Summer Vacation

This limited edition anthology includes steamy, contemporary short stories centered around travel. Check out the blurb and the first two chapters of Alicia Crofton’s short story, Paradiso, below.

Adrienna finds herself in the E.R. with a heart disease she can’t even pronounce. A trip to the Amalfi Coast is exactly what she needs to rest and recover. But when she meets an Italian with a shared love for journaling, her ability to relax is put to the test. Can she keep things casual, or risk her weakened heart on a chance at love?

Chapter 1

The knock at my office door yanked me out of my daydream.

Just moments before, my mind had been pleasantly wandering the Amalfi Coast, dreaming of the upcoming vacation my boyfriend and I had planned. I had been imagining sea breezes, wine, and fresh mozzarella cheese. A romantic boat ride to Capri. Nights under the stars, reminiscing what it was like to live so carefree.

But the marketing team of Mindmatters bolted into my office and swarmed my desk, jolting me back to reality.

“Adrienna, I’ve got bad news. The app is down,” Rhen said. “Again.” He crossed his arms over his broad chest. With a shiny bald head and crystal blue eyes, he looked like Mr. Clean.

“What happened this time?” I said.

“There’s a glitch. The tech team is on it.”

“I see,” I said, taking a deep breath. We’d dealt with this before. I could handle another glitch. I turned to Sarah, head of social media. “Please tell me this hasn’t leaked yet.”

“Mindmatters is trending.” She winced. “And not in a good way.” Her square glasses slid down her nose as she hovered over her cell phone.

Mindmatters was the number one stress-relieving app on the market. I had joined as a marketing executive a few years ago, when it was just a budding startup with fewer than twenty employees. Ten years and 150 employees later, I was their chief marketing officer.

“How bad is it?” I said.

Sarah looked up. “Hashtag Mindmatters Blowsis in the top ten.”

Ouch. Okay, that hurt. Today’s glitch would likely drop us in the rankings.

Our customers were an unforgiving bunch, stressed out and looking to us to make their anxious lives better with guided meditations and ambient soundtracks, not a glitchy, unreliable app.

I suppressed the urge to scream and began creating a mental checklist of things I needed to do. I stood from my chair and powered up my get-shit-done mode. “Rhen, ask the product management team for an ETA on a fix.” Then I looked at Sasha, the head of communications, his curly black hair barely visible over his laptop computer. “Have a press release ready in one hour.”

“On it,” Sasha said.

I pulled my long dark hair into a messy bun, preparing for battle. This was the third glitch in three months. The amount of public relations work I had to navigate almost broke me last time.

Despite my steady breathing, my heartbeat continued to rise. The squeeze in my chest spidered to my sternum and lower ribs.

“Addie,” Sasha said, interrupting my thoughts. “We’re going to need to tell you-know-who.”

My stomach churned. “He doesn’t know yet?”

The team shook their heads. “Nobody wants to tell him,” Sasha said.

I sighed, pacing behind my desk, my three-inch heels wobbling. Stephan, the CEO, had been known to have a temper, but everyone knew he was easier on me.

Probably because he was my boyfriend.

“All right. I’ll tell him.”

Stephan was at a tech conference in New York. He had been traveling a lot lately, and as a result, we had been growing apart. It was one of the many reasons we planned a trip to Italy. To rekindle what we had.

I looked at my wristwatch and converted the time zones in my head. His presentation should be over by now, and he was probably one or two whisky sodas deep, schmoozing with a bunch of entrepreneurs.

He would not be happy with this news.

The stitch in my side crept up into my armpit, sharper than a muscle cramp. I pulled out a bottle of water from the mini fridge and chugged it. It wasn’t until I reached the bottom that I realized my team was still in my office, staring at me.

“What is it?”

“You don’t look so good, boss,” Rhen said. “Do you feel all right?”

Concern was written all over their faces, especially Sarah’s. “You seem pale. And sweaty. Maybe you should sit down.”

“I’m fine,” I said, rubbing my jaw. Somehow the ache had climbed up and rattled my teeth. I didn’t want the team to worry about me. They had enough to deal with. “Really, I’m okay.”

I sat down, not because Sarah told me to, but because my leather chair was comfortable and I needed to brace myself for a long night ahead.

My cell phone buzzed on my desk. It was Stephan. Probably calling to check in on the vision boards for our wellness campaign.

I pressed the speaker button. “Hey, Stephan. I was just about to call—”

“Addie,” Stephan interrupted, his tone clipped.

“Yeah?” I said, signaling everyone to leave.

“Why the fuck is ‘Mindmatters Blows’ trending on Chittersnap? Do you know how fucking embarrassing it is to find this out in front of the literal fucking CEO of Chittersnap? What the fuck is going on over there?”

I looked up to find my team hovered by the door, eyes stunned and wary.

“Out!” I pointed toward the door, my face burning. Stephan had never talked to me like that before. Ever.

Clicking off the speaker, I pressed the phone to my ear as I watched everyone leave. The door clicked shut, my ears ringing with its echo.

“I was just about to tell you that the app is down. The tech team is on it, and—”

“This is on you, Addie. You should have gotten ahead of this. You should have put a statement out there already.”

“Are you freaking kidding me, Stephan? I only found out about this five minutes ago.”

“We’ve had two other glitches. How are you not prepared with a statement already? You should have these things ready to go.”

The edges of my vision blurred. “We’re working on a press release now.” I huffed into the phone. “What’s with you? This is not my fault.”

Stephan growled. “I’ve got the board of directors riding my ass about last quarter’s results. This is going to ruin me. Ruin us.”

“Ruin us?” Light-headed, I sank into my chair. “What is that supposed to mean?” I said, tugging at the neckline of my silk blouse. “Do you mean the company, or do you mean you and me?”

“The latter.”

“What does our relationship have to do with this?”

Stephan and I had been together for two years, running the company as a team. We had proved that we could maintain a professional relationship in the office. The board of directors had approved it. It had never been an issue before at work. At home was a different story. Our professionalism had spilled into our personal life, and I couldn’t remember the last time we had been intimate. The trip to the Amalfi Coast was supposed to fix all that.

“Addie.” There was a long heavy silence that fell over the line. All of a sudden, the office felt warm. “This isn’t working. I can’t be dating the chief marketing officer of my company anymore.”

I blinked. And blinked again, unsure of what I had just heard. I wasn’t feeling well; perhaps I was hallucinating too.

“I don’t understand. It’s just an app glitch, Stephan. We’ve gotten through this before. We can handle it again. Our relationship is not the problem.”

“Addie… I’m sorry.”

“Wait. Are you firing me or breaking up with me?” The pain in my jaw throbbed.

“I have to show the board that I’m serious about making changes since last quarter. You should have been ready for another crisis, and you weren’t. I have to let you go. And I don’t expect you to stay with me after I let you go from the company.”

“But you’re not giving me the choice. How do you know I’d want to break up after you fire me?”

“Come on, Addie. Because I know you. Mindmatters means more to you than it does to me.”

“That’s bullshit, Stephan. And you know it.”

“Addie, it’s over. I need you to pack up your desk. And get your things out of my apartment.”

“You can’t be serious.” A shooting pain darted down my arm. Was I having a heart attack? I didn’t have time for that.

“Addie?” Sarah appeared in my line of sight, only blurrier. Wavy. Like a moving Van Gogh painting. “You dun lug s’gerr.” Her voice was muffled by the fog in my ears. I blinked, nausea sinking in. The last thing I heard was the thump of my chair rolling out from under me before everything went black.


The heart monitor kept me company as I waited for the doctor to return with the results of the EKG. The ends of my toes were icicles, barking for warmth.

The door swung open, and a burly man with a bulbous middle came in with a clipboard.

“Well, Adrienna, the good news is it wasn’t a heart attack,” the doctor said, peeling back the paperwork in his chart. “But it appears you might have something called takotsubo cardiomyopathy.”

“Taco zumba?”

“Takotsubo. It’s an apical ballooning of your left ventricle. It’s also called broken heart syndrome. It’s uncommon for women your age, but it can occur under extreme stressful conditions. Have you been under a lot of stress lately?”

“You could say that.”

The doctor ruffled his mustache. “You can recover, but you’ll need rest.”

“Rest? How can I rest? I lost my job today, and I have to find a new one. I was supposed to be going on this romantic vacation to Italy, but my boyfriend dumped me today too and now I’m going to be alone forever. And I have tocket zooboo, whatever that is.” I could feel panic creeping in and the muscles around my heart constricting.

“Easy. Easy. Breathe. You need to figure out a way to relax.”

I nodded, taking two deep breaths, while his meaty hand rested on my shoulder.

“Thatta girl. Just breathe. It’s going to be okay. But I need you to understand that you have to take care of yourself, okay? You are at risk for some serious complications if you don’t manage your stress.”

“Serious complications?” I looked up at him.

The doctor blew out through his nostrils, furling his bushy white eyebrows. “If you don’t slow down, we’re talking cardiac arrest.”

“Cardiac arrest? I’m only thirty-two! Are you serious?”

“Only if you don’t do as I tell you. Take a few months off work. Go on that vacation without the schmuck who dumped you. Disconnect. Perhaps you could try some stress-reducing activities. Yoga. Meditation. Journaling—”

“I have to stop you right there, Doc. I’m literally in the business of stress-reduction.”

The doctor raised an eyebrow.

“I know. I know.” I wilted. “I don’t really practice what we preach at Mindmatters.”

“Oh, I like that app,” the doctor said. “I use the meditation audio sometimes. It’s been giving me trouble lately though.”

I sighed. “I’m very aware of the app glitches. But I guess that’s not my problem anymore.”

The doctor smiled. “That’s the spirit. Let all of that go.”

I frowned, remembering how Stephan was so quick to let me go, from both the company and our relationship. He had assumed that I wasn’t willing to stay with him. Maybe he was right, but it still bothered me that he didn’t give me the choice. A niggle in the back of my mind made me wonder if there might be something he wasn’t telling me.

“You look concerned,” the doctor said. “Is everything all right?”

I shook my head, avoiding his gaze. “I guess I’m having a hard time letting everything go. I still can’t believe I was dumped today.”

“Then I shall prescribe you something very important.” He pulled out his prescription notepad and plopped onto his doctor stool. He scribbled in loopy cursive before tearing it off the pad and handing it to me. The skin around his eyes crinkled before he turned toward the door. “Now just remember. Go and relax. Think of your heart like an injured little bird. It’ll take time before you can fly again.”

“Little bird. Got it,” I said, saluting the doctor as he walked out of the emergency room. “Thanks.”

The door clicked shut, and I looked down at the prescription in my hand.

Take one serving of chocolate and one glass of wine per day. Do not mix with men of any kind, ex-boyfriends or otherwise. Three months at minimum. Refill anytime.

Chapter 2

It wasn’t the stunning sunset that caused the tears. Or the twinkling lights on the cliffs of Positano. Or the fact that I had my best friend, Bree, whom I hadn’t seen in ages, sitting beside me.

I had made the mistake of looking at social media only to find that Stephan had been photographed, his lips locked with a woman at the New York Tech Conference, just two weeks prior. The night before the glitch.

And after some fairly light sleuthing, Bree and I had found pictures of Stephan with many women over the years. He hadn’t even tried to cover up his infidelities. And nobody bothered to tell me. Meanwhile, I had been too busy running his freaking company to notice.

“Oh, Addie,” Bree said. “Forget that cocklobster. I’m way better company anyway.”

“That jerk! I knew something else had been going on. He was so quick to fire me, and it didn’t make any sense until now. He was just looking for an excuse to dump me.”

“He’s a coward.” Bree whisked a flyaway strand of blond hair out of her mascara-laden eyes.

“I can’t believe I was so naive to think we could fall back in love here.”

“Aha! So you admit you didn’t love him,” Bree said, pointing her manicured finger at my nose.

I swatted her out of my face and crossed my arms. “I’ll admit that I fell out of love, but I hoped we could find it again. Meanwhile, he was gallivanting all over the country, screwing women left and right.”

“He’s a pig.”

I sighed, putting my head in my hands.

“You’re better off without him and his company. Good riddance to both. Now you can find yourself a better job and a better man.”

I shook my head, pulled out the crumpled prescription from my purse, and placed it on the table. “Look. The doctor literally told me to avoid all men for the next three months.”

Bree didn’t spare me the Tony-award-winning eye roll. “Oh please. He didn’t mean that.”

“Yes, he did. And I need to take it seriously. My heart depends on it. I shouldn’t even be thinking about Stephan. I should be focusing on finding inner peace instead.” I reached back into my purse and grabbed the journal I had purchased in town earlier that day. “And I intend to find my inner peace with this journal. It’s going to help me reduce my stress.”

Bree slowly shook her head at me. “You are such a nerd.”

I stuck my tongue out and promptly ignored her, admiring the Italian leather that bound the journal together. I had already filled out several pages today and was finding it to be very cathartic.

“I know a way to find your inner peace,” Bree said, wagging her eyebrows. “A big, throbbing, hard—”

“Cocktail?” The server arrived with a tray of flutes, samples of their grapefruit vodka spritzers.

“Ooh! Don’t mind if I do,” Bree said, accepting one of the flutes. She brought it to her lips and puckered. “Oh, that’s really tart.”

“Signora?” the server said, his eyes sparkling.

“No, thank you.”

“As I was saying,” Bree said, setting down her flute. “I know you’re supposed to be relaxing and all that. But I’m telling you, sex is the best way to relax. It might actually be the cure to your problem.” Bree grinned from ear to ear.

“A cure for my heart problem?”

“Exactly!” Bree said. “Especially when it’s a one-night stand with a superhot stranger.”

It was easy for Bree to say that. She’d been single most of her adult life, never settling down with one man. She had a lot more experience in the one-night-stand department than I did.

The thing was, Bree and I had never wanted the same things. She wanted freedom and independence. Late nights and a lifetime without obligations. I wanted a home with a white picket fence. A family of four. Love and security.

We were opposites in almost every way.

However, in that moment, peering into my wineglass, noting the burgundy hue, I pondered if there was some truth to her advice. I wondered if I could learn to live a little like Bree.

“Just think about it,” Bree said, her eyes shining bright.

“I will,” I said, stuffing the prescription back into my purse. “But in the meantime, I’m going to follow the doctor’s orders and just focus on my wine and chocolate.”

“Nothing wrong with that,” Bree said, raising her wineglass to mine until we heard the soft clink of two friends finding common ground.

“I’m glad you’re here,” I said.

“You kiddin’ me? I wouldn’t miss this trip for the world, toots. I’m gonna Eat Pray Love the hell out of this vacation.”

I chuckled into my wineglass, gazing over the balcony onto the violet ocean. An array of boats were scattered around the marina. Large yachts and dinky motorboats floated below a pink-and-purple sunset.

“I just remembered, we’re spending the day in Capri tomorrow. The boat leaves at eight in the morning.”

“Dammit, Addie. You’re always killin’ my buzz with scheduling shit.”

“Sorry.” I shrugged. “I had booked it for me and Stephan, but they had a no-cancel policy.”

“All right, fine. I can rally tomorrow morning.”

“You’re the best.” I reached over to give her a hug. I felt her attention catch on something behind me. I followed her gaze to the tall, salt-and-pepper-haired man in a white suit standing at the bar. He must have been at least fifteen years older than me and Bree. And his eyes were locked on her.

“Looks like you’ve got an admirer,” I said.

“He’s not looking at me,” Bree said, her cheeks flushed.

A server arrived with a glass of wine and placed it on the table in front of Bree. “From the man at the bar,” he said in a thick Italian accent.

Bree and I exchanged a look of surprise.

“Looks like he was looking at you.”

Bree bit her lip as she looked over her shoulder again. The man gave her a warm smile, lifting his glass, saluting her across the outdoor patio.

“He’s cute,” she said, lifting her drink. “In a Robert-Redford-Bruce-Willis kind of way. Classic, yet rugged.”

“I can see that.” I couldn’t see that at all, but I had already killed her buzz once this evening.

“Do you think he’s too old for me?” Bree said.

“Not too old to go over there and get to know him,” I said, giving her a nudge on the arm.

I knew Bree well enough to know when she was smitten. Biting her lip, batting her eyes, shifting in her seat. All telltale signs I had picked up on in our college years.

“I don’t want to leave you,” she said. “With everything you’re going through right now.”

I smiled. “Go. I’m fine. I can use some peace and quiet for a little while anyway.” I waved my journal in the air. “Plus I need to do more bullet journaling.”

Bree’s face split into a huge grin. She grabbed her wine and reached over to give me a kiss on the cheek. “Don’t wait up for me,” she said before scampering across the bar.

“Don’t forget about the boat ride tomorrow!” I yelled across the restaurant.

She waved me off, quickly enthralled by whatever Mr. Silver Fox had to say, laughing and lightly patting the front of his tie.

It was so easy for her, I thought. My dress tugged at my hips uncomfortably. I squirmed to realign the seams. I don’t know why I let Bree convince me to wear this Ferragamo dress. It was beautiful, but snug and white, completely impractical for the seven-course meal we’d had earlier. I yearned for my flannel pajamas and my cozy bed and promised myself I would head straight to the hotel after this dazzling sunset had finished setting over the twinkling alcove of Positano.

The warm breeze of the Mediterranean air tickled my nose as I opened my journal and started with a brain dump in bulleted form.

  • Positano has so many stairs. Incredible views.
  • My feet are sore.
  • Turns out Stephan was a cheating piece of shit.
  • Bree is flirting with a rich-looking stranger.
  • She thinks sex will cure my heart.
  • The doctor says I should avoid men entirely.
  • I’ll take the medical opinion.

“Excuse me.” A man’s voice came from behind me, rich and velvety and Italian. I looked up to find full lips and a stubble beard under thick eyebrows. Black-as-night eyelashes fanned around a pair of warm brown eyes.

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