The SirenTiffany Reisz
Author: Tiffany Reisz
“Girlfriend. Well, if I’m going to be your girlfriend, this virginity thing has got to go. But after dinner,” she said and finally pulled her blouse back on.
She started to leave the bathroom but Wesley grabbed her hand.
“You didn’t say if you’d go with me or not. ”
Nora smiled up at him. She couldn’t believe how serious Wesley was being.
“Yes, Wes. I will go with you to the most exciting two minutes in sports. When is it?”
“First Saturday in May. ”
“I’ll book the flight. You get the tickets. ”
“I already have the tickets. I go every year. My family would cancel Christmas before they missed the Derby. I only missed last year because of finals. No school in Central Kentucky would ever hold a final on Derby Day. ”
“We’re all damned Yankees up here, aren’t we?”
“I like you Yankees. Y’all talk funny. ”
Nora twined her fingers in his and studied him. Since getting out of the hospital, he’d seemed older, calmer, more sure of himself. And he also seemed more intent on spending time with her. He read in her office while she wrote. When she moved from her office to the kitchen, he went with her. She liked having him as a shadow. Since getting him back home she’d wished more than a few times that they were lovers so they could sleep in the same bed. As much as he shadowed her by day, she shadowed him at night. Ever since he came home from the hospital, she found herself waking up several times a night to make sure he was okay. She’d half considered getting a baby monitor and hiding it under his bed.
Nora took a step toward him and heard the devil on her shoulder telling her to kiss him, really kiss him for the first time. She tried to hear the angel on her shoulder but she remembered her angel had long ago turned in his letter of resignation. She wrapped an arm around Wesley’s neck and rose on tiptoes.
From the kitchen came the unmistakable sound of her hotline phone blaring its Klaxon ringtone at her. Wesley sighed and rested his chin on top of her head.
“It’s okay,” Nora said and kissed him quick on the cheek. She still had a lot of writing to do for Zach, and it would take a whole team of stallions to drag her away from Wesley tonight. She leaned into Wesley’s chest, and he wrapped his arms around her. “Just let it ring. ”
Four weeks left…
What the hell was he doing?
Zach wondered how many times since meeting Nora he’d asked himself that question. He was getting into double digits at least. He paid his cabdriver and faced Wordsworth’s Bookshelf, the venue for Nora’s book-signing today. He shouldn’t be here. Saturnalia wasn’t even a Royal House title. The previous books didn’t matter, but for some reason Nora was starting to.
Zach entered through the grand double doors and found the signing area at the back of the store. It was a small sort of stage with a table and a chair roped off on three sides. Wesley stood on the platform talking to a man in his fifties with a kind face and absolutely no hair on his head. Zach stepped inside the roped off area. A table sat in front of a wall and was stacked high with copies of Nora’s most recent bestseller. The bald man excused himself to fetch a pitcher of water and a glass.
“Nice tie,” Zach said to Wesley. “Quite natty. ”
“Natty—British compliment, right?”
“Nora’s orders. Not really a tie guy. ”
“Her orders? Where is our autocrat anyway?”
“Hiding somewhere. Her last book with Libretto came out two months ago. This is her last event for them. She loathes these things. ”
“As extroverted as she is, I would have thought signings would be her forte. ”
“She’s all bark, Zach. ” Wesley’s eyes scanned the crowd that was beginning to form behind the red ropes. “Being around a lot of people bothers her when she’s not in total control of the situation. ”
“Control freak, is she?”
Wesley pointed to his chest.
“Note the tie. ”
Zach laughed at Wesley’s disgusted, but amused face. It still seemed strange and uncomfortable that Wesley was so devoted to a woman so much older than he. He knew how dangerous romantic hero-worship could be.
“Looks like it’s about to start,” Zach said as the bald man put the pitcher and glass on the signing table. Zach counted about forty or fifty people already in the queue and more joining by the minute. “Should I go fetch our elusive author?”
“Would you mind? I want to stay here and keep an eye on things. ”
Zach noticed Wesley paying close attention to the people waiting for Nora. Wesley’s eyes studied every man in line. There were more men than Zach would have expected. Erotica was usually marketed as a subgenre of romance and yet there were at least a half a dozen adult men and a few teenage boys in the line holding shiny new copies of Nora’s latest release.
“Worried about the fans?” Zach asked.
“You would be, too, if you had to open the fan mail. ”
“Point taken. I’ll go find Nora. Any suggestions?”
Wesley met the eyes of one young man in the crowd. Zach noted nothing particularly menacing about him although he did seem nervous and impatient and was casting envious glances at him and Wesley standing inside the ropes. He wore an army-green jacket and heavy combat boots. Not the typical romance fan. But then again, nothing about Nora or her books was particularly typical.
“Try upstairs,” Wesley suggested. “The kids’ section. ”
Zach had trouble accepting the idea that Nora would be hiding with Winnie the Pooh and Harry Potter. Of course, he would never have imagined her hiding in a church, either. He took the escalator to the second level and followed dinosaur footprints painted on the carpet that led him to a brightly colored alcove. He turned a corner at the picture books and heard a familiar raucous laugh.
On a tiny stage Nora sat with a book in her hand, her coat laid across her lap to cover her too short red leather skirt. Three small children—one boy about five or six years old and two tiny girls sat wide-eyed and spellbound listening to Nora.
“‘Beware the Jub-Jub bird,’” Nora recited as she held the book open so the children could see the pictures, “‘and shun the frumious Bandersnatch. ’”
“What’s a Bandersnatch?” the smallest girl asked, tripping over the awkward word.
“It’s like a bird-dolphin-hippo-snake thing,” Nora explained matter-of-factly. “But more frumious. Got it?”
The kids nodded and giggled as Nora turned the page. Zach coughed to get Nora’s attention.
“Oh, what do you want?” Nora closed the book and glowered at him.
“Your presence, madam,” Zach said, putting on his most posh Oxford accent, “is required on the main floor. ”
Nora groaned and stood up.
“Sorry, kiddles. I have to go. ”
The older girl tugged on Nora’s sleeve.
“Miss Ellie,” she said, “is that your boyfriend?” she asked in a whisper everyone could hear.
“No,” Nora said in a stage whisper of her own. “He’s my babysitter. ”
Nora left the children with obvious reluctance.
“I’m your editor. Not your babysitter. And who is Ellie?”
“The question is ‘Who was Ellie?’ And better question—what the hell are you doing here?”
“Wesley invited me. He said book-signings made you nervous. ”
“Book-signings make him more nervous than they make me. They just annoy me. You sit there like some queen on a dais with all of seven people out there and four of them are related to you. ”
“Well, there’s eight people counting me,” Zach said. “If you hate signings then why are you doing one at such a large bookshop?”
“Because Lex asked me and I couldn’t say no. ” Nora sighed. “Saying no has never b
een my strongest suit. ”
“Bald guy—Lex Luthor. Owns the place. I used to work here so we keep in touch. ”
They reached the down escalator and Zach noticed a man with shoulder-length dark hair pulled back in a ponytail standing at the railing and staring at Nora. He wore a Victorian-cut gray suit and riding boots and next to him stood the most exotically beautiful black woman he’d ever seen in his life. The man said something in French to the woman and the woman smiled. The man leaned against the railing and winked at Nora. Nora stepped onto the escalator, looked calmly up at the man, raised her hand and flipped him off. The man’s stunning companion only laughed.
“Who is that?” Zach asked once they were out of earshot.
Nora shrugged as they reached the first floor. “No idea. ”
Zach heard her mumble something else but couldn’t quite make it out over the applause. They parted ways and Zach rejoined Wesley.
Nora stood on the platform and waved at the assembled crowd of nearly a hundred. Lex stood next to her and opened the books to the title page for her while Nora chatted with her fans.
“No reading?” Zach asked Wesley.
“Nora doesn’t do readings at ‘straight bookstores’ as she calls them. She doesn’t want to get arrested for public indecency. And no Q&A session, either. ”
“For the same reason, I suppose,” Zach said and smiled.
Nora sat a few yards away but Zach could hear her bantering with her devotees. One young woman asked Nora where she got her inspiration. Nora answered, “Catholic school. ”
Zach laughed to himself, enjoying the repartee, but Wesley paid no attention. He kept scanning the crowd and not once did he take his eyes off the men who waited in line. Zach let Wesley watch the crowd while Zach watched Nora. For all her protestations she seemed to be having a wonderful time. She looked radiant in her red suit even if her skirt was too short to be entirely appropriate. Another young woman brought out a riding crop and Nora attempted to sign its narrow length. An older man in a suit got Nora’s permission to kiss the tip of her shoe while the man’s wife took a picture.
“So how long have you lived with Nora?” Zach asked Wesley, hoping to distract him from his unnecessary vigilance.
“A little over a year. ”
“And how long have you been in love with her?”
Wesley looked sharply at Zach before laughing ruefully.
“A little over a year…and a few months. ”
“She doesn’t know?”
“Nope. She only asked me to move in because I sort of hinted that I might have to move back to Kentucky. I thought if I told Nora I might be moving…”
“You wanted to see how she would react,” Zach said with a sad half smile. “And she called your bluff. ” Zach couldn’t stop himself from recalling the day he told Grace he was moving to the States. If that’s what you want, Zachary, wasn’t the answer he’d been hoping for.
“That she did. ” Wesley grinned at Nora who looked away from her fan long enough to return the smile.
“I see it worked for you. Didn’t work quite so well for me. I think I underestimated you, Wesley. ”
“I hope I overestimated you,” Wesley said, and Zach felt a quick pang of guilt.
“I’m not your competition, young man. I am still married after all. ”
“Doesn’t matter,” Wesley said with far too much bitterness for someone so young. “Holy vows have never stopped her before. Yours won’t, either. ”
“Yours seem to have stopped her. ”
Wesley said nothing for a moment, and Zach knew he’d misspoken.
“She told you I was still a virgin?”
Zach heard Wesley’s wounded pride.
“I’m sorry, Wesley. I accused her of taking advantage of you and she was simply defending herself. ”