DESCRIPTION: What do you do when you’re in way over your head? That’s the position I found myself in after agreeing to do a book signing as my twin sister. Emily can’t do public appearances to save her life due to panic attacks. I was supposed to only do ONE appearance as her to help save her failing publishing house.
What do you do when you’re in way over your head? That’s the position I found myself in after agreeing to do a book signing as my twin sister. Emily can’t do public appearances to save her life due to panic attacks. I was supposed to only do ONE appearance as her to help save her failing publishing house.
The handsome author signing books next to me can’t stop staring. And I can’t either. We kind of hooked up. I know! Bad idea since I’m not Emily! But I couldn’t deny the sizzling connection between us.
Fans loved our chemistry and have been clamoring for more of us. Book sales are soaring and now the publisher has the perfect publicity stunt to help save the company. They want us to pretend like we’re a hot couple. I’m digging myself deeper and deeper into this hole. I need to come clean and tell everyone I’m not Emily. But when I look into Max’s eyes…I just can’t bring myself to do it. I’m so screwed!
When I got the call, I was in my apartment putting the final touches on a painting.
Swirls of burnt magenta and violet oil laced up my fingers and arms as I tilted my head and squinted speculatively at the canvas. It was a depiction of the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, one of four charity pieces I was donating next Thursday to a benefit promoting the teaching of the arts in New York City Schools. A paint brush was clenched between my teeth, and two more were holding up a messy waterfall of my long, dark hair. There was only a specific window of time you could let the oil set before it was impossible to add to it. My window was closing fast.
When I got the call, there was a man lying in my bed.
Passed out face first in the pillows and reeking of wine. His name was Chris, or Brad, or Jake—or some other monosyllabic representation of the same overgrown frat boy I kept finding myself ending up with at the end of a long, bar-hopping night. Cute, but unimpressive. Muscular, but in no way engaging. The good thing about this city was that there was a seemingly endless pool of men and women of vastly different temperaments and degrees all traveling through the same rotating door. Didn’t like your Brad last night? Get a new Jake this morning. It was like a never-ending game of musical chairs. Last one without a partner when bar closed at six a.m. went home alone.
When I got the call, I had no time to take the call.
But this wasn’t the kind of call you just didn’t take. It had its own special ringtone for exactly that reason. The soothing sounds of Darth Vader’s stormtroopers decimating the rebels. If my life had been a movie, the call would have come in on its own special phone. A red one. The one that actually shook in its holders and you knew it was the Kremlin.
There was a groan from the bed as Brad or Chris or whoever winced against the shrill noise, battling a preemptive hangover. “Who the fuck is calling you?” he mumbled into the pillow. “It’s like five in the morning.”
I leapt to my feet at once, wiping my hands on my already paint-covered jeans as I breezed across the loft and extracted my phone from the base of a potted plant. “Could only be one person,” I murmured, motioning for him to go back to sleep. I flipped it open and walked out onto the balcony, staring down at the city lights below. “Hello?”
I was unsurprised when a stranger’s voice answered me. “Miss Waters?”
“Miss Waters, this is Shireen Dobbs, I’m a nurse at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. I don’t mean to alarm you, but I have your sister here, and I was hoping that you—”
“Put her through,” I interrupted, plucking a dead leaf from one of my hanging begonias and watching as it spiraled five stories to the ground below. A second later, a different voice came on the line. One that was breathless and shaking. One that I knew as well as my own.
My face melted into an automatic smile. “Hey, Ems. You doing okay?”
I could hear the sound of beeping machinery in the background, accompanied by the hum of soft voices. The mental picture was completed by my sister, lying in the middle of it all.
“Not really…” She only made these sorts of calls now when ‘not really’ was the mild version of the real answer. “Eve, I hate to ask, but do you think you could—”
“I’m on my way,” I promised, already heading back inside to grab my coat. “You just take some deep breaths and try to calm down—I’ll be there soon.”
“Thanks, Eve. Bye.”
The phone beeped and disconnected, leaving me frowning in its wake. She sounded even weaker than she usually did. So much more fragile than the world around her.
I…had been wired differently.
“Get up!” I kicked the edge of my bed as I pulled on my boots, soliciting a startled profanity from my one-night stand. At this point, it was more like a three-hour stand. But who was counting. “You’ve got to leave—I’m going out.”
“Afraid I’ll rip you off? You don’t have anything, honey.”
“Please, I have to go.”
He blinked groggily in my direction, before dropping his eyes to his watch. “Are you serious right now? It’s not even six.”
“Yeah. Sorry. It’s kind of an emergency, and I’ve got to get downtown.”
I was fully dressed now—trench coat, taser, and combat boots—and was staring impatiently down at the bed. The guy had yet to sit up, let alone put some clothes on. He would need a little push.
“Here,” I flashed him an apologetic smile as I snatched his clothes off the floor and tossed them his way—accidently hitting him in the face with his own boxers, “you’re all set. There’s a coffee place that’s open all night around the corner if you’re taking the subway, and if not, I can call you down a cab.”
With my sister waiting in the hospital, that was the extent of my generosity.
Somewhere between ‘coffee’ and ‘cab,’ frat-boy seemed to have decided that I wasn’t messing him, and began clumsily getting dressed. Once he was standing, he looked me up and down with a sleepy grin. “You know, you’re pretty hot when you’re all commanding and shit.”
“That’s really nice of you to say,” I interrupted sweetly, shoving him full-tilt toward the door. “I had fun tonight, take care…you.”
In an ideal world, I would have added on his name. But all jokes aside, there was really no remembering it at this point. He allowed himself to be shepherded out into the hall, before turning back to me with that same loopy grin.
“Yeah, I had fun too…” Aha! Nameless stockbroker man couldn’t remember my name either. “You should give me your number and we can—”
“Definitely!” I slammed the door shut. “Bye!”
I waited the obligatory two minutes until the elevator had dinged twice, then headed out the door myself—casting a wistful look at my painting on the way out. The oil was going to dry.
Catching a cab in New York was so much easier in the pre-dawn hours than at any time after. Between three and five-thirty in the morning were the sweet spots. This was something I had learned from years and years of unintentional study.
“Manhattan Presbyterian,” I said through the grate.
The man eyed me as he eased off into traffic, focusing with particular attention on my sunset-colored hands. “Yo, lady, just don’t be touching anything, alright? Every time I have to get this thing clean, they take a percentage outta my paycheck.”
I held up my hands like a criminal and settled back against the leather seat—mulling over what exactly I was going to say to Emily when I got there.
Some people got panic attacks. And some people got panic attacks. As if her two-time domination of the New York Times best seller’s list wasn’t evidence enough, my sister was a bit of an over-achiever. When she went down, she went down hard. As her identical twin sister, and the only living family she had left, it was my job to pick up the pieces when it happened.
This was her seventh, in as many years. Not a particularly outrageous number for a person with crippling social anxiety whose success had unfortunately propelled them into quasi-celebrity status—but they were getting worse. I was always worried about the next call.
I arrived at the hospital only about ten minutes later, and handed the driver a lilac-stained twenty. He took it with a disgruntled grunt, but between my combat boots and the fact that we’d pulled into a hospital, he said nothing but a pleasant goodnight, before driving away.
The nurses here knew me—particularly the ones on the night shift—and I got a lot of greetings and one-armed hugs as I made my way to the elevator and up to the third floor. Here, the talking was much quieter. Soft, classical music tinkled from invisible speakers set into ceiling, and the walls were painted what was intended to be a calming shade of beige.
My shoes echoed softly as I made my way down the tiles—wiping my fingers hastily on the inside of my pockets—before I pushed open the door to the room at the end of the wing.
Emily looked very small, nestled in the center of all her pillows. Very small and very easy to break. She might technically have been my older sister—besting me by a mere three minutes—but I had always been the one to look after her. Since we were kids on the playground, everyone knew—you messed with Emily, you got your ass kicked by Eve. We were a packaged set. Two sides of the same coin—bonded unnaturally close together as both twins, and orphans tended to do.
“Hey, you,” I said softly, not wanting to startle her. “How are you feeling?”
She looked around with a grateful smile. “Better now. Thanks for coming. I’m sorry to…to do this again.”
“Don’t be silly.” I waved my hand dismissively, settling down the bed. “You saved me from an awkward—to breakfast, or not to breakfast speech.”
Emily giggled weakly—a sound that was music to my ears. “What’s his name? Dave? Steve? Or do you not even know?”
I sighed, flipping my hair over my shoulder as I eyed her IV. “Oh—I’m sure it’s one of the two.”
She laughed again, fidgeting absentmindedly with the tags on her wrist. “Why do you keep doing that? Hooking up with these worthless guys? You could do so much better—you know you could.”
“It’s just easier that way.” I shrugged. “Gives me more time to focus on what’s important. My paintings.” I stroked the damp hair off her forehead with an affectionate smile. “You.”
“And I see I interrupted that as well.” She retraced where I had just touched, checking her face for smears of paint. “How’s it going? You get the Bridge of Sighs done?”
“Almost.” At this very moment, the Bridge of Sighs was cracking beyond repair back in my loft—but there was no point in telling her that. “What about you? You finish the epilogue?”
She leaned back against the pillows with a sigh, and I sensed we were zeroing in on the reason she was here. “I wrapped it up last night. Sent it to Marcy this morning. She loved it.”
Marcy Collins was Emily’s editor and long-time friend. In fact, given Emily’s level of self-imposed seclusion, she may have been her only other friend besides me. She’d been the one who took a leap of faith with Emily’s first book—a brilliant look into the minds of children who grew up in urban centers without parents. The book had propelled them both onto a national stage, so that by the time her second came out—a fictional accounting of the wife of a sailor—it was able to pick up enough speed to win Emily her very own Pulitzer At the age of twenty-three.
To say I was proud of my big sister, would be understating it to a massive degree. The girl was a genius. A true literary juggernaut—trapped in the body of an emotionally-fractured, socially-stunted, xenophobic young adult.
“So she loved it,” I coaxed gently, prodding around for the trigger, “that’s good…”
“She’s not the only one,” Emily said softly, lifting her eyes to the window. “She sent an advance copy over to the people at Bellamy, and they’re going through the roof.”
Bellamy Publishing House was one of the top-rated, if financially struggling, literary publishers on the east coast. A critique from them was devastating to an author’s career. A single word of praise—heaven sent. Only Emily could make their enthusiasm sound like a bad thing.
“They’re making a big deal about it,” she continued, “you know, since I’m one of their best-selling authors.”
I stifled a smile. One of the country’s best-selling authors, but Emily had never been one to brag. Her life was her work. In that regard, at least, we really were twins.
Her tiny shoulders seemed to wilt as she gathered up her breath. “They’re throwing a huge launch party at the Ritz to boost sales. They’re saying I have to be there.”
To anyone else on the planet—this would be cause for wild celebration. But to Emily, it was her worst nightmare. In her few short years on the literary stage, she had managed to do what few had done before her—retain her anonymity. She never showed her face in public. She never answered questions in person. At Marcy’s request, she had become an avid blogger and emailer. She’d tell you anything you wanted to know as long as it was said through a digital medium. But face to face encounters, were a decided no. Until this book that was about to launch, she had yet to even share a photo of herself with the press.
A ballroom full of publishers and reporters, flashing cameras and shouted questions, a national spotlight of attention with only her at the center?
The late-night call to the hospital suddenly made sense.
“Oh, honey,” I rubbed her feet below the blanket, “you knew this was bound to happen sooner or later. You can’t stay holed up in that beautiful house of yours forever.”
“I know.” A host of silent tears slipped down her face. “I was just hoping I’d get a few more months, you know? Maybe another book before—”
“It’s one party,” I said calmly, nipping her speech in the bud before it could work her up into another panic. “You’re in, you’re out. I’m sure Marcy’s going to be right there with you the whole time. And you know I’m only a phone call away.”
She shook her head, biting down on her lip to stem the tears. “Eve, I just don’t think I can—”
“That’s why it’s a good thing you don’t have a choice,” I said firmly, trying to re-center her focus. “This isn’t an option to panic yourself out of—it’s part of your job. And we both know that you are great at your job. Right?”
She nodded shakily. “Right.”
“You just show up, smile, and talk about your book. Simple as that.” I flashed her an easy smile, listening as her frantic pulse slowed down on the monitor. “In fact, if you want, you don’t even need to smile. You can be one of those terrifyingly serious people, we both hate.”
A faint titter of laughter escaped her lips, and I knew we were in the clear. “You’re right,” she said, drawing up courage even as she said the words, “it won’t be that bad. I’m not even the only one launching that night—Max Sheldon will be there as well.”
“Max Sheldon. How do I know that name?”
“He was my online critique writing partner.” She hitched herself higher up on the pillows, slowly getting her breathing under control. “We came up through the ranks together, read each other’s early work. Mostly just exchanged emails and chatted on Critique Circle and Facebook.”
“Mostly?” I interrupted, eyebrows raised.
She laughed. “Fine. Only. It was a strictly digital partnership. But he’s a lot better at this part of it than I am. He should diffuse some of the spotlight.”
The door suddenly opened and our conversation cut short as one of the most beautiful men I had ever seen in person breezed into the room, leaving a gaggle of love-struck nurses in his wake. It was like some sort of late-night hallucination come to life. He was tall, and handsome, and perfectly proportioned, and I’m sure his name had at least two syllables. At least.
“Yes?” we both answered in unison.
Emily flashed me a quick smile, then turned forward. “I’m Emily Waters.”
The man’s face melted into a perfect smile. “My name is Daniel Ellis—I’m the doctor assigned to your case.”
Of course he was a doctor. And of course all of this was lost on Emily.
While I inadvertently smoothed down my hair—probably spreading paint everywhere in the process—she frowned at him with a look of concern.
“I know they said they wanted to keep me overnight for observation, but I’m feeling a lot better now. I’d really like to go home.”
“Well let’s check you out, shall we?”
I hopped off the mattress and he took my place, kneeling down with a look of fixed attention as he routinely checked her vitals. My eyes swept him up and down. Yeah, like that was going to slow her heart rate.
“Ems, I’m going to head home, okay?” I backed slowly out of the room. “You’ll knock them dead tomorrow. Remember not to smile.”
She grinned. “Thanks, Eve. Thanks for coming.”
“Just a phone call away.”
After a visit that lasted about as long as the cab ride over, I headed back into the night and lifted my hand for another.
The paint on the Bridge was indeed cracked by the time I made it home. The sun was just coming out over the New York trees, and a men’s shirt I couldn’t identify had been stuffed inexplicably behind the coffee maker. I pulled it out with a wide yawn and kicked off my shoes as I headed to my shelves to pull out a fresh canvas.
It was going to be a long morning…
In spite of my best attempts to pull an all-nighter, I fell asleep with my face in a plate of scrambled eggs. My ten a.m. alarm had finally broken through, and judging by the fact that my neighbors on both sides were taking turns banging on the walls in frustration, it had to have been going off for quite some time.
I slapped it quiet and headed to the bathroom to survey the damage. Could have been worse. I mean—the bits of egg did nothing for my color, but hey. Four hours sleep? Not bad.
I rinsed off in a quick shower, threw on some workout clothes, and headed out the door.
Jimmy, the thousand-year-old bellhop who regularly fell asleep by the door to my building, greeted me with a bright, “And what’ll it be today, Eve?”
I returned his smile in full force. It had been the same question, every morning, since I moved in here about three years ago.
“You know me,” I saluted as I jogged past, “just prowling about for a citizen’s arrest.”
“You go get’em, tiger.”
I headed up and over four blocks, climbed three flights of stairs, and made it to my yoga class just as the thing was getting started. A soft chorus of ‘good mornings’ greeted me as I took my place in the back, slipped off my shoes, and stretched up into cobra.
I had started this workout partly out of curiosity, and partly out of an immature delight in the all the names of the positions. Now—two years later—it was an indispensable part of my morning routine.
We went at it for about an hour or so, going through the paces before the class disbursed and I headed uptown to change and drop off a finished canvas at the Benefit Center.
“Morning, Eve!” Trisha—the event coordinator greeted me as I walked inside. The warehouse they were based out of was in full-swing—with dozens of people hurrying past at various levels of panic. “I see you’ve been working.” She eyed my painted-covered hands with a knowing smile.
I smiled back, holding out the canvas. “I have another one for you. Haven’t started on the last one yet, but I’ll be sure to have it done by Thursday.”
She slid it out of the felt shielding and held it up to the light, looking it up and down with a disbelieving grin. “I don’t know how you do it. You’re the most consistent artist I’ve ever worked with.”
I stifled a yawn, swiping a cup of coffee from the table. “It helps not to have a social life.”
“That’s not what I hear,” she said devilishly. I frowned with interest and she lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “That guy you hooked up with last week, Don? He goes to my gym. Heard him talking about you with his workout buddies. Said he was falling in love with this painter he was convinced didn’t know his name.”
Don. Don. I tried to place him.
“Is he by chance missing a ‘habitat for humanity’ tee-shirt?” I asked suddenly. “Because I found one today by my coffee maker.”
She laughed. “You really have this whole ‘girl in the city’ thing on lock, don’t you?”
I backed away with a grin, raising my hands innocently. “Just doing what I can to contribute, you know? See you Thursday, Trish.”
The door pushed open in front of me, and I slipped through, pulling on a pair of sunglasses as I melted seamlessly into the crowd.
I loved Mondays. I know most people hated them, but a painter didn’t have the same reason to as everyone else. Monday was my favorite day of the week—the day when the city was the quietest. Lunch breaks were shorter, and after work activities were kept to a relative minimum. So for a few short hours a week, it almost felt like I had these streets to myself.
I took the long way back to my apartment, ambling along in no particular rush. As I passed by a cart of newspapers, a headline caught my attention and I stopped with a smile.
‘Bellamy House Hosts Double Launch’
After handing the man running the cart a dollar, I took the paper and ripped the headline out, tucking it into my purse with a surge of pride.
I had a whole closet full of these by now. After mom and died had died, someone had to do the scrapbooks, and the Christmas cards, and hold this little two-person family together. With Emily’s savant cluelessness, that person was going to be me.
I didn’t mind. It was probably the most normal part of my life—these midnight runs to the hospital, holidays spent locked in a brownstone, and closets full of memorabilia. It was certainly the most predictable.
“Shit! I’m so sorry!”
I looked down in dismay at the fresh coffee running all down my shirt. The man who had bumped into me looked mortified, showering me with apologies as he rushed to get me napkins from a nearby hot dog vender. When he returned, he tried dabbing me dry himself, before I snatched them away with a scowl. Good thing I hadn’t still been carrying my painting, of they’d be sweeping bits of this guy off the street.
…gorgeous bits of this guy…
We noticed each other at the same time. The scowls and winces of apologies gave way to seductive smiles.
“I’m really, really sorry about that,” he said again, sounding not sorry at all. Sounding rather glad, in fact, that he’d happened to run into me.
Not as happy as I was.
“It’s okay,” I said, pretending to sound frazzled. “I actually live just right up there.”
He followed my gaze, before turning back to me with a mischievous little smile. “I’d love to make it up to you…”
I cocked my head to the side, ignoring both the hot dog vendor and newspaper attendant who were rolling their eyes like they’d seen this dance a million times before. “I’d like that.”
“Maybe you want to get changed first?”
My lips turned up in a grin. “I wouldn’t want to leave you out here by yourself.”
He shrugged innocently. “I’ll go with you. Problem solved.”
Yes—it certainly was.
Like two rebellious teenagers, we caught each other by the hand and headed up the rest of the block to my apartment. Jimmy opened the door with both an indulgent and disapproving smile. “Caught your felon then, did you?”
The man cast me a curious look, and I pretended to have no idea what he was talking about.
Upstairs, the no talking portion of the afternoon continued. The second the door closed, we’d turned into a pair of animals, ripping off each other’s clothes as we tripped our way towards the bed.
“I’m Nick,” he murmured, kissing up and down my neck.
My eyes snapped shut with a grimace. Nick. Of course he was.
A sudden ringtone shattered the air between us. Stormtroopers on the move.
“—going to have to take a raincheck.”
End of Sample.
Available now! http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01GIKKCWG