12 Months of Romance | 24 Reasons to Love: A Holiday Anthology sneak peek at Michael Rectos’s Photograph and Miel Salva’s Mayday Mishap.
Three years ago, all Alex wanted was to rekindle his passion for photography. At a town fiesta somewhere in Batangas, he not only rediscovered his love for his craft, but he also fell in love with the town’s Reyna Elena. Fated meetings do not always end in happy endings, but Alex is determined to wait for that elusive perfect shot. Will Alex find his Reyna Elena in the frame again? Will the cogs of fate be kind enough to let him recapture that one perfect shot?
* * *
His heart skipped a beat. His fingers tingled, and his breath escaped him.
Tradition held that the last woman in the Santacruzan is the Reyna Elena. The title is reserved for the most beautiful woman in the parade.
And to Alex, the title held true. Before him was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life. He lowered his camera and stared at the Reyna Elena. He wanted to make sure that what he was seeing was not a trick of the light, nor of his fatigue.
Under the artificial light of the arch, her tan skin gave off a mellow golden glow. Her almond-shaped eyes twinkled under the sparse light, and her smile gave off a dazzling radiance. Her dark red Filipiniana gown flattered the curvatures of her slim figure, and her skirt flowed behind her like wings. A thin silver crown rested upon her jet-black hair that was twisted up into a neat bun. She glided with the grace and regalness of a princess upon every step, and she left Alex mesmerized. The man forgot that he held a camera in his hand, and he proceeded to capture every angle of the exquisite image before him. The moment flew by quickly, and Alex found himself teetering at the edge of the roof and stretching to maximize the zoom on his camera. He was left unsatisfied with the pictures he took. He scaled down the roof and jumped onto the street below him.
“Where does the parade go? Where?” he asked a nearby onlooker so aggressively that he almost held him by the scruff of his shirt. “Please tell me! Where is the parade headed?” Alex pleaded. The stranger pointed to the church bell tower that overlooked the town, and Alex immediately understood. “Thank you! I’m really sorry!” Alex patted the stranger’s shoulder to apologize and darted to the opposite direction. He ran through the oncoming sea of people, bumping into and tripping over strangers as he dashed to the nearest alleyway leading to the church. He emerged from the alleyway and continued to cut through the crowd, getting earfuls of curses and threats along the way. When Alex regained his bearings and made certain that he’d caught up with the procession, he checked his surroundings to see if there was anything he could climb on. He couldn’t get a good view with the thick crowds. He needed to be at a higher vantage point to get a good picture.
The church where the parade would end was situated in a town square that had very few buildings. Alex had nothing to climb except the scaffolding on a nearby statue being restored. He took a quick glance at his camera’s LCD screen. The battery power was at 20 percent. He needed to hurry.
Alex hurried toward the scaffolding and started climbing the rickety structure. It held signs to bar people from scaling it, but Alex ignored them and summoned his strength to hold on to the rungs. The scaffolding was a few meters taller than the house where Alex stationed himself earlier, and from such a height, he was able to get a clear view of the procession’s tail end. Alex had never felt jubilant in such a dangerous state. With 15 percent left in his camera’s battery, he poised to take one last picture. The procession went faster than he anticipated; the Reyna Elena’s group was already before him now. He waited and whispered, “Please, turn this way.”
Time slowed down for Alex, and he felt as if the Reyna Elena heard him. She stayed within Alex’s camera frame, and in a precious moment, she turned her head to look sideways. Alex’s heart stopped as she smiled.
“Thank you,” Alex whispered. “I’ll cherish this moment forever.”
Time flowed once again for Alex, and he felt his frame jilt out of focus. The scaffolding collapsed, and he tumbled down onto the hard pavement. The last things he saw were the starry night sky, shocked faces hovering above him, and the worried expression of the Reyna Elena as she knelt beside him.
Excited to work away from home from, Bea Lagman reports to the office and meets her manager who seems familiar.
For Jace Salonga, handling different types of people is nothing new to him. But attending to his new hire brings him unexpected surprises at every turn.
Caught in awkward situations and a sense of connection between them, will Jace and Bea get through Labor Day without mishaps?
* * *
Bea could only wish the iced coffee macchiato, which Mr. Salonga seemed to have enjoyed, judging by his half-empty glass, had erased the embarrassing situation she was caught in back at the convenience store. That is, when her manager saw a photo of Lee Song Joon in her wallet and mistook him for her boyfriend.
It would have been great if the Korean celebrity were her boyfriend. But right now, Bea was more concerned by the possibility that Mr. Salonga had seen Song Joon on TV and would think of her as a sasaeng. A more rational part of her brain told her to relax, because if Mr. Salonga was familiar with Korean novelas, he would have already pointed that out when he saw the photo. But he didn’t.
“First things first,” Mr. Salonga announced, putting a halt to Bea’s train of thoughts. “I should get your number.”
For a moment, she froze—the second time since meeting her manager. Having a charming and older guy ask for her number was new to her. But then, she realized this was work and it was only logical for a manager to have his employee’s contact number. It wasn’t as if he wanted to get her number so he could ask her out.
“Right.” Bea fished out her phone from her bag and an image of Song Joon flashing his abs came up with the lock screen. To make matters worse, she fumbled with unlocking it, while Mr. Salonga coughed beside her as if smothering a laugh.
He saw it! He freakin’ saw it!
She mentally kicked herself, while they exchanged phones and saved each other’s numbers. This time, there was no mistaking it! Mr. Salonga definitely thought of her as a crazy girl with a penchant for Asian guys with great abs.
“You can power up your laptop, while I print out the instructions for the activation of your access credentials,” he said, placing the laptop bag on her desk and the external monitor beside it. If he was trying to be nonchalant, he was doing a poor job, because the quirk on his lips gave him away, making Bea’s face heat up profusely.
She thought she could forget the incident at the convenience store. But no. Her manager just had to see a more daring picture of her celebrity crush. Muttering to herself, she took out a brand-new Lenovo laptop and powered it on as instructed.
This was Lee Song Joon’s fault for being so desirable. Bea had been infatuated with him since seeing Depths of the Sea. After that, she’d gone online and looked up his series, TV guestings, gossips, anything she could get her hands on. She even watched the first season of a variety show, where he used to be a regular member. And then she decided she needed to keep a photo both in her wallet and on her phone.
Worked well to ward off younger guys hitting on her, too.
She reminded herself to replace Song Joon’s photo since he already has a girlfriend and Bea didn’t want to feel like a third party in the relationship. Maybe she should watch the Death Gods everyone was raving about, so she could decide who between Park Yoo Jin and Dong Sang Wook should take the space in her wallet and phone display photo.
“Here you go.” Mr. Salonga rested his left arm on the back of her chair and planted his right hand on her desk, almost caging her in. “Once you’re done activating your access, you can go through the Onboarding slides, house rules, and employee handbook. All the relevant links are in the welcome email that you should have received by now.”
He was so close that Bea could smell the detergent off his plaid shirt and some kind of musk that had her heart beating erratically. And then he leaned forward to type something on her laptop, invading her personal space. Normally, she’d take it as a red flag. But she surprised herself when she realized she had no qualms about it.
Seemingly oblivious to their closeness, he straightened and glanced at his wristwatch with a frown. “Listen, I’ve got meetings to attend in the next few hours.”
Bea could only manage to nod, overwhelmed by his seeming disregard for proximity. But also secretly relishing it.
“The instructions are pretty straightforward.”
“Are you going to be okay on your own?”
“Jace. Call me Jace,” he repeated and she just looked at him ruefully, which earned her a chuckle. “I’ll be at the phone booth then. If you’ve done everything and you want to go home while I’m still stuck in a meeting, that’s okay.”
“Okay,” she mumbled.
“You can send me a message through the company chat tool if you need anything.” Mr. Salonga lingered, as if waiting for something, so Bea gave him a reassuring smile. He finally grinned and left her alone.
Bea all but sagged in her seat, doubting her decision to report for work on a holiday. It was like subjecting herself to utter humiliation as the day progressed. She was obviously at the mercy of her extremely charming boss. Said boss seemed to call out to her childhood memories, which made focusing a bit challenging for her.
But where had she seen him before?
 Sasaeng – Korean term for an over-obsessive fan of a Korean pop idol, celebrity or other public figure
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Fantasy to explore. Romance to devour.