Authors: Barbara Dunlop
What’s the next highest?” Lizbet asked.
Sam clicked a few keys. “Seventy-two
even. Not even close.”
Everyone went silent.
Finally, Daisy looked to JW. “On the bright side, if the program works as well as Sam claims, you already know he’s not gay. Amelia’s definitely a girl.”
in to her eyes, JW felt a pang of guilt. He could pretend to be open-minded, but he’d only be lying to himself and everyone else. Life was easier if you were a heterosexual. At the very least, it was complicated if you were gay, and sometimes it was downright dangerous.
“I wish I could say I didn’t care,” JW offered in a
For some reason, the words earned a smile from Daisy. “
You’re an honest man, JW. I like that about you.”
We’re not going to give up now,” Lizbet declared.
“Do we start from scratch?” asked Daisy.
“There’s nothing wrong with the algorithm,” Sam repeated, clearly growing offended by their lack of faith.
“I’m not saying we start over,”
Lizbet clarified. “I’m saying we test it out.”
“Test it out how?” asked JW, not seeing a way to undertake it.
“You mean use these two as guinea pigs? Go ahead and match them up?” asked Hannah.
gave an enthusiastic nod. “That’s exactly what I mean.”
Sam grinned and clicked a few keys.
“We carry on with the plan,” Lizbet continued. “Where’s Amelia living now, and what’s she doing?”
“She just graduated from
U of Arizona.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad,” JW couldn’t help noting.
“Fine arts,” said Hannah. “I think she just squeaked through her classes. She cheers for the Wildcats.”
“They’re a fine team.”
“And she’s a beautiful girl.” Hannah sighed. “Last I heard she was planning to go to Hollywood and become an actress.”
an awfully long way from Berkeley,” Daisy noted.
JW agreed with Daisy on that being a problem.
“But it’s right next door to Caltech,” said Sam.
How is that relevant?” asked Lizbet.
picked up the telephone receiver, grinning like a Cheshire cat. “We move the mountain to Mohammed.”
“Which one’s the mountain?” asked Hannah
, glancing at the others.
Sam spoke heartily into the receiver. “Sam Finnegan here. Are you still interested in having me lecture this summer?” There was a pause. “I will. Yes. But I need a favor.”
Camden didn’t think she’d heard her mother correctly. “Auntie Hannah has a
?” she asked into the phone while she squeezed a single-serving box of pineapple juice into the blender with her yogurt and fresh strawberries.
An empty condo in Pasadena,” her mother Georgia confirmed.
Amelia’s door was open
to the hallway of Epsilon Omega house. The place buzzed with activity now that exams had ended, shrieks, bangs and loud male voices echoing through the building as buff, eager boyfriends helped move the girls’ belongings and furniture.
“I didn’t know
Auntie Hannah was rich.”
I wouldn’t have thought rich,” said Georgia, “but Uncle Max did do pretty well in real estate.”
“So, has she always had this place?” Amelia moved
to arm’s length from the blender, hitting the on button then quickly ducking to the far side of the room.
noise?” asked Georgia.
I’m making lunch.”
“I thought you were moving out today.”
“I was. I am.” Amelia glanced guiltily around the room. She’d meant to pack last night, but her friend Sammy, had introduced her to a stuntman from LA who knew several producers from NBC. You couldn’t plan those kinds of connections, and you had to jump right on them when they appeared in front of you.
“They’ll give you an extra day if you
make a written request,” she told her mother.
“Did you make a written request?”
Amelia rolled her eyes at her mother’s near-anal attention to detail. “No. But there’ll be a dozen people staying over until tomorrow. Nobody’s going to notice one extra.”
Amelia.” The familiar ring of exasperation was clear in Georgia’s tone.
Amelia moved closer to the blender to drown out
the tone. She hit the off button and started to hunt around for a clean glass.
“I think you should take
the condo,” Georgia added.
Of course I should take the condo,” Amelia agreed. When a relative offered a free place to stay within an hour of LA, it was definitely a sign.
made the cut for final tryouts with a Seattle football team. But she wasn’t sure she wanted to live in the Pacific Northwest. It was cold up there, and rainy, and an acting career would certainly have more longevity than a cheerleading career. She couldn’t help feeling a little smug about the decision. Her family was wrong when they told her she never planned ahead.
Good.” Her mother sounded relieved. “Hannah’s given me the address in Pasadena and the name of the person with the key. Do you have enough money for a bus ticket?”
Yes, I have enough money for a bus ticket.”
It was frustrating to have parents who seemed to think she was still twelve.
Sure, things always got a little lean at the end of term. But Amelia wasn’t destitute. She could get herself to Pasadena or to Seattle, for that matter.
I don’t know if it has any furniture. And you’ll definitely have to stock it up with food and find some linens and things.”
“Hey, Amelia,” came
Krista’s shout from the hallway outside her door. “You coming to the commons? They’re hosting the big send-off barbecue this afternoon.”
“Sounds great,” Amelia called
love a chance to say goodbye to as many people as possible. And it was nice to have an excuse to cut her mother’s fussing short.
“There’s a big barbecue about to start,” she told Georgia as she poured the smoothie into a disposable glass. “Some of the girls want me to come along.”
“Oh. Well, you go have fun, dear.”
om. Tell Auntie Hannah thank you.”
“You’ll call her?” Georgia asked.
“When I get there. Can you text me the number? And the address. Text me the address, too.”
“I will. Let me know when you’re safely on the bus.”
“Yes, Mom. Bye.”
Amelia hung up the phone, took a swig of the smoothie and stepped into her flats. It was late May
in Tucson, and the weather was as perfect as it got. She’d pulled on a white, lacy T-shirt and a little denim skirt this morning. They would do for a barbecue. Her auburn ponytail was a bit messy, but they’d be outside in the wind. Redoing it now would only be a waste of effort.
“I’m on my way
,” she called to Krista, tucking her phone in one pocket and her tiny wallet in the other.
Krista stuck her
blonde head in the doorway, a dire expression on her face. “Tad just broke up with Maddie.”
The revelation caused Amelia to miss a step.
“Seriously? I thought they were going to law school together.”
“Well, they’re both still going to law school.
But it won’t be together.”
“What a pig.”
“I’ll say,” Krista said with a decisive nod. “He tried to hit on me at the spring mixer.”
“You didn’t tell her?” Amelia pulled the bedroom door shut behind her.
“He was drunk,
and nothing happened, so I gave him a pass. Probably should have ratted him out.”
Amelia had to agree.
The two women started for the grand staircase that led from the second floor to the front foyer.
“Well, she’s going to do a hel
l of a lot better than him anyway,” she stated staunchly. Maddie was smart and beautiful. Men were going to fall all over her when she got to Stanford.
I told her.”
I don’t know about men,” said Amelia, with a sorry shake of her head. She was beginning to think they weren’t worth the trouble. They all seemed to be bull-headed, narrow-minded and incredibly self-centered.
Her most recent boyfriend had wanted her to follow him to
U of T so he could get a master’s in supply chain management. Who studied supply chain management? And who wanted to live in Texas? They’d been dating for six months, and the invitation told her he hadn’t listened to a word she’d said about her own future. Either that, or he hadn’t taken anything she’d said seriously. It didn’t matter which. He was out of her life for good.
“What’s to know?” Krista
responded cheerfully, linking her arm with Amelia’s. “Men are very simple creatures, susceptible to lipstick and vee-neck sweaters. They provide free drinks on Saturday nights and carry all your heavy stuff. We don’t have to take them seriously at this stage of the game.”
at her friend’s perspective as they exited the building. Krista made a good point.
catching the bus tonight?” Krista asked as they crossed the street to the strip of parkland that led to the commons.
And I’m not going to Seattle, either.”
“LA. Well, Pasadena.”
Krista stopped and turned to look at her, jaw dropping open. “You’re going to do it? You’re going to be a movie star?”
I’m going to audition for parts. And wait tables to start off with.” Amelia had spent her last few summers as a cocktail waitress in Phoenix. She was confident she could find a similar job in Pasadena. The wages weren’t very good, but she always managed to do well in tips. Krista was right. Men were astonishingly susceptible to a bit of makeup and a few clingy clothes.
I can’t believe it,” Krista raved. “I never thought you’d do it. I thought you’d go after the cheerleading gig. What did your mom say?”
She’s okay with it. My great-aunt has a place where I can stay.”
Krista looked doubtful.
your great-aunt? How much fun will that be?”
“She lives in Florida.
So I think I’ll be there alone. At least, it sounded like I’d be there alone.”
They rounded a corner on the path, and the main commons came into view. A big crowd had gathered in the picnic area
. A band was on the stage, the strains of its warm-up music wafting across the lawn.
livin’ your dream,” sang Krista.
Amelia supposed that was tr
ue, and she smiled to herself at the thought. Once again, her life had spontaneously worked itself out. Odd, the way that happened to her over and over again.
o o o
Morgan’s world had turned on a dime.
In the space of one phone call, he’d switched from the comfortable path laid out for him for the next ten years at Berkeley to a sweetheart of a deal at Caltech. Out of the blue, he’d been offered a prime position in the aerospace department. It had come with a private lab, a top-notch salary, and no requirement to teach lower-level courses.
If that wasn’t enough
, they’d thrown in housing, providing him with a brand new condo that overlooked the Pasadena cityscape on one side and a golf course on the other. It was compact, with two bedrooms on the second floor. The main floor held a small kitchen and a combination dining and living room that opened on to a stone patio with a splash pool and a hot tub, surrounded by a small lawn.
After a hectic two weeks of moving, he now stood
on the patio and drew a deep breath of satisfaction. There was a high privacy hedge on one side. On the other was a low, white fence dividing his yard from the one next door. The back of the yard was open to a hillside that fell away into a steep ravine with the city beyond.
came a soft, female voice from a distance.
to find a twentysomething woman emerging from the doorway of the neighboring condo. She wore faded, cutoff jeans and a khaki green tank top that clung to her perfectly rounded breasts. The thick braid of her auburn hair had probably started out neat, but it had worked its way loose around her face, blowing messily in the slight breeze, wispy, sexy.
, instantly losing the power of speech.
“Hi,” she greeted a second time,
stepping toward the fence. Her shapely, coltish legs ended in bare feet. “I’m Amelia Camden.”
Holbrook,” he managed then cleared his throat because his voice had come out unnaturally high. “I’m just moving in.”
, too?” she asked, and her lips curved into a gleaming smile. “I’m just moving in over here.” From the opposite side of the fence, she reached out her hand.
He had to order his feet to move
the few steps to meet her.
“It’s good to meet you, Morgan.” His name rolled off her tongue, and he felt
a megawatt of energy pass through his system.
“Good to meet you, too.”
Reaching the fence, he held out his own hand, congratulating himself on regaining his composure. And then their hands touched. The megawatt turned into a gigawatt, and the shock ran all the way from his palm to his toes.
“I only arrived
in Pasadena this morning,” she told him, still shaking his hand. “I spent the last four years at the University of Arizona. Liberal arts, mostly theatrical arts, some film.” She laughed and finally let him go. “Even some poetry and creative writing.”
focused on steadying his heartbeat.
“I’m planning to go into acting,” she continued
breezily, turning to gaze at the view. “I think I can see LA in the distance. Can you see it? Right out there.”
He realized he had to answer that one.
“Maybe,” he managed. Though he was pretty sure the view faded off into smog before you could actually see LA.
I realize we’ve just met.” She swiveled to face him again, her smile dazzling white. “And I don’t mean to impose. But there are a couple of boxes in my hallway that need to go upstairs. Do you suppose...”
She blinked her big, green eyes, clear and deep in the lengthening
sun rays. It was obvious she expected him to say yes. No surprise there. He doubted any man had ever said no to her, especially a nerd like Morgan.
he looked at her, he saw a goddess. When she looked at him, she saw an easy mark, a susceptible geek she could bend to her will.
And she was right.
There was no point in either of them pretending otherwise.
“Sure,” he answered. “Happy to help out.”
Her smile widened. “
Great. Right this way.”
He stepped over the low fence and followed her through a sliding d
oor that was identical to his. As they walked, he let his gaze skim her back, over the thin strip of bare skin, coming to rest on the play of her tight buttocks.