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First pages

1

Security guard Walter Brodsky watched disinterestedly as the usual throng of curious visitors circled the Hope Diamond display. He smirked and allowed his eyes to roam the room, looking for anything out of the ordinary. Anything to keep him awake.

“Damn, when Joe told me this was an easy job he should have warned me about the Valium effect. Eight freakin’ months and nothing but some rowdy kids and a crazy schmuck with a diamond fetish,” he mumbled to himself, shaking his head. “I really hope something interesting happens one of these days… anything!”

“Be careful what you wish for, mon amie,” warned a soft, gentle voice to Walter’s right.

Walter turned and was surprised to see a woman in a wide hat with long blue and pink feathers, wearing a loose white gown with a colorful sash around the waist, looking at him. “Excuse me?” he said, lifting his eyebrows in surprise.

The woman didn’t respond; but smiled coquettishly and walked away.

“Man, I need a break from the crazies,” Walter said as he rubbed the back of his neck, his eyes following the eccentric woman until she disappeared behind one of the columns. He shrugged and continued his lazy walk around the room, his mind wandering to his plans for the weekend and the Redskins’ game with his buddies. The problem was that he hadn’t told his wife, and she wanted him to refinish the kitchen cabinets. Walter frowned, Tammy’s ultimatum from that morning fresh in his mind. You know the money we’ve been saving to finish the basement? The ultimate man cave you’ve been boasting about to your buddies? Well, you can kiss it goodbye if these cabinets aren’t sparkling by Monday, ‘cause I’ve already chosen new ones and all I have to do is click the purchase button!

“No way that’s gonna happen,” he grumbled to himself. “I’ll stay up all night if I have to, and those deadbeats are gonna come and help.”

A smile slowly crept across Walter’s lips as he imagined his finished basement, a fully stocked bar with a beer tap, a 60 inch high definition TV with Bose surround sound, a pool table, leather couch, two lazy boys, and – suddenly, the ear splitting shriek of the alarm system brought Walter crashing back to the present. His gaze instantly snapped to the Hope Diamond even though he knew the multi-million dollar security system at the Smithsonian was virtually fool-proof. As he expected, the marble base was rapidly descending into the floor, and the display with the diamond would soon be secured in an impenetrable underground vault. But where the hell was the Hope Diamond?

Walter rushed forward in shock as the opening in the floor started to close over the empty display. His head jerked from side to side seeking out the stone, a thief, anything out of place. But there was nothing. In disbelief, he looked down at the recessed floor one last time before the opening slammed shut. To his surprise the Hope Diamond was back inside the glass display.

“What the hell?”

“Your eyes have played a trick on you, mon amie,” said the same soft, gentle voice from before. “But now, your day has become a bit more exciting. No?”

Walter spun around, but the woman in the oddly lavish outfit was nowhere near him. He turned from side to side and finally saw her standing by the exit door of the Annenberg Hooker Hall as if waiting for him to look. She smiled, waved in a queenly fashion, and walked away.

2

Patricia Fowler’s toned body cut through the water with exceptional grace. Her movements were fluid, almost dolphin-like as she took in stroke after stroke towards the end of the pool. She was the image of perfection, a sort of clean, natural attractiveness combined with a focused mind and an athletic body. As she closed in on the wall in front of her, her body twisted into a perfect flip, her feet coming into contact with its smooth ceramic surface and propelling her in the opposite direction. As Patricia surfaced, she seamlessly transitioned from forward crawl to breaststroke, the next phase in her practice session.

13… 14… 15… 16… 17… I gotta stop counting all my strokes. When did I become so anal, she thought, but as much as Patricia tried to she couldn’t stop herself from mentally reviewing every aspect of her routine. Thirty-six laps every session neatly divided into rounds by stroke type: front crawl, breaststroke, backstroke, and inverted breaststroke. For the umpteenth time, she thought about adding another four laps to make it a round forty. No, she insisted to herself. I don’t want to push it too hard. I’m in a sweet spot now. It’s been a year of perfection. Why change?

Patricia smirked and continued forward, a well-oiled machine doing what it was designed to do. She followed the same routine every week: Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays were dedicated to swimming while Tuesdays and Thursdays were for jogging. Becoming a member of the fitness facility across from her office at Clearwell, Inc. was a spur of the moment decision, but with her job as a high-level marketing manager it turned out to be the best thing she could have done. Swimming grounded and relaxed her, while running made her robust and boosted her confidence. Occasionally on Fridays, however, her co-workers would ask her to join them for lunch in the park next to the office, and she always said yes. It was a way for her to fit in so as not to be viewed as one of those solitary types who eventually got shunned by the group. Besides, she liked her co-workers and certainly needed more social activity in her life, which lately revolved mostly around work and workouts. She hadn’t had a serious relationship in four years, and it was time to start looking again even if it meant having co-workers suggest brothers, cousins, and even second-cousins as potential love interests. Apparently, twenty-seven was the new twenty-two, the perfect age for finding someone and settling down.

Patricia almost laughed, it was such an antiquated thought. And the makeup and dresses they suggested she wear, it was crazy. She took great pride in her natural femininity, and the old-fashioned approach to beauty made her skin crawl. She didn’t need hundreds of dollars of creamy enhancements, or three hour sessions at the hairdresser. She was tall, slender, and attractive and that’s what she wanted to show. At most, she used her long, sleek, chestnut hair to nicely frame her face and on occasion added the most subtle lipstick or eyeliner. The right man would find her eventually.

No rush, she told herself. Focus on paying off the mortgage. Focus on your career. Let things happen. She closed her eyes and kicked hard. As the water streamed past her, the image of the perfect man invaded her thoughts. A confident yet sensitive guy with no emotional baggage, a sturdy body, and rugged features. Someone tender and mysterious who you must surrender to in a lifelong journey while falling deeply in love. That’s what she wanted. She was done with the pudgy clingy type, the unmotivated slob, or the anal-retentive and emotionally obtuse.

Patricia’s outstretched fingertips scraped the edge of the pool, snapping her out of her daydream. She stopped and looked towards the clock on the wall at the other end of the room. Instead, all she saw was a tower of well-defined legs. Her eyes slowly made their way up the chiseled body of the man looming above her, and she gasped as they finally landed on the face looking down at her. The man’s sleek, jet black hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail like a professional platform diver or a mysterious Flamenco dancer. Either way, he was the perfect example of raw masculinity, a kind of magnetic pull that had Patricia gaping like a teenager.

“I believe you’re done,” said the man. He was holding out a towel for her, but didn’t offer to help her out of the pool.

“Huh? Oh, yes, I guess I am,” she said, and climbed out. She stood there dripping for a moment before taking the towel. “I’m actually not quite done. I mean, I’m done with the pool, but was going to—”

“The hot tub. I know,” interrupted the man.

“Aren’t you—”

“Paul Blast? Yes, I am,” he said with a grin. “And believe me, I’m not a stalker. I’ve been coming here for a few weeks, actually. But you’re so focused on your routine that you never noticed. I like that.”

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Blast,” blurted Patricia. She was trying hard not to look down at Paul’s chest and toned abs. After all, he was one of the directors at Clearwell, her boss’s boss; John’s boss.

“No worries. Like I said, I admire your determination. I noticed you never change your routine in the slightest, just the intensity, and that tells me a lot.” Paul stopped and frowned. “I guess I am a stalker of sorts.”

“No! No! I understand,” said Patricia.

“Just kidding,” said Paul with a slight chuckle, then added in a more serious tone, “Mind if I join you in the hot tub?”

Patricia felt her head reel for a split second. She blinked slowly, her brown eyes focusing on the face in front of her. Instinctively, she nodded and smiled. Paul’s deep, blue eyes smiled back.

“Sure, of course,” she said in a much calmer and confident tone than she felt. It was a trick she had mastered when giving presentations, to appear in control even when the situation was beyond your control.

Patricia turned and headed for the hot tub, but watched Paul from the corner of her eye as he followed. What does he want? How could I have not noticed him all these weeks? But then, why would I? She reached the tub, climbed the steps, and slid into the water. As usual, the hot water immediately soothed and relaxed her.

When she turned, Paul was standing on the edge of the hot tub, tall, lean and confident. He paused momentarily, one hand on the railing, his eyes watching her every move, before stepping down into the pool. Almost immediately, the relaxed feeling she had experienced just a moment before vanished, and she could feel her heart beating frenetically through her chest. She watched as his body slowly disappeared into the water, and for a fleeting moment an image of him wearing a tie over his bare chest popped into her mind. What the hell are you thinking? Are you trying to get fired? Patricia shook her head, leaned back, and closed her eyes. Hopefully he would be gone when she reopened them.

“Patricia, do you mind if I ask you a question?” asked Paul as he settled down on the submerged bench, the water up to just below his shoulders.

Patricia opened her eyes, her heart in her mouth. Paul was the director of the Brand Management group, and she only knew him by sight. He seldom came down to her floor, but she had heard that he was a hard and meticulous worker and expected the same dedication from everyone. No one really knew much about his personal life, but it was common knowledge that he had risen very quickly in the ranks and was headed to the top. There was even talk of him as the new Vice-President of the department.

“Um, sure,” she said, and broke into a friendly smile. There was a warm flutter in her chest, and she felt it crawl up her neck to her face. What’s happening? I’m too young for a hot flash, she thought as she forced herself to keep a straight face.

“How committed are you to Clearwell? And before you answer that, are you available for dinner tonight?” asked Paul in an almost formal tone. He leaned back placing his elbows on the edge of the tub.

“I’m sorry, what? I don’t quite understand.”

Paul smiled and held up his hand apologetically. “Sorry, didn’t mean to ambush you with two questions. Let me start over. I’ve been hearing very complimentary things about your work and want to know how you see your future at Clearwell. As for the second question,” Paul paused and grinned sheepishly, “I can’t lie. Dinner wouldn’t be solely for business. You intrigue me, and I would love to get to know you better.”

Patricia was silent for a moment, her composure as professional as possible under the circumstances. Then, as she was about to respond, an image of Paul wearing only his swimming trunks and a tie while sitting at a table in a very fancy restaurant invaded her thoughts. “You must be kidding me!” she said choking over her words. Then, before Paul could respond, added, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to say that. I just had a strange thought… and this is so unusual.”

“Don’t worry about it, my fault. I overstepped,” said Paul, then added with a smile. “Let me make it up to you with dinner?”

Patricia glanced at her hands resting on her knees under the water. The skin was getting wrinkled; it was time to leave. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think it’s a good idea,” she said, and stood up.

“Fair enough, but please, don’t go. I do want to hear your goals at Clearwell.” Paul gestured for her to sit.

Patricia looked at the clock on the wall. It was 12:55. “I would love to discuss it with you, Mr. Blast, but I’m going to be late as it is.”

“Don’t worry about it. If anyone asks, tell them you were in a meeting with me. And Patricia, please call me Paul.”

There was a moment’s hesitation before Patricia smiled gently and sat back down. “Okay, Paul, what would you like to know?”

“Basically, how hard are you willing to push your career at Clearwell?”

Patricia reached up and brushed away a strand of hair that had strayed across her eye. “As hard as necessary. I believe that my work speaks for itself.”

“Yes, it does, and John speaks very highly of you.” Paul sat forward, putting his arms back in the water and resting his elbows on his knees. Patricia’s eyes followed the movement and came to rest on Paul’s crotch. “So, my question is would you be open to a departmental change for faster growth opportunities? At first, it would be a horizontal shift from your current position, but I guarantee…”

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, control yourself! Patricia looked up at Paul, her eyebrows arching up in confusion. What did he just say? A horizontal what?

“Patricia? Are you okay?” asked Paul.

“Yes, yes, of course. I just wasn’t quite sure what you meant by a horizontal…”

“Shift,” completed Paul. “It means you will keep your title as manager but work in my department on a new project I’m launching. I want you to spearhead that project.”

“So I’ll be working with you?”

“Not directly, but yes. Steve Browski is the managing director for the department, but since I know he’s being considered for a promotion…” Paul smiled without finishing the sentence.

“I see,” said Patricia. “This really is unexpected, considering where we are.”

“Unexpected things can be good.”

A sly smile spread across Patricia’s lips. “Yes, they can, thank you. But I need a day or two to think it over. Can you wait?”

“Only if you give me the answer over dinner.”

Patricia shook her head and smiled. “You know where my office is,” she said, standing to leave. “I’ll let you know.”

Paul nodded.

Patricia hopped out of the hot tub, took a few steps, and then doubled back, colliding headfirst into a heavyset man who was walking past her. As she bounced off his large belly, the man grabbed her to keep her from slipping.

 “Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry!” she exclaimed and hurried away without looking back.

3

The Washington, D.C., contingent of the FBI’s Art Crime Team was gathered at the FBI headquarters several blocks from the Smithsonian. They were in a mostly glass-walled meeting room with a long, dark table and oversized, black office chairs. The room was absolutely sterile, not a single piece of paper out of place, and equipped with cutting edge digital video reconnaissance equipment. However, no one was sitting, and all eyes were riveted on a petite woman with short black hair and thick, black, round glasses, wearing a dark gray tweed blazer and skirt.

“This is quite intriguing,” said Program Director Beth Schnurr, shaking her head as she yet again watched the replay of the security video form the gallery on the large screen on the wall in front of her. Although she was at most four-foot-nine, the presence and respect she commanded more than made up for her lack of stature. After thirty years with the Bureau and an impressive track record, her voice immediately arrested everyone’s attention. “The display case was never approached by anyone and as far as we can tell the diamond never left the case.” Without turning her head, Schnurr’s dark, steely eyes snapped from agent to agent and then returned to the video screen. She quickly jotted something down on the small pad in her hand and continued, “But gentlemen, despite what we see in this video, I assure you that the Hope Diamond was indeed stolen. The one currently on display is definitely a fake.”

FBI Special Agent Eric McKeown, one of the veterans on the team and a specialist in solving unusual crimes, rubbed the back of his neck. “But how?” he asked, his booming tone betraying his frustration. The burly African American cleared his throat and looked at Schnurr. “There is nothing that indicates a robbery. We know these alarm systems are very sensitive. Even a slight change in the internal pressure of the display case can set them off.”

“You’re forgetting the guard’s report, Eric,” said Schnurr.

“No, I’ve read it and reread it over and over again. It was a split-second thing, and he himself acknowledges that he might have imagined it. With all the stress of the moment, who knows? But what we do know as fact is that the diamond was in its case when the vault closed and later when the system was reset.”

“Could have been an inside job,” interjected Special Agent Joseph Avila.

Schnurr turned to look at him. Avila was in his late twenties, looked like he’d been cut out of an FBI poster catalog, and was a promising new addition to the team. “Explain,” said Schnurr.

“It’s possible that the diamond was stolen earlier, and a fake was planted before the security incident of this morning,” said Avila.

“That doesn’t make any sense. Assuming that someone did manage to somehow get around security, why would the alarm only go off later during the day?” asked McKeown. “And if that is true, then the diamond could have been stolen days or even weeks ago.”

“Exactly. I think that today’s incident was planned to divert our attention from when the diamond was actually stolen,” added Avila. “We need to look through older footage, possibly when the museum was closed, and also have the diamond appraised for authenticity to make sure that—”

Schnurr held up her hand and the room immediately fell silent. “Gentlemen, gentlemen, all good points, but none based on fact.” Schnurr took a quick glance at the video freeze-framed on the screen. “I do believe that Mr. Walter is correct in his assertion that the Hope Diamond was indeed, for a fraction of a second, missing from its display.”

“How? I don’t understand. We’ve pored over every second of the security video. The diamond was there the whole time,” said McKeown. “We even looked at the footage frame by frame!”

“Yes, it may seem so, but the facts may prove us wrong,” answered Schnurr as she turned to look at Chief Technology Officer Peter Gonçalves. “Peter, please explain.”

Peter stepped out from behind the computerized video console and walked to the table. “The museum’s high definition cameras run at 30 frames per second, which is very high-end, considering that most systems out there run at around 7.5 to 15 frames. That means images are captured every 33 milliseconds, so technically, if the diamond was swapped within a 33 millisecond window the video would not capture it.”

“That’s crazy,” mumbled McKeown. “How could someone even do that? And how did the security guard…?”

“See it disappear?” completed Peter. “Our eyes can see up to 100 frames per second or more, so although the diamond did not disappear on the video, Mr. Walter could be right.”

“And he is,” said Schnurr. “Peter, can you please juxtapose the video from the gallery’s wide angle camera with this one?”

“Sure.” Peter walked back to the video console and brought up the second video. The captured footage covered the whole gallery.

Schnurr glanced at the pad in her hand and said, “Please position the video focused on the Hope Diamond to time code 09:48:33:24 and the wide angle video to ten seconds before that, so 09:38:33:24. Thank you.” Schnurr took out her laser pointer from the pocket of her jacket and looked up at the video screen.

Avila looked from Peter to Schnurr and then turned his intent gaze to the video screen, eager to hear what Schnurr had to say. McKeown simply leaned against the table and grinned. As usual, Schnurr had listened to them, tested them, and now was about to drop the bomb.

“Gentlemen, I want to direct your attention to this pillar,” said Schnurr. She pointed her laser to the right side of the video. “Peter, please play the wide angle footage and stop when it reaches the same time code as the Hope Diamond.”

The video showed nothing exceptional, just a crowd of people looking at the Hope Diamond display while others leisurely strolled about the gallery. Avila shrugged and said, “Looks normal to me. People doing what people do in a museum.”

McKeown maintained his silence. He wasn’t going to fall for Schnurr’s trap. Obviously, there was something she wanted them to notice. “Hey, Peter, replay that will you?”

Before the footage stopped playing, McKeown smirked and pointed at a figure on the screen. “That woman with the shawl over her head and dark glasses, where’d she come from?”

“She was standing behind the pillar,” said Avila.

“Yes, but where did she come from?” repeated McKeown. “She appeared from behind the pillar, but she wasn’t there moments before and I didn’t see her enter the gallery.”

Schnurr nodded in agreement.

“There’s also something odd going on with her right hand. She’s holding something, but the last frame and the previous one don’t quite match.”

“Very good, Mr. McKeown,” said Schnurr. “Those are the two points that I would like to focus on. First, our mysterious woman’s hand. If you will notice, both videos are stopped on the exact frame that the alarm goes off. Now, pay close attention to the video focused on the Hope Diamond.” Schnurr turned to Peter and said, “Peter, please flip back and forth between the last two frames.”

Everyone quietly stared at the video as it kept repeating the same frames, but everything looked normal. After a few seconds, Schnurr pointed her laser to the top right corner of the shadow cast by the Hope Diamond inside the display. “Does anyone see the subtle change in the intensity of the refraction?” she asked.

Avila craned his head forward. “Yes! It looks like it got lighter. But why?”

Schnurr didn’t answer. Instead, she pointed her laser at the shawled woman’s hand and said, “Peter, please do the same with the wide angle video.”

This time, Avila knew what to look for and as soon as the footage started to repeat he exclaimed, “The same thing happened to what she’s holding in her hand. That’s why the frames don’t match.”

McKeown let out a deep groan.

Schnurr turned to McKeown with a somewhat amused look. “Anything you would like to add, Eric?”

McKeown rubbed the back of his neck and grimaced as if talking would cause him great pain. “She’s the perp. Don’t ask me how, but she somehow swapped what she had in her hand, a replica obviously, with the Hope Diamond.” McKeown glanced at Schnurr and there was recognition in his look. She nodded slightly. “We have several unsolved cases like this. Crazy, unexplainable shit…”

“I don’t get it. So, you’re saying she stole the diamond like… how?” Avila looked from McKeown to Schnurr.

“That’s the problem, we don’t know,” said Schnurr.

“So how can you be so sure that the diamond was actually stolen? There’s nothing that indicates that,” insisted Avila.

“You are correct. However, considering what we know from other cases, the facts pertaining to this incident, and what we see on the video footage, I have no doubt that the diamond currently on display is a fake.” Schnurr paused and looked at Avila. “As Eric mentioned, we do have some unexplainable situations concerning other open cases, and it seems like this one is falling into that category.”

Peter half raised his hand and said, “There is also one other piece of information—”

“Yes,” interrupted Schnurr, “but before we move on, here are the facts up to now. One, Mr. Walter’s report states that the diamond disappeared momentarily, and we have technical information to support that theory. Two, at the exact moment that the alarm went off there was a change in the refraction caused by the Hope Diamond. Three, at the exact moment that the alarm went off there was a similar change in lighting in what our suspect was holding in her right hand. And finally, four, our mysterious suspect. Any questions at this point?” Schnurr paused momentarily before nodding for Peter to go on.

Peter started the playback on the wide angle video footage, cleared his throat, and stood. “This is where things get even stranger. As you can see, Mr. Walter was completely unaware of the mysterious woman wearing the shawl and ran past her to the Hope Diamond display. In the meantime, the woman walked back behind the pillar, here,” Peter traced the woman’s path on the screen as the video continued playing,” and when she re-emerged she looked like this.” Peter paused the video. On the screen was the still image of the young, queenly woman in the extravagant dress and fashionable hat who Walter had mentioned in his report. She was smiling and not at all worried about concealing her identity. Around her neck, she wore a jewel filled necklace with the Hope Diamond as the center piece.

“What? You’re saying the woman in the shawl changed clothes behind the pillar and came out looking like that? And all within a few seconds?” asked Avila, pointing at the screen.

“Forget that. I know her,” remarked Eric. “I’ve seen that face before… and the clothes…”

Schnurr nodded in consent. “We all have, Eric. Peter, please open a window on the screen and search for Marie Antoinette.”

Peter looked confused for a moment but did what Schnurr had asked. Images of Marie Antoinette filled the search window on the screen.

“There! The third one from the right, it’s the same woman,” exclaimed Avila. “And the same clothes. What the hell?”

McKeown rubbed the back of his neck and said in disgust, “Can you believe it? She’s wearing the Hope Diamond right there in front of everyone and no one stopped her. She just walked out.”

“Yes, she is and she did, Eric,” said Schnurr. “Marie Antoinette was one of the original owners of the Hope Diamond, and someone has created the perfect illusion to make a statement.”

“Saying what, exactly?” challenged McKeown.

“That remains to be discovered,” said Schnurr. “For the time being, we need to contact the museum and request an analysis of the Hope Diamond to confirm our theory. At the same time, we have to reach out to our contacts and find out how our mystery woman pulled off such a heist.”

4

Patricia lay on her bed in the darkness and stared at the ceiling of her bedroom condo. When the Esplanades complex was still under construction three years ago, she made the decision to invest and bought a unit. The developer, Minto Enterprises, was renowned for delivering properties that were well constructed and uniquely designed, quite different from anything mass produced from cookie-cutter templates. The investment was a bit more substantial than that of other condos in the area, but it was well worth the money, and after a couple of weeks Patricia finally chose unit 813. She loved it. It was perfect with its open concept design, and the view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains from the large windows in her dining room was absolutely stunning. On some days, she even rose early and watched the sunrise over the mountains.

Patricia rolled to her side and gazed out the bedroom window to the foothills beyond. The crescent moon shone above the horizon, and the fog that hung over the scenery seemed to glow due to the lights emanating from the neighboring cities. She blinked, almost in a daze, and let her mind drift. Paul Blast was interested in her? In what world did that make any sense? For one, he didn’t know her. They had never really met, and he having watched her do her laps for a few weeks was nothing short of creepy. And two, they worked in the same company. As a director he should know better.

But it was Paul Blast, after all. Handsome, accomplished, rich, and definitely attractive. Patricia allowed herself a half smile as she mentally replayed their earlier encounter. A wealthy executive with a body to die for wanted to go out with her. How bad could that be? But then there was also the offer to move up to his department and be in charge of a new project in development. Could she have both the man and the job?

“No, you can’t,” she mumbled to herself. “Just accept the job and ignore the man.”

Patricia let out a deep sigh and sat up. Life always made her choose between love and career, and this time her career was more important than a possible, or more likely, an impossible relationship. Of course she wanted to find Mr. Right, but she couldn’t imagine Paul fitting that role. It would be way too perfect. Life simply didn’t work that way, at least not for her where men were concerned. The whole thing would probably end up being just a fling and would do nothing but damage her hard earned reputation at Clearwell. What she definitely did not want was her co-workers whispering about how she advanced her career by sleeping with Paul Blast. No way in hell was she going to be labelled as an opportunistic career-ladder-climbing bitch.

Patricia got up, walked to the window, and leaned against the frame. The moon was higher in the sky, and the stars were peeking down at her. Her eyes scanned the night sky in search of a sign, anything that would help her decide what to do, or better yet, a shooting star for a wish. At twenty-seven, time was quickly running out on her plan to start a family by the time she was thirty. If that were to happen, she needed to quickly commit to more serious relationships.

Patricia thought back to her first – what she believed at the time was serious – boyfriend, Alex. They met during her second year in college, and he seemed like an ambitious guy with a strong desire for success. He was naturally smart, outgoing, and had rugged good looks, and despite his tendency to leave studying to the last minute, he always nailed his tests with exceptional grades. Patricia, however, was the exact opposite. Although very smart and intuitive, she had to work things through slowly to be able to absorb their contents. She was actually jealous of Alex’s cluttered yet dynamic mind, but his energy and brilliance was infectious, and Patricia found herself completely fascinated by this man who was in such contrast to herself. Everyone liked Alex, and to Patricia’s surprise, Alex liked her.

They had been dating for only a month when Alex asked her to move in with him, and although spontaneous decisions went against every grain of her being, she was so infected by him that she agreed. In her heart, she really believed that Alex was “the one”, and not long after moving in she discovered that he indeed was “the one”. The one who left dirty dishes everywhere; the one who didn’t pick up his dirty clothes; the one who never bought groceries, but was always hungry; the one who didn’t replace the toilet paper on the roll or put the seat down, no matter how many times she pleaded with him; and worst of all, the one who didn’t contribute his share of the rent.

Despite these problems, Patricia was not a quitter and was determined to make their relationship work. For six months, she patiently reminded Alex about sharing the responsibility of living together, being partners, building a solid future. Gradually, however, it became painfully obvious that their goals and personalities were just too different, and although she hated to admit it, she had made a mistake in thinking that Alex was anything but a little boy in big boy pants. While she was planning for a future that included marriage and a family, he was busy planning his next special ops in Call of Duty or looking forward to pizza night with his friends. In the end, Patricia ended the relationship but mourned her loss grievously. Even though her brain reassured her that she had done the right thing, she moped for weeks recalling Alex’s boyish grin every time she came home, and how his strong arms made her heart melt whenever he wrapped them around her. But she also remembered how he used that same charm to get out of doing his share and was never serious enough to commit to her or their relationship.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I was only nine when my mother rushed me out of school to board a plane for Italy. It was the beginning of the Iranian Revolution, the beginning of my exile. From there, life became an adventure, from going to school in an ancient castle in Firenze and playing tennis on the lawns of Wimbledon, to dribbling a soccer ball on the beaches of Brazil. What I didn't realize was that my roots had been permanently up-heaved and that I would spend the rest of my life trying to find a place to belong.

Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A.
I never decided. I always was a writer. However, I was also very into computers and coding, so the decision to become an engineer with a sustainable job that could support a family was an easy one. That is, until life said otherwise. One day, I wrote my first screenplay and never looked back.
Q. Why do you write?
A.
Because I enjoy it, period. Writing also comes quite naturally to me. I have plenty of ideas and never stick to the same genre. I'm a romantic at heart, so I love writing rom coms, but I also dive deeply into the suspense and thriller genres. Basically, I just write and write, but don't blog!
Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
My all-time favorite book is the Three Musketeers by Dumas. Its perfect balance of humor, action, and mystery greatly appeals to me. I'm also an avid Robert Ludlum fan, which shows in my writing style. Actually, I get inspired by any well thought out and well written book. Vampires anyone?

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Redneck sleuth's answer to a drug problem.
Feeders Shifters Faders
They have no idea who lurks, hunts and prowls
Fatal Defection
When defection becomes survival.