A Matter of the Heart

Nash Edwards

Published 2013

 

Published by Nash Edwards. Copyright © 2013, Nash Edwards. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.

 

This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogues in this book are of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is completely coincidental.

Blurb

Contemporary romance author Nash Edward’s debut novel is a smart, funny, and sometimes tragic look at what can happen when the mind meddles in matters of the heart.

Given up for adoption at birth, Eve has always been haunted by one defining belief: she isn’t good enough. Why else would her birth parents have given her away? Ambitious, driven, an overachiever, she’s sure everyone in her life will eventually abandon her. Eve’s built an impenetrable fortress around her heart. Intimacy is only skin deep for L.A.’s number one investigative reporter, and commitment nothing more than another promise that will eventually be broken… or so she believes.

Everything changes the day Jack Moorefield, single father and lumberjack from the wilds of northern Oregon, practically runs her over at the airport. The mysterious man with a twinkle in his eyes sets her life on a course she resists no matter how beguiling his smile.

Tenacious to a fault and completely devoted to his young daughter, Jack is everything Eve believes she doesn’t deserve. The man’s uncanny ability to scale the walls surrounding her heart infuriates, yet enchants; dangerous ground for Eve.

Every heart sings a song, incomplete until another heart whispers back. - Plato

Chapter 1

“Look, Bob, I think it’s better if we let things cool down for a while, that’s all.” Evelyn Loise Stanton, local television personality and good daughter, tried to ignore her thumping heart so she could gauge how badly her most recent flame would take her decision.

“What?” He was duly surprised, as they all were when the time came. “I thought we had something, Evie. I mean…well, I really like you. I thought you felt the same way. What is it? What’d I do?”

As a small child Eve had once asked her father how many times her heart would beat in her lifetime. He’d pulled her into his lap while they looked the answer up together in an old encyclopedia. At nine years old the number had been unfathomable. She didn’t know why the memory of that particular moment popped into her head. But there it was. The heart, her heart, unrelenting in its pursuit of that unfathomable number, just wouldn’t leave her alone. She buried the thought and got on with the task at hand.

Eve had pondered Bob’s question many times. Always in the same context, always with a different man. Bob had done nothing wrong. In fact, he’d done everything righter than most. He’d been attentive, involved, had even seemed genuinely interested in her life beyond her job. He had the movie-star good looks of Hollywood and dressed to kill as any A-list movie star would. His career was on the rise and he was even mildly interesting in bed. But this was not the moment for her to lose focus.

The ball was in her court and Bob was harboring hope. She didn’t want him to suffer unnecessarily. She just wanted him out of her life.

“I’ve got that Matheson piece coming up, I’ll be traveling a lot, and I need to go visit my mom. My life is complicated right now. I just don’t think you’ll be happy—”

Her producer and one of her few close friends, Bonnie Wells, strode past in the fluorescent-lit hallway. Very familiar with the ebb and flow of Eve’s courting habits, Bonnie averted her eyes, not wanting to witness the carnage. Bob fidgeted, fluttered the folder in his hand, ran his fingers down the length of his tie, and sallied forth, undeterred by Bonnie’s presence.

“It’s because of what I said.” His jaw ground to a defiant jut and he waited.

The Matheson piece had been a constant, just over Eve’s horizon during her climb from field reporter to investigative reporter. Reason number one for needing space at moments such as this. She had no idea who Matheson was or what the piece was about, but no soon-to-be ex ever questioned the time-consuming notion.

When she didn’t say anything, he leaned close, a wisp of hope back in his voice, and whispered, “But I love you, Eve.”

And just like two nights earlier in bed, when Bob had whispered those same words for the first time in the midst of their naked, sweaty congress, her palms became clammy, and her heart jumped erratically, aggravating the sudden panic that gripped her. She had an uncontrollable urge to run outside to find a pocket of air that would let her start breathing once more.

But she stood her ground. She always did.

“You’re nice, Bob.” Extracting herself from his space, she moved to the center of the hallway, ready to make her escape. “And I like you too, but—”

“I got too close. That’s what it is. I get it, Eve.” His initial shock morphed into consternation before he went on, “Intimacy is only skin deep with you, isn’t it?”

Bob. The good knight. The warrior who had fought hardest for her attentions. Her very own Icarus who had chanced to fly too close to her affections, and now the wax holding his wing feathers in place turned soft while he struggled to stay aloft.

“You know how it is. I’m just…”

“Yeah. I know how it is. I get it.” The man who had unconditionally worshipped her for the past three months turned on his heel and walked away.

Eve tugged at the edge of her top, flipped her hair off her shoulder, and strode away.

She didn’t watch as Icarus plummeted unceremoniously into her apparent indifference and drowned without much of a struggle—all within just a few beats of her unrelenting heart. The tragic death of love was of no interest to Eve. She saw no need to mourn the death of something she didn’t believe existed.

Not that Eve didn’t want to be loved. Love was the dream of every little girl. The question was one of belief. She often pondered how people could fall for such a sham. She could understand passionate attraction and desire. Lust was easy and, if done properly, could actually be fun. Something you could get your hands on, so to speak. But people always wanted to add devotion and commitment to the picture, and, as an adult, Eve had choices now. And being someone’s fool wasn’t one of them.

As an adopted child she lived her life on the cusp of fear. Even after nearly thirty years of being someone’s beloved daughter, her fear of being abandoned again, just as her birth mother had done, was practically a full-blown phobia for Eve. A phobia that had left a trail of Bobs in her wake since college, all neatly dispatched, none ever missed, all long forgotten.

That didn’t stop her from crying as soon as she closed the door to her office and the world was out of earshot.

Nine hours, thirty-two phone calls, three mind-numbing meetings, and one granola bar later, Eve was sitting down for drinks and dinner with her producer in their mid-week-time-for-a-break favorite restaurant. She gulped her dirty martini until a speared olive rapped the end of her nose, then looked for their waiter before replying, “I don’t care.”

“You can’t not care. If you don’t care, then I have to find a new beauty queen who can string multi-syllable words together as well as you do. One of the most renowned television news anchors ever, Walter Cronkite, managed the occasional emotional outburst in the form of a smile, even a tear or two. So don’t tell me you don’t care about the people in your stories.” When Eve wouldn’t engage in Bonnie’s banter, her producer sighed and changed the subject. “How do you feel about doing a quick fluff piece?”

Eve was only half-listening to what Bonnie was saying. She was more involved in people-watching. Not something she did because people interested her more than, say, fine art or a beautiful landscape. Searching strangers’ faces for a certain eye shape, or a nose with a particular slope, the shape of their head, line of their chin, even their ears, was all part of a ritual common to most adopted children who had never known their birth parents, or what happened to them. Their ongoing quest to discover their past or, more precisely, where—and especially who—they came from.

Discovering no likely candidate nearby, Eve returned to her dinner talk with Bonnie. “Not interested. And why would you ask?” The last thing Eve felt like right that instant was fluffy.

“You know that Gulf Coast artist, Orlander?”

“Michael Orlander? Sure. My parents have one of his early pieces. My dad made me fall in love with that painting.”

“Made you? What? Like he denied meals and took away your favorite shows on TV until you pledged your love to a painting?”

“No. Doesn’t matter.”

“Well, Orlander’s in town doing a show. When Susie in Culture approached him about an interview, he wanted to know if you could do the piece instead. I just thought I’d ask.”

“As I recall, not much is known about the man. Do you think he wants to confess to something sinister in his past? Maybe he has a secret. Sure. Given my undying love for at least one of his works, maybe I could care. You think?” The glint in Eve’s eye was as much from her third martini as any attempt at levity.

“Cute. No, I don’t. I just thought I’d ask. He’s pretty famous, and his work is beautiful.”

“Yes, he is, and no, I’m not. Give it to Susie.”

“Good enough. Now on to the important stuff. I got a call from the mayor’s office before the report you did on his construction finances even ended. They’re mad as hell.” Bonnie punctuated her announcement with a sardonic smile. Somewhere north of fifty and south of being old enough to know better, she was Eve’s moral compass when it came to pushing the envelope. “Mad is good. A mad mayor means higher ratings.”

“I don’t get it. Why do I do these things?” Eve wasn’t in the mood to talk about the mayor and his problems, even if she was the one causing them.

They faced each other across a table draped in white linen, and their waiter wore black with a starched white shirt and stylish black bowtie. Something classical was being played on a baby grand in one corner of the main dining room, and the maître‘d knew them both by name. The restaurant was posh and exclusive, something Los Angeles did well.

“Maybe you didn’t get the memo, sweetie. Making people like the Mayor mad is what we pay you to do. Scare the shit out of ‘em and get the ratings—”

“No.” Eve picked up her third martini and held it suspended while she stared at Bonnie’s hand. The look of betrayal in Bob’s eyes still haunted her. More than any other man she’d shooed off her doorstep, she’d enjoyed being around Bob most. Unable to contain herself anymore, she announced, “Bob’s gone.”

Bonnie sighed. “I saw. The Matheson piece?”

“It was time.”

The roll of her producer’s eyes was as predictable as the sunrise tomorrow morning.

“You know how it is. He just didn’t measure up.” Eve placed her salad fork across her plate and shifted in her chair. She even tried to keep the defensive edge out of her voice when she continued, “That’s what dating’s all about, isn’t it? Shopping around?”

“Harvard grad…summa cum laude, if I recall. Corporate lawyer, dashing good looks, and partner in three years, I’d wager. I never saw you open a door for yourself or sit down without having a chair shoved under your ass when the man was around. Hell, the guy worshiped you. Could it be we have our bar set a bit high?”

That was the million-dollar question. Everything Bonnie had said about Bob was true. And what Eve could never admit to anyone, not even Bonnie, was that when Bob had pulled her into his arms and whispered those three little words, she’d almost reciprocated. But she hadn’t, and she had no plans to anytime in the near future.

“It was time, that’s all.” Eve watched a couple being led to their table by the maître‘d. Anything to avoid Bonnie’s judgmental gaze.

“Then why ask me why you do these things?” Bonnie sighed, pulled her handbag up, and extracted a gift-wrapped package. “You don’t want an answer from me or anyone else. You just want to know you’ve asked the question. It’s like keeping score for you. And, by the way, you’re not getting any younger, sweetie. Happy birthday.”

Eve blushed as she always did at such intimacies. She was never a good gift receiver. “How nice. But it’s not my birthday.”

“I know, but you won’t be here on the auspicious day.”

“You shouldn’t have, Bonnie. Really.”

“With the way you go through men? If I don’t, who will?”

When Eve didn’t laugh, Bonnie laughed for both of them. And when Eve started pulling the bow to one side Bonnie put her hand on Eve’s and said, “I want you to read every word. There’ll be a test next week.”

Eve stared at the leather-bound cover and gilt-edged pages. Good manners brightened her face, she smiled, and gushed. “Wow! I’ve been wanting to read this. I just haven’t had time to get to a bookstore.”

“Right.” Bonnie rolled her eyes again. “Pigs fly and elephants dance in some parallel universe, too, I guess.”

“No. Really. And look at the cover. Real leather. I didn’t know they made leather-bound books anymore. Well, not romance novels, anyway.”

“They don’t. Special order. Cost me a bundle. I want you to feel guilty as hell when you don’t read it.”

“Thanks, Bonnie. It’s beautiful. I really love it.”

Bonnie waved the waiter over and ordered drinks for both of them. After the waiter left, she caught Eve’s eye and quipped, “The book isn’t what you need to fall in love with, hon.”

Two hours later Eve unlocked the door to her empty life and shrugged the world off her shoulders. The keys went in her purse. Her purse, along with Bonnie’s gift, went on her bare kitchen counter beside her dead fern. A glance at Puff Puff’s empty food dish, her cat that ran away two weeks after being rescued from the shelter, and she headed for one of her two bedrooms. The one she slept in was the only room in the apartment she’d actually bothered to furnish in the four years she’d lived in LA.

Her nightly routine complete, wearing the old pink nightshirt her mother had given her when she’d gone away to college, Eve curled up between the sheets, reached for the lamp on her nightstand, and paused just short of turning it off.

Not really wanting to, she got out of bed anyway. She padded down the hall to the small kitchenette, then ran her fingers across the warm leather of the romance novel Bonnie had gone to so much trouble to have made just for her…and cursed her best friend again.

Back in bed she fluffed her pillows, dug out her reading glasses, and opened the front cover. She smiled in spite of herself at the handwritten note opposite the title page.

 

Eve,

The only guarantee with love is that someday you will regret not having tried.

Bonnie

 

With a spurious air of disinterest, she flipped the title page and started reading.

Chapter 2

Eve couldn’t believe she was running late. She was never late. For anything. Fortunately, she was traveling light. Bleeping the alarm on her car a second time for good measure, she literally ran for the entrance to the main terminal at LAX.

It was all Bonnie’s fault. That, and the litter of used tissues she’d found around her bed when she’d finally tumbled out.

As she passed through the automatic doors into the terminal, she was swallowed up by the noise and bustle of other travelers. Navigating around a man who seemed to have all the time in the world, she was searching in her purse for her ticket when her phone rang. A glance at caller ID elicited a moan. She’d been ignoring Bob’s calls, hoping he’d give up, but he hadn’t. Just as she slid her thumb over the power switch to disconnect, guilt tickled the back of her neck and she answered instead.

“Bob. Hi.”

She only half listened as she skidded to a halt while a couple with three children in tow crossed her path.

“Listen, Bob. I’m on my way to Chicago to see my mom. I’ll be back Tuesday night. Maybe we can get together Wednesday or something.” The family moved on and Eve cut Bob off a second time. “Really, Bob. I promise. I’ll call you next week and we’ll get toget—”

When he interrupted, she let her hand holding her phone drop to her side, ignoring Bob’s words, and took off at a run. At the airline’s counter she slid her frequent flyer card through the electronic kiosk and waited what seemed an eternity for her boarding pass to print.

With no luggage to check, her phone restored to her ear, she was on the move again.

“Okay, Bob. Yes. I know, Bob.” She looked past people, down the crowded hallway, to the security checkpoint, and cursed.

“Bob! I heard you the first time. I don’t have time for this right now.” She was practically yelling into the phone when she smacked right into a wall.

Eve landed on her butt so hard her teeth clacked together. Her phone flew across the hallway, her purse slid off her shoulder, down her arm, and spilled, and her carry-on went sliding into the feet of a woman who nearly fell on top of her.

“What the—?”

“You okay? Here, let me help.”

She was taken by how strong and well-proportioned the hand was that reached down to help. The hand of someone who did manual labor… or an artist, perhaps. And that hand was beautiful. The word just popped into her head.

The rest of the ensemble wasn’t as promising. Scruffy work boots, blue jeans, and a tooled leather belt. His red flannel shirt practically screamed deer-killer. Then she looked into the most startling gray eyes she’d ever seen. They were set in a rugged face that was full of concern, and she found she couldn’t turn away. Now she knew what the last thing was the deer saw just before the fateful shot.

With a start, she noticed that her skirt had crept too far up her thighs, and scrambled to recover her dignity. She struggled to her feet while brushing her skirt back into place and staring at the man who had run over her. When she chanced a second glance at his irresistible eyes, he had already turned away to retrieve her carry-on.

She hadn’t run into a wall at all. There might have been some shred of dignity in being distracted and hitting a wall. She didn’t really believe that, but it had to be better than being run over by a human bulldozer. Her hands felt clammy and her heart was pounding. No doubt from embarrassment. She was still trying to catch her breath as she gathered her purse. The guy with the hands was back, her carry-on at his side, and he tried to help her locate the scattered contents.

“That’s okay. I can get it.” She gave him a look, the one that said he’d already run over her, what else could she expect?

“Let me help.”

“I told you I can get everything.”

“And I’m just trying to be helpful.”

He was holding out her compact and ballpoint pen. She ignored his smile, took the two items, and went back to gathering loose coins and her hairbrush.

“Here.” When she looked up he had a packaged tampon and her pink diaphragm case in his hand.

“Give me those.” Her ears burning, she added, “Why don’t you go shoot a deer or something, and leave me alone?” She decided the only thing bruised was her pride, and as soon as she had everything back in her purse she reached for her carry-on and gave the man a piece of her mind. “You really should watch where you’re going. You could kill somebody.”

I should watch where I’m going? I was just standing here talking on my phone when you ran into me.” In spite of his unfriendly message, he smiled. Laughing at her, she supposed.

“No you weren’t.” She jerked her carry-on to her side. “I would have seen you.”

“You were too busy yelling at some poor schmuck named Bob to see me.” The smile turned to mocking laughter, and she wished she had an umbrella to whack him with.

“Men. You can’t live with em’. Period.” She snapped her purse shut as only a woman wronged could do, gathered herself, and turned to leave.

“Does that chip on your shoulder get heavy? Maybe I should call Bob and see what he thinks.”

What an arrogant ass, she decided. There was a break in the river of people rushing past and she jumped in, leaving the guy talking to himself.

The last to board, she was glad she’d used miles to upgrade to business. Her flight was full and noisy, and the man beside her flirted long enough to realize his seat mate wasn’t receptive, then went back to his paperback. Eve stared out her window and wondered. Not about anything in particular, just random thoughts and images that, at moments, seemed as desolate as any barren landscape flashing by below. Finally she put her seat back, closed her eyes, and tried to sleep.

The guy with the hands and the deer-killer eyes would have none of that. He kept smiling and saying he was just trying to help. Unfortunately, upon closer inspection, the only thing she could find in his expression was sincerity. Which just made her feel worse. She’d felt better about treating him badly when she labeled his smile as mocking. And since he wouldn’t leave her alone, she stayed awake and leafed through an in-flight magazine in an effort to numb her mind. There was a modicum of satisfaction in blaming Mr. Outdoors for her exposure to overpriced perfumes and quirky gadgets that, she was assured by their tag lines, she couldn’t live without.

At last standing on the street where she grew up, she paid her taxi and waited while the driver got her carry-on from the trunk. She’d forgotten how dismal Chicago could be in November. In her rush she’d also forgotten her winter coat, and now stood shivering in the cold drizzle beneath a sky of gray. She greeted Francisco, the doorman, and stopped short of stepping inside the elevator.

“Everything okay, Miss Evelyn?” A northern Mexico transplant, Francisco’s interpretation of her name always came out Ev-ee-leen.

“I’m great, Francisco? And you?”

“Always good, Miss Evelyn. You just looked like you were having, what your mother call it? A pregnant moment?”

“Pregnant pause. I was just thinking about something. How’s my mom?”

“Right as getting wet.”

“Right as rain. Thanks, Francisco.”

On her way to the tenth floor, Eve rummaged around for her house keys and tried to figure out why, of all the moments in her morning, the one that kept pestering her was the hick with the beautiful hands and killer eyes. That deer was toast.

The elevator door opened with a ding, and she panicked as she put the key in the outer door that opened into the foyer of her parent’s apartment. She knew exactly what her mother was going to ask first, and instead of a credible lie, the only thing she could conjure was the small scar on Mr. Gun Rack’s forefinger and how clean his fingernails had been.

“There you are, dear.” Her mother searched over Eve’s shoulder, then put on her best non-smile smile before she continued. “And where’s Bob? I thought I was finally going to get to meet your mystery man.”

The matriarch of the Stanton family stood ten feet away wearing something blue and elegant, her back ramrod straight, her gaze one of mirthful reproach as she waited for a reply. Eve saw only the puffy pillows beneath her mother’s eyes—the real reason she’d come to Chicago for her birthday—and changed the subject. “Mom, you look good. How’ve you been?”

Her mother smiled brightly, came closer, and then planted a kiss on Eve’s cheek. The hug that followed lingered just a tad, and Eve closed her eyes and knew there really was no place like home. Taking the handle of Eve’s carry-on, her mother walked off and said over her shoulder, “You haven’t changed bands on me, have you? Bob isn’t really Bernadette, is he? Not that there’s anything wrong with that. At least it would mean there was someone special in your life.” Just before disappearing down the hallway, her mother added, “Did I ever tell you about that time in college I—”

“Yes, mother. You did. I was thirteen.”

“Well, I just thought—”

“Too much information, Mom.”

And that was the woman who had changed her diapers, fixed her booboos, and defined her womanhood. Someone who could always find a bright lining in any dark cloud. But Eve was afraid the woman who had always lived the silver lining had finally found a cloud she couldn’t navigate her way out of, in spite of her sunny disposition.

Finally settled in Eve found her mother in the den and they talked a while. Then, with the tentative steps of the blind when confronted with unknown territory, they allowed themselves to remember. Her father’s sudden death three months earlier had nearly been her mother’s undoing. Eve had watched her mother, whose life had taken much of its meaning from the part she’d played in another person’s life, unravel into a single thread that lacked purpose and direction. That unraveling only proved Eve’s own fear that everyone would eventually abandon her.

They had a quiet meal over the kitchen counter because the kitchenette was, for the moment, haunted.

Tears were not avoided, but neither were they indulged.

Back in the den, long after the drapes had grown dark, her mother turned on her father’s reading lamp, and they eventually found a few reasons to laugh.

Two hours later, the mood lighter, they said goodnight and, somehow, both understood that the healing had finally begun.

At last, standing in front of her dresser in the room where she grew up, her gaze moved from picture to picture tucked beneath the edge of the white enamel and gilt frame of her mirror. From pigtails and braces to pompoms and jocks.

A picture from her junior year caught her eye. Jerome Jackson, the senior football jock at her side looking dangerous and edgy in his dreadlocks, skin as dark as midnight, wearing a black leather jacket. Jerome had been her first. A late start compared to her classmates. Not from any higher sense of morality, more an avoidance of emotional entanglements. Even at that age she was practically phobic about holding hands and the other trappings involved in adolescent love.

In the end the only feeling he’d left her with was one of confusion and uncertainty. The great secret had been revealed. Pandora’s Box opened. Fear and confusion had reigned since that night of sweaty groping and soulful sighs. Although others had used the words, had attached them to valentine cards and notes scribbled between classes, Jerome’s declaration afterward, while both of them were still gasping for air, her heart still racing, had been the first time she’d ever really heard the words. Even now, remembering the sincerity of his pledge could make her cringe.

“I love you, Eve.”

And now more than ever she could see how ridiculous it all had been.

A family argument had put an end to their relationship. Not her family; his. One day Jerome had taken her to his house after school, most likely to show her off to his parents, and his mother had smiled and been polite. Even gone on about how pretty she was. But when she’d thought Eve was out of earshot, she’d told her son in no uncertain terms that there was never going to be some half-breed hanging on her son’s arm.

It had taken her a week to bring the topic up with her mother. Not the fact that she was bi-racial or the racial slur implied by Jerome’s mother’s words. Racial slurs weren’t exactly new to her; they’d trickled in over the years, from both sides of the fence she lived on. What was new to her was the way it had been handled. The smiles and complements followed by a knife in her back. Deceit was new to Eve and she wanted to talk about it, try and understand it into non-existence.

She’d found her mother crying and her father mad enough to spit nails later that night when she’d barged into their bedroom to ask about something. After that she didn’t mention the occasional slights that came her way.

Her adoptive parents, both of Nordic descent, both blonde-haired and blue-eyed, just like Billy Bradley, were, to the best of Eve’s knowledge, color blind.

A picture from her senior prom, her long black hair draped over her bare shoulders. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed Billy Bradley with his lopsided grin was by her side. Her own big green eyes and dusky skin made her look exotic beside her white knight. She’d felt special that night.

She sighed and got ready for bed. At last she pulled the book Bonnie had given her out of her overnight bag and ran her fingers across the cover. Before getting into bed, she rifled her purse for her cell phone. She’d decided she would call Bonnie and extend her stay, then cursed when she discovered a sunset background instead of the picture of her little blue sports car. “Crap.”

It looked just like her phone but obviously wasn’t. That guy at the airport. The one who had run her over. While it was still early enough to call the west coast, she had no idea where he’d gone from LAX, so she decided to call first thing in the morning. Placing the offending gadget on her nightstand, she finally crawled into bed. The smell of the sheets put a smile on her face. They smelled like home.

She’d only managed to read the first one hundred pages of her leather-bound birthday present the previous night, and after getting caught up in the lives of Estelle and John, their struggle to be together in spite of all obstacles, leaving the book behind hadn’t been an option.

A tissue twisted in her fingers, she turned a page just as the cell phone on her nightstand came to life with a refrain from some teenybopper song that sounded brash and offensive in the quiet hours of the night. She snatched the thing up before it could wake her mother and, out of habit, looked at the caller ID. There was no name, but she recognized the number immediately.

Eve punched the receive button and barked, “You took my phone.”

“Hey. Hi to you too. How was your day? Mine wasn’t too bad. The airplane food was crappy.” The guy sounded amused, which infuriated her. “Flight was a little bumpy but I met this really interesting woman in the airpo—”

“Listen, you. My life and, more importantly, my job are in that phone.”

“Oh, I believe that. Bonnie called. Seems the mayor is really, really ticked. Have you been dating him, too?”

“What?”

“Oh, and she said things looked good with Carl. I wonder if the poor schmuck knows what he’s in for.”

“I’ll have you know Carl is a program producer in New York. It was a business meeting. It had nothing to do with…” She shut up when she realized he’d been baiting her.

“Figures. You wouldn’t have sent Bonnie if you really wanted to destroy the guy. I’m sure you’d want to watch while he went down in flames.”

Eve couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Do you always snoop around in people’s things?”

“I didn’t snoop. I just answered my phone. Of course, it wasn’t my phone, was it? It turns out you took my phone. I understand. People make mistakes. You were probably still gloating about poor Bob. I was just calling to see what we could do to fix this.”

“I took your phone? You’re the one who ran over me.”

“I thought we settled that this morning. Don’t tell me you’re one of those people who never lets go.” The arrogant ass chuckled and her blood boiled. “And about this Bob guy. Give him a break. He’s in love with you. I suggest you—”

“What!” Eve lowered her voice and whispered furiously into the phone, “What are you doing talking to my friends on my phone?”

“I tried to ignore him, but after the twelfth call in an hour I decided to let him know you were out of touch for a while. The guy just needed someone to talk to. We had a nice long chat.”

Long chat? You had a long chat with Bob?” Eve was practically shrieking again.

“Yeah. Real nice guy.” Mr. Beautiful Hands was enjoying himself too much, all at her expense. “Did you know that he’s been in love with you more than a year? Myself, I can’t imagine how anyone could be as smart as this guy sounds and show such poor judgment. But as it turns out he was just afraid to ask you out. Imagine that. Afraid of you.”

He paused for effect and she made a face at the phone in response to his cheap shot. Before she could come up with a snappy retort, he barged ahead.

“Of course, with that attitude of yours, I guess most men are. Afraid of you, I mean. Have you considered anger management?”

She wanted to strangle the guy. She had terrible thoughts involving a big club. She sputtered and fumed, trying to find the words to annihilate him, but the man left her so flustered her only defense was to snap his cell phone shut, hold the power switch down until the power light stopped flashing, and drop the thing on the floor.

“Showed you.”

With a satisfactory harrumph that didn’t really satisfy, she turned her bedside lamp off, rolled over, hugged her book to her chest, and tried to go to sleep. Just before she dozed off, she mumbled, “Afraid of me. Riiiiight. Too bad you aren’t afraid of me, Mister Know-It-All.”

 

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