Chapter Seventeen

            'Wow!' David exclaimed admiringly. 'You look sensational!'

            'David?' she uttered his name like she didn't really believe it was him standing in front of her. 'David,' she repeated in shock. And then, as the reality set in, 'What the hell are you doing here?'

            'I dropped by on the chance you'd be in,' he said casually, as if they saw each other all the time and this was no big deal.

            Actually, it was an enormous deal. It was the first time she'd laid eyes on him since he'd walked out on her.

            'I'm not in,' she said flatly. 'I'm on my way to dinner.' 'You are?' he said, surprised. 'Yes, I am,' she said.

            'That's a helluva greeting,' he said, fixing her with a why-can't -you-be-nicer-to-me? Look. 'Let me get this straight,' she said, struggling to recover her composure. 'Are you actually here to see me?'

            'Obviously.'

            'Why?'

            'I thought we should.talk.'

            'You couldn't have picked up a phone?'

            'I see,' she said icily. 'You got it in your head that it was better to come here at ten-thirty at night and confront me in person.'

            'You look sensational,' he said, repeating himself.

            'You've already told me that,' she answered, thrown by this new turn of events. 'So,' he said, conversationally, 'how have you been?' 'What is this crap?' she said, suddenly angry. 'Go home to your wife where you belong.'

            'I've left my wife,' he announced. 'It's over between us.' 'What did you do - go out for cigarettes and forget to come back?' David scowled. 'That doesn't make me feel good,' he muttered.

            'I hate it when you're sarcastic.'

            'You are something else,' she said in amazement.

            'Is this man bothering you, Miss Castelli?' Calvin inquired, stepping out from behind the porter's desk, a belligerent expression on his round face.

            Slammer barked. He was straining on his leash to leave the building, and it was quite obvious that Calvin had no intention of taking him anywhere until he found out what was going on.

            'No, Calvin, everything's fine,' she said quickly. 'This is not who I was expecting, and he's leaving anyway.'

            'Uh-huh,' Calvin said, glaring at David.

            She didn't know whether to say in the lobby and risk Jake arriving, or return to her apartment. 'Where are you going for dinner?' David asked, as if he had a right to know.

            'None of your business,' she answered. Was it her imagination or had he put on a pound or two? And his hair looked dry and lifeless - as if it needed a good conditioning.

            'We had something so good together.' He sighed. 'something so right.'

            'We certainly did, David,' she replied calmly, watching Calvin and Slammer leave. 'That is, until you fucked it up. So, here's my suggestion. Do not come whining back to me simply because your marriage hasn't worked out. You see, quite frankly. I don't care.'

            'Yes, you do,' he said quickly. 'I heard you haven't hooked up with anyone since we split. That means you do care.'

            'No, it means I haven't found anybody I want to sleep with. There's a big difference.' 'I've got nowhere to stay tonight,' he said.

            'Have you ever heard the word hotel?' she said caustically. 'they have them all over the city.'

            A flicker of annoyance crossed his face. 'I wasn't expecting this kind of reaction from you,' he said.

            'Really?' she answered coldly. 'What were you expecting?' 'I though you'd have more compassion.'

            'David,' she said patiently, 'the night you walked out on me, every bit of my compassion went with you. Get it?'

            'Jesus, Madison, how many times do you want me to say I'm sorry?'

            'As many as you like. It won't make any difference.'

            'Have lunch with me tomorrow?'

            'You've got to be out of your mind.'

            'You're not giving me a crumb, nothing, huh/'

            'I'm giving you what you gave '

            'So that's it,' he said sulkily. 'I'm being punished.'

            'Don't you get it, David?' She said, her voice rising in frustration. 'You're not being punished, you're not being anything. We had something you broke into a thousand pieces. Now it's over.'

            'No,' he said stubbornly. 'It'll never be over.' 'Yes,' she countered. 'It's definitely over, and I'm going back upstairs, so you'd better leave.'

            He shook his head as if he couldn't understand why she was dismissing him. please go, she urged him silently. Please go before Jake arrives

            And naturally, just as she was wishing David would leave, in walked Jake. And he looked good. He was a couple of inches taller than David, his hair was tousled and longer, and he had appealing brown eyes. He was sexy in a laid-back, street kind of way.

            'Hey,' Jake said, unaware he was walking in on something. 'Hi,' she said, quickly grabbing the sleeve of his leather jacket and steering him back towards the door. 'I'm all ready, let's go.'

            David started to follow, but she stopped him with a look that said, Don't even think about it!

            'Did I interrupt something?' Jake asked, as they hit the street. 'you rushed me out of there like the building was on fire!'

            'Actually you saved me,' she answered.

            'From that guy? Who was he?'

            'Someone I used to know.' A long, meaningful pause. 'I can safely say- not any more.'

            'That's good.'

            'Yes, it is.'

            He gave her a quizzical look. 'New York suits you.' 'Are you saying L.A. didn't?' she responded. 'you looked pretty good in L.A. , but as we both know, my mind was elsewhere. Jeez,' he grinned, 'I must've been blind.'

            'I'm glad you're here,' she said.

            'Why's that?'

            'Cause I'm in desperate need of someone to talk to.'

            'Is that the only reason?'

            'One of them.'

            'Then talk away.'

            'First I need a drink. Then I want to know why you're in town, what your plans are, where you're heading next, and, uh.after that I'd simply like to have fun.'

            He grinned again. He had a killer grin - she remembered it well.

            'That's exactly what I had in mind,' he said. 'Fun.with you. A perfect night.'

***

            Three hours later they were in bed in her apartment having recently finished making fast passionate love. 'I've never done this before.' She sighed, stretching luxuriously.

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Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31





            'Really?' he answered, with a playful laugh. 'So what you're telling me is that you were a twenty-nine-year-old virgin?''You know what I mean,' she said, smiling softly. 'I've never ended up in bed on a first date.' She paused for a moment, then added, 'Well, maybe once in college, and there was quick one-nighter in Miami, but-'

            'You know what I mean,' she said, smiling softly. 'I've never ended up in bed on a first date.' She paused for a moment, then added, 'Well, maybe once in college, and there was quick one-nighter in Miami, but-'

            'Hey,' he interrupted, touching her arm. 'I'm not here on a need-to-know basis. Anyway, this is our second date. Remember L.A.?'

            'Of course.'

            'I though about you a lot since then.'

            'I thought about you too,' she admitted.

            He yawned and rolled over. 'I hope I'm not rebound guy because your significant other turned up tonight.'

            'David hasn't been my significant other for over a year,' she said, throwing her arms above her head. 'I barely recognized him.'

            'Good,; he said, moving back towards her. Then he began kissing her neck, moving slowly down- very, very slowly.

            She moaned in anticipation of what was to come. Being in bed with Jake was far better than she'd expected, a release that she'd desperately needed, and she was determined to relish every moment.

            Earlier, over drinks at a nearby Barbara, she'd told him about Michael's revelations. He'd listened attentively and sympathized. She'd also told him about the private detective she'd hired to find information about her parents.

            'Has she come up with anything?' he'd asked.

            'I haven't heard from her since she was here.'

            'If she's thorough, she'll wait until she can bring you everything.'

            'What is everything? I don't know any more. It's like I'm completely lost.'

            Now, lying in bed next to him, she didn't feel lost at all. She was in the right place at the right time, and that felt extremely satisfying. Plus the sex was great, natural and passionate, not as if it was their first time together at all.

            His hands began exploring her body again, sending chills of excitement through her.

            Oh, God, she loved the smell of him, the way his skin felt, the touch of his hands all over her. He was strong and comforting and loving and, most of all, he was there exactly when she needed him.

            In the morning he was still in her bed. She propped herself up on the elbow and watched him sleep. He was handsome in an unaffected way. Not perfect like his anchorman brother in L.A. more edgy and casual. He was also an excellent lover although, she thought wryly, she was so out of practice she wouldn't know a bad lover from a good one.

            She climbed out of bed without disturbing him and went into the living room. Slammer, who'd been shut out of the bedroom for the night, gave her a furious look and slunk over to the far corner as per punishment for locking him out.

            She headed into the kitchen and put on the coffee, then slid back into the bedroom, threw on a shirt and jeans, grabbed Slammer's leash, left the apartment and ran him around the block.

            When she got back, Jake was in the kitchen pouring coffee into two mugs. 'And so,' he said, killer grin going full force, 'she look perfectly beautiful in the morning, too,'

            'What are you - a poet?' she said, smiling.

            'Last night was very special,' he said, handing her a cup of coffee. 'Exceptionally special in fact.'

            'How did it happen so fast?' she marveled, perching on a high stool at the kitchen counter.

            'Guess I'm irresistible,' he joked.

            'Sure, that's it,' she joked back. 'Must've been those bony knees of yours that got me going!'

            'My knees aren't bony,' he objected, sitting next to her. 'My knees are perfect.'

            'Says who?'

            'Me?'

            'Okay, he has perfect knees. I'll accept that.'

            'And she has a perfect mouth,' he responded.

            'Anyway,' she said, becoming serious, 'it's no big deal, right?'

            'What? My knees?'

            'No. Us. You know, jumping into bed so quickly.'

            'Right,' he agreed. 'After all, we've been friends for a while now, almost a year.'

            'That's true, and as you said, this is our second date, so it wasn't like I threw myself into bed with you on our first date.'

            'You worry about stupid details,' he said.

            'I know,' she agreed. 'I'm trying to get over it.'

            He smiled and sipped his coffee. 'How's work?'

            'Same old grind. You know I wrote a piece for the magazine on call-girls in L.A.? I didn't quote your girlfriend since you asked me not to.'

            'She wasn't my girlfriend,' he explained. 'She was a nice girl with whom I had a brief fling. And she only got into the business because she had to take care of her sister.'

            'How compassionate.'

            'Don't be bitchy.'

            'Well. I do have to say,' Madison admitted grudgingly, 'she was very beautiful.'

            'She was pretty,' he said, giving Madison a long, intense look. 'You're beautiful.'

            'Thanks,' she said, feeling the burn of intimacy and not quite sure how to handle it. After David she was determined never to get hurt again. Casual was the name of the game from now on. No expectations. No disappointments. Simply fun.

            'How about you?' she asked. 'What's going on with you work-wise?'

            'Everything's good,' he said. 'I got back from Africa a week ago, where I was photographing cheetahs in the wild.'

            'Oh, my God,' she said. 'I love cheetahs. They are the most beautiful animals.'

            'You should watch them running. It has to be the most powerful sight you've ever witnessed.'

            'Can I see your photographs?'

            'Any time.'

            'I'd like that.'

            'And. I'd like to..'

            'What?' she asked, breathlessly.

            'I think you know what,' he said, leaning over and kissing her full on the mouth.

            She could taste the coffee on his tongue and once more desire began coursing through her. She wanted him again, and there was absolutely no reason why she couldn't have him.

***

            A week later he was gone. A long, lingering kiss at the door and then he was out of there on his way to an assignment in Paris. 'Come with me?' he suggested.

            She knew it was too soon to start following him around the world. 'I can't,' she said. 'I'm waiting to hear from the detective. I have work commitments, and I've got to talk to Stella.'

            Excuses, excuses. She could go if she wanted to. 'I'll miss you,' he said. 'I'll miss everything about you.' 'How long will you be gone?'

            'As long as it takes. You know me - not into making plans.'

            She was beginning to understand that.

            And so, after a week of complete togetherness, he vanished out of her life as quickly as he'd re-entered it.

            Normal existence resumed. She checked out her answering-machine. It was jammed. For seven days she'd holed up with Jake and got lost in the experience. Now she had a list of people to call back and explain her absence to Victor for one. Michael had phoned every day. Jamie, Natalie, Anton and David.

            At least people cared whether she lived or died.

            She called Victor first.

            'And where exactly have you been?' He boomed. 'How dare you skip out town and not tell anybody? You missed the date she arranged for you. Evelyn is mad, and that's not a pleasant sight.'

            'Sorry, Victor. I fell in lust.'

            'You what?'

            'Caught up with an old friend.'

            'You mean you had sex?'

            'I really don't think that's any of your concern.'

            'Ha!' Victor said loudly. 'You'd better think of a way to make it up to Evelyn. She is not pleased. Besides, it makes me look bad.'

            'We never had a definite arrangement.'

            'Of course we did,' he argued. 'You assured me you were coming.'

            'How could I do that when I didn't even know what day your party was?'

            'I left six messages on your machine.'

            'I only listened this morning.'

            'Ha!' he repeated. 'What if it had been an emergency?'

            'It wasn't, was it?'

            'You always have answer.'

            'You trained me well.'

            'How's your research on the Panther coming along?'

            'Pretty damn good,' she lied.

            'You all set for Vegas?'

            'I have a question,' she said, suddenly coming up with a great idea.

            'Yes?'

            'What photographer are you assigning?'

            'Haven't thought about it yet. If the Panther wins, we'll do him as the cover, so I need the best.'

            'And if he loses?'

            'Though shit.'

            'You're such a charmer, Victor.'

            'Thanks,' he said, his voice louder than ever.

            She hesitated for a moment, then plunged ahead. 'Uh..remember Jake Sica? The photographer you hired in L.A.?'

            'That's the guy who informed me he couldn't work for us any more. Had to go off and do other things. Likes photographing wildlife or something.'

            'He's back.'

            'In your bed?'

            'Wouldn't you like to know?'

            'In your bed,' Victor said, absolutely sure.

            'I was thinking he could do a fine job. He's great with action shots. He might be the photographer to send to Vegas with me.'

            'You don't have to hit me over the head with a block of plywood,' Victor said. 'I get it. Where can I contact him?'

            'He's in Paris at the moment. I'll have him call you.'

            'I've been meaning to ask, how's your book progressing? Still working hard?'

            'Oh, my book,' she said guilty- she hadn't worked on it in weeks. 'Yes, it's making progress,' she said, getting quite adept at lying to Victor. 'I promise you'll be the first to read it.'

            'Good. Send Evelyn flowers.'

            'No, you send Evelyn flowers, put my name on the card.'

            'Cheapskate,' he muttered.

            'You're the one with the enormous expense account,' she pointed out. 'I'm merely an employee.' She called Michael next.

            He sounded even more tense than the last time they'd spoken. 'What is this?' he said. 'You leave town and don't even tell me where you are?'

            'Why do you want to know?' she said, not prepared to offer any explanation.

            'Because I've been trying to reach you for two days.'

            Too bad, she thought, still trying to work out how she felt about him.

            He's my father and I love him.

            He's made my past meaningless and I hate him.

            'What's so important?' she asked, wanting to punish him with her indifference.

            There was a long silence before he spoke. 'It's about Stella,' he said at last. 'She's .dead.' Another long, ominous pause. 'The funeral's tomorrow. I'd like you to be there.'

   


Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62