Home > Work in Progress (Red Lipstick Coalition #3)(14)

Work in Progress (Red Lipstick Coalition #3)(14)
Author: Staci Hart

“I’m a hundred percent sure Steven would fire me on the spot.”

She sighed, returning the manuscripts to their graveyard. “Right.”

“So what do I do? Can I use any of this?”

The look on her face said it all. “You want the honest truth?”

“It’s why I asked for your help in the first place.”

Amelia paused, watching me as if to make sure I was ready for the answer I’d already known I was going to get. “None of this will work. I thought there might be a way to…I don’t know…combine them, like you suggested. But I looked for a thread to pull and…well, there’s just nothing.”

I drew a long, steady breath through my nose and considered all the ways I could dispose of the manuscripts. Fire seemed too obvious. Paper shredder was pedestrian. Garbage disposal? That would probably be harder than it would be satisfying. I could tear it all into confetti and throw it off the Brooklyn Bridge, but I’d probably get fined for littering. Maybe I’d let Gus eat it. He’d eat anything. And together, we could deposit all the shit I’d written with the shit he’d eaten exactly where it belonged—the dump.

“Okay,” I said after a solid minute. “What do we do?”

She let loose a worried sigh, her eyes moving from mine to the stack of papers. “There has to be something else. Some other idea, something in the back of your mind or in a long-forgotten, dusty drawer.”

“This is it.” I swept a hand at the pile. “Every idea I had is here.”

Her bottom lip slipped between her teeth. “There has to be something. Is there anything going on in your life that you could fictionalize? Something from your past?”

Internally, I shrank from the question. Externally, my chest puffed, my spine straightening. “Maybe. Let’s talk world building, universe, canon. I haven’t written about elves in years. I’ve been thinking about going that direction again. I blame a recent replay of Witcher.”

Before I could explain what Witcher was, she nodded and said, “I get that. The elves in that story are brilliant. Siri and the Elder Blood? That story is just too good. I’m still not over it.”

“You play Witcher?” I asked in disbelief.

“No,” she answered on a laugh. “I read the books.”

I nodded, my universe righting itself. “The elven ruins are my favorite. They always are, no matter the game or book. It’s the mystery of them, I think. Where they came from. Where they’ve all gone. How their power manifested. It’s fascinating.”

She smiled, reaching into her bag. “Well, there’s our thread to pull.” When her laptop rested on her thighs and her fingers tapped the keyboard, she said, “Let’s research.”

I reached for my laptop too, but rather than open it where I was, I moved to the other couch to sit next to her. She stiffened, her fingers stilling for a moment.

I couldn’t help but smile. If I could sit thigh-to-thigh with her without being a creep, I would. Because watching Amelia Hall squirm was becoming my new favorite pastime.

“All right,” I said, stretching my legs and propping my feet on the coffee table, “where do we start?”

“How about Nordic myth? Russian? Something obscure. Or we could go classic archetype. Chosen one. The ace. Knight in shining armor? Rogue with a heart of gold?” She paused. “Anything zinging?”

“Is it too early to start drinking?”

A soft laugh. “Not if it has champagne or tomato juice in it.”

I sighed, collecting my hair and twisting it into a knot. “I don’t know if I’m ready to character develop.”

“Okay,” she said, her tone nothing but encouraging. “Let’s look at old cathedrals.” Her fingers tapped, and with a few clicks, she gasped. “Oh, Tommy, look!”

The way she’d said my name—like it had been born on her tongue—hit me in a strange, foreign place in my chest. I leaned over just as much to look at her screen as to get closer to her.

She was scrolling through Google images at photos of the Glasgow Cathedral, and the second I saw them, I got why she’d gasped. Sweeping ceilings and gothic arches in rows so tight, they looked like an illusion, a study in geometry and symmetry. Stained glass and thick pillars. It had all the pieces of a palace, a place of beauty and worship and art and soul.

“That’s perfect, Amelia. Save that,” I said softly before returning regrettably to my own machine.

She smiled at her screen, and for a minute, we were quiet. She was comfortable, already at ease around me.

I was openly grateful that her therapist had foisted exposure therapy at her. That she’d been exposed to me.

That I’d been exposed to her.

Years of fake relationships had left me largely in the company of models and actresses and socialites. Years of friends with benefits and empty relationships. I hadn’t wanted more. Even now, I didn’t want more. Because more meant that whatever I felt, whatever I wanted, would be chucked to the media like a prime rib and devoured without care. And in all the years since I’d stepped stupidly into the public eye, I’d never met anyone quite like her. Normal girls weren’t something I had access to anymore.

Not that Amelia was normal. She was something entirely other, sparking my curiosity and wonder. Was she a novelty? A trinket to put in my pocket? I was attracted to her, that much was painfully clear. But what was the nature of that feeling?

I couldn’t tell you. All I knew was that I was intrigued by the girl sitting on my couch, doing her very best not to cave under the weight of my presence.

I was a lot, I knew. In fact, my charm was a weapon I wielded at every opportunity. A weapon, and a shield. But I didn’t want to woo her.

Well, I wanted to woo her. But that wasn’t all I wanted. I didn’t want to dazzle her or blind her.

I wanted her to see me. And that was maybe the worst idea I’d ever had.

“So, tell me, how’d a girl like you get to be so shy?”

She turned to look at me with surprise in her eyes. “How’d a guy like you get to be so brash?”

“Years of practice.”

Her lips curled in a smile. “Same. And like I said, I don’t want to be like this. I want to be able to walk into a room like Janessa Hughes—completely unafraid and ready for anything thrown at me.”

“You shouldn’t want to be anything like Janessa,” I said, unable to keep the disdain from my voice. “And she’s not as brave as you think. She’s just as afraid as you or me or anybody. Her fears might be different from yours, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there.”

The thought seemed to strike her. “I…I haven’t really thought of it that way.”

“If I had to guess, I’d say she’s afraid of becoming obsolete. Irrelevant. She’s afraid to lose her power, and that makes her desperate.”

“What about you? What are you afraid of?”

Such a simple question. I was afraid for the pain my mother had yet to endure from her illness. I was afraid of losing my money, my means, and returning to the Bronx with my tail between my legs. I was afraid of many things, things I didn’t want anyone to know. Especially not someone who could turn my life, my pain, into fodder for the gossip cannon.

But looking into Amelia’s open face, her silvery eyes touched only with honesty and concern, I had to fight the instinct to tell her the truth.

The thought settled cold and sharp in my stomach.

So I smirked at her, enjoying the bloom of color on her cheeks. “Spiders.”

A laugh shot out of her. “Oh my God. No you aren’t.”

I held up my hands, palms up. “Honest. Theo used to put them on my pillow when he found them, and no lie, I’d scream like a girl. Still do. Once, he actually had someone lend him a pet tarantula. I pulled back my covers, and there she was, beady eyes and hairy legs and pincers like this.” I pinched my thumb and forefinger together. A shudder wracked down my back. “He’s lucky I didn’t smash the thing. Have you not seen the video?”

“There’s a video?” Shamelessly, she turned to her computer and started searching the internet.

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