In November 2013, I was asked to be the guest speaker at the Norwich (CT) Woman’s City Club’s annual meeting. I lived in Norwich from 1987 to 1995, and belonged to the charitable organization. It was great to see old friends! I want to thank Nancy Gordon for thinking of me, and Andrea Mallon for being a loyal reader and friend.
At the end of my romance talk, I invited the members to brainstorm a story with me, and I promised them a first chapter to be posted on my website. They selected the names, the occupations and some of the storyline, and I had fun following their direction.
I soon discovered one chapter was not enough. Here’s the novella that resulted. Thanks so much, ladies! This one’s for you.
Alexandra Russell—don’t call her Alex—finally has the chance to get herself and her daughter back on track again. Alexandra’s worked hard and is tired of paying for her bad judgment—she’s more than learned her lesson. No smooth-talking man is going to worm his way into her heart again with big diamonds and deception. She’s all business now, an aspiring fashion consultant whose sales job at Chico’s is strictly temporary. Alexandra’s interview with media mogul Tonya Lassiter is going to change everything.
If she can get there. That quick look in her rear view mirror to check for lipstick on her teeth has resulted in plowing into Will Garrity’s construction truck. The last thing she needs is another car repair bill, or the attitude from the scruffy, sawdust-covered builder. She remembers him from high school, and he hasn’t changed a bit, except gotten bigger and rougher around the edges.
Will hasn’t seen “Princess Alexandra” in over ten years. They didn’t exactly run in the same crowd, then or now. She was still decked in pearls and superiority, and he didn’t have time for that. Was she going to screw up the Lassiter job for him because she couldn’t see straight?
Will tells himself he has to get her number for the insurance company. But her pretty pink card is burning a hole in his pocket. He can’t stop seeing her in her pearls—and nothing else. He knows he’s asking for trouble, but one date with Her Highness should get her out of his system, shouldn’t it?
Chanel on the cheap. Not real Chanel, of course. She couldn’t afford that, even if she’d found it in a resale store. But Alexandra was satisfied with her short boxy hound’s-tooth jacket and black pencil skirt from T.J. Maxx. Her pearl bangles didn’t clack against each other too loudly, and the rope of pearls—fake, of course—were knotted just so over her almost-silk blouse. She wore killer heels—the last pair of red-soled Laboutins she still owned.
She was dressed to impress Tonya Lassiter. If she got the job, Alexandra would kiss Chico’s good-bye and be responsible for wardrobe at four cable TV channels. She’d be dressing all the on-air personalities on the mini-media mogul’s New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island operations, from weather girls to that weathered-faced guy who did the political commentary every Friday night in Providence. He was in desperate need of her help; his ties were hideous.
If she got the job, that meant she could travel a little and shop again. Not for herself, of course—her debts, well, Rick’s debts, were still staggering. It would be a long while before they were paid off, and she needed a bigger paycheck than she got as assistant manager of the Chico’s at Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino’s shopping mall. There were times when Alexandra wondered if she should stick a dollar in a slot machine after work to improve her odds, but that’s what got her ex-husband in so much trouble.
It wasn’t slots, though, but blackjack. Racked up on her credit card. It had been worth it to borrow money from her mother to pay for the divorce.
Moving in with her parents had been a big pill to swallow three years ago, but where else was Alexandra going to go with a toddler and no job?
Her daughter Emma was the only good thing to come out of her marriage.
Enough with the gloom and doom. Alexandra shot a smile into the rear view mirror to perk herself up and check for lipstick on her teeth. She’d gone for a strong red lip, and there was nothing worse than—
Wrong. Here was something much, much worse. A hulking tricked-up truck was coming around the bend in the narrow Norwichtown back lane straight at her.
Brake brake brake.
She hadn’t been going fast—you couldn’t on this winding road—but it was too late. Alexandra’s ancient little Audi hit the vehicle with a sickening crunch.
Damn. She was just yards away from Ms. Lassiter’s secluded house. She could see the roofline through the treetops.
Out of the hulking truck came the Hulk himself, a grubby construction worker who looked extremely unhappy. He was…familiar. Someone she’d seen from the casino?
No, high school. It was that Neanderthal Will Garrity, who’d captained the football team and had given her such crap when she was head cheerleader.
Good grief. They were a cliché, except they’d never dated. Alexandra’s mother would have grounded her for life if she tried to go out with someone like Will Garrity. But then, her mother had loved slimy, lying Rick, so what did she know about men?
Eleven years had bulked Will up and didn’t look like they’d improved his disposition any. Alexandra rolled down her window.
He towered over the car. “What the hell were you doing? Putting on lipstick?”
It was too close to the truth. Alexandra lifted her chin and tried to smile. “Sorry. I didn’t expect to see anyone else. There’s only one house on this end.” Alexandra had grown up in Norwich, and this road was unknown to most of its residents. It was private, expensive and exclusive. Tonya Lassiter had other houses, but she retreated here for the quiet and anonymity in this sleepy New England town.
Will stepped back as Alexandra slid out of the car to inspect the damage. Her bumper was toast, and one headlight looked ready to pop out to greener pastures.
His hazel eyes narrowed. “I know you. You’re Alex Something, aren’t you?”
“Alexandra.” How she hated to be called Alex. One might as well call her Al and be done with it. She was worth those four syllables, damn it.
“Alexandra Elliot, right?”
“Russell now.” She hadn’t changed name back, thinking it might be confusing for Emma.
He peered into the back seat, where her daughter’s booster seat was in all its crumbs and glory. “Married with a kid, right? Well, if you want your kid to grow up with a mother, you’d better watch where you’re going. Ditzy blonde.”
The last two words were muttered, but Alexandra heard them all the same. “I beg your pardon. You were just as much at fault as I was. You could have killed me with that behemoth. Do you do those stupid monster truck rallies?”
“Of course I don’t!” he said, annoyed. “This is my work truck. I’m on a job.”
Alexandra’s heart sank. “You’re working at Ms. Lassiter’s?”
“Not that it’s any of your business, but yes. My crew is putting up an addition. Office and media room. Two bathrooms, guest bedroom. And FYI, she hates it when people come spying down here. You’d better back it up.”
“I have an appointment with her,” Alexandra said in her iciest voice. She could hear the whine of electric saws and hammering now, breaking the silence of the leafy green countryside.
“I won’t keep you then.” He reached into his back jeans pocket and pulled out a tattered business card. “For the insurance company. I don’t think we need to bother the cops with this, do you?”
As far as she could tell, there wasn’t a scratch on his truck. Her poor Audi, on the other hand, was mangled beyond belief. Alexandra prayed Ms. Lassiter would not look out her window as she lurched up the driveway. First impressions were important, and her car was the next best thing to a clunker.
She reached into the car and retrieved her used red Coach clutch. She preferred to view it as pre-owned. Vintage. Her brand-new cards were in a little leather case her mother had bought for her to celebrate her inevitable success as an independent fashion consultant and stylist.
Elizabeth Elliot did not like to think of her only, college-educated child as a mere shop girl.
Alexandra passed him a pink and black card. Much thought had gone into it—she’d worked up the logo herself. Will’s lip curled as he held it between two callused fingers.
“Clothes Encounters? You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“I graduated from RISD. My degree is in apparel design.” Alexandra even knew how to make fine leather shoes, not that she’d tell this big lug in his scuffed-up work boots. But she’d never really had the drive to succeed in the cut-throat fashion world, and once she’d married Rick she’d enjoyed being a Connecticut housewife in her big-ass new-construction colonial, buying designer clothes rather than sewing them.
She’d had to sell most of them on consignment, and the house had gone into foreclosure years ago.
Alexandra still had a good eye, and she was only twenty-nine. There had to be more to life than ringing up sales at a high-end women’s store. If she could get Tonya Lassiter to give her a break, other doors would open.
But first, she had to knock on her door. “If we’re done here…” She waved a well-manicured hand. Pale pink polish. No rings. She hadn’t bitten the bullet yet to sell her three point five carat emerald-cut diamond engagement ring, but she never wore it. That rat Rick had wanted it back in the divorce settlement, but the judge disagreed.
Will Garrity noticed. “No wedding ring? Where’s Mr. Russell?”
“Not that it’s any of your business, but I’m divorced. What about you…” she made a point of looking at his card as if she couldn’t remember his name. “Mr. Garrity? Uh, William.” Junior.
“No wives, no kids, no problems. Enough with the high school reunion. How do you want this to go? It’s too narrow for either of us to turn around.”
Backing up was not really one of Alexandra’s skills. Apparently going forward wasn’t either. “If you don’t mind, I’m late. Could you…?”
“As you wish, Princess.” There was that unholy spark of glee in his eyes she remembered so well. He’d teased her mercilessly. Thought she was stuck-up. Well, she probably had been, a little. It was hard to escape from Elizabeth’s influence—her mother was a dreadful snob, and Alexandra had been raised with the best of everything.
She got into her car and sneaked a glance at the rear view mirror again. Though her streaked blond hair was still pulled back in a neat ponytail, she felt decidedly ruffled. But she wasn’t going to let a man like Will Garrity—or any guy—get under her skin or into her heart again.