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First pages

Chapter 1

The spacious air bus coasts. Tilting just enough to allow sunshiney sparkles into the cabin. I smile as the yellow light dilates my delicate pupils. There’s nothing quite like a New York sunrise. I enjoyed being in the big City, but I’m a Cali girl through and through. I recline my business class seat, adjust my sunglasses, shove ear buds into my canals, and allow the reality of tedious travel to escape me. Wake me when I reach my destiny.

***

After the writer’s conferences in New York, I’m actually relieved to be back in Los Angeles. Funny how you can loathe a setting one minute and crave it the next. I enter the elevator and press the button for the corresponding floor to Spark Worldwide Literary — trying not to drop my double shot- caramel pumpkin spice latte in the process. I need this coffee more than life itself right now. I barely notice my surroundings as I prioritize the day in my head. I sigh.

“Slush.”

“I take it that you don’t like slush.”

The voice startles me and my pulse skyrockets.

“Oh! I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize that — I —”

“It’s quite all right. Happens to me all the time.” The tall handsome stranger giggles in a deep and resonating southern twang from behind me. He switches his iPhone from his right hand, into his left.

I sigh once more as I nervously tuck the wayward strands of my undulant brown hair behind my right ear.

“I’ve never seen you here before.” My tone revealing my curiosity and wariness.

“Yeah. I just transferred to Banks & Filmore. My name is Bryce. Bryce Fink.”

He extends his right hand towards me, and his penetrating eyes simmer. I glance at his hand as it hangs ambivalently in the air. It’s not a date, Zia. Just shake the damn man’s hand before he thinks something is wrong with you.

“Zia. Nice to meet you and welcome to the building.”

I place my hand inside of his. I immediately want it back.

“Thank you kindly Miss —”

“Just Zia.”

“Well, just Zia. Thank you for the warm welcome.”

His grip isn’t as strong as I would’ve expected, considering the muscular biceps that are bulging through his blazer. His hands are soft. He must be a paper pusher at the law firm. Possibly an intern. He looks much too young to be an attorney. He’s wearing a black tailored suit, and clinging tightly to a brown satchel entwined with a black duffle bag. Both are draped over his right shoulder. Must be important.

“Are you a Banks & Filmore employee?”

“No.”

Just when I consider elaborating further, the elevator announces that we’ve arrived on the 4th floor. Not my stop. Couldn’t be his either because B&F is on the top floor. The door opens and Lily from TransMedia joins us for the ride. She’s cradling a stack of orange manila envelopes in her left arm.

“Hi Zia! You’re back! How was New York?”

Lily embraces me and I decide right away not to discuss anything about myself in front of the total stranger who calls himself Bryce. I can avoid this conversation easily because Lily is one of those people who doesn’t really listen. She just waits for her turn to talk. So I distract her with a few simple words.

“It was nice Lily. How are you and the kids?”

That’s the only question I need to ask. She’ll handle the rest. As Lily chatters on incessantly about her two toddler sons and husband, I smile politely and ignore the hole that I feel the stranger is burning into the back of my head. This is the longest elevator ride in history. What the hell is taking so long? For every word she speaks, the oxygen is sucked from the small space, and my skin tingles from the moist warmth. When the elevator finally announces that we’ve arrived on the 11th floor, relief washes over me.

“Well Lily, I’m sure I’ll be seeing you later today for lunch.”

“Great! See you then and welcome back!”

I hastily exit the seemingly cramped elevator and nearly fall on my face. I balance myself and wave at Lily, noticing that the stranger behind her is staring directly at me. Well, Bryce. If that’s even his real name. Sounds like something out of a sleazy, cheap romance novel.

“It was nice meeting you Zia.” He rushes his words as the elevator door closes.

I smile and walk swiftly forward, pushing the frosted glass door open. Jazmine — Spark’s administrative assistant extraordinaire — greets me as I enter.

“Welcome back Zia!”

“Thanks Jazz.”

I smile warmly and hug her from across the desk. She’s hanging over Jennifer’s shoulder as Jenn (our receptionist) takes calls.

“I’m sure you wanna get right to it so, for starters, your recent snails have been arranged chronologically on your desk. No one has touched your digital slush. HR hasn’t sent us any assistants or interns so all associate and junior agents are still on their own for the moment. A fresh pot of coffee is brewing and here are your messages.”

Jazz is an administrative ninja and I honestly don’t know what we’d all do without her. Grabbing the yellow slips of paper from her grasp, the switchboard lights up again. I know what that means.

“Thanks Jazz. We’ll talk later.”

She nods her head, smiles and returns her focus to Jenn. Spark’s senior agents have more clientele than they can handle, while associate and junior agents are still frantically building their lists. I’m twenty-three years old, I’ve been at Spark for two years and I’m barely a junior agent. I’ve heard the tales of others climbing the ranks much swifter than that just based off of one or two authors they’d signed whose books have sold millions. That’s the breakthrough I’m still looking for.

I slam my bottom into the leather chair and immediately power up my MacBook. I take a few more sips of my latte as I look over my messages. Editors. Follow ups. Invitations to host and judge writing contests. Blah blah blah. Not right now. I set those messages aside because I need meat. I need my one. I key in my password and allow the operating system to load. I may as well open a snail or two. There’s about thirty of them and the stack will just bury me if I don’t dwindle it. Besides, my one will eventually find its way to me, and it could be anywhere. I’m overly eager for it so I decide not to pass simply because someone doesn’t precisely adhere to the submission guidelines. What matters is the story.

Hmmmm, first query is from Katherine Van Zant of Rhode Island. I tear open the envelope and dig in. Graduate degree and published poet. Young adult fantasy about two vampires who fall madly in love and I lose interest almost immediately. Pass. Query number two has too many genres listed and the entire query is written from the main character’s point of view. I sigh and decide to chance it by reading the first few pages. The writing is scattered. I should have guessed that from the query. Pass. On to the third. Decent structure. It’s dystopian and I’m not a huge fan of that. I give a few pages a go. Boring. Nothing is happening. Pass. Query number four contains too much dialogue and back story. Decent writing but pass.

After I breeze through about seven more queries, I tag the stack for form rejections and dig into my digital slush. Hopefully some of my requests for partials have arrived.

INBOX: 5,322 unread messages.

I take a sip of my golden liquefied drug, and crack my knuckles.

“Okie dokie Zia. Let’s do it.”

I’m not brave in my personal and social life so I may as well be in my professional life. It’s all about the story, Zia.

Three hours into my excavation, a new email arrives with a different title in the subject line than the traditional “Query”.

“Subject: Fire Pages Conference”

I met several dozen new writers at that particular conference, and I invited them all to query me. Unless they’d written in a genre that I don’t represent. I specifically instructed them to check my submission guidelines before querying. I click on the email, and open my mind.

Dear Ms. Zia Lennox:

It was an honor and pleasure to hear you speak at the Fire Pages Conference in New York last week. Your informative speeches inspired me to query you exclusively regarding my manuscript titled Chiseled Bone. It’s an 85,000 word — adult, crime/thriller with a bit of mystery that follows psychopathic murderer Julius Kelp as he preys on young women via the internet by disguising himself as various people.

Aside from the unusually long run-on sentence, he captured my attention. This genre stopped selling years ago because the market was too heavily saturated. I recall the corporate memo. Editors had requested that agents shift gears, and mysteries involving crime simply became dormant. Now I may see one mystery/thriller submission for every thousand others.

As I continue reading the intriguing query synopsis, my hands become grabby for the sample pages. I’m so anxious to read them that I skip right over the author’s bio and closing signature. Just as my eyes reach the first sentence, Jazz enters my office.

“It’s lunch time. You need the break.”

“Actually, I’m thinking about skipping lunch today Jazz.”

“No Zee. You told me not to let you slip back into old ways when you returned. Whatever it is, print it and bring it to the cafeteria. But you’re having lunch downstairs. It’s called socializing.”

She smiles and I sigh because I specifically recall pleading with her to drag me along —forcefully, if required— to spend time socializing with others in the Fargo Tower, instead of shutting myself away from everyone. I chose Spark because of the social location and ability to separate work from home. The company’s size and reputation were the icing.

There are twenty-five floors in this tower, and all of them are full of employees from different powerful corporations. I need to start networking at some point. I just have a very hard time smiling when I don’t feel like it, listening to repetitive stories by people who refuse to change or laughing at jokes that aren’t funny.

I print out the sample pages of Chiseled Bone, grab my purse and head down to the cafeteria with Jazz. I’m annoyed the entire descent. My mind is focused on the pages that I’m clutching against my chest. Jazz looks at me and shakes her head.

“Zee, some of the employees are really cool. Just give them a chance. Besides, you never know who you might meet.”

She winks her eye and delicately elbows me. I know what that means. She thinks I’ll meet Mr. Right over a cheeseburger and fries at some oddball place one day. Not interested. I’m focused on finding the right author. Mr. Right is a fairy tale fantasy that I read about in books and even he ain’t shit. So, I technically have already met and married him many times over. Spending time with Jazz is just fine with me. She’s a great friend. Besides her, I have none. My family insists that I’m anti-social but I’m not. I’m anti-waste my fucking time. I have no patience. That’s my one true flaw that I’ll readily admit to anyone who asks.

Jazz and I grab trays and select our dishes. I snatch a slice of pepperoni pizza, a garden salad and a bottle of sweet tea. Before I’m able to remove my debit card from my wallet, Jazz pays for our lunches. I begin to protest and she raises her hand in the air.

“Don’t.”

“I’ll get us next time.”

We sit in the corner of the cafeteria that overlooks Wilshire Boulevard. I outwit her by selecting a booth that only seats two. I stick my tongue out at her and she rolls her eyes. I bite into the greasy, cheesy slice and my eyes wander down to the pages. Jazz giggles and pulls out her cell phone.

“Go ahead Zombie Zee. I know your mind will just drift off if I attempt conversation before you’ve read it. Satisfy your craving and we’ll talk in a minute.”

She knows me too well.

“Love you Jazz.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

She texts, and I lose myself in the captivating sample pages. This Julius Kelp character is sly, cunning and intriguing. He already embodies the guy that many women complain they get catfished by. Catfish is when someone creates a social media profile and claims to be things or look a certain way, when in real life they’re nothing like the profile they’ve created. This usually involves the holy trinity. Pictures, finances and relationship status. But I’ve heard other horror stories about catfishers who go well beyond those things.

Based on the brief synopsis, Kelp obviously will take his deception far beyond the holy trinity. But in what way? The way the author crafts their words, I’m actually becoming attached to Julius Kelp. I want him to be the good guy, though the synopsis paints him as the bad guy. He’s handsome, wealthy, powerful, well-mannered, debonair and a cultured gentleman. Before I realize it, I’ve finished the sample pages and I want more. Now.

“You read through that one mighty fast.”

“Yeah, it’s amazing. Like, so amazing.”

“That’s a word you rarely use.” She smirks at me.

“Very true indeed.”

I’m shoveling salad into my mouth when I notice Bryce exit the lunch line with his tray. I duck my head behind Jazz.

“Shit. Don’t!” My voice is a loud whisper and Jazz turns her head his way.

“Who the hell are you hiding from?” She frowns at me.

“Just some creepy guy I bumped into on the elevator this morning.”

“And what exactly makes him creepy?”

“He just — I don’t know but I don’t want him to see me right now. That’s all.”

“Okay, Zee. Really? Stop being dramatic and tell me what happened.”

“Nothing happened exactly.” I remain slouched in my seat — keeping my head hidden behind hers.

“Well, he was flirting with me. Kind of. I don’t know okay.”

She eyes me incredulously as I keep my head parallel to hers.

“Flirting how?”

The look on her face reveals that she doesn’t believe a word I’ve said. I don’t blame her really, but why would I lie about something as trivial as that?

“He was umm, like just giving me the eye.”

“So, he looked at you?”

“Never mind, Jazz. Can we just get out of here please?”

“Uh, not until I have coffee. After I have my cup of coffee, then we can leave. I’ll be right back.”

“Jazz!”

She laughs at me, finding this situation comical. She rises to leave and I try to grab her arm. She jerks backwards and I end up with a fist full of air.

“Jazmine, no! Don’t leave me!” My loud whisper turns a few heads near me so I sit back and brace myself.

After she goes to get her coffee, I accept the fact that I’m exposed. No cover. He’s sitting three empty tables directly ahead of me. If he looks up, he’ll be looking right at me. I just pray that he continues texting or whatever it is he’s doing on his cell phone. I fidget in my seat and fiddle with the sample pages that now contain grease stains.

I shuffle and reshuffle the pages before neatly stacking them. I feel ridiculous so I grab my cell phone from my purse. I may as well go back to that email and find out the author’s name. I scroll down to the end of query and read the brief bio and closing signature. Baxter Leopold. I can’t recall his face or even his name. I mark the query as important to ensure that none of his emails are spammed and appear first in my inbox.

I can’t even wait to get back to my desk so I decide to reply now. I request the full manuscript and hit the send button before I realize how rude it will come across. I didn’t compliment his work nor converse in any way. I simply made the impersonal request. I wouldn’t be surprised if he decided to query a different agent after receiving my boorish response. With those sample pages, any agent in their right mind will jump as fast as I have. Oh my goodness Zia! You can’t afford to mess this up. Why haven’t they invented a way to un-send emails by now? Grrrrr!

In the middle of my mental whipping, I notice shiny black leather shoes near my feet.

“Just Zia.”

I reluctantly lift my head. Bryce is smiling at me. He’s actually quite handsome. Jet black hair, soft eyes, long lashes, perfect teeth, muscular build and six-foot-three.

I smile uncomfortably and acknowledge that I cannot escape the situation. I decide to speak and endure in order to maintain my professional image.

“Hi.”

In the distance, Jazz is grinning and clapping her hands together in a cheerleader fashion. Idiot.

I’m at a total loss for words so I just stare at the ground like a moron. There’s uncomfortable silence and Bryce shatters it.

“Well, just Zia. I didn’t mean to disturb you. I just thought I’d say hello.”

He disposes of his empty tray on top of the trash bin located a few feet from me, and he exits the cafeteria. I let out a deep sigh of relief after he’s out of sight. Jazz slams her body back down in her seat and hits me with a barrage of questions.

“That is the so-called creepy guy? Superman? Please tell me that my hearing and vision are impaired and that you said more to him than just hi?”

A headache forms and annoyance swells inside of my chest. I’m not interested in dating anyone and I’m terribly uncomfortable when I’m approached by strangers. Jazz knows this.

“Jazz, not now okay. I’m going back up.”

I grab my purse, sample pages and exit the cafeteria without dumping my tray. I just need some air. I look at the elevator and decide to sneak out on the enclosed employee terrace instead. I insert my Fargo Tower badge into the slot and place the palm of my hand against the thermal scanner. The door unlocks and I burst through it. There are a few others taking smoke breaks, so I search for an area where I can inhale untainted oxygen.

I lunge to the farthest east end of the patio and lean over the railing. I inhale a few times and allow my nerves to calm. No one but Jazz and my parents know that I have anxiety attacks, and that’s the way I want to keep it. Working at Spark allows me to reintroduce myself to the world on a daily basis, instead of staying caged inside of my condo. I’m trying to gradually allow myself to become comfortable being around others. But strangers tend to trigger my attacks for some reason. Well, certain strangers. Those that I’m physically attracted to.

This is the real reason why I’m single. No man will ever understand me. He’ll simply categorize me as a head-case, accordingly waste my time while enjoying the pleasure of my body before moving on. I prefer to skip to the end where I just move on.

I’ve had enough air and my composure has rebounded. I make my way to the elevator and return my focus to a happier place. Chiseled Bone. I must have it.

CHAPTER 2

I slam myself into my office chair and sigh. Flailing my arms out and resting my head, I look up at the ceiling. First day back God. Please, meet me halfway. “Please?” I yank my purse open and pull out the prescription Xanax bottle. I should’ve stayed with Lexapro because Xanax makes me feel zombie-ish for a while. But Xan is a fast-acting drug and that’s usually what I need. I shove the bottle back and angrily throw my purse onto the sofa chair. Defiance. My frustration builds and my defenses trigger. I refuse to be enslaved by this condition. I can make it through a work day without those damned pills.

I pivot my chair around and pull my shoulders back. I wake my MacBook from its hibernation and resume my work. I respond to emails from editors and current clients at rapid speed — typing over 80 words per minute. I definitely want them on my team and I need to act like it at all times.

Deciding that my windowless office could use some brightening, I choose a playlist and allow the sounds of Prince to fill the small room. I dance around in my seat to the Purple Rain soundtrack as I search my inbox for partials, locating three. I print them out and set them aside. I dig even further into my slush and lose track of time. After every twenty or so queries, I refresh my inbox. Still hopeful that Baxter Leopold will respond with his full manuscript. I am entirely too obsessed about it already.

I move my bottom around in a circular motion and throw my hands up in the air as I sing along to the lyrics of “Let’s Go Crazy”. I’m feeling myself and whipping my full head of unkempt, natural tresses around when Jazz walks in.

“Are you okay?”

I pause the music and regain my composure. She laughs at me and hands me the day’s mail.

“I think that dance comes after you get the goodies.”

“Shut up Jazz. I’m just setting the mood for my first day back okay. Is that all right with you?”

“Mm. Well, it’s 5:30 and I’m clocking out. Do you need anything before I leave?” A grin forms on her face.

“No, I’m okay. I’ll be leaving in a few. Call me when you make it home.”

“Uh huh. I will.”

She shoots me a goofy glance before exiting. Laughing out loud at myself, I thumb through the mail and toss it on my desk. I’ll have a closer look tomorrow. I’ll go through another twenty in my digital slush and then get the hell out of here. But first, I need to use the restroom and I’m a little hungry. I grab some cash and head downstairs to the cafeteria. It’s closed but there are vending machines.

This building is a bit creepy after everyone has left. It’s so large and quiet that you can hear a pin drop. I exit the elevator and walk swiftly down the dimly lit hallway. I insert my badge into the slot for the ladies restroom and relieve myself. I wash my hands and avoid the mirror because I already know why Bryce looked at me the way he did earlier in the cafeteria. I’m a sad mess. I’m wearing boring gray slacks and a white collared shirt. No flair or color whatsoever.

At least I wore my stilettos. I didn’t even take the time to style my rebellious mane. I just brushed through it a few times this morning and let it be — and it has been. All day. Untucking my shirt, I relax my posture a bit because the day is done.

I rub my face and find that my hazelnut skin is a bit on the dry side. Not even moisturizer Zia? “Whatever. Who was I supposed to impress? The four walls inside of my coffin of an office?” I dry my hands on the white terry cloth hand towel and toss it into the wicker basket. I move my legs down the hallway as quickly as they’ll carry me, toward the vending machines. The sound of my heels click loudly against the linoleum. The feminine sway of my curvy hips energizes me with each step. I need all the juice I can get to finish out the evening.

I view each window of treats and carefully weigh my options. I bend my petite five-foot-two and a half frame over to gain a better view of the goodies at the bottom and lick my lips. I’m mentally drooling over the chocolate donuts that I know I shouldn’t have. “Mmmmm.” I insert my money into the slot and make my first selection. Now for something with a crunch. I move to the next machine. I slowly bend over, and tilt my head indecisively.

“Can’t decide?”

I jerk and clumsily bang the crown of my head against the glass.

“What the hell?” I clutch my chest, and my nerves twist into knots.

Bryce stops his approach and shoves his palms into the air.

“Whoa. I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Well you did!” I try to catch my breath.

I rub the crown of my head, and feel quite the fool.

“I just came down for a snack to help me stay awake. I didn’t imagine anyone else would be here.” His tone remains apologetic. No hint of sarcasm.

“Try to make your presence known next time instead of creeping up on me like that.”

I recognize how harsh my tone is but I’m frazzled and upset that I’m alone with a stranger yet again. The same damn one, in fact.

“Again, my apologies. Are you okay?”

He steps forward, reaches out to touch me and I jump back. Slamming my back into the vending machine. I tremble uncontrollably.

“I’m not going to hurt you.”

My back is pinned against the glass and I’m breathing loudly. Calm down Zia. He’ll probably tell everyone in the building that you’re some wacko freak.

“Oh, um no. It’s not that. I — I just didn’t expect anyone else to still be here.”

I smile weakly and peel my back from the vending machine. I turn to resume making my selection as if nothing happened and my head spins. Whoa. I stumble slightly and he wraps his arms around my waist.

“You should probably sit down and let the dizziness pass.”

I’m uncomfortable but not afraid. His touch is actually soothing. He guides me to the bench against the wall and I sit. He kneels down in front of me and lifts my face to his. His eyes are so kind. So — sultry and inviting. He holds my gaze for too long and his brow creases infinitesimally. I catch it so I turn my head away. I’m extremely self-conscious about my eye condition. People stare at me and it makes me feel like a freak of nature.

“Stay here. I’ll be right back.” He walks in the direction of the restrooms.

He’s wearing tennis shoes. That’s why I didn’t hear him approach. He’s also wearing a black t-shirt now. His form is exquisite. Quite appealing. Nice buns too.

“Oh my God Zia. You didn’t hit your head that hard, did you?”

I lean forward and my head spins again. I glance down at my left hand and it’s wrapped tightly around the donuts. I’ve squeezed them into a melty mess. Oh no. At least the mess is contained inside of the wrapping.

He comes rushing back with a white towel. He goes to the ice machine and fills the towel with cubes. As he walks in my direction, I admire him. Either I’m about to pass out or he’s walking in slow motion. His muscular legs move gracefully and his package — oh my. It looks to be substantial. My skin tingles as my eyes make love to his chest.

My vaginal muscles retract. I squeeze my thighs together, hoping to douse the flames. His olive skin is shinier than mine. He has a strong jawline and dimpled lips. He reminds me of — Christopher Reeve! Jesus! I’m staring. I quickly avert my eyes. But he’s soon kneeling before me again and I inhale his cologne.

“I’m going to place this compress on the top of your head okay?”

I appreciate the warning.

The coolness against my hair slowly numbs my throbbing scalp. It feels good. But now I’m a little queasy. He’s eyeing me intently and I’m ready to be back in the safety of my office. He gazes into my eyes again and I see the question burning inside of his. Oh God, I hope he doesn’t ask. I hate when men ask me the question.

“I need to get back upstairs.” I stand and my legs wobble. He grabs me but I stand erect, instead of leaning against him. I’m no weakling. I’m fit and attend the gym six days a week. Granted, I never slam my head against the fixtures when I’m there.

“I’m fine. Really. Thank you, but I need to get back to work.”

He releases me and I walk toward the elevator. I pause and he’s beside me instantly. His warm palm radiates heat through my blouse, near the small of my back. I use him to steady myself as I remove my stilettos. He holds my arm as I rest my hand on his shoulder.

“Better not chance it.” My words come out more playfully than I intend.

He smiles and the depth of his smoldering eyes steal a part of me. He delicately touches my cheek with his thumb and concern adorns his gorgeous face.

“Are you sure you’re okay? At least allow me to escort you upstairs.”

He’s pleading with me and it’s moments like these that sweep women off of their feet. My indignation won’t allow such a thing so I harden unnecessarily.

“I’m fine.”

I remove my hand from his shoulder and pinch the counters of my shoes between my fingers. I feel his eyes on me as I walk away.

 

Walking through my front door, my best friend Buggles greets me by jumping on my legs. I disarm the alarm, lock the door and quickly reset it. I bend down and scoop him into my arms. Buggles is the beagle my parents gave me when I graduated from college. They didn’t want me to be completely alone and with him around, I never truly am.

He’s my best friend and I love him dearly. His gold and white floppy ears are the best. He licks my cheeks and barks.

“Missed you too buddy.”

I drop my purse and partials onto the sofa before grabbing his leash. I take him for a quick walk around the block, inside of the gated community. He bounces around and my head swirls.

“Time to reel it in buddy.”

We get back home and Bugs runs into the kitchen. He taps his empty bowl with his paw and barks.

“All right already.”

I set the alarm and drop my keys on the table. Before I’m done refilling his dog bowl, he shoves his head into it. I just continue pouring around it. I smile and laugh at him. That’s the way we all should enjoy our food. Cake, especially.

I turn on the shower water, return to the bedroom and open my laptop. I hastily undress and drop my clothes everywhere. I sit naked on the bed and my thoughts return to Bryce. His warm eyes. I’ve never seen eyes so full of kindness. Whatever. I hope Baxter Leopold emails me that manuscript soon. I am absolutely salivating over the thought.

I’ve come across authors who focus more on stellar first pages because they learn how important they are and then let the rest of their story fall flat. That’s one of the reasons why I volunteer for writer’s conferences. I enjoy attending and meeting authors from around the world.

While there are generally mostly stories that remain drawn inside the lines, there will be those few minds that cannot conform to the boring established rules no matter how hard they try. Those few writers tend to create the most vivid worlds.

I believe that I met one while in New York. I’m hopeful of a few things. First and foremost, that Chiseled Bone is wholly as great as I truly feel it will be and also that my rude email doesn’t deter Baxter Leopold from pursuing me. I’m a tad bit curious about him. I can’t recall his face or even having heard his name at the Fire Pages event. I make a mental note to Google him.

***

He brews himself a fresh pot of coffee and presses a button on a nearby remote control. The closed black-out drapes electronically part ways to allow the view of the New York sunrise to light up the darkness. Standing in front of the window, he gazes out and sighs deeply. Content, yet anxious and excited. There’s a world filled with women who are literally dying for a chance to be his next muse. Why keep them waiting any longer than necessary?

He paces across the Down White-Oak hardwood floors in his tri-level condominium in Manhattan as he contemplates who he’ll follow up with today.

“Hmmmm, who shall it be? Rebecca or Emmalee? It’s tough to decide.”

These things take time so it’s imperative to stay on track. Otherwise, his domestic lady companions feel rushed and he faces failure. That’s one thing he can never accept. Deciding that Rebecca and Emmalee are both ripe with ignorance, naivety and beauty — he chooses Rebecca. Exotic beauty hidden beneath ordinary flaws. She’s the more dangerous of the two because her beauty is layered and imperceptible. Therefore, so she must go first. No man of consequence openly desires her because she’s reached that magical age of twenty-six. This has made her desperate and clingy. He likes that.

The thought of subtle manipulation stiffens his rod and he gently strokes it through his boxers. That familiar itch has begun sending electrifying chills through his body and his eyes roll to the back of his head.

“There is no aphrodisiac more powerful than the moment of anticipation.”

Rebecca’s family has written her off as someone who is stupid and refuses to learn from her mistakes.

“Even women despise women so they’re aware of their own inferiority.”

He finds himself ever so grateful that society views women just as he views them. Disdainfully, and placed here only for the pleasure of whomever desires to occupy their orifices. Be it man, woman or beast. The only unfortunate portion of their existence lies in their ability to reproduce. Someone ought to fix that.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Rafferty is a debut author with literary inspirations that include Stephen King, Nora Roberts, Julie Garwood, Calix Leigh-Reign and J.R. Ward. Rafferty is a member of Romance Writers of America and currently working on subsequent series romance novels.

Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
The most difficult part was staying away from too many clichés about love. Trying not to repeat what’s already been done in romance ad nauseam. Some parts of love are inevitable and therefore, unavoidable. But those are the parts we all relate to as readers.
Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
Love. Simply. But also the unlimited variations that pair with love. What’s more exciting than a suspenseful story?
Q. Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from this book?
A.
It would have been perfect for the late Aaliyah. I can’t envision anyone else in the role. But I’m sure there’s a great deal of talent out there.

Next in:
Romance
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A bachelor, a teenager, and a widow find love