Authors: Felicity Sparrow
I turn off my car and step out, trying to mask my nerves with the professional smile I’ve developed in response to Sylvia’s endless parade of egotistical crap.
What if Raoul recognizes me? What if he
recognize me? I’m not sure which would be worse. Raoul meant so much to me when I was a girl. All those long summer nights in the countryside, exploring my father’s property with our hands joined, escaping tennis lessons to climb trees and get dirty.
The secrets we whispered to one another under the stars. The elaborate fantasies we made up.
Our first kiss.
My fears are in vain. His face brightens when he sees me emerge from the car.
“Little Christy.” Raoul’s lazy grin that sends heat shooting from the tips of my hair to the tips of my toes.
He does remember.
A genuine smile spreads over my mouth in response, and I bite my lip to try to hold it back. I don’t want to seem too familiar. He’s the new lead editor for Moonlight Sonata. No matter what our history is like, we were children then—we aren’t the friends we used to be.
Stolen childhood kisses mean nothing now. We are adults. Professionals. We need to be able to work together.
“Raoul Chance.” I clear my throat, offer him my hand. “I’m sorry we didn’t have a chance to be introduced properly at the meeting. I’m not Little Christy anymore, I’m—”
“You’re an executive author assistant. I’ve heard.”
Executive. The title is laughable on an ordinary day. Hearing it fall from Raoul’s lips is outright humiliating.
My cheeks heat. “I’m an assistant to a couple of authors, yes.”
“Don’t be so humble,” Raoul says. “From what I hear, you’re the glue holding our two biggest bestsellers to the publishing company. You’re the only reason Sylvia Stone has put out a book in the last five years.”
So it seems I’m not to be fired.
Still, I know better than to take credit for Sylvia’s books. “Talent such as hers only needs a little bit of occasional steering to keep it on track,” I say. “Artists can have a difficult time with deadlines, you know…”
“Deadlines, productivity, sanity,” Raoul says.
A surprised laugh escapes me. I try to catch it behind my hand.
It’s so refreshing to see someone being less than obsequious in regards to Sylvia Stone.
Raoul’s eyes heat. “I like the sound of your laugh. It’s been too long since I last heard it.”
“Almost ten years,” I say.
“Has it been so long?” His gaze rakes over my body. My slacks and blouse are professional, my curls as orderly as I can make them. “That’s almost ten years too long.”
I couldn’t agree more. “How’s your brother?”
“Good. Still making trouble, but that’s the way we like him. I moved to the city to be closer to him and his new wife. That’s why I got a job at Durand-Price.” Raoul’s eyebrow quirks. “That, and my familiarity with the company.”
“You’ve been working in publishing?”
“In various ways.” He waves the question off. “I didn’t come here to talk business. I came here to talk to you. The way you ran away from Sylvia’s house—you got me curious.”
My knees wobble. I lock them to keep from falling over.
“I’m busy right now.” It’s hard to make myself speak calmly instead of falling into his arms and running away into the forest like we used to. “I’m working with my other author.”
“I have to confess, I’m curious about that, too. What’s he like?” Raoul asks. “Erik Duke, I mean.”
I have so many adjectives to describe him, I don’t know where to begin.
Intimidating. Exhilarating. Mysterious. Frightening.
“He’s easier to work with than Ms. Stone,” I say lightly. That much is true. I don’t have to write books for him; I don’t have to deal with shrill diva tantrums from him. But the emotions he evokes in me are so much more intense, I’m not certain I can really call it “easy.”
My response must not be convincing because Raoul’s gaze sharpens. “Do you feel safe working with him out here?” His gesture indicates the dense forest, the towering fence, the remote lake that I can smell just out of sight.
No. Not at all safe. Never safe
My tongue darts out to wet my lips. Raoul’s eyes drop to the motion, as though fixated by the way my skin glistens.
“Of course.” It comes out a little rasping and not at all convincing. “He’s an author, Raoul. I know how to handle myself around authors.”
“And editors, it seems.” There is mirth in his eyes. I can’t tell if he’s teasing me or not. “I bet you have the entire publishing company eating out of your palm, don’t you? Author assistant. It’s funny to see Fletcher Durand’s daughter lowering herself to that.”
Lowering myself? It stings to hear it.
“My father sold his stake in the company before he died. I don’t have anything to do with its ownership or operation—you should already know that. The fact I have a job with the company at all is mostly because of the good will of people like Violetta Kilshaw.”
“That’s not what I hear. Grosvenor finds you very impressive.” The editor leans toward me, and I am surprised to realize how tall he has become as an adult. No longer the lanky young man I remember at all. He could easily toss me over his shoulder and carry me away.
The thought is much too appealing.
“I find you very impressive, too,” Raoul whispers, like it’s a secret between us.
How have I managed not to spontaneously combs yet? “You just started working for Durand-Price. You can’t tell me you’ve had time to be impressed by much of anything with us.”
“I’ve read the books you ghosted for Sylvia,” Raoul said. “It’s part of the reason I took the job.” He’s stepped closer to me, and I’m acutely aware of the eyes that Erik has watching us.
He is surely glued to the monitor, waiting to see if I will obey him and make Raoul leave.
Oh, but I don’t
Raoul to leave. He’s even more handsome than I remember. He smells like freshly-cut grass and sunshine. His suit is tailored in such a way that it makes his waist look narrower, his shoulders broader. It conceals his arms but I can tell that he’s been working out.
I have to blurt it out. “I’m working with Mr. Duke today. I need to get back. Is there something I can help you with?”
He checks his watch. Frustration creases his eyebrows. “I have an upcoming video conference and reception out here is nonexistent. I’ll have to go back into town. Find an internet café.” He doesn’t move for his car, though. His hand settles on my wrist and my whole body longs to press itself against him, traitorous thing that it is. “You’re going to have dinner with me.”
“Yes,” I say immediately. Just as quickly, I change it to, “I don’t think I can. As I said, I have to work here. Erik—Mr. Duke—has an important deadline approaching, and he needs my help here.”
“Then I’ll pick you up after my meeting,” Raoul said. “Get your work done and I’ll be back for you as quickly as I can. Three hours. No, two hours. I’ll take you back to New York with me. I can get reservations at any restaurant you want.”
Oh, he’s so tempting. I want to join him in the city for dinner. I want to find out what he’s been doing in the years since our summers on the ocean. I want to bask in that smile of his.
But I have work to do.
With Erik, I can’t imagine that the work will be simple or quick.
“I won’t be done in two hours,” I say. “I’m sorry.”
He spreads his hands wide. “I’m the lead editor now. Your contract is mine, and if I say you’re done in two hours, who can argue with me? Don’t worry about it, Little Christy. I’ll be back for you soon.” He opens the door to his car, slips into the seat, rolls down his window.
A cracking of twigs in the forest draws my attention back beyond the gate. My head whips around. It feels like someone is watching us, but I don’t see anyone among the trees.
Even so, I know Erik is watching.
He’s always watching.
“I can’t tonight, Raoul,” I say. “I
I’m not sure I can ever have dinner with this handsome editor. Erik’s disapproval radiates from the darkness, and I don’t think it’s just my imagination. He doesn’t like Raoul. Doesn’t like the way that Raoul so freely touched my arm, broaching the physical barrier between us.
When I get back to the house, he will be angry with me.
“I won’t hear a no,” Raoul said. “Two hours.”
He turns on his BMW. The headlights flash over me.
“No, Raoul, please—”
But he’s gunning his engine and backing down the driveway, obviously leaving in a hurry so that he can return in a hurry. He’s decided we’re going to dinner. There is nothing that will change his mind now.
Raoul was always determined like that, even as a young man. It’s the reason he’s reached such lofty heights in the publishing industry before he’s even thirty years old, I’m sure.
“But things have changed,” I whisper at the retreating bumper of his BMW.
The gate groans as it opens again.
Erik is waiting for me at the end of the road.
I remember the day that Raoul came into my life just as clearly as the day that he left it.
The former is far more pleasant to dwell upon than the latter.
He was eleven years old the first time that he came to my father’s house. A very serious boy, I recall, who had not hit his adolescent growth spurt. He was lanky but only a little taller than me.
I was nine years old—a child—so Raoul wasn’t very interested in me at first.
That changed quickly.
Though Raoul’s brother had also been brought to stay with us for the summer, Carlos was sixteen years old and practically a man. Carlos had as little interest in Raoul as Raoul had in me. He was always running around with girls from the nearby town, taking them to the beach in his convertible, returning to the house late at night.
That left me alone with Raoul. We were two children in a house filled with adults who were too absorbed in conducting business to pay any attention to us.
We became reluctant playmates within days.
And in a few more days, we became friends.
I have always been mature for my age, and I suppose Raoul must have found my company tolerable enough once I started showing him all the secrets around the Durand house. It was a very old property; there were secret passages that servants used to use, and tunnels leading from the house to the stables.
So many secret places for children to lose themselves.
We listened in on the meetings that my father shared with authors and staff from his publishing company. When we grew bored of that, we sneaked into the kitchens and stole food for impromptu picnics.
I don’t think we were actually as sneaky as we felt, but we were entertained, we were quiet, and nobody wanted to be responsible for us. We were allowed free reign of the property.
That first summer was mostly spent exploring. It was the best summer of my young life up until that point.
When the Chance brothers returned the next summer, it was even better.
Raoul and I started horseback riding. We explored caves around the beach. When the tide came in, we played in the pools and got our clothing soaked. We hiked until late at night, when it was too dark to find our way back down the trails, and slept under the stars.
If poor weather confined us to the house, we’d stay up in the attic, playing with the dusty, forgotten artifacts belonging to my family. We dressed in antique clothing. We fabricated ridiculous stories and put on plays without an audience.
It was bliss.
Carlos didn’t come back the summer after that, but Raoul did.
He came back the next summer, too. And the next.
We grew closer.
Some part of me expected Raoul to turn into his brother when he hit sixteen years old. He had gotten his driver’s license in the intervening year and inherited his brother’s car, so I thought he start taking girls to the beach the way Carlos had.
But Raoul returned to take
to the beach.
He took me on long drives around the cliffs, too. We drove with the top down. All my saffron curls beat wildly around me, tangling into a frothy mess, and Raoul had laughed in a way that made it clear that he was laughing with joy and not at my awkwardness.
At the end of that summer, he took me to Eagle Point as the sun set.
That was where we shared our first and only kiss.
We didn’t have another summer together after that. My father died too quickly.
I prefer not to dwell on that year.
Instead, I linger on the memory of the kiss. The warmth of Raoul’s lips on mine. The hint of awkwardness as we tilted our heads the wrong way, trying to figure out how to align the right parts before hesitantly making contact.
I’ve missed him for so very long.
Being with Raoul Chance always made me feel warm and safe. Seeing him again has brought the summer back into my life, if only for a few moments.
It hurts to watch him drive away. It hurts to know I’m the one who told him to leave.
And when I approach Erik Duke’s house and see the door standing open for me, the summer is gone.
My skin is electrified as I mount the stairs to Erik Duke’s house.
Every step feels like it takes a decade, and every step feels like shedding Raoul’s warmth like a second skin, exposing my frozen core. It is miles from my car to the front door. Many miles and many years.
I’m replaying my last conversation with Erik as I climb. Not the words, but the gestures. The way that he drew so close to me. The smell of him. The weight of his expectation.
How badly I wanted him to touch me.
My bones are burning with expectation as the entrance to his house looms.
Erik is waiting for me at the top.
He stands back in the shadows as if he can’t bear for the light to touch him. He is tanned from his time on the lake, I know, but he still manages to look ghostly on the other side of the threshold. Waiting. Anticipant.
For a moment—a moment, or a lifetime—I pause on the top step, swaying on the stoop, one hard gust of wind away from tumbling backwards.