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Authors: Kathy Love

I Want You to Want Me

BOOK: I Want You to Want Me
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I W
ANT
Y
OU
TO
W
ANT
M
E
I W
ANT
Y
OU
TO
W
ANT
M
E
KATHY LOVE

KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.

www.kensingtonbooks.com

For Heather Graham and Connie Perry

If these two wonderful women hadn’t invited me
to New Orleans, I never would have been inspired
to write these books, nor would I have discovered one
of my favorite places on earth.

Thank you.

Acknowledgments

This past year has been both my most difficult and my best.

As always it has been my friends and family who’ve gotten me through the bad and celebrated with me when things were good.

 

Okay, you Tarts, you know I love you!

 

A huge thanks to my family.

Mom and Dad, Cindy, Teresa, Darrell, and Gerry, I love you.

 

Julie, Erin, Cat, Lisa, Chris, Kathy, Kate, Toni, Kristi, and Amanda

Thanks for the phone chats, the laughter, and the understanding.

 

Thank you to
The Impalers
, past and present Special thanks to Brian Beeler, the only original.

And to Craig Steggal, Michael Koerber, Tim Perry, Paul Scali, Vince Reeves, Michael George, Roger Sullivan, Johnny Relayson, Eric Knight, Greg, Matt Janice, Allan Maxwell, Sonny Kane, and Andrew Autin Who knew it took so many guys to create a fictional vampire band!

 

And to my new friends in New Orleans, Michelle, Jansen, Allison, Jennie, and Shelly

 

Also I want to thank my editor, Kate Duffy, and my agent, Jenny Bent.

They’ve made this year much easier for me.

And finally, and most important, thanks to my daughter, Emily.

She reminds me everyday what matters in life.

I love you, Boo.

Chapter 1

“I
s there something wrong with the left breast?” Erika Todd asked her friend as she peered at the torso in front of her.

Maggie tilted her head, considering. “Yes. It’s—crooked or something.”

Erika’s head tilted too. “Maybe it needs to be bigger.”

“Or higher.”

Erika sighed, throwing down the clay-encrusted towel she’d been using to wipe her hands, and turned away from the sculpture. “
Argh!
I just can’t figure out what my problem is. I’ve been struggling with all of my pieces lately. And I’m getting more than a little frustrated.”

“Maybe it’s just a matter of getting used to your new surroundings. A lot has been going on for you in the past three months,” Maggie said.

Erika shrugged. “I suppose, but it’s all been good stuff. I should be feeling inspired, not…” She glanced back at her latest creation. “Lopsided.”

“Well, you’ve been pushing yourself,” Maggie pointed out. “Moving is hard. Maybe you just need to allow yourself a little break.”

Erika nodded even though she didn’t agree. She hadn’t found the move hard. In fact, taking the apartment in Maggie and her husband Ren’s building had seemed natural. The right move. She loved New Orleans. It spoke to her creativity.

All signs to the contrary. She frowned at the sculpture again.

“Well, I don’t have much time. My show is in a month, and I’d hoped to have three new pieces done for the exhibit.”

It was Maggie’s turn to simply nod. Her friend knew how important this show was to Erika. The Broussard, a renowned gallery in the French Quarter, was doing a show dedicated just to her work. She needed it to be perfect.

After years of struggling, working jobs she hated, living on macaroni and cheese and ramen, listening to her father tell her she had to think about getting a “real” job, things were finally falling into place for her, and she didn’t want to lose momentum. This was her dream.

But maybe Maggie had a point. Obviously, working continuously wasn’t creating the results she wanted either.

She surveyed the piece again, then sighed. “This piece is supposed to be called ‘Fallen Angel.’ Not ‘Fallen Boob.’”

Erika dropped down onto the worn blue velvet chair she’d just purchased at a secondhand shop on Decatur. Maggie sat down on her sofa—an equally worn, yet lovely gold brocade sofa. Another secondhand find.

“You will get the pieces done, and they will be a huge hit. And you will gather rich patrons galore.”

Erika laughed at her friend’s certain optimism. “We can only hope.”

“You will,” Maggie assured her, with an encouraging smile.

Erika, with her artist’s eye, assessed her friend. Maggie had always been cute—cuter than she ever gave herself credit for. But now, Erika studied her friend’s profile as she’d just done her sculpture, but unlike her creation, she found her friend truly lovely.

Maybe it was the way her loose curls framed her face, accenting the softness of her cheeks and the delicate point of her chin. Or maybe it was the new style she’d embraced, clothes that displayed her rounded curves. Or maybe it was the happiness in her eyes, making them practically dance with unbridled joy.

“So where is Ren taking you this week?” Erika asked, knowing he was the one from where much of that joy stemmed.

Maggie’s eyes brightened, glimmering happily in the lamplight. “I have no idea. It’s a surprise.”

“No hints?”

Maggie sighed. “Not even a tiny one. And believe me, I’ve tried every tactic imaginable to get him to slip.” Then Maggie’s cheeks reddened, giving Erika a pretty good indication what those tactics may have been.

Erika opened her mouth to tease her, when a knock stopped her. Before she could call for the person to come in, Ren strolled through the door from the glassed-in sun porch.

“You’re back early,” Maggie said, rising to greet him. He walked straight to her, pressing a lingering kiss on his wife’s upraised lips. “Is everything set with work? Is your stand-in okay?”

Ren nodded. “Not me, but he’ll do.”

“Egotist,” Maggie chided with a fond smile. Ren kissed her again.

Erika watched, a pang of envy tightening her chest. Not that she begrudged her friend the happiness she’d found. Maggie deserved it. Erika just wished she could find her own love interest. Her soul mate.

Maggie broke off the kiss, but didn’t pull out of Ren’s hold. Instead, they just gazed at each other for a moment. Watching the adoring looks on both their faces, Erika was struck by the need to capture that feeling, both in her art and in her life.

She quickly reached over to the end table that she’d painted cobalt blue and caught the strap of her digital camera. Before the couple realized she’d moved, she pointed and clicked.

Maggie made a small startled noise, while Ren turned to blink at Erika.

“You never know,” Erika said, snapping another shot, “I may want to sculpt you two.”

Maggie actually blushed. “I would hardly be a good subject.”

Ren snorted, the sound somehow attractive rather than impolite. “You are a perfect subject.”

Erika smiled at the conviction in his voice. Ren was thoroughly besotted.

“I, however,” he added, “could never be an angel of any sort, fallen or otherwise.”

“Well, I’m not sculpting just angels. I’m sculpting whatever strikes me. And you two did.” Erika snapped another shot for good measure. “Maybe I want to capture true love. Or soul mates.”

Ren smiled broadly at that, the curl of his lips giving him a slightly naughty and utterly charming look. “Well, I can accept that description.”

He stole another kiss from Maggie.

Erika breathed a sigh, masking the sound of discontent by setting her camera on the coffee table. She’d never doubted that one day, after already accumulating an abundance of frogs, she’d meet her prince. But lately, maybe because of a dry spell, even from the frogs, she was beginning to wonder.

“Okay,” Ren said suddenly. “Are you ready to go?”

Maggie smiled and shrugged. “As ready as I can be, given that I have no idea where I’m going. But then, I figured I didn’t need to pack much.”

“You, darlin’, have a one track mind,” Ren said, shaking his head in feigned dismay. He looked at Erika. “I think you should have warned me about her.”

Erika shrugged, taking no responsibility for his choices. Although she did feel a little responsible for Maggie taking the initiative to go after him.

“You love it,” Maggie said, and Ren kissed her.

“I love you,” he muttered, his voice rough with emotion.

Another pang of longing pulsed in Erika’s chest. The scene could have easily struck her as nauseating, but between her happiness for Maggie and her own desire for those same emotions, Erika just…wanted. Big time.

“Okay,” Ren said, linking his fingers with Maggie’s. “We’ll see you on Wednesday.”

“Have fun,” Erika said as she walked them to the door. She remained at the window, watching them gather their luggage and cross the courtyard toward the door that led to the street. They really were the image of newly wedded bliss. Of real happiness.

Erika didn’t bother to disguise her sigh this time, there was no one to hear it but her new roommate, a big black cat she’d named Boris. And he wasn’t paying any attention, curled in his usual spot on the back of her overstuffed chair, looking sullen. His usual expression. His only expression, really. Even in his sleep.

She gazed out into the shadowy courtyard for a few moments longer, then turned back to her apartment. Aside from the lopsided sculpture and the necessary mess of wet clay and bits of polymer and caked tools, the place was neat. Well, organized chaos anyway.

She, on the other hand, was another story. Her jeans were smeared with clay, her fingernails caked, her hair knotted back in an untidy and clay-spattered ponytail.

“And I wonder why I only have you for male companionship,” she said, moving to stroke Boris’s black fur. He opened one golden eye, then shut it again, obviously unmoved.

She supposed she should try to fix her sculpture, but she’d been working on this angel for nearly five days, and the poor thing was getting worse with each progressive attempt. Maggie was right. They both needed a rest.

“Although this is what you should be stressing about,” she muttered to herself, inspecting the sculpture again. “Not your lack of a love life.”

Erika knew that. Intellectually, she did. But emotionally, she craved what Maggie had found in Ren. And for some reason, she couldn’t shake that longing, even with all the exciting changes in her life. Maybe because she was seeing her friend’s happiness on a daily basis. Or maybe because so many other things had fallen into place lately. Wasn’t it time for love to join in?

“Does life always have to be one thing or another?” she wondered to the bored Boris. “A trade-off. My career is going well, so now I have to go without a love life?”

Erika pushed that train of thought aside. It sounded like her father’s reasoning. Her father was a big subscriber to Murphy’s Law. She, on the other hand, believed in positive thoughts creating positive outcomes.

And the positive thoughts she needed to work on now were about her art show.

“Focus on the now and the rest will fall into place.”

Her mother had once said that to her in a letter, and Erika had tried to live by it. She was her mother’s daughter, after all.

“So I think now what is required is a nice, long shower and a glass of wine.”

She glanced back at the sculpture that looked more like a Picasso than an Erika Todd.

Maybe she just needed to start over. She wandered to her fridge, and poured a glass of wine. And maybe a nice, long bath and two glasses of wine was the way to go.

 

Something woke her.

Erika struggled upright, blinking around, trying to get her bearings. She was in the living room on her brocade sofa. Brushing the tangle of hair from her face, she fell back against the cushy, body-warmed pillows.

She must have dozed off as she’d been studying her work, analyzing, again, what might fix it. She glanced at the coffee table, where her second glass of pinot noir sat, half-empty.

Closing her eyes, she allowed herself to drift. Sleep was often as much a creativity sparker as work. Or at least she was going with that theory for now. The warm, enveloping couch felt lovely.

Then she heard it. A distinct bang directly above her head. Her eyes popped open, and she stared at the ceiling she’d painted sky blue when she’d moved in. She remained still, listening.

Just when she’d decided that she must have imagined the loud clunk, another noise echoed from above her head. The scrape of something being dragged across the floor.

She glanced over to her cat. Even Boris stared intently up at the sound. His ear twitched.

For once the grumpy cat was giving a definite reaction, but of course it was when she’d much rather have seen his usual bored or apathetic demeanor. She sat up, her eyes still locked on the ceiling as if someone was going to suddenly manifest from the floor above.

There was an apartment over hers. But it was empty. Empty and neglected, since Ren no longer rented the other apartments in his building—liking the privacy it gave him and Maggie. Erika knew she was lucky he conceded to letting her rent.

Her heart leapt, pounding in an uneven, breath-stealing way as she heard more sounds. The distinct creak of feet on a hardwood floor. A sound she easily recognized, because the old hardwood in her apartment squeaked the same way.

Careful to make no noise herself, she rose from the sofa and moved to the front door. Her apartment and the upstairs apartment shared the glassed-in front porch.

Her heart still pounding, she peeked out her window. Light from the courtyard illuminated a swath of the porch, leaving the corners shadowed in darkness.

Behind her, she heard footsteps. She spun, expecting someone to be right behind her. She jumped as she saw a figure in the center of the room. Then she realized it was her distorted creation. Before, she’d considered the sculpture to be frustrating, disappointing, and mostly a disaster. Now it looked almost ominous.

She sucked in a deep breath, trying to calm her rocketing pulse.
Calm down. Calm down.

More footsteps. But overhead—not in the same room. Nothing was going to hurt her. The assurance didn’t persuade her heart to stop hammering against her rib cage.

She looked back out the window, trying to angle her head so she could see up the staircase to her right, which led to the upstairs apartment. The stairs, as much as she could make out, just ascended into pitch black.

Hesitantly, her hand went to the doorknob. She turned it slowly and eased the door ajar. Sticking her head out, she squinted into the darkness. And she listened.

Nothing. Not a sound.

She glanced around the door to Maggie and Ren’s place, a carriage house across the courtyard. Aside from a dim glow from a lamp in the living room, their house was dark too.

She looked back up the staircase, debating whether she should go up and investigate. Peering into the menacing blackness, she decided that was a colossally stupid idea. Instead she pulled the door closed, carefully clicked the lock into place, and went in search of her cell phone.

“See,” she said to Boris as she rummaged through her purse, then among her art supplies, only to find the phone buried under a pile of clay-caked rags. She grimaced at the grimy phone, then turned back to Boris.

“See, I’m not that foolish woman in the horror movies, who traipses off to investigate the noise from the attic.”

Another creak sounded directly above her head. She quickly swiped off the worst of the filth and flipped the phone open only to see the faceplate wasn’t illuminating. She pressed the On button. Nothing. She pressed again, harder. Still nothing.

She stared at the useless phone, knowing that even if she plugged it in, the battery would need a while to accept enough charge to even turn on.

“Okay, so I am apparently the foolish woman in a horror movie who has an ancient cell phone that never holds a charge.” She snapped the phone shut. “Crap.”

BOOK: I Want You to Want Me
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