A small piece of paper had been taped to it. Start small, the note said. Love, Roman. The writing was so perfect as to be unreal.


I was still chuckling when I got to work. In my office, I settled in front of the computer and discovered a second morning surprise: another e-mail from Seth. It had been sent at five in the morning.

Georgina,

A few years ago, while writing Gods of Gold, I met a woman at a class I took on South American archaeology. I don't know how it is for women; it's probably not even always the same for us men. But for me, when I meet someone I'm attracted to, time stands still. The planets come into alignment, and I stop breathing. The angels themselves descend to sit upon my shoulders, whispering promises of love and devotion while less heavenly creatures whisper promises of an earthier, baser nature. I guess that's part of being a man.

Anyway, that was what happened with this woman. We fell pretty hard for each other and dated off and on for a very long time. Some days we wouldn't be able to leave each other's side for more than a minute, and then later, months would go by without any sort of contact. I have to confess, this latter behavior was more my fault than hers. I mentioned before that Cady and O'Neill are demanding. During phases when I was hot into my writing, I wouldn't be able to think about or do anything else that didn't involve my novel. I knew it hurt her - knew she was the kind of person who wanted to settle down and start a family, live a quiet and committed life. I was not that kind of person - I'm not even sure I am now - but I liked the idea of always having someone around, someone reliable who I could call up when I was finally ready to make time. It really wasn't fair to do that to her, always leave her hanging like that. I should have ended things early on, but I was too selfish and too comfortable.

One day, after not having spoken to her in a few months, I called her up and was astonished to hear a man answer the phone. When she came on the line, she told me she'd met someone else and wouldn't be able to see me anymore. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. I started rambling, going on and on about how much I cared for her, how she couldn't throw away what we had. She took it all pretty nicely, considering what a psycho I must have sounded like, but in the end, she closed things by saying I shouldn't have expected her to wait forever. She had her own life to live.

The reason I share this embarrassing tale from the canon of Seth Mortensen is twofold. First, I need to apologize to you for what happened tonight. In spite of my grumblings, I really did intend to meet you. A couple hours before the game, I ran home to get something and suddenly thought of a solution to the snag that had been blocking me all day. I sat down to write, only planning to spend an hour on it. As you might be guessing by now, it took a lot longer than that. I got so caught up that I completely forgot about the game - and about you. I never heard my phone ring. I wasn't aware of anything else except getting the story out on paper (or rather, my screen).

This, I'm afraid, is a problem I frequently have. It happened with my ex, it happens with my family, and unfortunately, it happened with you. Don't even get my brother started about how I nearly missed his wedding. The worlds and people in my head are so alive to me that I lose track of the real world. Sometimes I'm not even convinced Cady and O'Neill's world isn't the real one. I never mean to hurt people, and I feel terrible afterward, but it is a failing I can't seem to overcome.

None of this justifies abandoning you last night, but I hoped this might offer some insight into my unbalanced worldview. Please understand how very sorry I am.

My second reason for the memoir is to address your comment about Cady "getting some." In thinking about her and O'Neill, I decided that Cady wasn't the kind of person who would wait around forever either. Now, don't get me wrong: I don't think Cady and my ex-girlfriend have a lot in common. Cady isn't looking to settle in the suburbs and pick out curtains with O'Neill. But, she is a bright and passionate woman, who loves life, and wants to live it. A lot of people were upset to see her break out of her devoutly chaste, puppy-at-O'Neill's-side role, but I think she had to do it. Let's face it: O'Neill takes her for granted, and he needed a wake-up call. Now, does this mean steps are being made to finally bring them together, as so many readers have asked? Naturally, as their creator, my lips are sealed on that, but I can say this: I have a lot more books with them in mind, and readers tend to lose interest when protagonists hook up.  - Seth

P.S. - By the way, I bought the condo. Mistee was so excited that she took me on the spot, and we made love all over the granite countertops.

P.P.S. - All right, I'm making up that last part. Like I said, I'm a man. And a writer.

My eyes still heavy with sleep, I sluggishly pondered the letter's message. Seth had had a serious girlfriend. Wow. That shouldn't have surprised me, especially considering the sex scenes he wrote. I mean, he couldn't have pulled them all out of imagination. Still, it was hard to picture introverted Seth participating in all the social exchanges normally required of a long-term relationship.

And then the other part, his reasons for not showing. What to think of those? He was right in saying his burst of inspiration was no excuse for what he had done. The explanation did take away some of the sting, however, moving him from rude to simply thoughtless. No, maybe thoughtless was too harsh. Scattered, that was it. Perhaps scattered wasn't such a bad thing, I mused, since ignoring the real world allowed him to work on the written one. I just didn't know.

I pondered all this for the rest of the morning, my anger from last night growing cold in the wake of time passing and my speculation on a brilliant writer's mind. By the time lunch rolled around, I realized I had gotten over the hockey mishap. He had not intended the neglect, and it wasn't like my night had turned out too badly after all.

Around late afternoon, Warren came trolling around.

"No," I said immediately, recognizing the look in his eyes. I hated his presumption, yet always found myself eerily drawn to it. "I'm in a terrible mood."

"I'll make you feel better."

"I told you, I'm too bitchy."

"I like you bitchy." The succubus feeding instinct began waking up. I swallowed, annoyed at it and my own weakness. "And I'm really busy. There are... things... I should do..." My excuse sounded halfhearted, though, and Warren apparently recognized that.

He walked over to me and knelt by my chair, running a hand over my thigh. I wore thin, silky slacks, and the feel of his fingers stroking me through that smooth material was almost more sensual than on bare skin.

"How was your date the other night?" he murmured, moving his mouth up to my ear and then my neck.

I arched my head obligingly, in spite of my best resistance, liking the way his mouth grew fiercer against my skin, his teeth just teasing me. He was far from being a boyfriend but was still the closest I had to any sort of consistent relationship. That meant something. "Fine."

"Did you f**k him?"

"No. I slept alone, alas."

"Good."

"He's coming back tonight, though. For the dance lesson."

"Really?" Warren unbuttoned the top two buttons of my blouse, revealing a pale pink lace bra. His fingertips traced the shape of one of my br**sts, following its inner curve down to where it met the other one. Then he moved his hand up to that breast, playing with the nipple through the lace. I closed my eyes, surprised at my swelling desire. After helping Hugh close the contract with Martin, I wouldn't have thought I'd need a fix so soon. Yet, the hunger tugged ever so slightly within me, mingled with lust. Pure instinct. "We'll introduce him to Maria."

Maria was Warren's wife. The thought of passing Roman off on her was too funny.

"You sound jealous," I teased. I pulled Warren toward me, and he responded by pushing me on top of the desk. I moved my hands down to unfasten his pants.

"I am," he grunted. Leaning over, he pulled the bra down to bare my br**sts and lowered his mouth to one of the ni**les. He hesitated. "Are you sure you didn't f**k him?"

"I think I'd remember something like that."

A knock sounded at the door, and Warren hastily sprang away from me, pulling up his pants. "Shit."

I, too, sat up and returned to my chair. With Warren's eyes on the door, I quickly used some more shape-shifting to neaten myself up and rebutton my blouse. Satisfied we were both decent, I called, "Come in."

Seth opened the door.

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