The VIP Doubles Down
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Irritation flashed through him. “Oh, for God’s sake, swallow your hillbilly pride or whatever it is. I have half a dozen cars at my beck and call. Might as well use them.”
She thought for another long moment, but this time he couldn’t read her expression. “Thank you. That would be pleasant.”
“Starting now.” He pulled out his phone and texted Jaros to bring the car to the front door.
She plunked her duffel bag down on the floor and huffed out a breath. “Are you being considerate or bossy?” Dismay made her eyes widen. “I’m sorry. That wasn’t gracious.”
Gavin grinned. He’d gotten her to sass him. “I’m being controlling. I told you that writers are like that.”
Instead of giving it back to him, she looked away, her mouth pressed into a flat line. He’d ruined the thing he needed from her today: her sunny good cheer. He cast around for a way to bring it back. “I have to do a book signing tonight,” he said. “I’d like you to come. You can stand behind me and dig your thumbs into my tense neck muscles every time someone asks when the next Julian Best book is coming out.”
She gave him a polite smile and said nothing.
“Well, will you join me?” he asked.
“Are you serious?” Astonishment rang in her voice.
“About you coming, yes. Not about massaging my neck.” The more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea of her presence. “It’s at seven at Murder Unlimited in Tribeca. There will be decent wine, which makes it marginally bearable.”
“Um, if I’m not going to massage your neck, why do you want me there?” She seemed baffled by his simple invitation.
“As a true fan, you deserve it. Wouldn’t you like a signed hardcover copy of Good, Better, Best? It will be my gift to you.” That should bring the Allie he knew back.
Pleasure lit her eyes for a moment. Still, she hesitated before saying, “Um, why would your publisher set this up if there’s no new book? It seems sort of . . .”
“Like rubbing salt in a wound?” He could hear the edge in his voice, so he worked to soften it. “It’s a joint signing with a first-time author my editor and agent are excited about. My presence is supposed to draw in more customers.”
“Have you read the new author’s book?”
“Yes, I gave it an enthusiastic cover blurb.”
Her lips curved in a soft smile. “You’re very generous.”
“I was a debut author once.” He remembered the nerves before his first book signing and the fear that no one would show up. That’s why he’d agreed to help out. “Jaros will pick you up. I’d do it myself, but I have to be there an hour early, and I won’t subject you to that boredom.”
“I’d be honored to come.” She gave him a pointed look. “But I’ll take the subway.”
She considered his command for a moment. “How about a compromise? You can send your car for me to come to work, but I’ll get to the book signing on my own. It’s not that far from where I live.”
Other than muttering, “Stubborn little cuss,” he stopped arguing. He was too shocked by the flood of gratitude and relief that flowed through him when she had agreed to come.
Allie checked the numbers on the nearest buildings as she came up out of the subway and turned left. She strode along the narrow sidewalk until she spotted the blood-spattered sign for Murder Unlimited.
The bookstore was in a turn-of-the-century building with a cast-iron facade. Tall windows painted rectangles of yellow light on the cracked sidewalk, and a crowd of people milled around inside. She took a deep breath and pulled open the door, the quiet hum of voices contrasting with the city street noise. A sign with Gavin’s head shot and a photo of a studious-looking young woman announced a book signing tonight.
Excitement fizzed through her at the thought that Gavin wanted her here. She couldn’t wait to see him in his element, surrounded by books and adoring readers.
As she hesitated on the threshold, a young man wearing black-rimmed glasses, skinny jeans, and electric blue wingtips greeted her. “Welcome! The coatrack is over there. The wine is in that corner. And the line for the signing begins by the bookshelf with the large yellow arrow on it. Get your books signed and then bring them to the register.” He gave her a well-rehearsed smile. “We trust our readers to pay after they play.” He leaned in. “So are you here for Gavin Miller or Kendra Leigh?”
“Both. Gavin told me how great Kendra’s new book is.”
The clerk raised his eyebrows. “You know Gavin Miller? Then let’s take you to the head of the line.” Without waiting for her response, he grabbed her elbow and began edging through the crowd with a tap on one shoulder and a nudge to another.
Allie tried to stop him, but her escort was on a mission, and soon they had cha-cha-ed to within sight of the signing tables. “Okay, I’m good here,” Allie said when her guide paused for a second.
She ducked behind a bookcase and stripped off her unfashionable quilted winter jacket, stuffing it on top of a row of Agatha Christie paperbacks. She hadn’t worn a hat so she wouldn’t have hat head, but she ran her palms over her hair, just in case.
She hoped her attire was appropriate for a book signing. She’d chosen black pants and kitten-heeled leather ankle boots, topping them with a funky gray-and-black geometric-print tunic she’d bought from an artist friend. For once, her hair’s gaudy color looked sophisticated, adding a splash of drama to her monochrome outfit.
Sidling around the bookcase, she watched Gavin scrawl his name in four books for one customer, chatting and smiling the whole time.
He looked the part of a thriller writer, with his longish dark hair combed back from the striking angles of his face and a leather jacket slung over the back of his chair. He wore a black silk shirt open at the collar. Her pulse did a little tango as she thought of what was under the silk.
At the table beside Gavin’s, Kendra Leigh tugged nervously at her brown braid when a customer approached her. She pushed her glasses up on her nose and gave her new reader a hesitant smile before she carefully wrote in the paperback.