The VIP Doubles Down
Page 47

 Nancy Herkness

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“Why would he marry a woman who couldn’t love you?”
Gavin interlaced his fingers with hers. “The housekeeper retired. He hired her after my mother . . . left. Mrs. Knox and I got along fine for three years while my father spent all his waking hours at the family store. But her husband wanted to move to Florida.” He shrugged. “My father couldn’t find another housekeeper, so he found a wife instead. Odelia was a widow with three young daughters, so I suppose Dad thought she would be maternal.” His tone turned bitter. “There weren’t a lot of prospects in Bluffwoods, Illinois, and my father wouldn’t leave his precious store long enough to search farther afield.”
Allie heard the reverberations of the aching loneliness that had enveloped a small boy. A mother who deserted him. A distant father. Even the housekeeper had abandoned him. She wanted to gather the grown man into her arms and rock him like that lost child. “Your mother just . . . left?”
He blew out a long breath and looked down at their entwined fingers. “I think that’s a story for another day.” He lifted their hands to kiss the back of hers. “You should have been a psychotherapist, not a physical therapist.”
But he’d written some of it into Julian Best’s past. “Now I know why you became a writer.”
“To punish my father?”
“I imagine that was a bonus. No, to make things come out right in the end.”
“You are far too clever, my dear.” He disentangled their fingers. “Now I have papers to critique.”
“You teach?” She couldn’t imagine the impatient, snarky Gavin guiding a classroom of students.
“You sound surprised.”
“Well, you’re not the most tolerant of people.”
He laughed. “I lead a creative-writing class in genre fiction at NYU. The students expect me to be bad tempered. Remarkably, I rarely am with them.”
“I’d love to see you teach.”
“Because you can’t picture me doing it.” He chucked her under the chin with a sly smile. “Just to surprise you further, it was my idea to offer the class. When I took creative-writing courses, I suffered from the intense snobbery of my fellow students who wrote only literary fiction. I offer validation to my fellow commercial hacks.”
“Still making things come out right.” Her heart went soft at the knowledge that this was a man who worked to prevent others from suffering as he had. She reached out to curve her hand along his cheek and jaw, and he turned his head to brush her palm with his tongue.
“Hey!” She pulled her hand away and gave him a light smack on his biceps.
“You can’t stop yourself from touching me, so why not just give in?” His voice was honeyed with seduction.
“You have papers to grade.” She put her foot on the base of his chair and gave it a shove so it rolled a few inches away.
Gavin smiled and rolled himself backward, using his long legs to propel the chair across the carpet until he reached his desk. The bout of playfulness lightened Allie’s heart after the shattering revelations about his childhood.
How did a man who had grown up in such a loveless home understand how to be a mentor to students and debut authors, an adviser to struggling lovers, and a valued friend to billionaires and superstars? She sank deeper under the spell he had wrapped her in, but with the fear that his magic was affecting her heart.
Gavin scrawled a final note on the last page of the short story. It was by one of the students he believed had the potential to make a living as a writer. She struggled with structure, but her writing voice was quirky and distinctive, a gift of pure talent.
An odd choking sound came from Allie’s desk, and he pivoted in his chair to see her rummage in her purse. She pulled out a tissue and blew her nose. Producing a second one, she seemed to be dabbing at her face with it.
“What are you working on?” he asked.
She kept her back to him. “I’m reading your novella.” Her tone was clipped and abrupt.
“It must be worse than I thought.” Strange that he had to remind himself to breathe as he waited for her answer.
Slowly, she spun her chair around to face him. Her eyes were red rimmed, and she hadn’t quite wiped all the tears from her cheeks. “It’s heartbreaking. You have to finish it.”
Chapter 16
Allie felt like an idiot, weeping over Gavin’s book. But now that she knew its author, she suffered along with his character even more intensely. “This story reveals Julian’s emotions in a way you’ve never done before.”
The relief that had softened Gavin’s posture was replaced by a frown. “That might not go over well with my hard-core male readers.”
“You’ve still got plenty of twisty plot and action scenes. It’s the contrast with the cheery Christmas atmosphere that makes Julian’s isolation so vivid. Those hard-core readers might not even notice the emotional content because it’s implied, not stated.”
“Because I’m a damned good writer.” He ran one hand through his hair, giving it that storm-tossed look she’d come to love. “I’ll take a look at the novella later. Maybe it’s salvageable.”
Allie decided to go for broke. “Why not make it a whole novel? There’s so much depth in it, I feel like it should be expanded to give it more scope.”
“A . . . whole . . . novel.” He gave his hair another rumple, but his posture had pulled taut, like a racehorse at the starting gate. “An entire book set at Christmastime.”
She kept silent as he tilted back his chair to stare at the ceiling.
“It’s risky,” he said, but she could hear a vibration of interest in his voice. When he brought his chair back to level again, his gaze was inward, as though he was already playing with the possibilities. “Let’s run the idea by Hugh at dinner.”
“I’m going home for dinner,” Allie said. “I have a cat.”
Gavin’s brows drew down. “Feed it after work and come back.”
“She needs company.” Allie had no desire to spend time with Hugh Baker after he’d practically accused her of being some sort of con woman. She’d had her fill of actors anyway.
“I need your company. Bring the damned cat here.”