Dec 24 2013

Second Chance Layover — FINALE (part 18 of the FREE Holiday Blog Serial)

Well, we’re finally here…at the finale, the 18th installment of Second Chance Layover. It seems like the time just flew by. But I think everyone is ready for a happy ending now.

Prefer to read on a Kindle or Nook? No problem, just head over to Smashwords to download week one (parts 1 – 4), week two (parts 5 – 9), week three (parts 10 – 14) and week four’s (parts 15 – 18) volumes, FREE! You will also find all four volumes at All Romance eBooks too.

Of course, you can also catch up here: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

Without further ado, here is the final installment of Second Chance Layover (part 18):

Cover18Charli ~

My eyes traveled up a long and lean body and stopped at a pair of chocolate brown eyes staring back at me. The last time I looked into those eyes I saw anger and pain. Tonight there was something different I couldn’t identify. “Cal.” It came out almost a whisper as my mouth went dry.

“So you do know this young man.” Mrs. Gonzales’ gaze moved from him to me. “I found him pacing outside the door when I let my date in. He said he was here to see you but he didn’t think you’d want to see him. One look at him told me he’s buena gente, good people. But just to be sure, I walked him up.” My neighbor gave me a once over. “Those are the fanciest pair of pajamas I’ve ever seen.”

I chuckled and smoothed my palms over my hips. “I decided to go out after all.”

“Well here, put this in your refrigerator. Enchiladas are better the second day anyway.” She handed me the covered dish.

“Thanks, Mrs. Gonzales.” I turned and strode to the fridge.

“Muchas gracias, Mrs. Gonzales,” Cal said, his voice coming from close behind me.

“You’ll be okay with him, Charli?” she called into the room from the doorway.

I waved my hand. “Him? Yeah, he’s harmless.” I hoped.

Mrs. Gonzales cocked her eyebrow at him and made a hmm-mmm sound when her gaze turned to me. “Happy New Year, dear.” Did I catch a wink before she turned and shuffled down the hall? Cal shut the door behind her.

“So?” I asked as I wiped a nonexistent spot on my tiny kitchen counter. I had to keep my words short. His presence, his scent, in my apartment put me in sensory overdrive. I couldn’t let on how my body was deceiving me. I was still so mad at him.

“Um, I had flowers for you, but your neighbor took them.” Cal stuck his thumb out and pointed it over his shoulder.

“How did you find me, anyway? I never gave you my address.”

“Duncan,” we said in unison.

I threw the sponge in the sink and crossed my arms across my chest. “I don’t have much time because I’m on my way out to meet some friends. So let’s skip the pleasantries and tell me why you’re here?” I asked, narrowing my eyes.

He shook his head. “To say I’m sorry for what happened. I—”

I put my hand up. “Not one more word. I’m the one who sent you the booty text, remember? I knew what I was doing, and I’m over it. There’s no need for a Charli pity party here. Now please leave.”

“Charli, hold on. Please just give me a chance to explain.” His eyes pleaded with me before his hand scrubbed over his face. A vision of that hand on my breast and cupping my cheek while I rode his length flicked into my mind. I turned from him as the heat rose into my cheeks.

“You have two minutes,” I strode across the room to my closet and found my silver platform pumps.

“I made a huge mistake saying the things I did and letting you walk out.”

I swung around and opened my mouth to respond. He raised a finger, and the look in his eyes told me to let him talk. “Chasing you around the airport was more fun than I’d had in a long time. I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard. Ever. You’re so full of life, and your energy is infectious. You made me happy…for the first time in months.” He chuckled.have-fun

I couldn’t help but grin. Our escapade in the airport was more fun than I’d had in a long time too. “Sometimes you just have to blow off steam and stop taking yourself so seriously.”

He nodded. “The things I said to you, the next morning. I was lashing out. I blamed your magazine because it partially took the blame from me. But over the past week, I’ve come to realize there was no saving Renata. Your magazine didn’t kill her, and I couldn’t have saved her.” He rubbed his palm on the back of his neck and looked at me. “I bought the current issue of Culture Spy and read it from start to end. It’s not the type of magazine I thought it was. It does cover a lot of great human-interest stuff. I can see why it’s so popular.”

“I’m pretty proud of it and the work I do there.”

“You should be,” he said and closed the distance between us. “You’ve turned into an amazing, smart, talented and incredibly sexy woman, Charli Tierney.” He tilted his head as if he was testing my reaction.

My breath hitched and I met his gaze.

“Ever since that day, I can’t stop thinking about you. I think I could easily fall in love with you…if I’m not already and if you gave me another chance.” He wrapped his hands around my waist.

I gulped for air. My stomach did flip flops. “W-what did you say?”

He leaned into me, his breath puffed warm on my lips. “I am in love with you and will do everything in my power to make things right with us. Please give us another shot?”

His face became blurry as my eyes filled with tears. Oh my God, Cal loved me. He loved me. I nodded and blew out the breath I didn’t realize I was holding. Melting into his arms, I raked my hands through his hair pulling him into a deep kiss.

I never did make it to The Hood, but I did have someone to kiss at the stroke of midnight and well into the hours that followed. The love of my life had finally landed in mine.


Dear Reader,

We hope you enjoyed Second Chance Layover. Bringing our story to you was a delight, and we thank all of you who returned each day for the next installment of Charli and Cal’s love story.

May you have a warm and joyous holiday season filled with family, good friends, good food and good stories. We thank you for allowing us to have played a small part in it.

With Warmest Wishes,

Lila and Sandra

Christmas Eve, 2013

Dec 23 2013

Second Chance Layover — Part 17 (FREE Holiday Blog Serial)

Sandra Bunino and I have collaborated to bring you a FREE holiday blog serial that runs in 18 parts of usually less than 1000 words for each post—easy reading on your lunch break.

Prefer to read on a Kindle or Nook? No problem, just head over to Smashwords every Wednesday to download week one (parts 1 – 4), week two (parts 5 – 9), and week three’s (parts 10 – 14) volumes, FREE! I also post the volumes on ARe on Thursdays.

Of course, you can catch up here: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16

And now, PART 17 of Second Chance Layover (Click title to read a quick summary of the story):

Cover17Charli ~

If I heard one more insipid party horn I’d scream.

One more night of the holiday season before the long, bleak winter stretched its sloppy hands across the city. I looked forward to sloshing through dirty snow and shielding my eyes from pellets of freezing rain. It’d give me a reason for being miserable. It wasn’t enough to spend five days with the Tierney family. Everyone had a match with his or her perfect mate. They were like a bunch of perfect fucking bookends. My parents and sisters and brothers-in-law even looked the part in their matching sweaters. Even Duncan found a snow bunny to snuggle with by the ski lodge’s massive fireplace. I was happy to finally be home in my hole-in-the-wall Manhattan apartment. It was small, old, and sometimes the heat didn’t work, but it was mine and I loved it. Shifting the grocery bag to my other hand, I turned the key in the lock of the outer door when I heard my name. I swung my head around and squinted through the darkness of the sidewalk a small figure slowly came into view.

“Mrs. Gonzales, here, let me help you.” My elderly neighbor struggled with her purse and a bag full of groceries, which I took from her hands. “Why don’t you get one of those wheelie things?”

“Thank you, dear. Those things are for old people. I’m perfectly capable of carrying what I need in my two hands.”

“I know you are,” I said peeking into the heavy bag. “Champagne? Is Jorge coming over to ring in the New Year with you tonight?” I cocked an eyebrow. Mrs. Gonzales was a little spitfire and had more boyfriends than I could count.

The graying woman smiled. “Jorge is old news. I found a younger guy. He’s seventy.” She winked at me. I prayed I had the energy and drive she exhibited when I got to be her age.

I opened the door and helped her to her first floor apartment. A crooked finger hooked around my plastic bag and she peered inside. “Ice cream and chocolate sauce.” Her eyes flicked to me and narrowed. “You’re not spending New Years’ Eve alone are you, Charli? A pretty girl like you should have a parade of hot young men lined up at the door to take you out.”

New Year's Eve 2011 - Cocktail

New Year’s Eve 2011 – Cocktail (Photo credit: Edsel L)

I snorted and waved my hand. “I shooed the parade away just before you got here. It’s okay, really. I just got back from visiting my family for the holidays and I’m relishing the quiet tonight.” It was a half-truth. I’d turned down several party invites. I really didn’t want to be alone, but I had had my fill of happy couples for a while. Plus, I dreaded the uncomfortable who to kiss quandary at the stroke of midnight. I usually hid in the ladies room until it was over. I had spent one too many New Years’ Eves in a bathroom stall.

She patted the back of my hand. “Okay, dear. If you want some company, you know where to find me.”

“Thank you, but I’m going to put on my comfy pajamas, watch a chick flick and probably be asleep before the ball drops.”

“How about some of my famous enchiladas? I could bring a plate up to you later.”

I nodded and gave the tiny woman a hug. “Sounds delicious. Happy New Year, Mrs. Gonzales.”

She smiled and pointed her finger at me. “Good things are going to happen to you in the New Year. I feel it.”

Climbing the stairs to my second floor apartment, I thought of my elderly neighbor. She didn’t sit home feeling sorry for herself shoveling Ben & Jerry’s into her mouth. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and scrolled to the last text from my friend, Olivia.

Charli – If you’re back from family hell, meet us at The Hood.

I took a deep breath. The Hood was casual and right down the road from me. I could throw on jeans and a sparkly top and celebrate the New Year with friends instead of wallowing at the bottom of a pint of Cherry Garcia drowned in chocolate sauce watching The Notebook for the hundred and seventeenth time.

I unlocked my apartment door and texted Olivia.

Be there in 30. Save me a seat at the bar.


Cherry Garcia

Cherry Garcia (Photo credit: diannedc)

I shoved Cherry Garcia into my cramped freezer, wiggled out of my yoga pants and hit the shower. The water invigorated me, and by the time my hair dried and I slipped on my new dark blue jeans and shimmery top, I was ready to party. Or so I kept telling myself. A soft knock at the door sounded through my studio apartment as I swiped the wand of raspberry lip gloss over my lips. The only person who knocked at my door was Mrs. Gonzales since all outside visitors were buzzed in. She’d be happy to see I changed my mind and decided to go out. I’d be thrilled to stick her enchiladas in the fridge for the tomorrow night’s dinner. I padded to the door in my bare feet and opened it without looking through the peephole.

I sucked in a breath. Mrs. Gonzales stood in the doorway holding a tinfoil-covered container, but she wasn’t alone.


Please be sure to come back on tomorrow for the FINALE, part 18.  :)

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Dec 20 2013

Second Chance Layover — Part 16 (FREE Holiday Blog Serial)

Sandra Bunino and I have collaborated to bring you a FREE holiday blog serial that runs in 18 parts of usually less than 1000 words for each post—easy reading on your lunch break.

Prefer to read on a Kindle or Nook? No problem, just head over to Smashwords every Wednesday to download week one (parts 1 – 4), week two (parts 5 – 9), and week three’s (parts 10 – 14) volumes, FREE! I also post the volumes on ARe on Thursdays.

Of course, you can catch up here: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15

And now, PART 16 of Second Chance Layover (Click title to read a quick summary of the story):

Cover16Cal ~

I stretched a thin smile across my lips, grabbed my coffee and moved over to collect my mother’s drink. A tedious number of minutes later, I joined her at the tiny table.

“Thank you, son.” Her mood had ridden the elevator up a few floors. Mine remained lodged in the basement.

“The prices are atrocious here,” I groused.

“Are they? I hadn’t noticed. I think they charge the same as everybody else.”

“And the staff are rude.”

She flipped a jeweled hand at me. “Oh, don’t mind Saul. He’s hurting. His wife left him for another man and now wants half of the coffee shop in the divorce. This shop is Saul’s baby. It’s a crying shame what that woman is doing to him.” A tutting sound followed by a loud slurp of her coffee filled her pause. “She hired some expensive divorce lawyer who is really going overboard, because she hates men and likes to stick it to them.”

Most people didn’t understand the court system or divorce law. Attitudes like Saul’s and my mother’s weren’t uncommon. Didn’t mean I could resist the urge to challenge those opinions. “Who hates men? The wife or her lawyer?”

My mother leaned in closer. “The lady lawyer, and I use the term loosely. And speaking of loose, I’d say Saul’s wife likes men too much.”

“Her lawyer’s not to blame, Mother. They don’t get emotionally involved in their cases, or they shouldn’t. The good ones don’t because they have a job to do, which is to get an equitable settlement for their client.”

Another loud slurp and a roll of her eyes over the top of her cup told me exactly what she thought of that idea. She set the cup down and dabbed her lips. “All I can say is I’m glad you aren’t a divorce attorney or a public defender.”

“You don’t like public defenders?” This was news to me. “Why not?”bigstock-successful-strong-and-powerfu-33059744

“How could anyone defend vermin like the pair in the county jail, the ones who kidnapped and murdered some poor woman from the arcade last year?”

Allegedly kidnapped and murdered the victim. They haven’t been tried yet.” Though I too suspected they were guilty, I couldn’t help playing devil’s advocate, mostly because I truly believed in innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, emphasis on the last three words.

“Just a formality. They did it. Everyone knows they did it. I don’t need a court of law to tell me what’s as obvious as the nose on your face.” She tapped her fingernails against the side of the cup she held in her other hand.

“There could be extenuating circumstances,” I argued. “There could be technical issues with how the evidence was gathered, miscarriages of justice. Someone else might have called the shots.”

My mother set her cup down with emphasis. “There’s too much blaming going on these days. Do something stupid? No problem. Just sue the company for not fully explaining in six different languages. Make a bad grade on a test? No worries. Simply demand a do-over because you were allergic to the ink on the page. Kill a woman in cold blood? Well who sold those boys the gun? Surely it’s his fault. Maybe it’s the fault of the killers’ parents. Prosecute them. It’s ridiculous. There’s no excusing what those two did. They should go to prison for the rest of their rotten lives. I don’t care if they’re only eighteen.”

“You do have a point,” I said nodding.

“Which brings me to your sister and why I wanted to talk to you, away from the house and all the memories.” She tilted her head and pursed her lips, her eyes locked with mine.

My humor drained away. “What about her?”

“You need to stop beating yourself up for her death. No one is to blame for Renata’s death but Renata. I know you tried. You did all you could.”

“It wasn’t enough—”

“It never would have been enough, because the only one with the power to change the path of her life was Renata herself. It wasn’t your fault or Hollywood’s fault. She made the choices she did. No one else. She knew the consequences she flirted with.”

Hollywood Sign

Hollywood Sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She reached out and placed a hand on top of mine, warm and comforting. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled you decided to leave LA and come back to New York. That’s the one good thing to come of your sister’s death—she brought you closer to me.”

“Ma, you can’t…”

Her other hand reached for and cradled mine between her two. “Sometimes when bad things happen, you have to search for the good, and not dwell on the bad, the blame, the woulda, coulda, shouldas. Human beings are capable of both horrific and amazing things. Cling tightly to the good. Learn your lessons from the bad, but move on.”

“I don’t know if I can. I’m just so … so furious.”

She released my hand and smiled. “So passionate and intense. You always were. I remember you and Duncan getting into one of your knock down, drag out fights. I thought you would surely kill him one day. But then you’d fight your way through the fog, gain some perspective, and the two of you would be best buddies again. Duncan used to laugh with me. ‘Mrs. W,’ he’d say. ‘Is it safe to visit Cal yet?’ I’d either send him up to your room with a couple of brownies or cookies or I’d send him on home for a few more hours.” A girlish giggle erupted from her mouth. She covered it with her hand.

I laughed too. “He never told me…and he never once brought me a cookie or a brownie, the little thief!”

We chuckled together and reminisced a bit more. “You still talk to Duncan?” she asked.

“Not as much as I used to. We talked a few days ago. I ran into his sister, Charli at O’Hare airport. She was on her way to Aspen for Christmas.”

A grin bloomed on my mother’s face. “Charli. How wonderful. She lives in New York City too.” And damned if she didn’t wiggle her eyebrows at me. “She used to have such a crush on you. Remember?”

My smile lost tension and slowly faded. “Yeah. I remember.”

“Maybe you should look her up. Have her show you around. She always kept you on your toes, so full of sass and wit, called you out when you acted ridiculous.”

Her words sliced cleanly through skin and muscle like a scalpel, all the way to the bone, nicking my heart along the way. I was bleeding ridiculousness. A more pompous, puffed up, drunk on his own self-righteous Kool-Aid asshole had never lived.

What had I done? More importantly, what was I going to do? I had to see her, talk to her, throw my foolish, ridiculous self at her feet and beg for forgiveness. Plead insanity…because I must have been insane to have said all I said to her, to have let her walk out of my room, out of my life.

I had to get her back.

No matter what it took. I would get her back.

Because … oh shit… Was it possible?

God, yes!

I wanted her in my life, and not for a single night in an airport hotel. Now that I’d had a hit of the wild, exhilarating drug named Charli, I had no idea how I’d ever live without her. My addiction had no remedy, no rehab, and nothing short of an intervention to get her back would do.


Aww finally, he’s getting some sense knocked into that thick skull of his! Hopefully he’s not too late…

Please be sure to come back on MONDAY for Part 17! The final part 18 runs on Tuesday. i can’t believe we’re almost finished.

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Dec 19 2013

Second Chance Layover — Part 15 (FREE Holiday Blog Serial)

Sandra Bunino and I have collaborated to bring you a FREE holiday blog serial that runs in 18 parts of usually less than 1000 words for each post—easy reading on your lunch break.

Prefer to read on a Kindle or Nook? No problem, just head over to Smashwords every Wednesday to download week one (parts 1 – 4), week two (parts 5 – 9), and week three’s (parts 10 – 14) volumes, FREE! I also post the volumes on ARe on Thursdays. Really, there’s no excuse not to read this serial!

Of course, you can catch up here: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

And now, PART 15 of Second Chance Layover (Click title to read a quick summary of the story):

Cover15Charli ~

A storm of anger and sadness brewed inside my belly. I couldn’t bear to look at him, but I couldn’t help to leave him with a kiss good-bye. Tears burned my eyes as I walked out and closed the door. How could he just flip the switch off after what we shared the night before?

Then it occurred to me; I was nothing but a casual fuck to him.

Pinching the bridge of my nose, my stomach reeled. I was such a fool. Red-hot lava shot through my veins, and I contemplated turning around and banging on his door. My hand balled into a fist, and I’d have done anything to have wound up and given him a right hook to the jaw. Forget the girly slap, I’d have given him something he’d have felt for days. My phone chimed with a text. I pulled it from my purse and glanced at the screen. The message was from the airline notifying me my flight was to take off in an hour.

I glanced back at the door, shook my head and continued down the hall to the elevator. I would not give Cal Wheaton the satisfaction of a reaction. No. For once in my life, I’d play it cool. That’s what Tiffany would do. I was damn proud of my work, even though guilt niggled at me like a day old mosquito bite. Had the article been a catalyst in Renata’s death? Would she still be alive if the feature never ran? No one could answer that question, although I knew Cal’s opinion.

I sniffed back the effects of a half cry and made my way back to my room for a quick shower. I cleansed my body and mind of Cal and the lingering residue of the passion we shared the night before.

Twenty minutes later I pulled my carryon as I headed to my gate, leaving behind Cal and all traces of my stupid indiscretion at the hotel.

English: Broken Heart symbol

Before I boarded, I placed a quick call to Duncan because I knew my mother would send him to pick me up at the airport. The hour was early in Aspen, but I figured he’d get my voice mail. He surprised me by picking up on the first ring.

“You’re up early.”

Duncan groaned. “Mommie Dearest had us all up to watch the sunrise on the top of the mountain. I need a nap.”

Duncan’s morning sounded almost as painful as mine. “My flight’s leaving in a few minutes so I’ll be landing in about four hours. Should give you enough time for some beauty sleep.”

“I’ll be there. Hey, I still can’t believe you and Cal bumped into each other yesterday. Crazy, right? At least you had someone to keep you company. Must’ve been fun for you. Remember, you had a thing for him back in the day.”

“Yeah. I gotta go, Duncan. Just be on time, okay? You can pull up to the curb at arrivals. I only have a carryon.”

“See you then, sis.”

I powered down my phone, took a deep breath and followed the line to board the plane. Forcing my thoughts to the hellish Tierney family holiday, I decided to make the best of the ski weekend. I needed a release for the pent up anger churning in my belly.


Cal ~

“What’s the difference between a lawyer and a gigolo? A gigolo only screws one person at a time.” A hyena-like cackle from the jokester bore its way into my brain and gnawed on my last nerve.

I frowned at the lawyer jokes being passed back and forth between the coffee shop barista and the man in line ahead of me. I’d heard them all before. Most were funny. This particular one was not. Had my mother not insisted on a fancy coffee from this particular shop, I’d have taken my business elsewhere.

Christmas had been a dismal affair with Renata’s absence like a thundercloud looming overhead, threatening to deluge everyone in tears, yet again. The ghost of another woman and our last conversation had weighed equally heavy on my mind.

My mother sat at a table for two in the corner, tapping on her cell phone, a smile on her face. We would spend my final hours in my boyhood town over coffee before I drove back to New York City, to my cold, empty apartment. Hopefully my movers would arrive the next morning as scheduled so I would only have to sleep a single night on the air mattress I borrowed from my mother.

“What can I get for you, sir,” asked the barista.

“A large cup of your house blend, black, and a small skinny vanilla latte, please.”

He scribbled my mother’s drink on a cup and handed it to the drone pulling espresso shots and prepping drinks next to him. “$6.54,” he announced after he poured and plunked my coffee cup on the counter in front of me.”

Lawyer jokes

Lawyer jokes (Photo credit: mikemac29)

“Good Lord, that’s highway robbery. I only got one fancy espresso and a plain coffee.”

“Yep. Four for the latte and two for the coffee. Uncle Sam wants his share too.”

“Tax is collected by the local government, not the federal,” I said, frowning as I handed him a ten.

He shrugged and fished out my change. “Whatever. The lawyers are behind it all in some way.”

“You seem to bear some animosity toward lawyers.”

The man chuckled. “That obvious is it? Going through a divorce and being fed through the ringer, care of my wife’s blood-sucking attorney. I guess you could say I’m bitter. But I wasn’t the one who made up the saying ‘the only good lawyer is a dead lawyer’.”


Please be sure to come back tomorrow for Part 16!

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Dec 18 2013

Second Chance Layover — Part 14 (FREE Holiday Blog Serial)

Sandra Bunino and I have collaborated to bring you a FREE holiday blog serial that runs in 18 parts of usually less than 1000 words for each post—easy reading on your lunch break.

Prefer to read on a Kindle or Nook? No problem, just head over to Smashwords every Wednesday to download the first week’s posts (parts 1 – 4), last week’s (parts 5 – 9) and this week’s posts (parts 10-14), FREE! I also post the volumes on ARe on Thursdays. Really, there’s no excuse not to read this serial!

Of course, you can catch up here: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13

And now, PART 14 of Second Chance Layover (Click title to read a quick summary of the story.)

Cover14Cal ~

We were treading in dangerous territory, but if we were going to have any sort of relationship, she had to know where I stood and why. “Your magazine ran a story about Renata.”

“When was this? I don’t remember any stories about her.”

“Probably not. She wasn’t major news, was only one of about ten women featured in an article about how the entertainment industry chews ingénues up and spits them out. The article ran about a year ago and had been relegated to the back pages. It hurt Renata. It hurt me.”

Charli’s face fell. “Oh my God. I am so sorry. Really, I am. But do you understand this is just a job. It’s not personal. We aren’t deliberately being malicious; we aren’t trying to harm anyone. Our stories are moral or cautionary tales, however, intended for the greater good.”

“How can you say that so calmly? This is Renata we’re talking about. Not some corn-fed homecoming queen who’s disappointed she didn’t get the lead in the latest Martin Scorsese flick.”

She stared at me, her lips parted as if gingerly picking through her brain for her next words. After diverting her gaze to the window and blinking a few times, she focused on me and in a soft voice said, “I do realize, but do you?”


“Cal.” A soft sigh preceded a drop in her brows, a downturn in her lips.

We continued to stare at each other, neither of us yielding. I didn’t want to argue with her anymore, but I didn’t see any common ground for us.

“I guess I’d better get dressed and back to my room to grab my stuff. We have our flights to catch pretty soon,” she murmured pushing past me toward the pile of her clothes I’d made.


War of SexesShe dropped the coverlet and stepped into her underwear. “Look. I think we need to agree to disagree.” Next came the bra. The sexual tension so thick and powerful the night before it had swallowed us whole in a single gulp, now coughed us back up like a phlegm ball. I had no answer for her. The bone-crushing pain of Renata’s death flowed too close to the surface of my emotions for me treat this as a simple disagreement, a bygone to be put aside. I couldn’t fathom the concept of her continuing to promote and profit from stories like the one they wrote about Renata, like the ones they wrote about a lot of famous people, many of whom I knew and respected.

“I don’t think I can,” I said without emotion.

All motion ceased. Charli’s jaw tightened and the light reflected off her eyes. “I see. This is not negotiable for you; no matter how incredible last night was, what I do for a living is a deal-breaker?”

I shook my head and squeezed my eyes shut. “I’m not saying that, Charli, but every time I think about… Every time I’m reminded of the machinery that ground Renata beneath its boot—”

“So I’m guilty by association of causing Renata’s death?”

“No! God! No! I didn’t mean that.” What the hell was I doing…saying? I scrubbed my hand over my face searching, stalling for time to find the eloquence so maddeningly out of reach, to find the words to make her understand but not drive her away. “Right now, the wounds are too fresh, too deep. I don’t think I can handle…. Your job is like sandpaper…” My head fell back and I silently cursed my utter lack of any persuasive arguments. What kind of lawyer was I if I couldn’t win what could be one of the most important arguments of my life? Think, Caleb, think. “There are other jobs, better jobs, for someone with your talent. Have you ever considered changing gears slightly? Maybe go into book publishing? With my new job, I’ll be working with the top literary agents and publishing houses in the country, in the world, even. I’ll bet tons of opportunities are at your fingertips. You’d still be writing fiction. It just wouldn’t be harmful.”

“That’s really insulting. I don’t think what I do is harmful. The world is a tough place, and those who thrust themselves under the public’s noses understand what they’re signing up for, or they should. Hell, do you know how many story tips actually come from the subject’s publicist? Sordid tips, embarrassing stories, stories that might result in jail time even.” She threw her hands up, eyes wild. “Doesn’t matter. Any publicity is good publicity, not that I write those sorts of stories. The Culture Spy is not on that level. We look for stories of interest to the general public. Yes, sometimes they are about glitzy, jaded celebrities, but most of the time, they’re about regular people in extraordinary circumstances with fantastic stories they want told! What’s so wrong about that?”

I ground my molars. How could she be so naive? “Do you think Renata wanted the story of her failed shot at fame showcased?”

Charli’s shoulders fell, and she closed her eyes, her forehead etched with trouble. “I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. Isn’t it possible Renata’s story was intended to make that teenager in Kansas, who’s thinking about dropping out of school and driving to Hollywood because she’s always been told she was pretty, reconsider?”Depression. young attractive woman with an awful migraine

“My sister should never have been a public service announcement. Please, Charli. Think about the downstream consequences.”

She stared at me, and as I studied her face, the shutters slowly dropped into place, closing off the Charli I thought I knew. “I guess there’s nothing more to be said here,” she murmured more to herself than to me.

Lips pressed into a smile, she walked silently to gather up her clothes and pull them on, while I watched. After she dressed, she raised up on her tiptoes and placed a soft kiss on my lips. Before I could reach out to draw her close, hold her in my arms and feel our hearts beating together, she slipped away and breezed out the door.

I stared at the closed door. A throbbing ache grew with each second ticking by on my wristwatch. When had the damn thing grown so loud? When had it become so fucking rigid and disapproving? And why did I have the crushing sense I’d just made the biggest mistake of my life?


Please be sure to come back tomorrow for Part 15!

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