The VIP Doubles Down
Page 5

 Nancy Herkness

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“Ms. Nichols, I’m Gavin Miller, and I’m afraid your time has been wasted. My agent hired you without my knowledge. Your services won’t be necessary.” His smile turned sly. “However, I will make sure Jane pays you for a full five days.”
Five days wasn’t nearly enough. She needed him to hire her for months.
The fingers he wrapped around hers were long, elegant, and strong. Despite the dismay roiling through her, she gave him a firm grip in return and produced her warmest, most disarming smile. She also laid on her West Virginia accent a little thicker than usual. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Miller.”
When Allie had mentioned her enthusiasm for the Julian Best series, Ms. Dreyer had hesitated, making Allie wish she’d kept quiet. After a tense pause, the agent had warned her not to mention the books, but now Allie was desperate to make some connection. “I’m a big fan of your Julian Best novels. Every time one of your books was published, my mama would set aside a whole day to read it from cover to cover. Then she would give it to me so I could discuss it with her. A day was about as long as I could wait to get my hands on it.”
Surprise registered in his eyes as his smile turned genuine. “My thanks to you and your mother. I’m always honored to meet an enthusiastic reader. I hope to have another novel for both of you to share soon.”
A jab of grief hit Allie, but she kept her smile in place. “Mama passed on two years ago, so I have to enjoy Julian on my own now.”
“I’m so sorry.” A shadow crossed his face.
“Thank you. I have good memories.”
“You’re fortunate.” His voice held an edge. He thrust one hand through his hair, and she understood why it looked the way it did. “Let me get your coat.”
Allie clenched her hands in a tight ball at her waist. “Mr. Miller, I would like to just talk with you. Maybe you could spare me half an hour.”
“Talk?” He had started toward the door but now turned back to her, his movement hitching as a muscle grabbed somewhere. “Aren’t you supposed to assign me boring, painful exercises involving multicolored elastic bands?”
“It’s helpful to discuss what you think the problem is before I develop a plan,” she said. Even more important, she had to gain her patient’s trust. Gavin Miller was going to be a tough nut to crack on that front.
His jaw muscles tensed. “I know exactly what the problem is, and physical therapy cannot solve it.”
She knew about his writer’s block, but that was another topic his agent had warned her against discussing. “When your body isn’t working right, it can cause all kinds of trouble for the rest of you.”
His eyes went stormy again. “She told you, didn’t she? I’m going to strangle Jane.”
“Like your doctor, I work under strict confidentiality.” Allie sat down. It was a reverse mirroring technique. If she sat, Gavin should feel a subconscious impulse to copy her action. She hoped.
He hesitated, his glance veering from the door to the chair opposite her. With a muted shrug, he took two strides and eased down onto the upholstered cushion. Then he interlaced his arms over his chest. “So, talk.”
His redheaded inquisitor in her serious therapist costume took a breath. He was going to regret this, but it seemed marginally better than pacing around his office while he prayed for Julian to speak to him.
“Did you sleep well last night?” she asked.
He liked the soft twang in her voice. It wasn’t Texas and it wasn’t Deep South. He guessed Kentucky, maybe. He also liked the vibrant color of her hair. It had to be natural, because it wasn’t a sophisticated auburn or an edgy burgundy. Judging by the way she had it pulled back in that strict ponytail, she probably didn’t care for what Mother Nature had given her.
“Mr. Miller?”
“Sorry, what did you say?”
“I asked if you slept well last night.”
“No, I didn’t.”
His examiner nodded, making the ponytail sway. What was her name? Allie.
“Did you dream?”
That seemed a strange question from a physical therapist. “Are you going to interpret my dreams now? How very Freudian.”
“That’s not my area of expertise, but the amount and quality of dreaming can indicate why you didn’t sleep well.” Her gray eyes were clear and earnest.
“Fine. I’ll play.” He cast his mind back to the night, trying to recall how many nightmares he’d had. “Last night was not particularly dream heavy. I remember maybe three scenes, none of them pleasant.”
“Did the dreams wake you up?”
“No, I find it difficult to fall asleep. Once I do, even the worst nightmare can’t rouse me.” He’d given up on trying to sleep at about 3:00 a.m., reading for an hour before finally succumbing to exhaustion.
She nodded again. “What did you have for dinner last night?”
“You think indigestion gave me the nightmares? My stomach is made of sterner stuff than that.” What had Ludmilla made him? She was an excellent cook, but no matter how she spiced the food, it tasted bland to him. “Salmon? Yes, salmon with grilled vegetables of some sort.”
“Sounds healthy.” Her drawl held approval. “Did you have wine with dinner? Or coffee?”
“I had water.” He waited for the little nod of approbation before he added, “Flavored with bourbon.”
He expected a frown, but she chuckled—a musical, throaty sound that pulled at something low in his body.
“My pa was partial to bourbon and branch water,” she said.
“Are you from Kentucky?”
“No, sir, I’m from West-by-gosh Virginia.” Her accent thickened. It was an answer he could tell she’d given often.
The “sir” should have made him feel old, but from her it sounded natural and charming. “So not quite southern, not quite midwestern. What brought you to New York?”
Discomfort flashed across her face. “A dream job. What brought you here?”
He applauded her technique. Answer the question so you put your inquisitor under obligation to do the same.
“Bright lights. Being at the center of the publishing industry.” He watched her register each item before he threw her a curveball. “Escape from a small town in Illinois.”