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Authors: EJ McCay

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BOOK: Charitable Hearts
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Six

Maggie stretched in bed.
It was raining outside which made it harder for her to get up. She pulled her covers over her head and sighed. Days like this made her glad she was in the middle of twenty acres in a tiny house.

Her phone next to her bed started buzzing and clacking on the wood floor. She picked it up. “Hello,” she said and yawned.

“Hey,” Laura said.

“What’s up?”

“You told Levi Martin to send me all of his stuff?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, thanks for giving me a heads up.”

“Sorry.”

“When did you tell him to do that? I just got his statements like two days ago.”

“Yeah, he showed up at the house and gave them to me.”

“Wait. What? He came by your house? No one comes to your house. I’ve known you over twenty years and I don’t just show up at your house.”

“I know, but he just showed up and I didn’t want to be rude.” The silence on the other end of the phone was deafening. “Laura?”

“I’m sorry. I’m just in shock.”

“Stop it.”

“He’s funny by the way.”

Without even thinking, Maggie blurted out, “And downright gorgeous. He’s got this little scar above his lip, and his laugh is infectious. Plus, he’s got a smile that could stop traffic.” Maggie’s eye’s bugged out and she slapped a hand over her mouth.

“Oh, wow, Maggie.”

“Don’t.”

“But…”

“Don’t go there.”

“But…”

“Just drop it. It was a momentary lapse.”

“Maggie, you haven’t talked about anyone like that since…” Laura left the rest of the sentence off.

“And I’m not going to again. Lapse in judgment. Levi needs help with his charity. I’m going to do that. He cares about this and I want to make sure it succeeds.”

“Well, going through these financials makes my heart break. This guy has been doing everything he can to fundraise and the CPA was just robbing him blind.”

Maggie grumbled. “Makes me so mad. You should have seen his face. He was completely heartbroken. He had no idea.”

“And the people on the board? I want to just blast them on the radio or something.”

“I know. All talk and no action.”

“Exactly.”

“By the way, he invited me to a party.”

“What? Are you going?”

“Yeah, kinda have to. I made this big speech about us working together and he said it was a donor party. I kinda feel like I’m obligated.”

“Wow. Maggie Lawrence at a party. I may call Levi and ask him to take pictures and video as proof.”

I can’t believe it myself.
“Hush.”

“You sure you can handle that? Lots of people are going to be there.”

Maggie took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She yanked the covers over her head again. “I guess. I don’t know. I don’t even know what I’m going to wear. I mean, it’s not like I have a ton of clothes.”

“I’ll send you something for it.”

“Wait. The last time you sent me something it wasn’t fit to wear.”

“It was too. You are just too prudish.”

“Laura, you could see my boobs.”

“No, you couldn’t.”

“Yes, you could. Just make sure it’s decent, okay? I’m not trying to impress him, but I don’t want to look like a hobo either.”

“I promise it will be awesome.”

“Fine.”

“My little wallflower is branching out. I’m so proud.”

“Shut up.” Maggie rolled her eyes.

“Rude.”

“Promise me it will be decent.”

Laura was quiet for a moment. “Pinkies.”

“Good.” Maggie sat up in bed and stretched again.

“Hey.”

“Yeah.”

“You sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah, why?”

“I don’t know. Just asking.”

“I’m fine, Laura. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, did I tell you Jack has planned a trip to Hawaii for me and the kids?”

Maggie swallowed hard, determined to keep sadness out of her voice. “No, really?”

“Yeah, next summer which is less than a year away.”

“That’s awesome.”

“You could come, ya know? We’d totally love to have you.”

“No, I think I’ll stick with my tiny house in the middle of the woods.”

“Okay, Grizzly Eve.”

Maggie chuckled remembering the first time Laura called her that. It was right after she’d bought the property and told her what she was going to do with it. “Whatever.”

“Okay, listen, I’ve gotta go. I’ve got a ton of paperwork to go through thanks to some helpful Samaritan.”

“Okay, I’ll talk to you later.”

Maggie dropped the phone on the bed and flopped back down. She didn't want to get up just yet.

Seven

A week and a half later,
Levi was almost certain Maggie had decided to cut out on him and his party, when he opened the door to find her staring up at him, smelling like sunflowers and dressed in the most breathtaking outfit he’d ever seen. The dark emerald flowing shirt made her eyes sparkle and the jeans hit every curve just right. Her hair hung down past her shoulders in loose waves making her cheekbones stand out. Levi’s mouth went dry and he licked his lips.
Holy smokes…

“Uh, hi.” Maggie smiled.

Levi fumbled with the door. “Yeah, uh, hi. Wow, you look incredible.”

She looked down and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Um, thanks. May I come in?”

Levi jumped and the ice in his glass clinked. “Oh yeah, sorry, please come on in.”

Maggie walked in the door and immediately felt overwhelmed. Levi’s massive house was filled with people. Not even a quarter of these people would fit in her little house. “You have a lovely home.”

“Would you like a drink?”

“Sure. Uh, by the way, I’m sorry I’m late. My cabby had no idea how to find this place. I think he just moved to LA.”

Levi smiled and placed his hand on the small of her back while they walked to the bar. “It’s okay. I’m just glad you came.”

She smiled and the spot on her back where his hand lingered tingled. “There are a lot of people here. Do you know all of them?”

He shrugged. “Uh, most, but not well. What would you like to drink?”

“Water?”

Levi looked at her, puzzled. “Water? It’s a party?”

“I really don’t drink.”

His eyebrows wrinkled together and he smiled a crooked smile. “Okay, well water for you and I’m gonna refresh mine.” Levi leaned into the bar and spoke to the bartender. When he leaned back, he handed Maggie a water and his glass was half full of amber liquid again. She was sure it was scotch.

“So, how long do your parties usually last?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. As long as they last.”

“Don’t your neighbors have a say in that?”

“Eh, they don’t mind,” he said and pointed to a couple standing near at the other end of the house. “That’s one of my neighbors. I learned early that if I didn’t want complaints I just need to invite them.”

Maggie smiled and nodded. Just then, Uriah Stevens came running in, waving his hands at Levi. “Hey, Gil needs you at the grill.” Maggie recognized Uriah from a recent movie. Of course, he would be someone Levi knew.

Levi touched her arm, and smiled. “Hey, I’ll be right back okay?”

“Sure,” she said sheepishly as he left her standing in the crowd feeling lost. Maggie held her bottle of water and remained where she was for a while. Bouncing on her toes, she tried to see over the crowd to check if Levi was coming back, but she couldn’t see him so she began to weave through the people.

She was sure she’d seen some stairs on the way in so she kept going until, sure enough, she found them. They led up and around. It seemed like a good way to escape and catch her breath. Slowly, she climbed the stairs. With every step the noise seemed to die down as well as her anxiety.

When she reached the top of the stairs, she found herself with a choice. She looked one way and then the other. Maggie could swear she heard music coming from the left side, so she decided she’d go left.

On her way to the room, she debated whether she should just go home or not. Halfway down the hallway she almost turned around and ran out of the house, but she was there and someone had great taste in music.

She knocked lightly on the door. “Hello?” At first, she thought she was being ignored and just when she was about to turn and leave she heard the knob turn.

The guy standing in the room was almost the same height as her with blue eyes and stick straight hair which parted on the side. “You’re not Levi,” he said.

“Nope.”

“Trying to escape the party?”

Maggie grimaced. “That obvious?”

“I hate these parties.”

“I hate any party.”

“Hi, I’m Gary, Levi’s best friend.”

“Hi, I’m Maggie Lawrence.”

Gary’s eye’s widened and his mouth dropped open. “You’re Maggie Lawrence?” He looked her up and down. “Of course, you’re Maggie Lawrence. Wow. You look great.”

“Um, thanks. Why do you look like a mountain man?”

Gary jerked his hand to his long beard. “I grow it in protest.”

“Protest?”

“Where’s Levi? Shouldn’t he be with you?” He deliberately ignored the question.

She didn’t press when he dodged the question and shrugged. “He got called away and I waited, but it didn’t seem like he was coming back. These parties really aren’t my thing so…”

“You thought you’d hide for a while.”

“Yeah.”

“Me too.”

“You have great taste in music.”

“You like Frank Sinatra?”

“I like all kinds.”

“How would you really like to hide from this party?”

Maggie narrowed her eyes. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, we have a basement and I think I can own you on Foosball.”

She raised an eyebrow and smiled. “Really?”

“Come on.”

Gary took Maggie by the hand and pulled her behind him. By the time they got to the basement, she wasn’t sure she could ever find her way out of the house. “I think I should have dropped breadcrumbs on the way.”

He laughed. “Yeah, well, don’t worry. I’ll make sure you find your way out.”

“This basement is huge.”

“Yeah, it’s the man cave. It’s kinda my castle ‘cause Levi knows I hate these things. Especially when Sonja does them.”

“Sonja?”

“Oh, uh, yeah, you know Sonja. The one name wonder,” he said with a hint of disgust in his voice.

Maggie’s eyes widened. “Levi’s dating Sex-tape Sonja?”

Gary squeaked as he laughed. “Is that what people call her?”

“I don’t know what other people call her, but that’s what my friend Laura and I call her.”

“Wow, mocking the great Sonja.”

Maggie leveled her eyes at him. “Don’t wanna be mocked, don’t make a sex tape. Problem solved.”

Gary wiggled his finger at her. “I like you. I like you a lot.”

She smiled. “I like you too, Gary.”

He straightened. “Wow, you’re one of very few who like me.”

“What?”

“People just don’t like me. Levi’s my best friend, but he’s my only friend.”

“If people love Levi, they’ll respect the relationship he has with you.”

“Okay, I take it back. I don’t like you. I love you.”

Maggie giggled. “Are you going to own me in Foosball or not?”

Eight

Levi searched the house for Maggie.
The more he searched the more depressed he got. He got called away, and by the time he got done talking, she was gone and no one seemed to know where she went. What he couldn’t understand was how. How could anyone at this party not remember the gorgeous brunette with green eyes?

He decided he’d had enough of the party when he caught Sonja flirting, okay more than flirting, with Bay Unger, an upcoming actor who had just landed his first starring role on a television show. Levi was bouncing down the steps to the basement when he heard voices. Puzzled, he wondered if he had forgotten to lock the door, but the closer he got, the more he realized the voices sounded familiar.

“Oh, no, you didn’t!”

“Is this what owning someone feels like? Because I’m pretty sure that’s what I’m feeling,” Maggie said, giggling.

Levi rounded the edge of the basement wall and stopped at the foot of the foosball table with Maggie on one side and Gary on the other.

Without taking his eyes off the table, Gary said, “Dude, a warning, Maggie is a foosball shark.”

Maggie grunted at she spun the handle. “I never said I couldn’t play.” She acted as though she didn’t notice Levi had even entered the room.

“You didn’t say you could either.”

“I believe in putting my money where my mouth is,” she said as she quickly spun another handle and the score flicked over, giving her the winning point. “YES!”

Gary bent over the table with his head in hands.

“That’s three in a row.” Maggie smiled and laughed. “Guess I own you.”

“Wow, you are serious about foosball,” Levi said and smiled.
This girl surprises me.

“No, but if I’m gonna play I may as well win.”

Gary straightened. “Dude, she is a beast. The first time I thought I’d go easy on her and she kicked my butt in like five minutes flat.”

Levi walked to the foosball table. “Think you can beat both of us?”

“That doesn’t seem quite fair.”

“Why are you hiding down here with Gary anyway?” Levi asked and put his drink down.

Maggie played with the handles on the table and shrugged. “I didn’t know anyone and you left. I waited and waited and I was standing there like a sore thumb. So…”

“Man, she is like the coolest girl.”

She felt her cheeks warm and put a hand up to cover the side facing Levi.

“So let’s play,” Levi gave her a lopsided smile.

“We are going to kick your a…”

Levi stopped and crossed his arms. “Do I need to get the jar?”

Gary closed his eyes and gave a frustrated sigh.

“Jar?” Maggie asked.

“We need to show her the jar.”

“No, she doesn’t need to see the jar. I don’t need the jar.”

“I think we need it.”

“Come on, man.”

“You tell her or I will.”

Levi walked off and Maggie heard a cabinet open and shut.

“Fine,” Gary huffed. “About two months ago, Levi bet me that I couldn’t stop swearing. I said I could and if I couldn’t I’d shave my beard.”

“What’s that have to do with a jar?” Maggie asked.

“Well, Levi added the monetary incentive because…”

When Levi returned to the table, he was carrying a pickle jar half full of money. “This is the fourth jar.”

Maggie’s jaw dropped and her eye went wide. “Wow, you were prolific.”

Gary slumped. “Yeah, I know, but I have not put even a nickel in that thing in more than two weeks.”

She walked around the table and patted him on the shoulder. “It’s okay, Gary. You haven’t said a swear word the entire time we’ve been playing. I think you’re doing pretty awesome.”

“Thanks,” he said, but his voice held a tinge of disappointment.

“No, really, Gary, it’s okay.”

“I know, but…”

“He won’t be able to keep it up,” a silky female voice came from the direction of the stairs. A blonde, a little over five feet tall, came sliding into the room. She held a hand out to Maggie. “I’m Sonja, Levi’s girlfriend.”

Gary’s lip curled into a snarl. He clearly did not like her.

Maggie took Sonja’s hand and shook it. “Hi, I’m…”

“Maggie Lawrence,” Sonja said and looked her up and down. “He told me about you.”

“Oh.”

“So Gary, have anything to say to me?”

“No,” he said sharply.

“Why don’t you come back to the party and leave this mountain man dork to his basement? The cool people occupy the upstairs.”

That did not go over well with Maggie. If there was one thing she despised it was a bully and jerk. She stepped back and stood shoulder to shoulder with Gary. “I think I’ll stick with the mountain man dork. He’s more my speed anyway.”

Levi stood behind Sonja and smiled at Maggie.

Sonja shrugged and spun on her heals. “It’s probably better that way. If he’s your speed, then we certainly aren’t,” she said over her shoulder. “Come on, Levi.”

“Coming,” Levi said over his shoulder as he turned to follow Sonja.

“Wow, that collar is on pretty tight, huh?”

Gary snorted and looked away.

Levi stopped short, and glared at Maggie. “You don’t know anything.”

“I know you stood there while some girl talked to your best friend like a jerk. That says a lot.”

“It’s okay, Maggie.”

Without saying a word, Levi grabbed his drink and Maggie could hear him stomp all the way up the stairs.

“Thanks for that.”

“I don’t understand why he let her talk to you like that. Why did you let her talk to you like that?”

Gary shrugged. “Because her opinion doesn’t matter. There are things you don’t know about Levi and they aren’t mine to tell, but I love the guy so I put up with a lot of crap.”

“Okay, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt,” Maggie said and looked in the direction of the stairs. “For now.”

“You are the coolest girl I’ve ever met. Well, other than Amelia.”

“He told me about her. She was a friend of his.”

“You have to promise to never tell him I told you what I’m about to tell you.”

“Pinkies.”

Gary scrunched his nose and looked at her puzzled. “Pinkies?”

She shook her head. “Nothing. I promise.”

“Okay, you promise.”

“You have my word.”

“Amelia was Levi’s sister. She died three years ago of complications from Cystic Fibrosis.”

Internally, Maggie wilted. She shuffled to the couch and slumped down. “I feel horrible.”

“Don’t. He hasn’t been himself since her death and I allow him a lot of rope. You couldn’t have known. He needed to hear it really. I just couldn’t do it.”

“But he looked so hurt and now I feel like a giant jerk.”

Gary sat down next to her. “You really are the coolest girl I’ve ever met, aside from Amelia. I’m glad you came to the party.”

“Thanks. I think I need to go, though.”

“Go up the stairs, turn right, and just walk straight. You should be able to find your way out from there.”

“Okay, thanks.” Maggie stood and held out her hand. “Gary, I really enjoyed hanging out with you. From this point forward, all parties I attend will require you being there.”

Gary grabbed her hand and shook it. “Thanks, Maggie.”

She walked toward the stairs. “Bye Gary,” she called back.

“Bye!”

Up the stairs, before leaving, she made a point to find Levi. She walked up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. When he turned around he was laughing and his face fell the moment his gaze fell on her.

“Got any more comments.”

“No, actually, I wanted to apologize. I let my anger get the better of me and I shouldn’t have. This is your house and she is your girlfriend. I should have respected you enough to, at least, extend a better attitude toward her. If you would, please tell her I am sorry for being so rude.”

Levi sighed and swirled the scotch. He leveled his eyes at her. “No, you’re not. We’re just actors. We don’t have real feelings so why should you care what you say? You meant what you said, you just didn’t expect any push back. Your high road wasn’t as high as you thought it was that’s all.”

Maggie tightened her jaw. “Okay, well, I am sorry.” She turned and quickly walked away. He’d hurt her feeling with the last remark, but she had deserved it. Outside, she pulled her phone out of her pocket and dialed for a cab. Maggie wanted to kick herself for not thinking about this earlier.

When she stuck her phone back in her pocket, she sat down on the sidewalk and pulled her knees up to her chest. The company said her cab was at least twenty minutes away and it was already after eleven with the party still going full blast.

Wow, Maggie, you really know how to party.

BOOK: Charitable Hearts
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