By Gianni Devincenti Bonnano
Widowed ad exec Courtney Ellison has her hands full, a job loaded with responsibility, two kids to raise alone. When she meets a man who is interested in her, Courtney tells herself she's not ready--she doesn't have time for a relationship, and no one could take her late husband's place.
Courtney is on the fast track to success, and nothing is going to slow her down--except maybe a broken heart. Then she learns the true meaning of the words "in sickness and in health."
ISBN 1-59431-022-0 Romance
Cover Art/Maggie Dix
Courtney Elllison had been running ragged all morning, trying to meet her clients, do graphics work, and take care of her children, so the giddiness and persistent skipped beats hadn't been as noticeable until this second. Now she had to meet with Jill and the band--The Charismatics. As an account executive for PRPlus, a public relations firm, she was in charge of overseeing her accounts as well as those of her staff. The irregular beats rushed her, seeming to have gotten worse the last few months. Maybe it had something to do with her having met Lucas, that big, dark-haired macho guy who had the most alluring smile she had ever seen, but sometimes he seemed so elusive, while other times it was as though he intended to pick a fight with her over the most trivial things.
Trying to locate a lady's room back stage seemed akin to searching for a single ash in a used fireplace. Props hung everywhere, as did scene backdrops; ripped playbooks littered the back halls. Courtney ran into over-flowing closets, dead-end nooks and crannies . . . but still no bathroom. At last finding one, she eyed herself in the mirror. Gosh, I look white as snow. I've got to get some make-up on. Being as disorganized as she was this morning, it came as no surprise that she had left her purse in her car. She headed out of the ladies room.
Instantly she gasped. Certainly her heart had stopped beating . . . it had thumped right along and then came that big gap.
She shook her head, caught her breath and held her chest, grabbing a stage prop for support, waiting for it to pass.
Minutes later, she collected herself, straightened her skirt, took deep breaths, and then continued toward the sound of the band's music, knowing it was the way out. Her hands jiggled as she dabbed at the perspiration building above her lip, at her temples.
She started walking again, hoping to make it to her car and out into the invigorating fresh air where the cold breeze and bright sun would jolt and stimulate her.
Thump! Thump! Thump, the erratic beats pounded, snagging inside her rib cage. She stopped, afraid to move, feeling as though she would never breathe again, that her heart would never recover from missing that single beat.
She wet her lips, swallowed hard and turned around, looking for a place to sit where she could put her head between her legs to get rid of the lightheadedness.
In one smooth motion she slumped to the floor.
Courtney grinned at her children's shenanigans. Paddy ran back and forth and in circles in the park. His sister, Dree, played hopscotch, with Mrs. Elzey watching. It was easy for Courtney to tell that keeping the kids in the apartment was no way for them to live. They needed the bracing air, wide spaces, the breeze cutting across their faces, room for their arms to move and legs to prance and parade, dance and skip. Someday, she thought, she would be able to buy a place where they could move about freely.
"Patrick," she called to her son, Paddy, "don't go far." One never knew what could happen in Manhattan.
"I love how the leaves fall," the old woman said. "'Minds me of my days as a kid grow'n up in Harlem when there was more trees and nicer lawns. Now all it's concrete."
"Like the rest of the world." Courtney put the curve of her hand at her brows to block out the fading sun. "Paddy, come back here."
"He's not that far, missy," Mrs. Elzey said.
"I know but there are lunatics out here." Her eyes scanned the park. "Like the guy over there."
Mrs. Elzey laughed. "Now how can you tell that? He looks like any other feller to me."
"You tell me what grown man goes to a park, alone, sits on the grass, and reads, for Pete's sakes. Only perverts do that." When Paddy returned to her side, she admonished, "Stay right by me, young man, or you won't go to a park in a long time."
"I bet if ya talked to him you'd find out that he's not such a pervert. How many times I have to tell you to give people a chance and not prejudge them? All the years you lived next to me and I watched yer kids, you still don't learn nuthin."
"All right, I'll prove it to you." She grabbed Paddy's hand and walked in the direction of where the man sat on the ground. Nearing him, but looking at Patrick, she said, "Is this where you lost your ball?"
"'Throw' ball? You threw the ball here? Maybe it got buried in the fallen leaves."
"No ball no ball no ball!" he screamed, frustrated.
The man looked up.
"I don't see your ball, honey," she said, stealing glances at the man. "Excuse me, but did you see a child's ball in this area?" she asked him.
He placed his finger inside the book to hold his place. "The boy said 'no ball,' didn't he?" He had a grin on his face. Getting to his feet, he took a few steps in the direction of the woman. "You're not making that up just to meet me, are you?" The grin widened.
"Of course not," she sniffed, turning her nose up at him, then glimpsed the title of the book: No Exit, by Sartre. At least he has some intelligence, not like many of the other men I know who can't work their way through the comic section of a newspaper. "Do you always read something with depth, or are you doing that just to impress passersby?" She crossed her hands at her chest, and watched Paddy run back to Mrs. Elzey and his sister.
"You mean, like impressing you?" he snorted. "I'm not psychic. How would I know you would be 'passing by' today?"
She rolled her eyes. "I didn't mean me in particular; I meant it hypothetically." I guess I spoke too soon about intelligent men. A partial smile formed on her lips when he grinned and his cheeks broke into huge dimples. He was huge--tall, big boned, and very muscular.
"'Hypothetically . . . that's an awful big word for someone like me to understand. You wanna re-word that on aForest Gump level?"
She snickered. "I can tell by your accent that you're not from here."
He stood there, grinning, holding his book.
What a jerk! He won't even follow my lead and make conversation with me. I give up. She waved him off and turned to leave.
She turned back around. "Iowa? Cornfield heaven. Goodness, have they even heard of Sartre out there?"
"You know, you're a typical snide, rude New Yorker, which is all that I've met since I've arrived."
"I wouldn't want to disappoint you." She touched her hand to her hair to make sure it was in place. "Manhattan must be a big adjustment for you."
"I'd never live in the city. I bought a farmhouse about an hour away."
"Yep, you're surely not a native. Manhattanites don't spend half their day driving in and out of the city."
"Right. The smog, traffic, car exhaust, subways, tiny apartments with bars over windows, are all so much safer and healthier."
"Different strokes for different folks." She took in his thin waist, broad shoulders, massive hands.
"Snide, rude, and cliched."
"Aha! Another big word for you." She stared at him. "If you're so opposed to the city, why come to the park?"
"Why not? I didn't say I hated being here; I said I wouldn't want to live in the city." His eyes studied her face. "What's your name, anyway?" He sat on the grass, patted a spot next to him. "If you're going to continue bantering, you can at least allow me the comfort of sitting."
"I'm not stopping you from getting grass-stains on your good slacks."
"Where I come from, a gentleman is always a gentleman, even to impertinent New Yorkers. If you won't join me in sitting, I won't sit."
"What . . . and get grass stains on my shorts?" She liked his dark wavy hair, and equally dark piercing eyes.
"What are you doing wearing shorts in autumn?"
She sat next to him. "We yankees don't consider it cold yet."
"You yankees don't know a silo from the side of a barn."
"Nor do we care."
They went quiet.
Suddenly she said, "You will get grass stains on your good trousers, you know."
"I thank you for your concern, ma'am." He smiled, jolting her heart. "It is 'ma'am,' isn't it?"
"As opposed to 'miss'? You see that I have children."
"So you are married?" He sounded disappointed.
He looked at her, squinting from the sun. "Sorry."