Everything else he answered succinctly, often in a dry and subtly humorous way. He never spoke any more than he had to, always providing just enough to fulfill the questioner's requirements. The crowd clearly unnerved him, which I found a bit disappointing.
Considering how punchy and clever his books were, I guess I'd expected him to speak in the same way he wrote. I wanted a confident outpouring of words and wit, a charisma to rival my own. He'd had a few good lines earlier while we spoke, I supposed, but he'd taken time to warm up to them and to me.
Of course, it was unfair to make comparisons between us. He had no uncanny knack for dazzling others, nor centuries of practice behind him. Still. I had never imagined a slightly scattered introvert capable of creating my favorite books. Unjust of me, but there it was.
"Everything going okay?" a voice behind us asked.
I looked over and saw Warren, the store's owner and my occasional f**k-buddy.
"Perfectly," Paige told him in her crisp, efficient way. "We'll start the signing in another fifteen minutes or so."
His eyes flicked casually over the rest of us staff and then shot back to me. He said nothing, but as he scoured me with that gaze, I could almost feel his hands undressing me. He'd come to expect sex on a regular basis, and usually I didn't fight it since he provided a quick and reliable - albeit small -
fix of energy and life. His low moral character erased any guilt I might have for doing so.
After the questions ended, we faced crowd control issues as everyone queued up to get their books signed. I offered to help, but Doug told me they had things under control. So, instead, I stayed out of the way, trying to avoid eye contact with Seth.
"Meet me in my office when this is all over," Warren murmured, coming up to stand close beside me.
He wore a tailored, charcoal gray suit tonight, looking every inch the sophisticated literary tycoon. In spite of my distasteful opinion of a man who cheated on his wife of thirty years with a much younger employee, I still had to acknowledge a certain amount of physical charm and allure to him. After everything that had happened today, though, I was not in the mood to be sprawled across his desk when the store closed.
"I can't," I answered back softly, still watching the signing. "I'm busy afterwards."
"No you aren't. It's not a dancing night."
"No," I agreed. "But I'm doing something else."
"I have a date." The lie came easily to my lips.
"You do not."
"You never date, so don't try that line now. The only appointment you have is with me, back in my office, preferably on your knees." He took a step closer, speaking into my ear so that I could feel the warmth of his breath on my skin. "Jesus, Georgina. You're so f**king hot tonight, I could take you right now. Do you have any idea what you're doing to me in that outfit?"
"'Doing to you?' I'm not 'doing' anything. It's attitudes like that that result in women being veiled around the world, you know. It's blaming the victim."
He chuckled. "You crack me up, you know that? Do you have any panties on under that?"
"Kincaid? Can you come help us over here?"
I turned and saw Doug frowning at us. It would figure. He wanted my help, now that he saw Warren hitting on me. Who said there was no chivalry left in this world? Doug was one of the few who knew what passed between Warren and me, and he didn't approve. Yet, I wanted the escape, belated or no, and thus temporarily evaded Warren's lust as I walked over to assist with the book sale.
It took almost two hours to shuffle customers through the signing line, and by then, the store was fifteen minutes from closing. Seth Mortensen looked a little tired but seemed to be in good spirits. My stomach flip-flopped inside me when Paige beckoned those of us not involved with closing to come over and talk to him.
She introduced us matter-of-factly. "Warren Lloyd, store owner. Doug Sato, assistant manager. Bruce Newton, cafe manager. Andy Kraus, sales. And you already know Georgina Kincaid, our other assistant manager."
Seth nodded politely, shaking everyone's hand. When he reached me, I averted my eyes, waiting for him to just move on. When he did not, I mentally cringed, bracing myself for some comment about our previous encounters. Instead, all he said was, "G.K."
I blinked. "Huh?"
"G.K.," he repeated, as though those letters made perfect sense. When my idiotic expression persisted, he gave a swift head jerk toward one of the promotional flyers for tonight's event. It read:
If you haven't heard of Seth Mortensen, then you obviously haven't been living on this planet for the last eight years. He's only the hottest thing to hit the mystery/contemporary fiction market, making the competition look like scribbles in a child's picture book. With several bestselling titles to his name, the illustrious Mr. Mortensen writes both self-standing novels and continual installments in the stunningly popular Cady & O'Neill series. The Glasgow Pact continues the adventures of these intrepid investigators as they travel abroad this time, continuing to unravel archaeological mysteries and engage in the persistent witty, sexual banter we've come to love them for. Guys, if you can't find your girlfriends tonight, they're here with The Glasgow Pact, wishing you were as suave as O'Neill.
"You're G.K. You wrote the bio."
He looked to me for confirmation, but I couldn't speak, wouldn't utter the clever acknowledgment about to spring from my lips. I was too afraid. After my earlier mishaps, I feared saying the wrong thing.
Finally, confused by my silence, he asked haltingly, "Are you a writer? It's really good."
"Ah." A few moments passed in cool silence. "Well. I guess some people write the stories, and others live them."
That sounded like a dig of sorts, but I bit my lip on any response, still playing my new ice-bitch role, wanting to defuse the earlier flirtation.
Paige, not understanding the tension between Seth and me, still felt it and tried to allay it. "Georgina's one of your biggest fans. She was absolutely ecstatic when she found out you were coming here."
"Yeah," added Doug wickedly. "She's practically a slave to your books. Ask her how many times she's read The Glasgow Pact."
I shot him a murderous look, but Seth's attention focused back on me, genuinely curious. He's trying to bring back our earlier rapport, I realized sadly. I couldn't let that happen now.
I swallowed, not wanting to answer, but the weight of all those eyes grew too heavy. "None. I haven't finished it yet." Practiced poise allowed me to utter those words calmly and confidently, hiding my discomfort.
Seth looked puzzled. So did everyone else; they all stared at me, rightfully perplexed. Only Doug knew the joke.
"None?" asked Warren with a frown. "Hasn't it been out for over a month now?"
Doug, the bastard, grinned. "Tell them the rest. Tell them how much you read a day."
I wished then that the floor would open up and swallow me whole, so I could escape this nightmare. As if coming off as an arrogant strumpet in front of Seth Mortensen wasn't bad enough, Doug was now shaming me into confessing my ridiculous habit.
"Five," I finally said. "I only read five pages a day."
"Why?" asked Paige. She had apparently never heard this story.
I could feel my cheeks turning red. Paige and Warren stared at me like I was from another planet while Seth simply continued to remain silent and look thoughtfully distracted. I took a deep breath and spoke in a rush: "Because... because it's so good, and because there's only one chance to read a book for the first time, and I want it to last. That experience. I'd finish it in a day otherwise, and that'd be like... like eating a carton of ice cream in one sitting. Too much richness over too quickly. This way, I can draw it out. Make the book last longer. Savor it. I have to since they don't come out that often."
I promptly shut up, realizing I had just insulted Seth's writing prowess... again. He made no response to my comment, and I couldn't decipher the expression on his face. Considering, maybe. Once again, I silently begged the floor to consume me and save me from this humiliation. It obstinately refused.
Doug smiled reassuringly at me. He found my habit cute. Paige, who apparently did not, looked as though she shared my wish that I be somewhere else. She cleared her throat politely and started a completely new line of conversation. After that, I scarcely paid attention to what anybody said. All I knew was that Seth Mortensen probably thought I was an erratic nutcase, and I couldn't wait for this night to end.