued with every uniform on this airline.
I grabbed the book off my tray I was supposed to be reading, and the flight attendant whisked away my empty drink cup and a crumpled bag of peanuts.
“Is there any way I could get one more beer?” I wished I could go back to San Antonio and pretend none of this was real.
She looked down her nose. “Two’s the limit on any flight. Sorry. You’ll have to wait until you get there.”
The one time I wanted to drink myself into oblivion, I couldn’t. Served me right. I was weak. Drinking wouldn’t change anything anyway. The plane would land in Acapulco in a few minutes, and I didn’t want to leave my seat. It would be so much nicer to stay here in this uncomfortable, narrow seat with the too-smiley flight attendant for companionship. That would be okay. Really.
I wasn’t much of a drinker, but along with the standard airplane pretzels, a couple of beers seemed reasonable to take the edge off. Instead, the alcohol had twisted my stomach in knots.
Maybe it had been a good thing Ms. Perky Flight Attendant wouldn’t let me have another. I’d never been interested in finding out if those air sickness bags did the job or not.
Janice would be waiting for me in Acapulco. I had to buck up, shake off those nerves, and be ready to play the good friend. I didn’t need her to be questioning my state of mind.
Her flight from Chicago arrived an hour before mine. I could see her in my mind’s eye: her gawky figure draped in clothes two sizes too big. She liked things loose on her body. I tried to convince her for years she should show off her athletic shape once in awhile. She had zero self-confidence about her appearance.
How she would manage to hide her body in a bathing suit was anybody’s guess. I would bet a dollar, however, that Janice would figure out a way to do it.
The airplane pulled up to the gate. I slid out of my seat and grabbed my carry-on from the bin over my head. The papers with Joaquin on them were tucked safely inside.
My body anticipated the fresh air, but I forgot we were in Acapulco. Steamy, tropical Acapulco. Instead of a refreshing waft of crisp air, a warm mist enveloped me like an unwanted embrace.
Memories from my last trip to Acapulco came flooding back, but I pushed them into the darkest corner of my mind. I had been a different person then. Sometimes I ached for that old me.
The excited pitch of Janice’s voice rose above the cacophony in the airport as I made my way from Customs. I scanned the throngs of people and instantly recognized her long, thin face. She had a much shorter haircut than I remembered, but it flattered her.
“Janice!” I pushed my way through the crowd to reach her, pulling my heavy suitcase.
Janice took my carry-on from my shoulder. “Can you believe this place?” She indicated the morass of people and luggage jammed in the airport. “How insane is this?”
Her smile was infectious. My mood lightened just by being in her presence.
“Crazy,” I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster. This trip filled me with a certain amount of dread and nervousness, but I did my best to put on a happy face.
She stopped and looked at me, “Duh! Come here, give me a hug!” She wrapped her free arm around my shoulders.
I stood there, both hands yanking on my stubborn suitcase. I had over-packed – the wheels that were supposed to speed me along through the airport weren’t even touching the ground. The bulging middle of my suitcase dragged, undignified, on the tile floor.
I gave up the fight against too many pairs of shoes stuffed in the bottom of my bag and gave my old friend a half-hug.
“And how have you been?” Janice had a nervous kind of energy. An energy that, unless she used it regularly, could turn easily into agitation.
“I’ve been doing all right,” I answered through gritted teeth. I hoped the wheels on my suitcase would somehow make themselves useful. Even leaning all my weight forward, the suitcase stubbornly dragged on the ground.
She led me right out the automatic sliding doors to a taxi stand. I let go of my suitcase and tipped it up into its at-rest position.
Definitely need to rearrange the shoes for the trip home.
Janice giggled. “You have no idea how much fun we are going to have! The hotel I picked has all sorts of activities and events.” She squeezed my arm while she waved down a taxi. “I’m so glad you decided to come along after all. It wouldn’t have been the same without you.”
“Well, it was nice to be invited. Not often that I get the chance to do some girlfriend bonding.”
“It’s been too long, hasn’t it?”
“Yeah, that’s for sure.” I couldn’t remember the last time Janice and I had gotten together for more than a quick weekend visit. Over the years our lives had grown more distant, especially once I’d move to Texas. “So, since I know you so well, what activity did you sign me up for?”
“Why, I didn’t sign you up for anything.” Then, she rushed right into it. “But there was one thing I knew you would love, and if I didn’t put our names down ahead of time, I thought we might not get a spot.”
A taxi pulled up to the curb, and the driver popped the trunk. He got out of the car, took my overstuffed bag from my hands, and lifted it into the back.
“When were you planning on telling me? Or were you going to spring it on me at the most inappropriate time?”
My sarcasm lost on her, she gushed, “We’re going kayaking!”
Our driver waited for us, holding open the passenger door. I slid in, wondering what made Janice think I would enjoy paddling a small boat with a tendency to flip over. I wasn’t out-of-shape, but a few rounds of tennis would’ve been more my style.
Janice spoke to the driver, most likely giving him the name of our hotel. I held back my question.
Janice slid into the seat next to me.
“I signed us up for all three levels.” Janice squeezed my arm. “By the end of our trip, we should be experts.” Her long, thin legs didn’t fit in a car this size. Her knees squished up against the front seat, but she didn’t seem to care about her discomfort. All of her mental energy focused on our Acapulco adventure.
“All three levels, huh?” What more could there be to learn beyond some paddling? Maybe I could find a way to skip out on lessons two and three. Feign illness? Heat stroke? A debilitating sunburn?
“I wanted to sign us up for the trapeze class, but—”
“I know!” Janice continued blithely, “That had been my first choice, too, but they’ve been closed down for two weeks due to some safety issues.”
I was glad she didn’t elaborate on what the safety issues were nor how they figured out a problem existed with safety in the first place. Kayaking would be just fine.
“Is it a group class?” I imagined making a fool out of myself, dropping my paddle in the water, flipping over repeatedly, wearing those silly looking helmets. In front of Janice, I couldn’t care less, but in front of strangers—
“I think so,” Janice answered without noticing the trepidation in my voice. “Wait until you see the hotel, Suzie. We have a suite with this huge living area. And a whirlpool bath! Oh, and an ocean view!”
She gave me the details of our accommodations as we drove through the outskirts of town. Dozens of tarpaper shacks and tarp tents lined up along the dusty roads, blocked off from traffic by broken chain link fencing. Some of the squatters’ homes bore hand-painted signs saying propiedad privada—private property. A handful of dirty-looking children, dressed in clothes much too hot for such a climate, played soccer with a half-deflated soccer ball, aiming for goals made from cardboard taped together.
Mexico hadn’t changed much in the last decade.
“So how’s James? How’s life in San Antonio?” Janice asked brightly.
“Good.” I hoped that Janice wouldn’t take the questioning any further than that. Question answered. No further details needed.
“That’s all I get from you, ‘good’?”
Dang it. Guess Janice had to have more than a one word answer. “James and I are living in the same house, have the same jobs.” There, that should satisfy her.
“And haven’t picked a wedding date?”
The one question I’d dreaded. “Oh, Janice, don’t you give me a hard time, too.”
“How can I not? You’ve been engaged for four years, Suze. People are starting to wonder.”
“People? What people?”
“Okay, so your mom and I have been wondering. What’s going on with you two? Is it cold feet or something else?”
We both gripped our respective door handles as our driver took a sharp turn at a pretty fast clip.
“You’ve been talking to my mom about me and James?” I should’ve known. My mother had turned into the Oprah of Buffalo Grove. She could pry information out of anyone.
“Who else would I be talking to, the mailman?”
“Janice, I know you and my mother are close, but—”
She waggled her finger. “Remember? You told me to keep an eye on her. We meet once a month for brunch, and your love life is our favorite topic of conversation.”
“Great.” I slumped back. They were like Oprah and Gayle, yukking it up over pancakes and coffee. Dishing on my relationship status.
“Hey, we care about you, dummy. I think James is a great guy and all, but if he can’t commit, maybe you should be questioning his feelings for you.”
“Janice, it’s not James who cancelled. I did. I couldn’t bear telling my mom.” Or you, I thought, as concern filled her eyes.
“You cancelled? All three times? What’s going on? I thought you loved James. He’s so perfect for you.”
“I do love him, but—” Oh, how I wished I could confide in her at that moment. But if I did, I knew I would lose her friendship, and this time it would be permanent. “It’s complicated.” When you can’t bear to tell the truth, obfuscation was a good way to go.
Janice looked pained. My oldest and dearest friend, and I couldn’t be straight with her.
Janice grabbed my hand. “When you’re ready to talk, I’m here.”
God, why did she have to be so loyal? So kind and so sweet? I didn’t deserve it. In fact, I didn’t deserve James either. I had lived with this deception for so long I didn’t know how to act any differently.
I squeezed her hand. “Thanks.”
As we approached the center of the city, the shacks were replaced by brightly-colored adobe walls of pink, blue, yellow, and orange. These were the more middle-class homes hidden behind decorative wrought iron gates. Bright pink bougainvillea grew everywhere in this town, and the vines dipped and looped around the intricate metalwork, softening the angles and points.
The colors became a blur as I thought about the papers in my carry-on bag. The first chance I got, I would pull out those pages I printed off the Internet and find out where Joaquin worked. Then, once I tracked him down, he and I needed to have a long talk.
My stomach dropped down to my knees at that thought. Where to start after all these years? How to explain myself? I imagined calling him on the phone and saying, “Hey, remember me, your long lost wife? Well, I’m in town, and I need a divorce.” Not the best way to start a conversation with a husband I’d abandoned years ago.
That term sounded so foreign to me. Did Joaquin and I really get married? After twelve years of wondering what had happened to him and hiding my secret from everyone, I’d managed to find him with a few clicks of my mouse. What had been impossible only a few years earlier had changed with the birth of the Internet. Search engines, online white pages, reverse telephone lookups – I no longer had an excuse. I’d told myself for years that once I found Joaquin, I’d get that divorce. Snip, snap.
Now that I had my husband’s location, I knew it wouldn’t be quite that easy. I couldn’t take care of my problem with one casual conversation. I’d have to face Joaquin and explain myself. If I wanted to marry James, I would have to put aside my nerves and deal with the situation. I couldn’t see another way.
The taxi pulled up to our hotel: an overly-grand, sprawling building that hugged the coastline. Tall, exotic palm trees lined the drive, their feathery fronds waving in the tropical breeze.
Janice did a little dance with her feet on the floor of the cab, “We’re here! Can you believe it?”
I tried to match her enthusiasm, “What do you want to do first? Beach? Or maybe try out that whirlpool tub?”
As I stepped out of the taxi, I saw the massive sign out front with the name of our hotel in huge blue and yellow lettering: Playa Del Mexico.
My heart stopped for an instant. A loud ringing in my ears blocked out whatever Janice said to me.
Joaquin’s hotel. The one in the Internet article. It couldn’t be.
Standing there, unable to speak, I slipped my hand into my carry-on bag. I pulled out those pages. I had to see for myself.
I unfolded the now-wrinkled sheaf of papers. Joaquin’s smiling face looked back at me. I scanned the first paragraph of the article.
“Hey, Suze, let’s get a move on. The vacation starts inside the building, not out on the sidewalk.” Janice tugged at my sleeve.
On the first printed page the name of the hotel glared at me in bold:
Playa Del Mexico.
The papers slipped from my hand like so many dry leaves. Before they hit the ground, a gust of wind swept them up and carried them away. I could chase after them, gather them up, but what would be the use? I didn’t need them anymore. This was the same hotel. I knew I would find him here.
I felt it in my bones.
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