Sneak peek: “Hurricane Move”

posted in: Writing updates | 1

Here’s the first chapter of my upcoming book, Hurricane Move, about Andrew and Rushani.


The day the Saving Graces won the Grammy for Album of the Year was one of the worst days of Rushani’s life, right up there with the day Andrew was admitted to the hospital and the day of her sister’s birth. If forced to choose, she would probably rank the Grammys at number two, and Andrew’s hospitalization at number one. Her sister came in a distant third, because that had worked out fine in the end, although it had been quite traumatic at the time.

But the Grammys were an unmitigated disaster, at least for her, emotionally. It had nothing to do with the award itself. The band deserved it; she was thrilled; she was like a proud parent who had just been told that her child was the best and smartest kid in the class. They had all been walking on air for the past two months, ever since the nominations were announced. “We aren’t going to win,” James kept cautioning everyone, prudent the way he always was, determined to keep expectations realistic, but Rushani thought they had a damn good chance, and she was proud beyond measure: her band, her boys.

She shouldn’t even have been in L.A. for the awards ceremony. She was just the tour manager. It wasn’t her job to run industry events. It was Hakeem’s job, but while Hakeem was very good at marketing and strategic decisions and making phone calls, he was, to put it bluntly, fairly terrible at on-the-ground operations. “I’m an ideas guy,” he liked to say, which was true, and which always made Rushani roll her eyes. But she couldn’t fault him for it too much. He was responsible for much of the band’s success, and she knew he would walk through fire to do what was best for the guys.

But making sure everyone was wearing the right clothes and was in the right place at the right time was sort of outside of his wheelhouse, and it was exactly inside of Rushani’s wheelhouse. So when James called Rushani and begged her to come out and run the show, she had given in without making James prostrate himself too much. She needed to be in L.A. soon anyway to make the final arrangements for the Asian leg of the tour. And she had a hard time saying no to James. They had been through a lot together, and he was like a brother to her, someone she could always count on in a crisis.

And she wanted to see Andrew again.

That was the part she was less willing to admit to herself. Having a soft spot for James was one thing. Being secretly in love with Andrew was something else entirely. It was like comparing a housecat to a leopard. One of them was small, fuzzy, and harmless. The other would drag you into a tree and feast on your carcass for the next week.

Especially when the leopard in question was Andrew.

So she closed up her apartment in New York and put a hold on her mail—she wouldn’t be back for three months—and flew out to L.A. O’Connor came to meet her at the airport, wearing oversized mirrored sunglasses and a shit-eating grin. He squealed up to the curb in his outrageous convertible and said, “Hop on in, baby. I’ll take you for a ride.”

Typical O’Connor. He liked to act like he didn’t take anything seriously, but Rushani had been there during the months of Andrew’s slow decline, and she had seen exactly how seriously O’Connor took that situation. “Does Leah know you say these things to random women?” she asked. She tossed her suitcase in the back seat and got in the car.
“Leah thinks that everything I do is charming,” he said, and pulled back into traffic, cutting off a dark-windowed SUV whose driver promptly leaned on the horn. O’Connor didn’t take any notice. “And anyway, you’re not random.”

“No,” she said. “I suppose not. God, there was a baby in the row behind me that screamed the entire way from New York. I need a nap.”

“My sympathies, but you don’t have time,” he said. “We have wardrobe fittings in an hour, and James said he wants you to be there.”

“I don’t know a thing about clothes,” Rushani said. She smelled like airplane. Her sinuses were drier than the Atacama. She was in no mood to watch the band try on pants.

“Leah’s going to be there a little later,” O’Connor said. “You can catch up.”

He was trying to bribe her, and it was working. Leah was O’Connor’s girlfriend, a musician herself, who had filled in on bass during their tour last summer, after Kerrigan quit. That was how Leah and O’Connor met, and Rushani knew there had been all sorts of illicit sneaking around in hotel rooms and the back of the bus, but she was willing to overlook it. She liked Leah. They weren’t close, but they got along well, and Rushani was looking forward to hearing about what Leah had been up to over the last few months. She said, “I hope you’re going to ply me with wine.”

“Red, white, and rosé,” O’Connor said. “Don’t worry, sugarplum. We’ll take good care of you.”

“Sugarplum?” Rushani asked. “You’re in a good mood today.”

“There’s a good chance I might win a Grammy tomorrow night,” he said. “It’s put a little spring in my step.”
Rushani laughed, and leaned back against the headrest and closed her eyes. Maybe she could catch a little nap on the way.

Wardrobe fittings were at the theater, in a crowded room in the basement that was filled with overflowing costume racks. The others were already there, James and Nathan and Andrew, sitting in an alternately nervous and grouchy line along one wall while the wardrobe lady lectured them about French seams. They all looked up when Rushani followed O’Connor into the room.

James reacted first. “Rushani!” he exclaimed, and hopped up to give her a hug. “You came!”

She laughed, accepting his embrace. “You knew I was going to. I sent you my itinerary.”

“I’m making polite conversation,” he said. “Guys, look who’s here.”

Rushani shook hands with Nathan, their new bassist. He had only been with the band since September, and Rushani didn’t know him very well yet; she had spent most of that time on tour with Marcus Aurelius, who she worked for when she wasn’t with the Graces. He was a nice guy, quiet, very dry, and she liked him, but they weren’t on hugging terms quite yet.

And then there was Andrew, tall and lean, with his hair pulled up in that ridiculous bun that somehow made him look like a Viking god. He stood before her, hands in his pockets, shoulders hunched, and they did a little awkward dance where she held out her hand and he held out his arms, and then he laughed and drew her into a warm embrace and said, “Rushani, I’m so glad you’re here.”

She closed her eyes for a second and breathed in the smell of him. They had been apart for months, but he smelled just the same.

She was fully aware of how pathetic she was.

Then the moment was over. He patted her on the back and pulled away. He said, “You’re going to get us through this ordeal in one piece, right?”

She felt a little dazed. It was from the nap, mostly likely. She had nodded off in the car for about five minutes and woken when O’Connor slammed on the brakes at a stoplight, a thin thread of drool trailing from one corner of her mouth. “I’ll do my best.”

She had been in love with Andrew for what felt like a geological epoch, but was actually less than two years. She didn’t fall head-over-heels at first sight, or any of that nonsense. They worked together; they got along well; they became friends. Her first year with the band, she was so intent on doing her job well and figuring out the increasingly complicated logistics of running a tour for a band on the verge of going nova. She didn’t have the time or energy to think about romance, or even sex; she had gotten laid a single time that year, a frantic one-nighter with a guy who hit on her at the grocery store, of all places.

Sometime during the second year, she and Andrew were up late in the front lounge of the bus, her working and him scribbling in his notebook, and she glanced up and noticed the glow of lamplight along one side of his face, and felt a shiver go through her body. He was a good-looking guy, and she had known that for a long time, but she hadn’t really been aware of it before, not in a way that meant anything to her.

But once she had noticed, she couldn’t put that genie back in its bottle. He was tall and slim and devastatingly attractive, even with the absurd hair, and he was also funny, thoughtful, kind, and interesting to talk to. He watched the news religiously and always had something relevant to say about national and world events. Nothing was going to happen, of course. She worked for him; it was a terrible idea, and besides, she didn’t have any evidence that he was interested in her. There were times when he would look at her a certain way, usually after a show, his mouth curled up at the corners and his dark eyes bright with amusement, that made her think maybe, maybe… But she didn’t pursue it. She was content, mostly, to wait and see what happened. It was nice to have a secret crush to nurture. She got a lot of emotional mileage out of it. He was a couple of years younger than she was, and he slept around and did more drugs than she was strictly comfortable with, and she was waiting for him to grow up a little. She liked to think that they were both waiting, that it was inevitable, and that some Andrew would decide it was time and would confess his true and undying love for her. A ridiculous fantasy from top to bottom, but it made her happy. And anyway she was too busy to spend much time thinking about romance.

She was so busy that she didn’t notice at first when Andrew’s mental health began to deteriorate. He was a little irritable, a little short-tempered, but that was to be expected; the band’s third album was busy blowing up, they’d had their second number one single in six months, and they were all somewhat stunned by the sudden onslaught of media attention. She gave him some space and focused on fielding interview requests and corralling incompetent venue personnel.

Things kept getting worse, though. The rest of them adjusted to the new status quo, but Andrew couldn’t, or didn’t want to, or didn’t try. He turned mean. He stopped sleeping, or else slept too much. He drank a lot. He harped on everyone, constantly, picking at their weakest points, saying the one unforgivable thing. It terrified Rushani that they were all so transparent to him, that it was so easy for him to pick up on everyone’s most secret shame. He was so unpleasant to be around that Kerrigan, their bassist at the time, finally quit in a fury after Andrew told him that his bass-playing was pathetic and he would never amount to anything. That had been a fun week.

Then, less than a month later, Andrew had attempted suicide. He landed in the hospital, the band canceled the rest of that tour and eventually their planned European tour, and Rushani went home to New York.

She still wasn’t sure how she felt about the whole ordeal. She would never forget walking into Andrew’s hotel room and finding him passed out on the bed, motionless, hardly breathing. She had a nightmare about it at least once a week, except in her dreams, he wasn’t breathing at all, and she couldn’t wake him. In her dreams, she was always too late.

But she hadn’t been too late. He had lived. He was, James told her, better. He was in therapy and on medication. Everyone seemed convinced that he was back to normal and ready to tour. She had her doubts, but it wasn’t her decision. She was just there to run the show.

The next twenty-four hours alternated between frantic rushing around and the slow tedium of waiting for someone or something: an amp cable, a sandwich. After the wardrobe fitting—which came to an ignominious end when the wardrobe lady, sick of their complaining, declared them all hopeless and said they could show up wearing trash bags for all she cared, she was washing her hands of them—a small, mousy girl came to the door and escorted them into the main theater for a rehearsal, because the band was apparently performing during the ceremony, which nobody had bothered to mention to Rushani.

“It’s just one song,” James said, a little bit sheepish, because he knew he should have said something, even if the rest of them were clueless dolts. “Hakeem said it was a good idea.”

“Hakeem doesn’t have the slightest idea of what goes into a performance,” Rushani said crisply. “Where are your instruments? Who will be bringing them to the theater tomorrow? Have you coordinated with the sound and lighting personnel? How long will you have between your performance and the when the award is announced?”

“Uhh,” O’Connor said.

“Right,” Rushani said, and turned to the mousy girl. “Are you in charge here?”

“No, um, my boss, he, I can, um,” the girl stammered.

“Right,” Rushani said. There was clearly a lot of work to be done.

But the rehearsal turned out fine; even if the mousy girl was helpless, someone higher up the food chain clearly knew what he or she was doing, because all of the lighting and sound cues were in place, instruments magically appeared, and all the band had to do was go on stage. Rushani had the luxury of sitting in the front row and watching them perform. She was normally backstage during shows, and usually too busy putting out fires to pay much attention to the music.

They were really something. She knew it, but it was easy to forget in the humdrum day-to-day life of a tour. But they were the best in the business, skilled musicians with an impressive stage presence, and their songs just kept getting better and better with each album. Andrew was magnetic, the paragon of a front man. He prowled the stage and sang about true love, about finding it and losing it again. Rushani couldn’t take her eyes off him. Even when Leah showed up halfway through the third run-through, Rushani didn’t spare her more than a welcoming smile. She wanted to watch the rest of the song.

Andrew sang the last notes, and the stage lights cut off, leaving the band masked in darkness. She heard James let out a whoop.

“They’re pretty fucking great, huh?” Leah asked.

“They really are,” Rushani said, and leaned over to give Leah a hug. “It’s so good to see you again.”

“Stop hogging my girl, Rushani,” O’Connor said, hopping down from the stage and coming over to sweep Leah into a dramatic kiss. Leah fought him at first, trying to squirm away, and then gave in and wrapped her arms around his neck.

Rushani glanced away. PDA wasn’t really her style.

“You’re disgusting,” James yelled from the stage.

“Nice work, everybody,” someone said from the sound booth. “I think we’re good to go tomorrow night. Exit stage left as soon as you’re done and someone will direct you where to go.”

“All right,” Andrew said into the microphone. “Let’s go get wasted.”

There was no time for that, though, and they all knew it; and anyway Andrew knew he wasn’t supposed to be getting wasted. “I’ll kill anyone who shows up hungover tomorrow,” Rushani said. “Don’t test me.”

“She won’t really, will she?” Nathan asked, looking genuinely concerned.

“I wouldn’t try her,” O’Connor said. “We lost a roadie two years back, and we’re still not sure what happened to him. I think he pissed Rushani off and she buried him in her basement.”

“I don’t have a basement,” she said absently, already looking at her phone for the next thing that needed taking care of. Dinner, probably, and then some minor press event. She wasn’t interested in humoring the guys’ conspiracy theories.

They all went out to dinner at a nearby Mexican place that Leah swore was the best in Downtown. Rushani ended up sitting next to Andrew, through no efforts of her own, and probably spent too much time staring at him, because shortly before their food was brought out he turned to her and said, “Quit it, Rushani. I’m fine.”
Her face went hot. She hadn’t thought she was so obvious. “I’m just admiring your bun,” she said. “It’s gotten more, uh. Copious?”

He rolled his eyes. “You’re still a bad liar. Come on, Rushani.” He reached over and squeezed her shoulder. “It’s
been months. I’m really fine.”

Maybe he was, but she had only seen him once since he was hospitalized, for a three-hour tour-planning meeting the day after Marcus Aurelius played a show in Chicago, and they hadn’t talked about anything but business. He looked better. He had put on some much-needed weight, and he looked well-rested and—well. Happy, more or less. He was smiling more. He and James and O’Connor were back to cheerfully shit-talking each other the way they always used to, before Andrew’s sallies turned sharp and cutting, barbs aimed directly at a person’s soft protected places, the hook sinking in and catching. To all appearances he was the Andrew she had first met three years ago.

But something was off. She couldn’t have said what. His laughter was a little too loud, maybe. His eyes were a little too bright.

Probably nothing. She was a worrier. It was one of the traits that made her a good tour manager, but it also made her see trouble where there was none. She hadn’t been there to see his recovery, and so it was harder for her to believe that he really was better than it was for James and O’Connor, who had been there to witness the whole thing.

So she said, “I’m glad. You look better. Are you ready for the tour?”

He laughed. “Let’s get through the awards show, first.”

And everything was fine for the rest of the dinner, and afterward, when they went back to the hotel and had one beer each in James’s hotel room, before Andrew yawned and said he was going to turn in early; and in the morning, when everyone turned up for breakfast at the appointed time, variously surly (O’Connor, who was not a morning person) and cheery (Nathan, who definitely was). Rushani was beginning to think the whole thing would go off without a hitch She shuttled them all over to the theater an hour before they were officially supposed to be there, ignoring their collective groaning, and made sure that everyone’s instruments were on site and in working order. With any luck, nothing would go wrong.

And nothing did, until she couldn’t find Andrew.

“The ceremony starts in an hour,” she said to O’Connor and James, who were supposed to be keeping an eye on Andrew but who had instead been drinking in Banshee Rocket’s dressing room, and who were currently looking at the floor and shuffling their feet like naughty schoolboys, even though Rushani was trying very hard to sound calm. “You’re sitting front and center. And nobody knows where he is?”

“I texted him,” O’Connor said, as if that hadn’t been the very first thing Rushani tried.

“Okay,” she said, and took a deep breath, settling herself. “Okay. The two of you go back to the dressing room and stay there in case he shows up. I’ll go look for him.”

It was nothing, she told herself as she combed through the theater’s back hallways. He had stepped outside for a smoke. He had gone to take a last-minute shower. He wasn’t shooting up somewhere. He hadn’t taken too many pills. She wouldn’t walk into his hotel room and find him limp on the bed, eyes closed and mouth open slightly, like he was about to speak or sing. He was fine now. He was fine.

When she found him at last, in an unused dressing room at the end of a hallway, he wasn’t alone.

She stood in the open doorway, unable to speak at first, unable even to parse what she was seeing. There were two of them, both naked, one of them on Andrew’s lap and the other sitting on the countertop before him, her legs spread, touching herself languidly, letting Andrew look his fill. They had high, firm breasts and long hair. They looked at Rushani in tandem when the door opened, and one of them started giggling, high and girlish.
No drugs, at least. Only sex—pretty vanilla sex, to be honest. She should have been relieved.

“Oops,” Andrew said, without moving his mouth away from the breasts of the one sitting on his lap. “Busted.”

He didn’t care at all. He wasn’t even embarrassed.

She mattered that little. Rushani felt a giant, invisible fist squeeze around her heart.

“Put your pants on,” she said, which was all she could think to say to him in that moment. She didn’t have the right to say anything else. The foolish hope she’d held onto for so long left her abruptly, a physical sensation like a tooth being yanked out. All of her carefully honed fantasies about him waking up one day and realizing she was The One crumbled away into ashes. He would never, she realized, see her as anything but his shrewish tour manager. She nagged, scolded, soothed. She made sure he was taken care of. And that wasn’t sexy; it was anything but. She had been playing mommy for too long to recast herself now. There would always be women, women prettier than Rushani, younger, always younger as the years went on, more agreeable, eager to feed Andrew’s ego. She had no claim on him other than the one she invoked now, her arms folded across her chest, which she knew made her look stern but in this case was merely her attempt to hold herself in, to shield herself with her own grasp: “It’s almost time.”

Another scene from “Wild Open”

posted in: Writing updates | 2

This is the second scene from the first chapter; the first scene is here. Andrew, believe it or not, is going to be the hero of book #2.


O’Connor woke up and couldn’t remember where he was.

Every hotel room was a minor variation on a theme: bed, television, bathroom. They all blurred together after a while. He opened his eyes and stared up at the ceiling. White. Stucco. Not informative.

Los Angeles. That was where they were.

Because Kerrigan had quit. Because fucking Andrew couldn’t rein it in.

He rubbed his hands over his face. His fingers smelled like perfume.

Right. There had been that girl. Sweet, eager. He hadn’t fucked her, he was pretty sure. No. They had made out in the alley for a while, and then she had told him she needed to go home.

Good. He wasn’t a one-night-stand sort of guy.

Also, having sex with groupies was a universally terrible idea.

Unfair. She hadn’t been a groupie. He didn’t think she had recognized him, which honestly wasn’t too surprising. The kind of girl who went to indie shows at dive bars probably didn’t spend too much time listening to the top 40.
His head ached. Not badly. He hadn’t drunk all that much beer. He needed a hot shower, a few glasses of water, and some coffee. And then more coffee. Maybe something stronger. Shit, they were holding auditions that afternoon. Definitely something stronger.

He rolled out of bed and headed for the shower.

Fifteen minutes later, he was on his way downstairs to the lobby. Rushani had told them they had a band meeting at 10:00, and the last thing he wanted to do was piss her off. She was a ball-buster under the best of circumstances, and with everything that was going on with Andrew, she had become a coiled knot of tension, ready to lash out at anyone who broke the rules. O’Connor didn’t think she had been sleeping very much.

The hotel’s restaurant was mostly empty. People had checked out already, or gone off for their day of sightseeing. An elderly couple sat near the door, reading the newspaper over their empty breakfast dishes. A woman in a suit ate an omelet in quick, neat bites. O’Connor moved toward the table in the back corner where Rushani was sitting with James and, surprisingly, Andrew. She must have dragged him out of bed. He looked at least halfway sober.

O’Connor sat down and tossed his sunglasses on the table. “I’m not late, am I?”

“No,” Rushani said, giving him a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Right on time. I ordered coffee for you.”

“Bless your heart,” O’Connor said.

“This is a goddamn farce,” Andrew said, bitter, his voice raw and ragged. He smoked too much. He didn’t care about anything except getting wasted and having sex with women he picked up at shows. He didn’t even seem to care about the band anymore. Or even about the music. His hair was greasy and falling into his face in lank strings. The circles beneath his eyes had progressed from blue to a dark purple, like a two-day-old bruise. He looked like shit. He was wearing the same T-shirt he’d had on for the past three days. O’Connor was glad he was sitting on the other side of the table. Andrew probably smelled about as good as he looked.

“It’s not a farce,” Rushani said, with an edge to her voice that had grown all too familiar lately. She was clean, dressed, and perfectly made up, but her eyes were bloodshot from exhaustion. “We have two days to find another bassist. You’re playing in San Francisco on Monday night. Jeff can fill in if we’re desperate, but you know he doesn’t want to be on stage. You should be thanking your lucky stars that Kerrigan is a good person and waited to leave until we had a few days off.”

“Kerrigan’s a fucking traitor,” Andrew rasped. “Fuck him. We’re better off without him.”

Rushani’s mouth thinned into a grim line, and she looked away.

“Just shut up, Andrew,” James said, sounding tired. O’Connor knew the feeling. “Kerrigan left because you’re an insufferable piece of shit. Keep your mouth shut and don’t make it any worse than it already is.”

Andrew scowled. “Who died and made you the king of the universe?”

O’Connor took a long sip of coffee. This was an old argument, worn thin in its predictability. The specifics changed, but the underlying truth held steady: Andrew was self-destructing, and he was hell-bent on taking all the rest of them with him. The band wouldn’t survive. Andrew didn’t care. O’Connor had only recently realized how bad things had gotten, but he was beginning to think that Andrew didn’t care if he lived or died.

“Stop it,” Rushani said. The words were flat and expressionless. She was worn out. They all were. She leaned to one side and took a folder from her bag on the floor. “I called some people. Word should get around. We’re holding auditions today at 3:00. I want all of you there and sober. This isn’t a game. If you don’t have a bassist, you don’t have a tour, and nobody gets paid.”

Andrew still cared about money, because that was the only way he could afford the booze and drugs he mainlined like there was no tomorrow. “I don’t see why Jeff can’t do it,” he said.

“Jeff has no stage presence,” James said. He unzipped his hoodie and then zipped it up again. It was a nervous habit that got worse when he was stressed.

“He doesn’t like the spotlight,” Rushani said, diplomatic, smoothing things over. O’Connor wasn’t sure what would have happened to them in the past six months without her. Utter destruction. The apocalypse. “He’s a great tech. He’s happier backstage.”

“I don’t want some stranger coming in and fucking everything up,” Andrew said. He finally noticed the cup of coffee on the table in front of him, and began scooping sugar into it, one heaping spoonful at a time. O’Connor watched in mute horror. It would be completely undrinkable. A diabetic sludge. What a waste of good coffee. “We don’t need a bassist. O’Connor can just loop some shit in the studio and we’ll play it—”

“No,” O’Connor said.

“What do you mean, no?” Andrew asked. “You don’t call the shots here, asshole. If I say that you’re going to do it—”

“You don’t call the shots, either,” Rushani said, calm, very quiet, implacable. “This isn’t your decision, Andrew. You hired me to make these decisions. I’ve decided. We’re holding auditions.”

Andrew sneered at her. “Yeah, I hired you, and I can fire you again.”

“You absolutely can’t,” James said. The past six months had changed him. As Andrew deteriorated, James had stepped up and become the band’s de facto leader. O’Connor was happy to cede that responsibility. “You’re outnumbered. O’Connor and I both want her here.” He shot a quick glance in O’Connor’s direction, checking for agreement, and O’Connor nodded slightly. He was Team Rushani all the way. “This isn’t your band. We walk away, and you’ve got nothing.”

“I’m everything,” Andrew said. “You’re nothing without me. I write all of the lyrics. I sing all of the songs that keep teenage girls up at night, staring at my face plastered on their wall, and probably crying because they won’t ever have me.”

“I write all of the fucking music,” O’Connor snapped, goaded into arguing with Andrew, which everyone knew was a fool’s game. He inhaled deeply and took another sip of coffee. It didn’t matter. It didn’t matter what Andrew said or did. The only thing that mattered was the band. He was going to keep the band together or die trying.
Maybe literally.

Andrew didn’t miss a beat. “Songwriters are a dime a dozen. Let’s hold an audition for a new songwriter while we’re at it. Then O’Connor can go back to Middle America in a self-righteous huff.”

“Shut up, Andrew,” James said, and turned to Rushani, eyebrows drawn together. “Why is he even here? Can we ban him from band meetings?”

“You fucking wish,” Andrew said. “You need me. You can’t do this without me.”

Rushani lay one hand flat on the table, her shoulders pulled up toward her ears, ready—O’Connor hoped—to flay Andrew to the bone with the sharp edge of her tongue. But their waitress approached, notebook in hand, to take their orders, and Andrew immediately turned on the charm, smiling brightly and telling her how pretty her earrings were, and could she tell him where she got them, because his sister’s birthday was soon and she would really love a pair of her own.

James gave O’Connor a meaningful look, mouth twisted to one side. O’Connor shrugged and drank his coffee. There was nothing he could do, and nothing he wanted to. Andrew’s good looks and charisma were a large part of the reason they had sold almost two million albums in the last fifteen months. Andrew hadn’t lost that, at least. He still knew how to turn it on for the fans.

But the funny, easy-going boy O’Connor had grown up with was gone. Possibly for good. All that remained of him was this cynical, ruthless husk, a sad simulacrum that looked like Andrew and sounded like Andrew but wasn’t really him at all.

They might have been doomed.

“Here’s to us,” O’Connor said, raising his coffee mug. “The Saving Graces.”

They all looked at him. Nobody else raised their mug.

O’Connor drank.

Excerpt from the next book

posted in: Writing updates | 0

Here’s the first scene from my next book, the final installment in the Silver Cross Club series. It’s about Beth, the head waitress at the club. I’m almost halfway through and am aiming for a January release.

—–

 

Dusk rose from the ground, viscous, pools of shadows punching up through the concrete—

Wait. Start again.

Dusk rose from the ground. Viscous shadows gathered at the base of every building on the square, obscuring concrete footings and—

No. That still wasn’t right. I deleted the line and began again.

Dusk rose from the ground. An early dusk, the cold winter afternoon drawing to its inevitable close. The sun’s last light reflected from the glass windows of the building across the square, a sudden, blinding flash of—

I turned away from my laptop with a sigh. I had been working on the same scene for the past week, and I couldn’t get it right. I could see it, in my mind’s eye: the civil twilight, the sun fading pink and orange in the west.

Of course I could see it. I had been there.

I couldn’t write it, though. Not the way it deserved.

I tipped my desk chair onto its front legs and peered out the window. The trees lining my street were speckled with the first bright leaves of early spring. I wanted to be out there, frolicking in the unseasonably warm weather. Not trapped inside with a novel that didn’t want to be written.

Maybe locating my desk directly in front of the window had been a poor decision. The original idea was to give myself something to look at while I wrote: nice scenery, a pleasant working environment, a periodic distraction when someone’s cute dog paused to pee against a tree trunk. I made the desk myself out of a piece of scrap walnut I fished from a dumpster a few blocks away. I sanded it down, stained it, sealed it, and mounted it along the wall in front of my bedroom window. The surface was clear aside from my laptop and a small potted cactus. Sheer white curtains framed the window and blew in the breeze when it was warm enough to open the window. It was the perfect place to write.

And yet.

I tried to write. I sat down every day, an hour before work and three hours on my days off. Sometimes I wrote a few sentences. Sometimes I wrote entire paragraphs, the words pouring out of me like water from a tipped pitcher. And then I ended up deleting it all.

I just couldn’t get it right.

Frustration was my worst enemy. I tried, failed, decided everything I wrote was terrible, decided writing was a stupid thing to waste my time on, and then was back at the computer the next day, beating my head against the same impossible scene.

I rubbed my eyes and looked at the clock. It was a quarter to 3, and I needed to be at work in an hour. My writing time was over for the day.

Work was a quick subway ride away. I had purchased my apartment on the Upper West Side in part because of the commute: twenty minutes on the red line, and less than half a mile from the station at 14th Street to the front door of the club. In the worst extremes of summer and winter I dreaded the walk, but today I was grateful for it. It was early April, the very start of spring in New York, and the first warm day since the end of winter. I held my coat bundled in my arms—I had brought it with me because I knew the temperature would drop after dark—and enjoyed the feeling of the sunlight on my bare arms. My walk took me through the northern end of the Village, and the playground that had been mostly deserted all winter was swarming with children. A teenager playing basketball waved at me. I waved back, and his friends erupted in excited jeers.

Spring, when a young man’s fancy turned lightly to thoughts of love.

I arrived at the Silver Cross Club a few minutes before opening. It wasn’t much to look at from the outside: an old industrial building, brick, nondescript. The club occupied the entire first floor, and above were offices. Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. A person passing by on the street wouldn’t take a second glance.

Inside, of course, was a different story.

Javier, the doorman, was standing outside smoking a cigarette. He jolted guiltily when he saw me approaching, dropped the cigarette, and crushed it beneath his heel.

“I don’t care if you’re smoking, Javi,” I said. “Although you know you’re supposed to do it out back.”

“I know, I know,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Don’t tell Germaine, okay? It’s nice out. I’m done now. No more smoking.”

“I’m not a snitch,” I said, mildly offended.

“I never said you were,” he said. He slung an arm across my shoulders and we turned to walk into the club. “You heard the latest gossip, Miss Beth?”

“No,” I said, “but I’m sure you’re going to tell me.”

He grinned. “That Sassy Belle got married over the weekend.”

“Really?” I asked. I was genuinely surprised. Sassy had quit working at the club about a year and a half ago, and I knew a man was involved somehow, but I’d had no idea she was the settling down type. “How do you know?”

“Scarlet went,” he said. “You know how she and Sassy have stayed in touch.”

“That’s great,” I said. “I’m happy for her. It’s not really gossip, though. Gossip implies something scandalous. Getting married isn’t a scandal unless someone’s pregnant.”

“Maybe she’s pregnant,” he said. “I wouldn’t know. Scarlet’s got the wedding announcement if you want to see it.”

“I’ll take a look,” I said, amused as always by Javier’s deep entanglement with the dancers. He wanted to sleep with most of them, but as far as I could tell had never succeeded. “Anything else exciting?”

“Too soon to say,” he said. He opened the door to the club and waited for me to go in ahead of him—probably because he wanted to look at my ass. I had known Javi for years and had long since stopped being bothered by his matter-of-fact lechery. “Germaine’s got some white guy in the office with her. And Nina hasn’t shown up for work yet.”

Nina was the newest waitress, and she had been late for work three times over the last two weeks. I glanced at my watch; it was still ten to 4. “She’s still got a few minutes,” I said. Javier seated himself on the tall stool behind his podium, and I said, “Tell her to come see me when she gets here, will you?”

“Sure thing, boss,” he said, and winked at me.

I went inside.

The club was in its usual state of pre-opening stasis. A couple of the dancers were sitting at the bar, intent on their phones, but most of them were still in the dressing room getting ready. The waitresses who had already arrived were gathered around the bar, chatting with Mike, the bartender, who was slicing fruit for drink garnishes. The conversation petered out as I approached. I was used to it; I had a reputation for being No Fun.

“Hi, Beth,” Mike said, and the waitresses murmured their greetings.

“Hi,” I said. I stashed my purse beneath the bar and took a quick head count. I had scheduled six girls to work tonight, and five of them were already there. Only Nina was missing.

What a pain. Germaine did her best to hire reliable workers, but it was impossible to get it right 100% of the time. It was my job, as head waitress, to ride herd and let Germaine know when it was time to let someone go. If Nina showed up late tonight, that was her last strike, as far as I was concerned.

“Nina isn’t here yet,” Amy said. She had been working at the club even longer than I had, and seemed to think of herself as my right-hand woman. Mostly harmless, but it could be annoying when she prodded me to address an issue I wasn’t ready to handle yet.

Like now. “Javier told me,” I said. “She isn’t late yet.”

“She probably will be,” Keisha said. “She texted me earlier and said she was really hungover.”

I ground my teeth. The waitresses had a distinct pecking order, and Nina hadn’t yet established her place in the hierarchy. The girls who had been working at the club for a while usually stuck up for each other and presented a united front, but Nina was still an unknown quantity, and they all wanted to see me chew her out for their own entertainment. I wasn’t happy about it—employment issues weren’t for public enjoyment, and they caused genuine problems for both me and Germaine—but there was no way to deal with this catty nonsense without making the waitresses feel chastised and defensive. I wasn’t in the mood to put up with their sulking all night.

So I just said, “None of you need to be worrying about this. I’ll deal with it. Who’s working a private party tonight?”

They all exchanged glances, as if I wasn’t standing right there watching them do it. Amy said, “Me and Tubs are doing Wilkinson’s party.”

“Good,” I said. I glanced at my watch again. Five minutes. “I need to speak with Germaine. Please send Nina to see me when she gets here.”

“Germaine’s in there with some dude,” Amy said.

“So I heard,” I said. “I’ll take my chances.”

I walked away, rolling my eyes. I liked the other waitresses, for the most part, but sometimes it really seemed like I was dealing with a bunch of kindergartners. I had been working at the club for too long. Most of the waitresses were young, in their early 20s, and they stayed a year or two at most before they moved on to other things. I got older every year, and they all stayed the same age.

Not that I was especially old and wizened. I was only twenty-five.

I felt a lot older than twenty-five.

Germaine’s office door was open a crack. I peered inside, not wanting to disturb her if she was in there with a client. She was seated at her desk, frowning—not an unusual state of affairs for Germaine. The man she was speaking to had her back turned to me, and I couldn’t see his face.

I started to back away, but Germaine made eye contact with me and beckoned me into the room with a tilt of her head.

I knocked to alert the man that I was coming in, and then eased the door open. “Sorry to interrupt,” I said.

“Not at all,” Germaine said to me. “Please come in.” She glanced at the man and then said, “You should probably close the door behind you.”

That was a little strange, but I did as she said. “It’s about Nina,” I said.

Germaine opened her mouth, closed it again, pursed her lips, and looked again at the man. I still couldn’t see his face. He was tall, dark-haired, and wearing a nice suit. Standard client fare. I saw men just like him every night of the week. I didn’t know what had Germaine so unsettled, but she was very obviously displeased about something this man had said or done.

“Should I come back later?” I asked.

And then the man turned around and said, “Please don’t, Bee. I was hoping we could have a talk.”

My heart started pounding in my chest. Bee. Nobody had called me that in eight years. Not since—

But I didn’t know this man. I didn’t recognize him.

Dark hair, gray eyes, clean-shaven. Tall. Broad shoulders. Big hands hanging at his sides. Our eyes met. He smiled at me, lopsided, one corner of his mouth rising higher than the other, and then I knew.

I knew him.

My God.

It was Max, after all these years: Max, alive, breathing, and standing here in Germaine’s office, smiling at me.

I took a step toward him and slapped him across the face.

A sneak preview: “The Billionaire’s Command”

posted in: Writing updates | 0

The next book in the Silver Cross Club series will be called “The Billionaire’s Command” and should be published (if I stick to my writing schedule!) by the end of July. I recently added the first scene to the ebook version of “The Billionaire’s Embrace,” and I’ll post it here for those of you who haven’t seen it yet.

—–

When presented with unexplainable events, most people did their best to come up with an explanation, no matter how far-fetched. That was something I had noticed about human nature: that people didn’t like uncertainty. Scarlet told me once that primitive man invented religion to explain why the sky got dark at night, and it sounded reasonable to me. If you knew why something happened, it wasn’t as scary anymore. It made sense. It happened for a reason.

So that was why I decided to blame the traffic light for everything that happened that summer.

Obviously it wasn’t really the traffic light’s fault, and what happened probably would have happened even if I didn’t trip on the sidewalk on my way to work. That event wasn’t the catalyst. What happened later that evening, maybe. But not the traffic light.

But logic didn’t play much of a role in my thought process. When presented with the inexplicable, grasp at straws until something sticks, or else flounder around helplessly in a state of confusion and uncertainty.

I didn’t like uncertainty.

It was one of those sweltering July days that made everyone in the city feel like dropping dead. What was the cliche? Hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk. I wasn’t late for work—the club didn’t open for another hour—but I was later than I wanted to be. I liked taking my time getting ready, and I didn’t enjoy feeling rushed; and anyway, I didn’t want to be outside any longer than I had to be, as hot as it was. I had chosen my apartment based largely on how close it was to work, but there were some summer days when the half-mile walk seemed endless. And I was too cheap to ever take a cab.

I was almost to the intersection when the light changed. The flashing red hand on the crosswalk sign stopped flashing and blinked steady, and the stoplight turned yellow and then red in quick succession. Annoyed, I sighed and slowed to a stop. Traffic was too heavy to ignore the light and dart across the street; I wasn’t about to play chicken with New York City cabbies. They would run me over and not even feel bad about it.

I had lived in New York long enough that I didn’t wait obediently for the walk sign before I crossed. As soon as traffic was more or less clear, I booked it.

I forgot to check the bike lane, though.

The furious ringing of a bell alerted me to the cyclist bearing down on me, and I swore and lunged for the sidewalk. The bike passed behind me, close enough to rustle my skirt, and the cyclist yelled, “Watch where you’re going!” as he continued down Hudson Street.

I stumbled onto the sidewalk, off-balance, and then tripped on my own flip-flop and went down.
So really, if I wanted to assign blame, the cyclist probably deserved a large helping. Maybe even more than the traffic light.

Falling always seemed like it happened in slow motion. I had plenty of time to recognize that I was falling, regret my clumsiness, and hope I didn’t hurt myself too badly. And then I was down, knees and hands burning, and I just knelt there for a few long moments, embarrassed and annoyed.

I lifted my left hand to check the damage. The palm was scraped, but not badly. No blood. The right one was fine, too.

My knees, on the other hand.

I stood up and tottered to a nearby bench. Both of my knees were skinned raw and oozing blood, stuck with bits of dirt and gravel and who knew what.

Shit.

“That looks bad,” a passing woman said.
Real helpful, lady. I ignored her and started digging through my bag, hoping I had a few spare napkins crammed in there somewhere. I didn’t want to bleed down my shins all the way to work.

“You look like you could use some help,” a deep voice said, and I looked up.

And up.

Our eyes met.

Jesus, he was tall.

He was dressed like a businessman, in a dark suit and tie, but he didn’t look like a businessman. His black hair was buzzed so short that I could see his scalp, and it made him look dangerous, like he had just come back from a war. He was handsome in a sort of generic way, nothing special, but there was something about him that kept me looking. He raised one eyebrow at me and said, “That was a nasty fall. Bikes are a menace.”

I realized my mouth was hanging open a little, and hastily closed it. “It was my fault. I should have looked,” I said. “I’m okay, though.”

“You’re dripping blood,” he said. “Stay here. There’s a drugstore right across the street.”

Oh, God, was he offering to bandage my skinned knees for me, like I was a wayward toddler? “I’m really okay,” I said. “That’s totally nice of you, but I have to—work—”

“That can wait,” he said. “Don’t go anywhere.” And he turned and strode off toward the Duane Reade.

I couldn’t have said why I waited. I really did need to get to work, and I really was fine. Mostly fine. Not in any danger of dying, at least. But it wasn’t every day that incredibly handsome strangers not only spoke to me but went out of their way to help me, and I was curious. I wanted to see what would happen.

It didn’t hurt that he was really, really hot.

And that I liked the way he had swooped in and taken charge. Most men in New York were so wishy-washy.

I kind of liked being ordered around.

My mystery man emerged from the drugstore, plastic bag in hand. I watched him approach me with a feeling like I was observing myself from the outside. It was too weird to be real. Things like this didn’t happen to girls like me. Maybe I was on a television show and there were men with cameras hiding in the park behind me.

But nobody jumped out and shouted that I’d been punked, and he crouched on the sidewalk in front of me and drew a small package out of the bag.

“You’re going to ruin your suit,” I said, because the sidewalks were beyond gross.

“Nothing the dry cleaner can’t fix,” he said. He opened the package and pulled out a wet wipe, the kind that you used to clean your hands at a BBQ place. I watched, totally dumbfounded, as he began gently cleaning the blood and grit from my knees.

Get a grip, Sasha. “You don’t have to do that,” I said, wanting to draw my legs away but afraid I would sock him in the face with a kneecap. “Don’t get me wrong, this is really nice of you—like, really, really nice—but I’m sure you have way better things to do this afternoon than, like, mop the blood off some stranger’s legs—”

“You’re babbling,” he said, interrupting my word vomit, and I blushed and shut up.

He dabbed at my knees until they were clean of dirt and congealed blood. It stung, but he was careful, and every time his fingers brushed against my skin, I felt a little spark flare up my spine. Bad idea. Bad idea. He was way out of my league.

Finished, he glanced up at me, and something in his dark eyes made me blush again and look away.

“Thanks,” I said.

“I’m not finished,” he said. He pulled out a tube of antibiotic ointment and smeared it onto my scrapes, and then he took out a box of Band-Aids and covered basically the entire surface area of my knees, layering each bandage on top of the one beneath it so that no raw skin was exposed. “They didn’t have anything larger,” he said. “This will have to do.”

“It’s, wow,” I said. “Way better than I would have done. I probably would have just taped on some paper towels and called it a day.”

“Extremely unhygienic,” he said, his eyes crinkling up at the corners.

Christ. I had to leave, now, or I was going to do something really stupid, like ask him to marry me. I cleared my throat and rearranged the straps of my bag. “So, thanks,” I said. “I’m really—I owe you. But I’m going to be super late for work, so…”

“Of course,” he said, and climbed to his feet. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small piece of paper, and handed it to me. “Just in case you run into any further emergencies.” He looked down at me for a moment, tall as a statue, and then strode off down Bleecker Street.

I gazed after him, a little wistfully, and then looked down at the paper he had handed me.

It was his business card.

Right in the middle, in tiny black numbers, was phone number. That was it. I turned it over, expecting to see something more informative on the back, but it was blank.

What kind of weird guy had a business card like that? Was he a spy or something? Maybe he was so rich that he didn’t need to work. Maybe he was so famous that he expected everyone to already know who he was.

It didn’t matter. It wasn’t like I was going to call him.

I stood up and slung my bag over my shoulder. My knees hurt, but not too badly. I took a few tentative steps, feeling things out, and decided that walking the rest of the way to work was no big deal.

I tossed the business card into the first trash can I passed.

Dating was a bad idea. Sooner or later, they all found out what I did for a living.

And nobody wanted a stripper for a girlfriend.

Update on the next book

posted in: Writing updates | 2

I got several chapters into the book about Sadie and then decided to put it on hold for the time being. I think a better next step for the series is a book about one of the dancers at the club. One of my favorite things about writing is getting to know the characters. What would lead a woman to strip for a living? How does she feel about taking her clothes off for men? I discover the answers as I write, and sometimes they surprise me.

Here’s the beginning of the story:


Stepping into the Silver Cross Club transformed me.

I did it four times a week, sometimes five: walked through the door and became someone new.

Outside of the club, I was ordinary Sasha Kilgore, who loved makeup, yoga, parrots, and brunch.

Inside the club, I was Sassy Belle.

I didn’t like Sassy very much. She wasn’t smart, for one thing. Not that I was a genius, but I could string three words together. Sassy mainly giggled.

Men liked her, though. The men at the club liked her. The clients. That was all that mattered.

Maybe someday I wouldn’t need Sassy anymore. I could shed that skin like a snake and leave it behind.

But not yet.

It was one of those sweltering July days that made everyone in the city feel like dropping dead. What was the cliche? Hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk. The club’s dim, cool lobby was a welcome relief. I took off my sunglasses and smiled at Javier, the doorman.

“You look hot,” he said.

I struck a pose, one hand on my hip, head thrown back. “Thanks!”

He chuckled. “I mean you look sweaty. Hot as the devil’s nutsack, isn’t it?”

“You shouldn’t use language like that around a lady,” I said.

“Sassy Belle, you are no lady,” he said with a wink, and held the door open for me.

I stuck my nose in the air and walked past him into the club, purposefully wiggling my hips as I went. Javier was lucky that I liked him.

The heavy door closed behind me, and I was inside the main room of the club. Things were quiet at this time of day: it was 3:00, and the club didn’t open for another hour. None of the waitresses had arrived yet, and the only other person I spotted was a fellow dancer, perched at the bar eating a sandwich out of a styrofoam container. I waved to her as I headed for the unmarked door at the back of the club that led to the private area for the dancers.

I gave myself a little shake, settling fully into Sassy’s skin.

Sassy’s sticky, clammy skin. I really needed a shower.

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