Authors: Kelly Moran
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary
This book is about family, love and all the quirks and idiosyncrasies associated. My father’s side of the family is Serbian, which means I’m half-Serbian, and writing this book feels a long time in coming. I remember having three Christmases as a kid—Christmas Eve with one family, Christmas Day with the other, and Serbian Christmas (
Hristo se Rodi
). There are so many traditions that stayed with me through the years, and even though most of my “Covics” have passed on, the customs stayed with me. And so this book is dedicated to my Serbian side of the family.
In addition, I firmly believe that some families you are born into, and others you form along the way, not unlike my hero, Troy. So, this book is also dedicated to two of my “formed” families: The Biels—Dennis, Phyllis and Brian; and the Theurichs—Susie, Chris and Tommy. You guys made me believe I was worth something, and made me laugh more times than I can count. With love and thanks, always.
Big props to my critique partners and fellow writers: Anne, Jenafer and Linda for the insight and help. You guys are awesome. And to my editor, Tera, thanks for loving the story so much and helping to make it even better.
Life Lessons According to Camryn:
Some people are like Slinkies. They’re only good for a smile
when you push them down the stairs.
The first sign that Karma was now in cahoots with the Devil Incarnate to ruin her existence should have been before sunrise and pre-coffee. Well, okay, she didn’t believe in Karma. Like fate, Camryn believed people made their own destiny. Any inclinations otherwise were for those too idealistic to accept reality. Though, now she was beginning to wonder if there was any merit to naive notions.
When she opened her apartment door to get the
she instead found a note from her landlord. They were not renewing her lease—anyone’s lease for that matter. The building had been sold and the new owners wanted to convert it into high-end condos. Oh, please. Chicago needed more high-end condos like they needed another baseball franchise. She had thirty days to find another apartment.
The second sign should have been spilling the last of her lukewarm full-caff, half-fat freshly ground beverage over her crisp beige suit shirt while braking for the Neanderthal in front of her, who, according to his bumper sticker,
Brakes for nature
. Someone should tell him there was no nature in Chicago. She had to resort to her emergency back-up shirt in the trunk—a hideous, orange garment her sister bought her for
Hristo se Rodi
last year—or risk being late into the office.
Seriously, could her sister, just once, get her a useful Christmas gift? Was that too much to ask?
The third sign should have been when, after arriving at the office, her secretary announced that Alicia St. John, Vice President, wanted to see Camryn in her office at nine fifteen sharp. The pointed pain-in-the-ass woman never summoned someone as low as a marketing director like herself unless things were about to get ugly.
At first she thought these nothing more than nuisances, a crappy start to what was proving a bad day. But as Camryn Covic stood in the doorway to her boyfriend-slash-boss’s office, she had a niggling feeling this was not a bad day at all, but rather a screeching halt preceding a twelve car pile up.
And she was at the bottom of the wreckage.
Maxwell Orton, the Third, blinked at her from across his desk. Camryn blinked back. She waited for him to give her a heads up on what Alicia wanted. He worked a lot more closely with her on their projects than Camryn did. He’d know what the succubus wanted. Instead, he fidgeted with a stack of papers on his desk, arranging and rearranging them into a clusterfuck.
Camryn sat down in a chair and folded her hands in her lap, illustrating the calm she didn’t feel. “What’s going on, Maxwell?”
He stood, popped a Tums from his candy dish into his mouth, and walked behind her to close the door while he chewed. When he returned to his desk, he sighed so heavily she could smell the cherry antacid. He took several seconds straightening his blue striped tie into obedience, which was interesting because it wasn’t askew to begin with.
“Camryn,” he said in that tone reserved for a street urchin, not that he knew any street urchins. “I don’t think this is going to work out between us.”
Though her gut sank like Nana’s three-day-old
bread, she didn’t flinch. By “this” she assumed he meant their fifteen-month relationship. The entire department knew about them dating, and though it was against policy at Davis, Davis, and St. John Advertising to fraternize within the company, no one said anything. Could this be what Alicia wanted to see her about?
“Is this about Alicia?”
His middling brown eyes popped from his head like he’d accidently swallowed a tamale. “You know about that? About the two of us, I mean? I wanted to talk to you privately before you heard about the relationship from someone else. I regret not calling you last night, then.”
Her intestines churned to the point she should’ve heard “Auntie Em!” blaring from her belly button. He was boinking the bitch. Behind her back.
Maxwell was good looking in a corporate, never-saw-the-light-of-day kind of way. He seemed suited for Camryn, both of them being the kind of people one would pass on the street and hardly take notice of. Not for Alicia. Alicia was…
“I see,” she said. “Can I at least have the decency to know why?”
His lips curled, his obvious tell of disgust. When had she started disgusting him? She was no Alicia, but she wasn’t disgusting. Was she? “This is why,” he said, as if that explained anything. “You,” he muttered, pointing at her as if scales grew over her arms. “You’re a robot. You have no emotion whatsoever. Sex with you is like sleeping with a fish…”
Okay, that hurt. A lot. Camryn had thought because they’d been dating so long, had actually talked about marriage, maybe Maxwell had seen past what she showed others. Yeah, she was dull sometimes, but they were adults. Fun was for kids. They had a comfortable routine together, a mutual conformity and future outlook. The same goals. Get married in the next year, buy a condo, have one child, hire a nanny. Live happily ever after with a retirement fund and mutual stocks.
“You don’t even laugh…”
She looked at him and realized he was still talking. Rather, still listing the many ways why she was an inferior, boring person. He was leaving her for beautiful, thin and fun Alicia St. John. Everything she wasn’t. The harsh tickle of tears clogged her throat, but she cleared them.
Out of the perfect part of Maxwell Orton—
—hair, horns began to grow. White ivory with ringed indents pushed through his scalp, barely disturbing the orderly comb of his dark brown strands. The lenses on his glasses cracked. Blisters formed over his skin. His hands morphed into hooves.
“Alicia and I are so good together…”
She blinked away the image before her, and the normal Maxwell returned. Her creative imagination always worked well as a defense mechanism. In her head, aliens could be invading the Upper West Side, using poodles as body cavities and laced Twizzlers for mind control. But on the outside, she was the pillar of calm. It was the only power she’d had growing up in a large, crazy Serbian family. In adulthood, it helped her hide feelings. Control. It was all about control.
She wasn’t oblivious to how others saw her. The receptionists called her
The Ice Queen
. If only they knew what lay under the surface. How insecure and normal she was. Not so very different from them, really. But she thought Maxwell was different. If someone like Maxwell didn’t want her, she
destined to be a spinster, just like her family thought.
Insert twelve cats here
. She didn’t have charm and humor like her married younger brother. She didn’t have good looks and a great body like her soon-to-be married younger sister.
“What about my sister’s wedding next week?” she asked him, cutting off his rant about her clothes not having any color. It would probably be argumentative to point out she was wearing a shirt the color of ripe cantaloupe. “I was supposed to introduce you to my family. We leave for Colorado in four days.”
Camryn’s family lived two hours north in Milwaukee, but her sister’s fiancé, Justin, was from a well-to-do Boulder family. When they got engaged, his family wanted the wedding on their estate. They were flying the entire nut farm to Colorado for a week-long pre-wedding hurrah.
Maxwell’s mouth snapped closed. “Obviously I won’t be attending.” He rose. “You have your meeting with Alicia now, and I think we’re done here.” Dismissed.
She looked at him a second more, bitter words on the tip of her tongue, then stood. “I believe you’re right. I regret it happened this way. I…appreciated our time together.”
You sack of monkey poo!
“I’ll stop by later so we can discuss what team you want for the Fenzer account.”
He sniffed. “That won’t be necessary. Alicia and I have a team ready. You’re being put on the Wholesome Foods account. Possibly.”
Sign number five.
“I see,” she said.
Good luck landing Fenzer Footwear without me
. “I’m sure the campaign will be stellar.”
Stellar crap. And Fenzer’s money will go to our competitor
She opened the door to find the entire department staring at her. She raised her brows when she really felt like yakking. “Good morning, everyone,” she said, pulling out her Blackberry and pretending to check messages as if a giant hole hadn’t just swallowed her.
She headed toward the elevator, texting her sister, Heather, along the way.
May come home a day early. Will explain later.
She pushed the button for the twentieth floor, where all the bigwig exec offices were. When the doors closed, shutting out the din, she leaned against the wall and exhaled. Her hand fluttered to her stomach, trying to keep the contents inside. She swallowed, sucked in a harsh breath, and straightened just as the doors opened with a ding.
The receptionist greeted her with a cool smile. “Hello, Ms. Covic. Miss St. John is expecting you. You can head straight back.”
Camryn nodded and walked down the hall, passing advertising posters for their many accounts. Pet food, breath mints and, her personal favorite, tampons. She knocked and entered the first door on the right.
Alicia St. John, bitch extraordinaire, motioned her inside with a wave of her manicured hand. “No, I want it by Friday,” she barked into the phone.
Camryn waited inside the doorway, watching Alicia pace the floor behind her mahogany desk. The click of her black heels matched time with a clock the company gave her last year for excellence. Or was it two years ago? Either way, she wasn’t excellent at anything but bitchery. Her black suit resembled Fifth Avenue, but her pink camisole underneath whispered Victoria’s Secret. Her coifed blonde hair fell to her shoulders in a smooth, shiny bob.
Camryn wondered if her perfect hair and her perfect makeup ruffled at all when she had her legs wrapped around Camryn’s boyfriend. She was probably a screamer too. If Camryn were to claw Alicia’s eyes out, would Maxwell still want her?
“Fine,” Alicia said, slamming the receiver down. Without missing a beat, she looked at Camryn and pointed to a chair. “Sit, Camryn.”
Do I get a treat if I do?
Maybe she should wag her tail
Alicia handed her a manila envelope before sitting herself. Camryn knew better than to open it before Alicia told her, in detail, what was inside. All hail the queen when she had something to say. Hell’s fury erupted when full attention wasn’t on her.
“We lost two big accounts this quarter. We have to make some cuts,” she said before sipping from her Starbucks cup. She was probably the type to drink that chai tea crap instead of real coffee. “Your position is one of the cuts needed. The art director can do what you do without us having to pay the extra salary.”
Uh, what? “My accounts weren’t the two you lost. I also got you the Fenzer Footwear account.”
Alicia stared at her. Just stared through her ice-blue eyes like Camryn just fell out of the stupid tree.
Pens and paper flew off of Alicia’s desk and spiraled around the room. Files swirled out of the filing cabinet, slicing paper cuts into Alicia’s face. When the stapler took flight, Camryn envisioned it landing solidly on Alicia’s forehead.