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The Siren, Page 5

Tiffany Reisz

Page 5

  Author: Tiffany Reisz

  “Apparently not. John-Paul Bonner had to practically beg to even get Zach to meet me. ”

  Wesley shrugged and crossed his arms.

  “Not sure I like him. He was kind of, I don’t know—”

  “An ass? You can say ‘ass’ around me. It’s in the Bible,” she reminded him with a wink.

  “He was a jerk to you. How’s that?”

  “Zach’s a slave-driver. But I like that about him. Brings back memories. ” She sat back in her chair and smiled into her tea.

  Wesley groaned. “Do you really have to bring up Søren?”

  Nora grimaced. Wesley hated it when she brought up her ex.

  “Sorry, kiddo. But even if Zach’s an ass, he’s still amazing at his job. I feel like I’m finally learning how to write a book. Books at Libretto were commodities. Royal treats writers like artists. I think this book deserves more than Libretto could give it. ”

  Nora didn’t mention that Libretto wouldn’t publish it even if she wanted them to. Once Mark Klein found out she’d been shopping around for a new publisher, he cut off everything but contractually obligated contact with her. Wesley didn’t need to know that Royal House was the only reputable publisher who’d given her the time of day. Despite their rocky start, she looked forward to working with Zach. He had a sterling reputation in the publishing industry, not to mention being stunning and fun to flirt with. Especially since he pretended he hated it when she did.

  “What’s this book about anyway?” Wesley asked.

  “It’s kind of a love story. Not my usual boy-meets-girl, boy-beats-girl story. My two characters love each other but they don’t belong together. The whole book is them—against their will—breaking up. ”

  Wesley plucked at a loose thread in the battered armchair.

  “But they love each other? Why wouldn’t they belong together?”

  Nora released a wistful sigh. “Spoken like a nineteen-year-old. ”

  “I like happy endings. Is that a crime?”

  “It’s just unrealistic. You don’t think two people can break up and still be happy eventually?”

  Wesley paused. He tended to act before thinking, but he always thought before he spoke. She studied him while he pondered her question. Gorgeous kid. He drove her up the wall with those big brown eyes of his and sweetly handsome face. For the millionth time since asking him to move in with her she wondered what the hell she’d been thinking by dragging this innocent into her world.

  “You left him,” Wesley finally said. Him…Søren.

  “Yeah,” she said, biting her bottom lip, a habit Søren had been trying to break her of for eighteen years. “I did. ”

  “Are you happy without him?” Wesley turned his eyes back to her.

  “Some days, yes. Then some days it’s like I just got my arm blown off. But this book isn’t about Søren. ”

  “Can I read it?”

  “Not a chance. Maybe when it’s rewritten. Or maybe…”

  Nora grinned at him, and Wesley suddenly looked nervous.

  She got out of her chair and sat on the edge of her desk and put a foot on each arm of his chair.

  “Let’s play a game,” she said leaning in close. Wesley sat up straight and pressed back into the chair. “I’ll trade you my book for your body. ”

  “I’m your intern. This counts as sexual harassment. ”

  “Being sexually harassed is in your job description, remember?”

  Wesley shifted in the chair. She loved how jumpy she still made him even after over a year in the same house. A sandy-blond lock of hair fell over his forehead. She reached out to brush it back.

  Wesley ducked under her leg before she could touch him and stood just out of reach.

  “Coward,” she teased.

  Wesley started to say something but they both froze at the blaring ring that echoed from the vicinity of her desk.

  The smile that had been in Wesley’s eyes vanished as Nora dug out a sleek red cell phone from under a pile of papers.

  “La Maîtresse speaking,” she answered.

  “The book,” Wesley mouthed. His eyes pleaded with her.

  With the phone still at her ear Nora walked up to Wesley. She moved so close he started stepping back. She took another step toward him, and he took another step back.

  “Go do your homework, junior,” she said, and Wesley gave her the closest thing to a mean look he had.

  “You have homework, too,” he reminded her.

  “I’m not a biochemistry major at a fucking brutal liberal arts college. Scoot. The grown-ups are talking now. ”

  She shut the door in his face.

  “Talk, Kingsley,” she said into the phone. “This better be good. ”

  * * *

  “Working late as usual, I see. ”

  Zach glanced up from his notes on Nora’s book and found J. P. standing outside his office with a newspaper under his arm. He checked his watch.

  “After eight already?” Zach asked, shocked by his sudden immunity to the passage of time. “Good Lord. ”

  “Must be reading something good. ” J. P. entered Zach’s office and sat down.

  “Possibly. Here—listen to this. ” Zach opened her manuscript to a marked page and read aloud.

  It is a pleasure to watch her work. From my desk in the office I need only to move my chair six inches to the right and I can see the kitchen’s reflection in the hall mirror with such clarity that I feel like a ghost in the room.

  This is what I see—Caroline, who at twenty still retains the coltish legs of a much younger girl, pushes a stool to the counter. It wobbles nervously under her knees as she kneels on it with a steadying breath. She opens the cabinet that houses my wineglasses, my deliberately mismatched collection, all of which are older than her and one or two which are older than this adolescent country. She takes them one by one from the rack; their fragile stems shiver in her delicate fingers.

  I brought her to this moment by design. I could have tortured her with tasks, with arduous acts of service. Instead, I chose to torture her with boredom, curious to see what the devil would do with her idle hands. Interesting that in my home it is the objects most easily broken that draw her attention first. With a soft, clean cloth she polishes every glass. She holds the bowl like a bird, strokes the stem like the back of a cat, wipes every old whisper off the lip. I see her eyes count the glasses. I count them with her. Thirteen. Last night I showed her the lash but did not use it on her. Thirteen…one lash for every glass she touched without my permission.

  Thirteen…tonight I think I’ll whip her first and tell her why after.

  Zach closed the manuscript and waited for J. P. ’s reaction. J. P. whistled, and Zach raised his eyebrow at him.

  “I think that rather turned me on. Should that worry me?” J. P. asked with a rakish grin.

  “Since I’m the only other person in the room, I think it should probably worry me a great deal more,” Zach said. “It’s rather good, isn’t it? The content is slightly unsettling but the writing…”

  “She’s got talent. I told you. I hope this means you are no longer planning on killing me. ”

  “Killing you?”

  J. P. grinned. “Yes, for twisting your arm over Sutherlin. ”

  Zach laughed a little. “No, I’m not going to kill you anymore. But tell me—was I really the only editor who could or would work with her?”

  “I suppose I could have dug up someone else. No one near as good as you, though. Anyway, Sutherlin requested you. ”

  Zach looked up in surprise.

  “She did?”

  “Well, not by name. ” J. P. looked slightly sheepish. “She told me to give her to whichever editor would flog her the hardest. Yours was the first and quite honestly the only name that came to mind. ”

  “I’m hardly flogging her. ”

would you call it?” J. P. had a dark twinkle in his eyes.

  “I don’t believe I will justify that insinuating tone in your voice with a response. We were discussing the book after all. ”

  “Yes, quite a stunning little book you waltzed out of Rose’s party with Monday night. ”

  “I’m a professional,” Zach said calmly. “I don’t shag my writers. ”

  He omitted mentioning how shamefully close he’d come to asking Nora up after the cab ride to his building. He still couldn’t believe she’d gotten to him that fast. In ten years of marriage he’d never once been unfaithful to Grace, never even wanted to be. And then in one day Nora Sutherlin was putting thoughts in his head he hadn’t let himself have in years.

  “I’ve seen her. I wouldn’t blame you if you did. But it’s just a shock. I’m surrounded by postfeminists and neo-Freudians. Whatever happened to that ‘forgot the author, only the book matters’ philosophy?”

  “One cab ride and one good conversation hardly makes me a Freudian. I’ll admit I was a bit of a prig about her. She is a good writer and the book has potential. If I’m warming up to her it’s only because I’m warming up to the book. But she is starkers. That I was right about. ”

  “She’s a writer. She’s supposed to be mad. ”

  “At least she’s also a mad worker. She’s already sent me a full synopsis of every chapter and the new outline I ordered. ”

  “How’s the new outline?”

  “Better,” Zach said and glanced at his notes. “But still, more sex than substance. I think she’s capable of substance. Just afraid of it. ”

  “She does seem fairly married to her bad-girl writer persona,” J. P. said, and Zach nodded his agreement. “It lends her credibility if she makes people think that she practices what she preaches. Getting her to retire her proverbial whip and take up the pen full-time won’t be easy. ”

  “But if she did…” Zach glanced down at the manuscript and remembered his reaction Tuesday morning when he’d forced himself to read it again, this time with an open mind. The words had simmered on the page, flared into life and burned. He’d gotten so engrossed in the story he’d forgotten that he was supposed to be editing it. “If she did, she could set the world on fire, and she wouldn’t even need a candle. And don’t you dare tell her anything I just said. I’ve got to keep her afraid of me if I’m going to keep her writing. ”

  J. P. laughed to himself, and Zach stared at him.

  “What?” Zach demanded.

  J. P. took the newspaper out from under his arm and unfolded it. It was a copy of the New Amsterdam Noteworthy, a biweekly New York trade publication that carried the most recent news in publishing. J. P. threw the paper on Zach’s desk. On the bottom front page was a small photo of him and Nora on the staircase at Rose Evely’s party. Zach hadn’t remembered a camera flash. Apparently the photographer had been far enough away he’d missed it. In the photo Nora leaned toward Zach with her mouth near his ear. It looked as if she was about to kiss him on the neck. Zach knew exactly what moment that was. It was when he’d said he couldn’t believe he was doing this and she’d responded with a seductive “I can. ” The caption under the photograph read, “Nora Sutherlin—the only writer who could make Anaïs Nin blush. ”

  “She doesn’t look scared to me,” J. P. said. “You look a little petrified, however. ”

  “J. P. , I—”

  “I don’t want to have to find another editor for Sutherlin. But I will if I must. I don’t mind if the book sells because of the sex in it. But I don’t want anyone thinking that writers have to do more than write when they come to Royal. ”

  Zach rubbed his forehead.

  “I swear it’s just about the book. And no, you don’t have to find another editor for her. I know we can make something good together. ”