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Authors: Shelly Douglas

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BOOK: The Author's Friends
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SURPRISE, SURPRISE, SURPRISE

 

“Hi Sarah, you look wonderful!  It’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other.”  The petite well-dressed woman breezed through Michael’s office like she owned the place.  A natural beauty with light skin and dark short hair, she sparkled with confidence as she addressed Michael’s receptionist.

“Yes, it has been a long time.” Sarah offered a fake smile and stood up for an obligatory hug.

“Is Michael out to lunch or with a patient?” She turned and noticed that his door was closed.

“No, he’s alone. The morning was pretty busy.  Should I tell him you’re here?”

“Why don’t I just surprise him?” She walked over and gently tapped on his door.

“Oh, you’ll surprise him, alright,” Sarah said quietly under her breath.

Michael opened the door and immediately crossed his arms.  “Lilly, I didn’t know you were in town …”

She opened her arms hoping for a hug, which Michael politely returned.

“Why don’t you come in and sit down?”

She walked in, scowling slightly when she realized he left the door ajar.

Michael motioned for her to have a seat at the table and sat next to her.  “So, what brings you to Pittsburgh?  Did they run out of handbags in New York?”

She laughed and shook her head.  “I’ve forgotten what a great sense of humor you have.”

“Come on, Lilly. We both know I’m much funnier than that.  Really, what brings you to our little neck of the woods?”

“Debbie didn’t tell you I was coming to town?”  Jesus, Michael. I thought for sure she would.”

“My sister and I don’t talk very often. You know that.”  He let out a sigh and crossed his legs.  “But I know you two remained close. She was always very fond of you.”

Lilly nodded.  “Did you know that Steven passed?”

“No, I’m so sorry.  Was he sick?”

“He died of a heart attack about six months ago.  You know how active and energetic he was.  Everyone said it was a blessing that he didn’t have a long-term illness.”

“I’m really sorry, Lilly.  Debbie should have told me.  He was your husband, after all.” Michael’s tone was sympathetic as he leaned forward.

“No offense, but you know how my family feels about you.  She was probably just trying to spare you from their usual wrath.”

The silence was awkward.  “I could have at least sent a card.” He sat back in his chair and raked a hand through his short, dark hair.

“I’m thinking of moving back to Pittsburgh to connect with old friends.  My therapist said it might be good for me.  What do you think?”

“You also have friends in New York, don’t you?” Michael saw no reason to encourage her to move back home.

“I do, but my roots run deeper here.” 

Another awkward silence and Michael was about to speak, when someone tapped on the door.

“Hello there.”  Carla walked in and stooped to kiss him on the cheek.  “Oh I’m sorry - your door was open ...” She looked at Lilly and then back at Michael.

He stood and made the introductions.  “Carla Campbell, this is Lilly Davis.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Lilly.  I’ve heard a lot about you.” Carla wasn’t smiling.

Lilly chuckled.  “Nothing good, I’m sure.”

“It’s all in the past, Lilly.” Michael’s tone was soft and low.

“Well, I’ve heard plenty about you too, Carla, from Debbie, of course.” She nodded her head toward Michael and smiled.  Well, you two probably have lunch plans and I need to get moving.” She looked at her watch and sighed.  “I have an appointment with a Realtor in fifteen minutes.”

“You’re thinking of moving here?” Carla asked.

“Yes, this was my home once, and with any luck, it will be again.  Nice meeting you, Carla.” She extended her hand and Carla took it.

“Nice meeting you, too.”  Carla could feel the heat rise in her neck as the words left her lips.

Michael walked Lilly to the reception area and returned to his office, noticing that Sarah was not at her desk.  Carla sat waiting at the table with her arms crossed.

“That body language is not a good sign, Peanut.”  Michael reached over to gently hold her chin in his hand.

“Debbie told her about me?  I’ve never even met her.”

“I am in love with you, and do speak with my sister once in a while.”

“Does she know how we live, Michael?”

“She knows that we live together.  I’ve managed to leave the sexy details out of the conversation.” He winked and flashed a handsome smile.

“So what does she know about me, exactly?”

“I told her how beautiful and intelligent you are.  I’m a regular braggart where the love of my life is concerned.” He put his arms around her and kissed the top of her head.

“And she knows my last name is Campbell?”

Michael sighed and looked at the ceiling.  “Where are we going with this, Carla?”

“Please don’t make me play that game.  We both know that Debbie doesn’t approve of us being together. I’m not Jewish, remember?”

“Carla, I don’t care what she thinks.  I’m a big boy,
remember
?”

“So, I’m assuming that was a surprise visit.”

He nodded.  “Her husband, Steven, died.  That’s why she wants to move back to Pittsburgh.”

Carla inhaled and blew out an exasperated breath.  “She probably had him murdered. He owned how many properties?”

“She’s a widow for God’s sake. Be nice, Peanut.”  He paused and pinched the bridge of his nose.  “He owned condos in Central Park, Palm Beach and Greece, I think.”

“Jesus, Michael. Lilly’s worth a fortune.  And she’s moving to Pittsburgh to be close to her friends?  I’m not buying that for one minute.  Do you think she wants you back?”

“Oh my God. I hope so, since things worked out so well for us the first time,” he said sarcastically.

“Maybe we ought to make that appointment with the jeweler sooner rather than later.”  She picked up her smart phone and sighed.  “I seem to have lost my appetite for lunch, but I wonder if Dana and Richard are available to meet for dinner.”

 

*****

“You want to order a cheeseburger and French fries?  Something must be up.” Carla’s brother Tom laughed as he took her order and looked around the table.

“We’ll make it easy for you and all order the same thing.” Michael politely handed back the menus. 

“I’ll have a glass of vodka on the rocks with the juice of one cranberry and a lime please,” Carla said nonchalantly.

David looked at Michael from the bar for approval.

Michael nodded.  “Bring a round to the table.”

“Oh my God. What the hell is going on? We’re drinking vodka on a Wednesday night?  I guess I’m not writing tonight.” Dana placed an elbow on the table and palmed her face.

Richard laughed.  “Not that we’re complaining, but I’m curious when this meeting is coming to order.  The suspense is killing me.”

The drinks arrived quickly, and everyone tapped their glasses.

“Cheers everyone. Lilly is moving back to town,” Carla announced.

“Really, you want us to toast that news?  I don’t understand.” Dana looked at Michael and then focused back on Carla’s face.

Carla took a gulp of her drink and daintily blotted the corners of her mouth with a napkin. 

“That little lady murdered her husband and inherited a fortune.  Now, she’s back to claim what’s rightly hers. The evil queen returns.”  Carla elbowed Michael in the ribs and they both laughed.

“I’m so lost and have a feeling the vodka isn’t going to help, but I’m going to drink it anyway.” Richard took a sip and looked to Michael for a real explanation.

“Lilly’s husband died about six months ago.  She surprised me with an appearance in my office today.  My fiancé seems to enjoy a more colorful story, but maybe you should stick to the facts, Carla. We don’t want Richard and Dana to lose their focus.”

“I thought it might be fun to surprise Michael at lunch today.  He had a full schedule this morning, so I hoped he’d be in his office around noon doing paperwork.  Sarah wasn’t at her desk, and his door was open, so I figured he was alone.  You know me, I just waltzed right in, gave him a kiss on the cheek, turned around and there she was sitting at the table.  The introductions were made and then The Ice Woman took off to meet with her realtor.  It was pretty uncomfortable, to say the least.”

“Jesus.  Why do you think she came looking for you, Michael?” Dana made room for her dinner plate and dropped a napkin in her lap.

“She’s lonely, I guess.  Steven died suddenly of a heart attack and though she does have friends in New York, my opinion would be that she’s looking for the comfort of family and old friends.”

“Did she continue her friendship with your sisters?” Dana sipped on her drink.

“She’s still friends with Debbie …”

“Who doesn’t approve of me …” Carla finished his sentence.

“Uh-oh.  Do you think Debbie is looking for a reunion between you and Lilly?” Richard shook his head.

“My sister can be somewhat sinister on occasion, but I assure you nothing of the sort is going to happen.  We’re getting married. Remember?  Not to change the subject, but Carla wanted to tell her brothers our happy news in person.  Let’s go find them.”

She nodded and they left the table holding hands.

Dana looked at Richard.  “This kind of stuff never happens in my books.”

“Maybe it should, Kitten.  Actually, I’ve been thinking about Kristin, Brad and Marla.”

“You read the ménage chapter in my story?”  She looked at him with an incredulous expression.

“I do have a birthday coming up.”  He winked and raised his glass.

 

THICK AS THIEVES

 

“Lilly, I’m so glad you could meet me for dinner,” Debbie said with outstretched arms.  “How have you been holding up?”  The waiter showed them to the table.

“I’d be lying if I told you things were easy.  It’s only been six months since Steven passed, but for a change of scenery I’ve spent some time at our properties in Greece and Florida with my girlfriends.  Traveling has been good for me; it’s given me some time to think about what I want to do with my life.  I’ve never been really good on my own, which is why I needed to see you, Debbie.”  Lilly put her hand out, which Debbie grabbed affectionately.

“I want to ask you about Michael.  How’s he doing and what do you know about this woman, Carla?”

“Relatively speaking, Carla is still somewhat new in Michael’s life.  They really haven’t been together long, but my little brother seems to have fallen head over heels for her.  It’s like she cast some kind of spell over him.  I haven’t even met this woman yet, but don’t like the way he gushes over her.  It sounds like she’s some pushy and self-centered high-powered attorney for a firm here in Pittsburgh.  Michael told me she considered taking a job in Harrisburg working for the governor.  Can you believe she even
thought
about moving to another city?”  Debbie pulled away with a disgusted look on her face.

Lilly tapped the table with her French-tipped acrylic fingernails.  “I paid him a little surprise visit the other day and met her briefly in his office.  She became flustered the instant she realized who I was.  Her reaction was priceless, and I can’t remember having such a hard time keeping a straight face.  The shades of pink and red climbing up her neck were quite entertaining to watch; she definitely didn’t strike me as the confident type.”  Lilly paused and took a deep breath.  “Debbie, do you think Michael would be open to have me back in his life?  I understand that he thinks he found his soul mate, but what we had was pretty incredible.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved Steven, but soon after I married him I realized that I missed the discipline structure and the benefits that came with it.  Did I ever tell you Michael’s quite the imaginative lover?  Mmm, I do miss that!”  Lilly stared off, obviously caught in a moment of reflection.

“For God’s sake, Lilly, we’re talking about my little brother.”  Debbie punctuated the fact with a slow and deliberate eye roll.  “For one thing, Carla’s claws are pretty imbedded, and I hate to bring up the past, but
you
were the one to leave
him.”

“Yes, I left him because of his lifestyle requirements.  But what I failed to realize, was how much I craved his silly little rules. I guess it took a second marriage to figure that all out.  If I could get together with him for just a couple of hours, I might be able to turn his head.  Look, Debbie, I know it sounds selfish, but what if Michael hasn’t met the right woman?  All I want, is the chance to talk with him alone. Can you help me?”  Lilly pleaded.

“Lilly, of course I want to help you; the only problem is that Michael and I don’t always see eye to eye.”  She crossed her arms and stared out the window deep in thought.  “Did you know Carla isn’t the same faith as us?  There will surely be chaos in this family if he marries her, but you know Michael, always marching to his own beat.”  Debbie refocused and looked Lilly in the eyes.  “Something tells me there is a devious plan rolling around in your brain; do you care to share?”

Debbie listened intently as Lilly leaned in and babbled excitedly about her plan to reunite with Michael.  Finally, the two clinked glassed to seal their new partnership, each of them now committed to altering Michael’s impending union.  They exited the restaurant together arm in arm, both sporting large grins, confident in their newfound purpose.  With Debbie’s support, Lilly was quite sure that Michael would soon be hers again. 

 

*****

“What are you going to title your new novella, Kitten?” Richard stirred the pasta sauce and took a quick taste.

“I have a few possibilities, but can’t seem to make a decision.  Dinner smells wonderful. Is it almost ready?”

“Do you need some help?”

“Washing my hands or titling my book?” Dana grinned at Richard as she received a loving smack on her bottom walking towards the sink.

“Come on. You always keep me in the dark where your novels are concerned, and I want to help.  Did the ménage come to you in a dream, like the last one did?”  The corners of Richard’s lips turned up in a devious smile as he passed her a towel.

“No, in fact, I’m a little worried that my women readers might not be turned on by that kind of scene.”

“Don’t you think any of your fans are men?  I hear Michael has read a few of your books lately.”

“What about you?”

His eyes sparkled as she threw him the bait.  “Obviously, I’ve been known to sneak a peek at your work once in a while.”  He smiled and grabbed her by the waist.

“I’m sure the spankings are so much more satisfying for you in real life.”  She laughed and broke his hold to set the table.

“So do you think your publisher will be pleased with this manuscript?”

She sat at the table and looked up at the ceiling.  “Well, my lead characters are likable, there are plenty of spankings, the sex is hot and I’m almost finished with a happy-ever-after ending.  What’s not to like?”

“I know this is kind of an unorthodox idea in the genre you write, but what if Kristin’s ex-husband came looking for her at the end of the story, and she reunited with him?”

“Well, if she did, that would make her an unlikable character and not leave Brad with a very happy ending, would it?”  Dana paused while Richard put a full bowl of steaming pasta and a salad on the table.  “Why would you even think of such a thing?”

He shook his head slowly.  “The friendship between Lilly and Debbie makes me nervous.”

“Michael is worried they’re going to make trouble for Carla, isn’t he?”

“We both think Lilly is lonely. She came back to town for a reason.”

“What can I do to help?”

“I think it’s probably best if you stay out of it, Kitten.  Let Michael take care of this.”

She sighed and crossed her arms.  “Carla is our best friend and you don’t want me to get involved?  Sometimes, I just don’t understand you.”

Richard bent down on one knee and lightly touched her cheek.  “Oh, I think you understand perfectly, and you are going to have a very sore behind if you even try to contact Lilly or Debbie.”

“I don’t know either one of them, and I can’t believe you would think I could be so brazen…”

Richard kissed her lips gently and placed his finger over them.  “Before you say another word … Sarah already told Michael you asked for their phone numbers.  Now be a good girl and eat your pasta before it gets cold.  I’m afraid if you keep talking, you might have to eat it standing up.”

 

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