Rush me, p.45
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       Rush Me, p.45

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
Page 45

  And I really wanted to see Ryan.

  I shoved my hands in my pockets and ducked my head. “Maybe I can reschedule. ”

  When I peeked at him, his intense, straight gaze startled me. “What?”

  “Nothing. ” He immediately focused on the tree behind me. His words came out quickly. “I’d be really glad. If you came. ”

  I nodded, and then also rushed my words out into the strange moment. “I’m really sorry about last time. ”

  Our eyes connected, and warmth unfurled inside me. “I’m only sorry about how it ended,” he said.

  My cheeks heated. “Me, too. ” And then, before the butterflies carried me away, I flashed a grin and headed back to the others.

  Chapter Eighteen

  I couldn’t reschedule.

  Alexandra Wilson sounded sorry but firm. She had a brunch on Sunday morning, which she seemed utterly unable to change.

  But I had a plan. Alexandra had booked a suite at the Easton Hotel, overlooking the river and the Leopard Stadium. I could meet with her for an hour or two, and still manage to get over to the stadium by the time the game ended. That wouldn’t be ridiculous, right?

  Okay, it would probably be ridiculous if I followed Bri to meet everyone at the end after not watching the game, but I was determined to try.

  I met Alexandra in the Easton’s lobby at four o’clock, just as the game started a handful of blocks away. I played it safe in a black skirt and high-necked, sleeveless blue blouse. My kitten heels clicked reassuringly against the marble floor, and the sound of belonging almost made me believe the emotion.

  A domed ceiling rose above the slick floors of the Easton’s lobby, but unlike the echoing, enclosed public spaces mid-town, this rotunda felt more like the Pantheon than a food court. Along one curved wall, hotel employees in green and black lined up behind a row of grey quartz counters. Uniformed men with small caps pushed silver trolleys loaded with expensive luggage. The guests milling about looked prosperous and well heeled, like the economy was merely a nightmare used to scare children into business school.

  I scanned for likely Alexandras, nerves kicking a jig in my belly. She had described herself as very tall with straight blond hair, and I was doing my best not to feel intimidated. What kind of person stayed at the Easton rather than crashing with a friend?

  Oh, right. A proper adult.

  To the left, a blonde sat in an armchair, but lines crossed her face and white streaked her hair. Another stood by the elevator, wrapped in a fur coat, but she couldn’t be more than five six I swiveled around. Maybe Alexandra hadn’t arrived yet?

  No—there, standing at the back of the lobby, frowning down at her cell, stood a tall, willowy woman, a perfect hanger for runway fashions. She’d pulled her fine pale hair back into a tight chignon, and her face had drawn together like a thundercloud. Dressed in a pencil skirt and blazer, she resembled any number of the businesswomen filling the lobby.

  I took a deep breath and crossed the floor, making sure my shoulders were back and my back straight. “Hi—Alexandra? I’m Rachael. ”

  She looked up and the scowl dropped away, replaced by an astonishingly pretty smile. She couldn’t have been much older than me. “Alexa’s fine. Shall we go to the café?”

  I agreed, even though adding caffeine to my jitters wouldn’t be a good idea. You are professional, I told myself. You know what you’re talking about.

  And since I did, that reassured me. Besides, it was possible she was just as nervous as I was.

  With that in mind, I tried to make small talk after we ordered our pastries and drinks. The café opened into the lobby, and our seats were right along the edge. For a moment I watched the constant stream in and out, and then I focused on Alexa. “So, what brings you to New York?”

  Her mouth tightened again and her pale lashes swept down. Embarrassment flooded through me. I’d just been trying to make her comfortable before jumping right into book-ese, but maybe that was unprofessional?

  “Family matters,” she finally said. “I’m meeting my father. ”

  Instead of shutting up, I continued babbling. “That’s great! Does he live here?”

  “Yes. He does. ”

  An awkward silence ensued, where I could feel everything slipping away—goodbye, brilliant book, goodbye, career at Maples&Co, hello, law school. I pulled out my copy of the manuscript and pasted on another bright smile. “I was hoping you could tell me what you’ve been doing with your book right now? In order to get it published?”

  Great. Now I was doing that thing where every sentence ended in a question mark.

  Thankfully, Alexa became infinitely more approachable as we spoke about the book, and once I was on footing I understood, I stopped sounding like an over-eager intern and instead felt reasonably competent. It helped that Alexa didn’t actually have a clue how publishing worked, and had simply sent the manuscript out to everyone. “It started as a joke. ” Her pointer finger traced a map of Alexander’s route throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia. “For my friends. And then they sent it out to their friends in other programs and some of the professors saw it and it took on a life of its own. ”

  Her friends were doctoral candidates at the top universities in the States and UK; her professors the leading researchers in their fields. Alexa was in the last year of her PhD program at the University of Chicago, writing her dissertation on economic exchange in the Hellenistic World. That helped me tremendously, since non-fiction authors, even snarky ones, needed to have a knowledge base that would convince readers they were worth listening to.

  “And. . . how do you think you can help me?” she finally asked.

  I shifted, and took a deep breath. This was what the economy was like now, wasn’t it? Selling yourself. Proving you were invaluable. “You have a great concept and I think you could really have a hit here, but it needs to be cleaned up a bit. You have to decide who your audience is—are you going for intelligent, academic humor, or are you trying to make Alexander the Great entertaining and accessible? I could help you narrow your focus. Also, I think there’s a great potential for expansion—this is very social media friendly. I don’t know if you’ve thought about a website, but I think that would bring in a lot of readers. ” I stopped and resisted clearing my throat. Instead, I watched Alexa nervously. Had I spoken too much? This carving-your-own-position was terrifying, and I wasn’t even looking for a paid partnership.

  Alexa tilted back on her chair, looking a little stung and overwhelmed. “No—no, I hadn’t thought about any of that. I wouldn’t even know how to go about doing a website. ”

  “Oh, it’s easy enough,” I said, relieved she hadn’t dismissed me out of turn. “We’d probably buy a domain and use a blogging platform and CMS isn’t that tricky. ” Or at least, it no longer was after three months updating Penelope Books’ website. “The hard thing is publicity and marketing, but I have a couple of ideas about that, especially tied into a website. ”

  “And would you want to be hired as a publicist? Or what?”

  I took a sip of my raspberry mocha. “To be honest. I’m hoping that I can help you get this ship-shape, and then present it again to my editor. I think you have a great project; it just needs to be a little fine-tuned. ”

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New York Leopards