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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 ignored him, pulling a sheet of paper from the top and shaking it. “This one is two thousand words about push-up bras. About the brands, and the way they should fit, and listen to this: ‘The trick with the appeal of push-up bras is to know what kind of guy you’re dealing with. Is he visual? If so, he’s not going to mind that you had a little help to achieve that fantastic cleavage. But if he’s more
tactile,
you might want to consider skipping all that padding. . . . He wants to feel the real you.’’’

Alex let the paper flutter to the desk in horror. “I just . . . I can’t even.”

Cole shook his head. “They’ve got it all wrong. We’re visual
and
tactile. Do you have a red pen? Write that down in the margins.”

Alex ignored him, continuing to shuffle through the papers, reading the headlines. “‘The Lipstick Trend You’ve Got to Try.’ ‘Runway Accents You Can Actually Wear.’ ‘Is Anal the New Oral?’”

Cole stopped chewing. “Wait. Let me see that last one. Seriously? They can write that? Why doesn’t
Oxford
write that?”

“We
do
write that,” Alex muttered, tugging on his lip as he studied the papers. “Maybe you should read something other than the sports section of your own magazine sometime.”

Cole resumed chewing. “So while I’m dealing with the stench of the Yankees locker room to get my story, some other guy’s research is sex? I demand a job swap.”

“You’ll have to talk to Lincoln Mathis about that,” Alex said, referring to
Oxford
’s current expert on all things
women
. “But do it later. I need help.”

“Wondering if you can pull off the latest lipstick trend?” Cole asked, popping the rest of the PowerBar into his mouth.

Alex reached across the desk to snatch up the discarded wrapper and drop it into the trash can. He looked pointedly at the crumbs on the desk, and Cole rolled his eyes and swiped the crumbs onto the ground. “Well, aren’t you fastidious? I’m guessing you’re not into anal
or
oral. Too messy?”

Alex didn’t dignify that with a response. “How am I supposed to evaluate these articles? How do I know what’s good and what’s not? I don’t give a crap about mascara types or juice cleanses, but if these stories go to press and they’re shit, it’s on me.”

Cole leaned back in his chair. “How many of the
Oxford
articles do you read?”

“Every single one.”

Cole blanched. “Seriously?”

“That’s what an editor in chief does, Sharpe. We look at the issue in its entirety. Make sure it doesn’t suck.”

“And you’re supposed to do the same with
Stiletto
?”

“Apparently.”

“Why didn’t Camille find a woman to do this shit?”

“I have no fucking clue,” Alex said, slumping back in his chair and putting his hands over his face. “It’s like she hates me.”

“Why’d you agree to do it?”

It was a fair question. And one that Alex didn’t have a good answer to.

Ordinarily, he didn’t have trouble saying no to anyone—not even Camille with her drill sergeant persona.

He’d like to say he agreed because Camille’s logic made sense; she’d pointed out that finding someone with editor-in-chief experience on a short-term basis was nearly impossible. True. She’d also pointed out that he already had a relationship with the higher-ups and could go to bat for
Stiletto
if needed.

But he wasn’t sure any of those were the real reasons Camille had pushed the task on him.

And he definitely wasn’t sure that was the reason he’d accepted.

As though reading his thoughts, Cole smirked. “What’s Emma’s story?”

“Hmm?” Alex asked, carefully keeping his expression blank.

Cole nodded patiently at the stack of
Stiletto
articles. “Emma Sinclair. What’d she write about?”

Alex was about to shrug, but Cole stopped him with a look. “Don’t even pretend you don’t know.”

Alex sighed and rifled through the papers until he came across Emma’s, flinging it across the desk. Cole glanced at it and then looked up.

“‘The Lost Art of the Blind Date’?”
Cole asked. “You have a real chance to get inside your ex’s head, and you let her write about her date with another dude?”

Alex clicked his pen in agitation. “Sharpe, exactly how many people know about my connection with Emma Sinclair?”

“Um, everybody?”

“Damn it. Jake can’t keep his mouth shut,” Alex muttered.

“Yeah, cat’s out of the bag on that one.” Cole put his feet up on the desk and leaned back. “But what remains a mystery is why you two went belly up.”

Cole cocked an eyebrow. Alex glared.

Cole dropped his feet. “Come on, dude.
Someone’s
got to know. Jake? Grace?”

Alex maintained his silence.

The one thing he and Emma seemed to silently agree on, other than their mutual dislike, was their continued silence about their past. He hadn’t told a soul about what had gone down between them, and as far as he could tell, she hadn’t, either.

Not even to the
Stiletto
girls.

He didn’t know if they were protecting the other person or themselves. But whatever their reasons, he knew he didn’t have plans on running his mouth anytime soon. Especially not to Cole Sharpe, who, while admittedly a damn decent guy, was not the soul of discretion.
 

Cole had apparently given up expecting an explanation from Alex and had turned his attention to Emma’s article.

Cole glanced up. “She’s a good writer.”

Alex grunted. She
was
a good writer. She’d always been a good writer. Back in college it had been all she’d wanted to do in her spare time, although back then, her passion had been fiction. She’d dreamed of writing a novel.

He wondered what had happened to that dream. Did she still write for pleasure?

“Sounds like her date went well,” Cole said with a smug smile.

Alex leaned forward and snatched the article back out of his hand. “Nothing came of it.”

“How do you know?”

Alex didn’t respond. The last thing he wanted to explain was that he’d run into Emma at the end of this very date.

And that he’d
very
much wanted to stick around to see if she got the kiss.

He also didn’t admit to Cole that when he’d received the drafts of the
Stiletto
articles, hers had been the first one he’d reached for.

And, lastly, he absolutely did not admit the stab of relief he’d felt when he read there’d been no first kiss. And no second date.

“Fine, keep your secrets,” Cole said, standing. “But, seriously, do better next time.”

“Do better at what next time?”

“Emma’s assignment,” Cole explained. “Camille’s handed you the mother of all ammunition, making you Emma’s boss like this. Don’t squander this opportunity.”

Alex frowned, and Cole sighed in exasperation. “You’re helpless. Next month give her something
interesting
to write about.”

“I have no idea what
Stiletto
readers find interesting,” Alex muttered, his gaze falling on an article called “Mastering the Side Braid.”

“I’m not talking about what’s interesting to
readers;
I’m talking about what’s interesting to
you,
” Cole said. “Why not get inside her head? Find out if she has an Alex Cassidy voodoo doll under her mattress.”

“I assure you, I don’t give a fuck if or how Emma Sinclair thinks of me.”

“So why’d you call me in here?” Cole asked, his expression confused.

“I didn’t!” Alex said, frustration prompting him to raise his voice. “You just entered, uninvited.”

“Oh. My bad,” Cole said, with a cocky grin. “Good luck, boss. Have fun with your lipstick.”

Alex stared at the door as it shut behind Cole. His sports editor’s suggestion had been diabolical. Alex was a professional. Even if he
did
want to get inside Emma’s head after all this time, he wouldn’t be so underhanded as to use his temporary boss status against her.

Would he?

Then he remembered that night after their rehearsal dinner—remembered her words.

You thought I’d never marry you if I knew the real you? Well, congratulations, Cassidy. You’re absolutely right. I
don’t
want to marry you.

Remembered the way his chest had felt like it cracked in two.

Alex clicked his pen as his frown deepened.

Maybe he
could
be that underhanded after all.

Chapter 8

“He wants you to write a story on your ex-boyfriends?” Julie asked. “He can’t be serious.”

Emma pulled a box of Thai food out of her fridge—well, Camille’s fridge—did a quick sniff test, and deemed it edible.

“Trust me,” Emma said, pulling a plate out of the cupboard. “He was serious.”

“But why?” Julie wailed. “You guys have always been so civil about your dirty, dirty past.”

“Sure, if by
civil,
you mean
barely speaking,
” Emma replied, licking pad Thai off her thumb as she put the leftovers into the microwave.

“So what changed? He just decided to be a jerk all of a sudden?”

“I dunno,” Emma said, taking off her earring and then shifting her phone to the other ear so she could remove the second one. “Maybe it was a power trip thing?”

Even as she said it, it felt wrong. That didn’t
seem
like Cassidy. The man knew he was in charge. Always had. He didn’t require other people’s acquiescence to get a power rush.

“I hope you smashed his balls when he told you. No. Lit them on fire.”

“Yes, because that’s totally something I would do,” Emma said, grabbing a fork to stir her pad Thai. “Light a man’s testicles on fire.”

“Not just any man, Em. We’re talking the man who left you at the altar and now wants you to write about it.”

Emma didn’t respond right away, and Julie pounced. “That is how it went down, right? He left you at the altar? You never talk about it, but we’ve tried to put the pieces together. . . .”

Emma went to the fridge for some wine. She needed it. “I was left standing in a white dress on my wedding day, yes,” she finally replied.

She could practically
hear
Julie’s eyes narrowing.

“Why do I get the sense there’s more to this story?” Julie asked.

“There’s
always
more to the story.”

Julie sighed. “But you’re not going to tell me, are you?”

Emma bit her lip. She sometimes felt a little guilty that her friends had turned Cassidy into the villain in their failed relationship. The guy deserved some of the blame, for sure, but he wasn’t quite the villain that she’d let her friends believe.

Emma herself had played a part in their explosive ending.
 

A
big
part.

“It’s so not as juicy as it is in your head,” Emma said, taking the plate out of the microwave. It was steaming like crazy so she set it aside to let it cool.

“Fine. But if you didn’t light his balls on fire, did you yell? Or at least raise your voice
a little
?”

“Couldn’t,” Emma said, swirling her wine. “It was over email.”

Julie was silent for several seconds. “He told you your next assignment over email? Why? He met with the rest of us in person. That
coward
.”

“To be fair, we avoid each other whenever possible,” Emma said. “It’s mutual.”

Still, it had been a pretty shitty way to get the news.

And this made two story ideas in a row that Emma had no control over. First the stupid blind date piece mandated by Camille, and now Cassidy suggesting she write about ex-boyfriends.

He’d
claimed
that it had been awhile since
Stiletto
had captured the ex factor. Which was probably true. Emma couldn’t remember reading anything about exes in
Stiletto
for at least the past year or so.

Even still, Emma had itched to point out that any of the other columnists could have covered it.

But she hadn’t. Partially because it’s what he’d expect her to do. But mostly because it would likely be Riley, Julie, or Grace who would take the story if she didn’t. All three of whom were in the blissful, in-love stages of their relationship. Dealing with exes was a messy business that might put their current happiness at risk.

Emma wouldn’t wish that upon her worst enemies, much less her best friends.

“So you’re going to do it?” Julie asked. “Seriously?”

Emma swirled her wine. “The thing is, Jules . . . he had sort of a pretty good idea. Since it’s the December issue, he suggested doing a ‘Twelve Days of Exes’
sort of thing. You know, for twelve days, reach out to an ex-boyfriend and . . . I don’t know? Get closure? Deliver that last parting comeback that didn’t occur to you until after the breakup? See if the sex is as good as you remember it?”

“Ooh, do that last one with Cassidy,” Julie said, her voice all dreamy. “I bet he’s awesome in bed.”

“I’m sure Mitchell would love to hear that.”

“Eh, he’s not here,” Julie said. “But, seriously, do you even
have
twelve exes?”

“Unfortunately,” Emma muttered, stabbing at her cooling leftovers with her fork. “Part of the joys of reaching your thirties and still being single.
Plenty
of exes.”

“So are you going to write about . . . Cassidy?”

Emma ditched the fork and reached for the wine. “I sort of have to, don’t I? As far as previous relationships go, he’s the big one. If I don’t write about him, it feels . . . dishonest.”

“It’s funny,” Julie mused. “All this time I really did think that you and Cassidy were all the way moved on. You’re both so Zen about the whole failed-wedding thing. But now I wonder—”

“Don’t,” Emma interrupted. “Don’t turn this into a thing.”

“I didn’t turn it into a thing, Cassidy did, by basically waving his editor-in-chief dick around and forcing you to revisit the past.”

“I can assure you, Cassidy will get the same word count allocation as any other ex that I write about,” Emma said.

“That’ll chap his ass. You should totally put his name next to that weirdo you dated a few months ago. You know, the guy who wore scarves, even in summer?”

“Christian.” Emma took a sip of her wine. “He
was
a weirdo. Anyway, I should go, Jules. I need to reheat my reheated leftovers.”

BOOK: The Trouble With Love
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