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Authors: Lauren Layne

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #Contemporary Women, #Coming of Age

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BOOK: The Trouble With Love
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Alex hid a laugh behind a cough. From the resigned look on Camille’s face, and the lack of shock on everyone else’s, it was clear this group was used to Julie’s unabashed prying.

“Perfectly healthy. It’s a personal matter,” Camille said, in a tone that indicated the conversation was over.

Julie made a grunting noise that indicated the conversation was
not
over.

“Now, I’m sure you’re all itching with theories you’d like to share with your colleagues, and I have plenty to catch Mr. Cassidy up on, so if there are no other inappropriate questions—”

“Wait,” a tiny blond woman next to Grace said. “That’s it? We haven’t talked about the next issue, or story assignments, and there are about a million letters to the editor thanks to that story we did about Botox, and—”

Camille held up a hand. “Mr. Cassidy will be holding a meeting on Monday morning to go over all of that, Dana.”

Alex didn’t react, although inside he cringed. He’d agreed to this only because he’d assumed it was a figurehead position—a way of making the higher-ups feel comfortable with Camille’s absence. Surely she didn’t expect him to actually
run
this estrogen nightmare? He had his own magazine to take care of, a girlfriend that might actually last longer than two months, and—

“Cassidy,” Camille snapped.

He realized in dismay that the meeting was indeed over. And that everyone was looking at him with a mixture of resentment and curiosity. And, of course, a certain ice queen wasn’t looking at him at all.

That was fine. Just fine.

Alex had been through worse.

Starting with the night his
beloved
fiancée had told him she didn’t want to marry him after all.

Chapter 3

“Emma, a moment?”

Emma looked up from her monitor. She and the other Love & Romance girls had been in their usual pre-lunch “zone.” It was one of the few times of day when they put chatting and gossip aside long enough to get work done.

She pulled off her headphones and looked at Camille. “Um, sure. Now?”

Camille made it a point to meet regularly with all of her senior columnists on a one-on-one basis, but Emma’s scheduled time was Monday afternoon; today was Wednesday. It was never a good sign when their boss went off book.

“It’ll be fast,” Camille said, before her head disappeared from the door.

Emma pulled off the glasses she used when working on the computer and rubbed her eyes. “It won’t be fast. It’s never fast.”

“That’s what she said,” Riley muttered.

“That phrase doesn’t really work in this context, Ri,” Julie said distractedly.

“That phrase always works in
any
context,” Riley responded.

“Hey, Ems, see if you can get the inside scoop,” Grace said, leaning back in her chair as Emma stood and stretched. “I’m dying to know what the heck this sabbatical is about. Three
months
?”

“I can’t ask,” Emma said, moving toward the door. “She said it was personal.”
 

“Right. Which translates to
interesting,
” Julie said, pulling her hair into a pony.

“I’ll see what I can do.” Emma jabbed a finger toward her laptop. “And don’t touch my edits. I know it was one of you that tried to sneak the word
penis
into my last headline.”

“Um, yeah. Because you need some penis in your life,” Riley said.

“I’ll have you know that I had some penis in my life . . . last week,” Emma said. “No, last month. Maybe . . .”

Her three friends looked at one another, and although the shared glance was more good-natured than it was
poor Emma,
it didn’t stop the irritation from rippling through her.

Emma was happy that her friends were all blissed out with their painfully good-looking men. Really. Good for them.

But that didn’t mean they had to lure her into their little club. Emma had
tried
the happily-ever-after route, and knew that for every woman who rode off into the sunset on a white stallion, another one got kicked in the face by that very same horse.

She’d been there. Done that.
Moved on.

Emma wiggled her fingers at her friends and then headed toward Camille’s office. The
Stiletto
office was energetic even on the dullest of days, but today it was downright buzzy. Camille Bishop was practically an institution, not only at
Stiletto,
but in New York.

The change in leadership, even temporary, had people chirping with theories and predictions.

One noisy whisper in particular caught her attention. “I mean, can you imagine reporting to Alex Cassidy every week? He’s gorgeous. I wonder if he’s single.”

He’s not,
Emma silently answered. She knew he was seeing someone, even though the
Stiletto
girls were weird about mentioning Cassidy’s relationships to her under some misplaced girl code. Granted, Emma had never actually told her friends what happened between her and Cassidy—not the full story.

In fact, if Emma had had it
her
way, she’d have gone to her grave without
anyone
knowing their history. But she supposed secrets
that
big weren’t meant to stay secrets. It had taken only a few short months for the group to realize that she and Cassidy had once been engaged.

Still, even Riley, Grace, and Julie didn’t know everything. Not just yet. Maybe not ever.

Emma had found the only thing worse than thinking about heartbreak was talking about it. Did that make her a little lonely?
 

Maybe.
 

But lonely was better than hurt.

New York should have been the one city big enough for both her and Cassidy to coexist without interacting, and yet somehow they’d found themselves not only working for the same company but in the same friend group.

They avoided each other as much as possible, but with Julie’s wedding right around the corner and Riley’s coming up right after that, she knew they’d have a couple face-to-face moments.

And that was before she knew she’d be reporting to him as her supervisor.

God help her.

Emma knocked on Camille’s door. “Boss?”

Camille glanced up from her cellphone and motioned Emma in. “Come. Sit.”

Emma sat in the seat across from Camille’s, her gaze briefly taking in the panoramic view of Central Park and the city’s skyline. For a girl from the suburbs of Charlotte, North Carolina, glimpses of Manhattan never got old. Not yet, anyway.

“You’re looking . . . glamorous,” Camille said, as Emma crossed her legs and carefully made sure her short satin dress didn’t ride up.

“Long story,” Emma said. Though her friends had an easy relationship with Camille, Emma was newer to the group—newer to
Stiletto
—and she wasn’t quite secure enough in her position at the company to run her mouth.

Not that Emma was ever one to run her mouth. She was more the live-and-let-live type.

It was a natural evolution for someone who’d grown up with a twin sister who’d had more than enough personality for the both of them. And speaking of her twin, Emma had no doubt that Daisy’s southern belle sensibilities would probably be all
why, I never!
if she could see Emma’s current state of dishevelment.

Emma’s perfectly coiffed sister would have found a way to emerge from a flooded apartment looking every bit as darling as she had at the daffodil parades.
All
the daffodil parades.

It hadn’t been easy being Daisy Sinclair’s quiet, boring sister. When they were growing up, Daisy had been the quintessential little princess. She
always
wore dresses, and the dresses would never have lemonade spilled down the front like Emma’s. Daisy knew
exactly
what to say to boys to make them fall all over themselves, whereas Emma had been horribly shy around the opposite sex.

When Emma had gotten engaged first, she’d been braced for Daisy’s resentment. Not because Daisy was generally resentful, but because everyone—Emma included—had assumed that Daisy would be the first sister down the aisle. But nobody had been happier for Emma and Cassidy than Daisy. Because as if it weren’t enough that Daisy were the charming one, she was also
good
. Emma would be annoyed if she didn’t love her sister so damned much.

And as it turned out, Daisy had been the first—and only—twin to walk down the aisle after all. Of course, she’d also been the only sister to get divorced. Daisy always joked that the twins had two unshakable things in common: a face and a shit-ton of heartache.

Except Daisy hadn’t actually said the “shit-ton” part. That was Emma’s special profane spin on the situation.

“I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours,” Camille said.

“Sorry?”

Camille pointed a coral fingernail at Emma’s still-damp hair. “You tell me why you’re rocking the fresh-outta-the-shower look, and I’ll tell you while I’m leaving my darling magazine in the hands of one of the
Oxford
buffoons.”

Emma pursed her lips. Couldn’t argue about the
buffoon
part. Although she was pretty sure that, despite her boss’s words, there was plenty of mutual respect between Cassidy and Camille. Still, Camille always saw
Oxford
as a bit of an enemy. The competition, so to speak.

“My apartment flooded,” Emma said, since her news wasn’t much of a secret. “It started with the pipe above the bathroom and my closet, but it’s an old building, and there was some sort of chain reaction thing, and before I knew it, the entire apartment was six inches deep in water.”

Camille tapped her fingernails on the desk. “Everything ruined?”

Emma shrugged. “I’ll know more when I get back today. But it didn’t look good when I left. My landlord is bringing some people in to survey the situation. Figure out what’s salvageable.”

“Hmm.”

Emma waited for her boss to say more, but Camille fell silent.

“Your turn,” Emma prodded.

To her surprise, Camille’s usually intense, take-no-prisoners expression transformed into a girlish grin. “I met someone.”

Emma’s eyebrows lifted. “You’re taking three months off work because you met someone?”

Camille merely leaned back in her chair and grinned wider. “So skeptical, Emma. You’re one of my Love girls. Surely you can understand what it’s like to fall, and fall hard.”

“Actually, I’m more like your breakup, single-life girl,” Emma corrected.

“Which is why I brought you in here,” Camille said, straightening a bit.

Emma held up a finger. “Your story first. ‘I met someone’ isn’t nearly enough information.”

“Fine. But for the record, your little flood story wasn’t worth this exchange of information,” Camille said, without much heat.

Emma had the feeling her boss
wanted
to talk about her sabbatical. Emma just wasn’t sure she wanted to be the one doing the listening. She’d had quite enough of other people’s luck in the love department lately.

“He’s a photographer,” Camille said. “Ken. Kenny.”

Kenny?

“We met a couple months ago when we were each dining solo at a little Italian place in the Village, and it was just . . . we clicked. He’s so different from my ex. Exes, plural. He’s a dreamer. A thrill seeker.”

“Mmm-hmm,” Emma said, knowing from the smitten expression on Camille’s face that her boss wasn’t looking for conversation so much as a chance to talk about her rapture.

“He’s taking me down under,” Camille continued.

“Okay,
way
too much info—wait. Down Under. Like
Australia
?”

“You got it, mate,” Camille said in what Emma gathered was supposed to be an Australian accent. “Some tourist company is paying for his apartment in Sydney. All he has to do is capture the local flavor. And he asked me to tag along, and you know? I’ll be fifty-five next year, and I haven’t done anything exciting since I was twenty. I want some
adventure
before I’m too old to get it.”

“So you’re going to another country—no, continent—with a guy you just met? For three months?”

Camille gave a happy shrug. “What can I say, when you’re in love—”

“Um, when you’re in love, you give it
at least
six months to see if it will last before gallivanting all over the globe,” Emma suggested patiently.

“Why so cynical, Sinclair?” Camille paused. “Cynical Sinclair. That’s
got
to be a nickname of yours.”

“It’s not,” Emma said drily. “And by all means let’s not let it become one.”

Camille waved this aside. “Listen, the reason I called you in here is because your last piece was fantastic. The whole surviving singledom while your friends are coupled up thing is going to hit home for a lot of women. Myself included.”

“Um, thanks?” Emma said, not at all sure where this was going, but pretty sure she wasn’t going to like it.

“Your story before that was also good,” Camille continued. “I like that you focused on all the reasons modern women might be better off
without
a significant other.”

Emma sat back in her chair, bracing for whatever was coming. Camille was a fair boss, but not usually effusive with praise. This little pep talk couldn’t be going
anywhere
good.

“And the piece before
that
—”

“Camille. Please. Drop the bomb on me already. I can take it.”

Her boss gave a sigh of relief, then blurted it out: “You’re in a rut. A writing rut.”

Emma frowned. “But—”

“I’ll rephrase. The writing is fine. Excellent. You’re one of my best. But the topics are . . . they’re good, but they’re going to get stale if you don’t change it up.”

Emma had the sudden urge to cross her arms and pout. Pouting had always worked so well for her sister over the years. Too bad Emma had never perfected it.

“Change it up how?” Emma asked.

Camille picked up her cellphone. “Well, my college roommate’s nephew just moved to New York from San Francisco—”

Emma closed her eyes and groaned. “No.”

“No, you can’t say no,” Camille said as she scrolled through her photos. “Just look.”

She held the phone across the desk until Emma relented and looked at . . . an absolutely gorgeous guy.

BOOK: The Trouble With Love
4.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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