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.
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.
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.