Authors: Reon Laudat
After a thorough examination of the contract and
finding no potential trapdoors, Kendra would also advise her client to accept
such a deal with life-changing cash attached. But she held her tongue.
“And for those who disagree,” Piper went on, “have
you forgotten about Dominic’s uncanny knack for spreading auction fever. Not to
mention his double-speak and cutthroat tendencies. He’s greedy, all about the
up with his wardrobe? Who does he
think he is?”
“Rainbow Brite?” Sheila zinged.
“What’s wrong with his clothes?” said Zoe. “I
think he’s sexy, cool, and edgy. He can pull it off. He’s handsome. And has
swagger with it.”
Kendra blinked at Zoe’s bold confession and
protectiveness of Dominic. Chomping on bacon, she glanced at Zoe’s bare ring
finger and sized her up. Her sun-kissed skin highlighted huge blue eyes in a
way that would garner appreciative double takes.
And she had a fabulous figure. Had
Dominic noticed? Zoe clearly had it bad for him.
Perhaps she would make a suitable
distraction and Dominic would give up his pursuit of Kendra. Sounded good in
theory, but she felt some ambivalence about it.
When Piper referred to Dominic as “the
douche” for the tenth time in the last fifteen minutes, Kendra’s reticence to
join the debate faded.
now, Piper, how often does ‘auction fever’
happen these days? And those outrageously high advances don’t come around
nearly as often now that the industry is in flux. It’s the wild, wild west, if
you will. Markets tightening, houses consolidating, staffs shrinking, not to
mention the popularity of ebooks and self-publishing.”
“Ebooks have been lucrative for houses,” Zoe
“No need for Piper to stoop to name-calling,
that’s all,” Kendra said, though a time or two, she’d come close to calling
because of her
twittery avian-like manner. “Dominic’s competitive, but that’s not always a bad
thing. Aren’t we all, when it comes to business, especially these days. We have
“I know as well as anyone how rapidly and
drastically the business is changing so spare me your lecture and
condescension.” Piper narrowed her beady eyes.
held up her hands in surrender. Now that she had the opportunity to luxuriate
in the land of the aloha spirit, she would try to think and express only
positive feelings toward others, including Piper.
“Wow, this bacon is primo!” Kendra told Piper, who
had a mountain of fruit before her. “You should try it!”
“I’m pescatarian,” Piper sniffed, looking down her
beak at all the pork on Kendra’s plate.
“What does being Presbyterian have to do with bacon?”
Piper seemed to relish rolling the word off her tongue and telling everyone how
she abstained from eating meat, with the exception of fish.
Maybe Piper was like Ogden, Kendra’s
pompous next door neighbor, who’d made a point of mentioning he was “strict
conversation because he believed it sounded more “urbane than the garden
Kendra ate the rest of her bacon with gusto and
complimented Piper on the floral broach pinning her conference ID badge to her
After clearing her plate,
she ordered more apple banana. She blocked out the chatter surrounding her to
between her and
that Kendra had potential big business with Brody Goodwin, it was probably best
to utilize a three-pronged strategy to make sure she didn’t succumb to that
, which would only complicate
Be friendly, but keep contact with
Dominic to a minimum. 2) Talk up Zoe. 3) If he insisted on pursuing Kendra,
she’d use the fake it-until-you-make-it approach with smiles and chitchat, and
then quickly execute her escape.
“Hello, everyone!” Dominic boomed with a big smile
when he appeared at their table.
Piper offered a tepid greeting.
Sheila, who’d joined Piper in the verbal flaying
of Dominic, gathered her things and skulked away, vacating the chair to
Kendra’s immediate right.
Kendra offered Dominic a cheery greeting. Zoe did
the same, but with a flirty toss of her hair and straighter posture that hitched
her bosom for closer inspection.
Like Zoe, Kendra was also struck by Dominic’s
Chili red chinos
(that matched her streak and the bloom in her hair) and a tapered grape shirt
flattered his sleekly muscular frame. The Maui sun had already deepened his
natural bronzed skin, which highlighted those amazing eyes of his. He wore
chunky man sandals ugly enough to look
hip. And he scored bonus points for some fine-looking toes. No creepy toes as
long as fingers.
Dominic claimed Sheila’s seat as the other people
at the table went silent.
don’t mind if I join you?” He took in the guilty, slack-jawed faces.
noted his endearing habit of needlessly adjusting the bridge of his glasses
when he sat.
Piper’s sour expression revealed what her chapped
lips did not.
“Your ears must’ve been burning, Dominic,” said
Zoe, twinkling at him.
“Oh?” Dominic’s turned to Kendra.
“Don’t look at me.
wasn’t talking about you,” Kendra fibbed.
“Piper here brought up that
article and the Internet rumor about
Penelope’s reported multi-million dollar advance for her second book,” said
Piper’s narrow face flushed, but the scowl
Kendra braced for the inevitable clash. Was Zoe stirring up trouble for the table’s
entertainment or trying to curry favor with Dominic by exposing Piper? Maybe it
was a bit of both.
“Care to confirm that figure they printed,
Dominic?” Piper flashed a smile that didn’t reach her eyes.
“I will neither confirm nor deny,” Dominic said as
he gestured at a female server carrying a coffee pot. He gifted the pretty
brunette with warm thanks and his trademark smile as she filled a cup for him.
She flashed a look that promised a slip of paper with her seven digits would
don’t know why that
reporter even bothered to attribute the amount to an ‘unnamed source,’” Piper
said. “We all know who that
leaked that info?” asked Dominic, who couldn’t have sounded more insincere.
“Now why on earth would I do such a thing when it would only evoke resentment?”
He dumped too much cream in his coffee cup, and then stirred, creating light
“I can think of a few reasons,” Piper said, “with
topping the list. Don’t pretend you don’t just love lording
such things over people.”
“Jealous much, Piper?” Zoe asked with a tsk-tsk.
Piper’s nostrils flared as she opened her mouth to
round on Zoe.
“Has everybody tasted the delicious strawberry
papaya?” Kendra intervened. She signaled a male server, requested more, and
rhapsodized about the quality of the island fruit for a good five minutes.
Another agent requested an extra serving of the
strawberry papaya, and then another made a comment about the latest ebook
technology that promised to change the industry. Disastrous dispute
circumvented, Kendra settled back in her chair as the conversation divided into
various less polarizing topics.
“You’re fashionably late,” Kendra said to Dominic.
“I love a good story that starts
in medias res
,” he said.
If anybody else had dropped that Latin phrase for
the technique of starting a narrative in the middle or at some crucial plot
point, she would have rolled her eyes. Only Dominic, with that irresistible
grin, could pull it off without sounding too affected.
“Thanks for running the strawberry papaya
interception for me.” Dominic leaned closer to whisper to Kendra as the server
refilled her plate with fruit. Intense longing settled low in her belly at the
sound of his deep voice. Why was his mere presence having this effect on her in
a crowded room? She needed
that’s why. It had been what? At least seven months since she’d been with a
man. She’d stopped sleeping with Graham about four weeks before they’d broken
Her solo efforts with
battery-operated devices weren’t cutting it anymore. She wanted to feel the
warm weight of solid muscle above her. Hot velvet steel sliding in and out of
her writhing body. Strong hands caressing and cupping her breasts, a hot
“Kendra?” Dominic said.
“Huh?” She crossed her legs.
As he leaned deeper into her personal space,
Kendra fretted about her tablemates assuming they were an item.
“I said thank you,” he said.
Kendra replied, in a voice only Dominic could hear. “Zoe rallied to your
She glanced at Zoe,
who was busy talking to a tall man who had approached her to inquire about his
manuscript. “She’s pretty, isn’t she?”
“Yes, she is,” Dominic said, not sparing Zoe a
“Sort of looks like that one actress. You know that
one.” Kendra snapped her fingers as if it would jog her memory. “She won best
supporting actress two years ago.”
“But back to the subject at hand. You said nothing
in my defense?”
“Well, maybe a little,” Kendra said. “But it was
Zoe who told them you had great taste in clothes. She thinks you’re hot, very
hot, you know.”
“And what about you?” Dominic asked.
“I’m pretty sure I’m not her type.”
“You know what I mean.” He nudged her. “But thanks
for not piling on.
So maybe you
kinda like me after all, huh?”
“Or maybe I don’t want to ruin any Maui time
focusing on negativity.” Kendra poked at chunks of apple banana and strawberry
“A plateful of fruit.” He gestured toward her
dish. “Disciplined even in the land of roasted pig and coconut pudding pie.”
“Yup,” Kendra replied. How had he missed the aroma
of pig on her breath?
“I like that red streak in your hair.”
“Of course, it matches your pants.”
“In sync again. So that means you’re positively
having dinner with me tonight.”
“I don’t think dinner together is a good idea.”
Kendra gave an empathetic smile.
“Oh, Dominic!” Zoe trilled after she’d finished
her other conversation.
Dominic looked over his shoulder. “Just a minute,
Zoe.” He turned back to Kendra. “At lunch that day, I thought we called a
“Oh, but we did.” Kendra struggled to find the
right words. “We’re sharing tropical fruit and pleasant conversation right
“Sharing a meal with a tableful of people, the
majority of whom wouldn’t mind choking the
not what I
envisioned for us.”
“Kindness that must be expressed with actions and
Kendra nodded. “Aaaah, someone’s been studying his
tourist brochures. Well,” she dabbed her mouth with a napkin and patted her
middle, “I’m full. Must get a move on.” She reached for her tote and hooked the
strap on her shoulder. “I have things I need to do before my tour.”
“Which tour?” he asked.
“The one that leaves in, oh,” she checked her
watch, “about an hour.”
back her chair, stood, and then said goodbye to everyone at the table.
“You’re going to miss the breakfast speaker and
the first round of workshops,” said Piper, who had obviously been
“I’m getting the podcasts. Later,” Kendra replied
with a little wave. Zoe had already moved to take Kendra’s vacated seat. “Have
fun, you two,” she said before turning on her heel.
Kendra always left Dominic wanting more. And it
was driving him straight-up crazy! How did one keep charming persistence from
slithering over to unnerving intrusion?
After talking to Zoe for a few minutes, he raced back to his room.
Like Kendra, he made a note to get the
podcasts of the sessions he’d miss.
dropped the slip of paper with that cute server’s phone number in the trash. On
his way out of the ballroom, she’d sidled up to him. Out of politeness he’d
accepted it, but he only had eyes for one woman. As he replaced his chinos and
shirt with shorts, black sneakers, and a T-shirt, he considered taking a
different approach with Kendra. The more he zigged, the more she zagged. And
what was with her practically throwing Zoe Fitzsimmons at him?
Kendra didn’t enjoy
leaving Dominic to Zoe, but she had to do it. Resisting him proved more
difficult every time they met. He should pursue someone open to appreciating
what he had to offer. She felt mature, magnanimous, and selfless when she
looked at it that way.
Maybe by the end of breakfast, Zoe would have
worked her wiles on him, and he’d leave Kendra be so she could focus on her
goals, which included setting up dates through Cupid4You.com.
After changing into her hiking clothes, Kendra
retrieved a copy of Corinne Ostertag’s
manuscript from the
agency’s cloud to print out at business center. She had completed a third look
on her e-reader for handling convenience, but that device did not have an
efficient method to add notes to the document.
The manuscript was fantastic!
Chock-full of engaging characters with
emotional depth in a compelling plot.
But like most submissions, it needed work. Shaping.
She would offer representation to
Corinne, despite some nagging reservations.
only it were
Corinne and her
writing to consider. This author also came with serious baggage—the
literary version of a difficult stage mother. The woman had already emailed
Kendra at least two dozen times, asking for status reports though she’d only
had the novel for two weeks. She could imagine the numerous ways in which
Corinne’s mother would interfere and get on her last nerve if Corinne were a
Kendra also wondered if Corinne would be amenable
to the deep revisions required to make
Putting that conundrum aside, she grabbed her
sunglasses and NYU sweatshirt, and then checked the mirror one last time before
leaving her room.
In the hotel lobby, several groups had formed
lines for a half dozen different motor coach tours. When Kendra saw the guy
holding the Haleakala One sign, she reviewed her itinerary to verify the
booking and then headed in that direction. She slowed her steps when Dominic
strode toward the motor coach to chat with Sign Guy.
Kendra darted to the left and hid behind huge pots of tall tropical plants
before he could see her. She peered through parted leaves and burped. The scent
of breakfast drifted under her nose.
She’d been so distracted, thinking about Corinne’s manuscript, Zoe, and
Dominic, she had forgotten to brush her teeth and wash her hands. Through the
foliage she peeked at gorgeous, magnetic Dominic and gasped, “What the…?”
They wore the same Love Nest Ninjas
concert T-shirt, cargo shorts, and high-top Chuck Taylors.
She untied her sweatshirt and pulled it
over her head.
synchronicity easily camouflaged
The line for another tour, Haleakala Two, a few
feet to her left, moved to board the bus so she joined them.
“And you are?” asked the tour company employee,
who checked names off a clipboard list.
“I signed up for Haleakala One.”
Kendra glanced at Dominic who was still
talking to Sign Guy for the tour she’d actually booked. “But I was hoping I
could switch and join this one instead.”
“It’s a different tour company. The money doesn’t
transfer, ma’am,” he said.
“I’ll pay the fee.”
“Okay, let me check our list again,” he said.
“You’re in luck. Looks as if we have a few last-minute cancellations. Step
right over to the concierge. She’ll fix you right up. I’ll tell our driver to
“The concierge?” Kendra asked stupidly, looking
over her shoulder. Dominic stood near the concierge station. “Can’t you just
take the cash?”
“But our policy—”
“Please. It’s much faster this way. You’ll stay on
The man scribbled his price for breaking the rules
and showed it to Kendra, who removed some bills from her waist pack and said
with a conspiratorial wink, “I’ve included a little extra.”
The man glanced around before pocketing the money.
Satisfied no one overhead their transaction, he gestured for her to board the
Kendra whispered as she cleared the first step, smiling because she’d
A seat near the front was unoccupied, but when she
moved closer she saw a lightweight jacket with daisies on it and a matching cap
on the seat so she continued toward the empty back row.
Kendra had just claimed a window seat and settled
in when she looked up to see Brody Goodwin, decked out in camouflage-print
cargo shorts and a beige T-shirt.
Despite his mirrored wraparound shades, she recognized him from his
handsome official author’s photo on his book jackets and website.
According to his bio, he was an avid
outdoorsman. As if illustrated by a comic book artist, his body was all beef,
bone, and gristle. His military-style crew cut accentuated his angular, super
hero jawline. A light sunburn colored his lean cheeks. Few would guess he made
his living tapping away on a keyboard. Kendra imagined him performing
plyo-pushups and bench pressing a deer carcass during writing breaks.
“Kendra Porter,” he said, his brows
lifting over his shades. “I recognize you from your website and the conference
brochure photos. I’m Brody Goodwin.”
He shook hands. “Is this seat next to you taken?”
don’t think so,” Kendra said. “Nice to finally meet you face-to-face.
I returned your call. I left a
voicemail. Coffee tomorrow is fine.”
He settled in next to her and placed his backpack
on the floor near his feet. When he removed his sunglasses to clean the lenses
with the edge of his T-shirt she noticed his thick lashes and sunshine
tea-colored eyes. But his good looks didn’t make her belly go aflutter the way
“Good to finally meet you, too. Looks as if we
won’t need to wait until tomorrow after all.
Now is as good a time as any. That is,
if you don’t mind talking business during our bus ride.”
On her way down the aisle, Kendra hadn’t
recognized any of the other tourists on the bus. Though the industry sometimes
felt small, she didn’t know everyone.
Discretion was a must.
“I can talk and take in the beautiful sights at
the same time, but we’ll need to keep our voices down, of course, because you
never know who might be listening.” Though Kendra had an idea why Brody wanted
to meet with her, she could hardly wait for him to confirm it.
“So, what’s on your mind?”
“I don’t know if you’ll recall. I’m sure you get
swamped with submissions, but I submitted my debut novel,
Amethyst & Snake Eyes
, to you a few years ago when I was
looking for an agent.” He kept his voice low, but she could clearly hear him
over the hum of the idling engine.
“Of course, I remember! I adored that manuscript.
I was disappointed I didn’t get to go out with it, but I understand you made
the choice you believed was best for you at the time.
It kicked off a successful writing
Brody released a rueful sigh. “Yes, my books have
An understatement if Kendra ever heard one. But
she listened intently without interrupting.
“But here’s the situation. I—”
“Well, look who we have here.” Photochromic lenses
hid Dominic’s eyes as he stood looking down on them. “So you two know each other?”