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I’ll admit it. I messed up.
Peter Barnidge… Where do I even start? How about that after my first day working for Mr. Superstar International Bestselling Author, his name became my favorite kid-friendly cursing substitute. Stub a toe? Peter Barnidge it! Bank account is overdrawn? Son of a Barnidge! And when I realized I was falling for my boss? Well, what the Barnidge?
I wish it was easier to just plain hate him, instead of the twisted, confusing blend of hatred and attraction I feel. But he’s the bad kind of attractive. Dark with a side of smoldering heat. The kind of hot that makes me want to do that Catholic cross thing every time I look at him, because one glance takes my brain straight to a world of sin.
Speaking of sin… I also lied a little during my interview. But I’m a single mom and I’d do anything to provide for my daughter, even if it meant keeping one tiny little secret. Unfortunately, even small secrets have a way of growing over time.
I think it’s only a matter of time before he finds out, and somehow, I don’t think he’s going to be happy when he does.
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I liked to think life was a series of defining moments. There were the good kind of defining moments, like the first time I cracked open Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone or when I found out I was going to be having a little girl. There were the bad ones, too, but I’d developed a highly sophisticated system for dealing with those: I bottled them up. When it felt like the bottle was getting shaken and threatening to explode, I screwed the cap on a little tighter.
The jury was still out on whether today was going to be the good kind of defining moment or if it’d end up in its own little bottle, tucked away in a dark corner of my mind.
Today was the day of the New York Book Convention, and it was going to be packed with hundreds of authors. As much as I would’ve loved to come to a convention like this to creepily stare at and stalk my favorite authors, this weekend was all about business. Authors needed to advertise their books, and advertising was how I paid the bills. Sort of, at least. I had the college degree, the knowledge, and the willingness to work hard, but I didn’t exactly have a bustling list of clients. If this weekend went according to plan, that was about to change.
I’d marked this weekend on my calendar with a big, fat, red heart. Well, it actually looked a little more like an apple because I was a terrible artist, but I knew what it was supposed to be. If I had been the type of person to have important appointments and plans, I would’ve spent the last month moving them all just to make sure I had the whole weekend free. Conventions like this happened all over the country, but I didn’t have the money or time to travel, so I needed to make this one count.
As usual, fate had decided to kick me in the shins and spit in my coffee.
My mom had come down with what she was calling “the plague.” As was typical of my mom, she gave me way more information about it than I could’ve ever wanted. She was “having trouble keeping anything down from either end,” and she’d “hacked up something this morning that might’ve had a pulse.”
I couldn’t afford to miss the convention, so I did my best to give my daughter, Zoey, a pep talk and explain how important this was. Her little four-year-old eyes had looked glassy and unfocused until I got to the part where I mentioned bookmarks. For whatever reason, bookmarks were like crack to her little brain. She would do anything to collect them and add them to her tin lunch box at home. She even slept with them in her bed.
Just like me, she had a tendency to latch onto hobbies and interest with an almost frightening kind of intensity. First, it had been bookmarks, and about six months ago, she’d decided she was also going to be the next tennis star.
I gave Zoey’s hand a little squeeze. She was turning five in a couple months, which felt insane. One minute, I’d still see my chubby little baby who made the best animal sounds you’d ever hear. The next, I’d realize she was growing up. She was getting taller, and her hand was big enough for her fingers to interlock with mine, instead of being something so small I could hold it all in my palm.
I could still see a little of Dawson when I looked at Zoey, but it never made me sad like I thought I would. Maybe the resemblance didn’t make me sad because Dawson had an entire six-pack of bottled-up, repressed memories with his name on them—memories that I never intended to revisit. Zoey had his dark, curly hair. She had my eyes and my facial expressions, and then everything else was uniquely her. I’d spent so long worrying that I would resent her for being partly his, but as soon as I held her the first time, I knew none of it mattered. Zoey was Zoey. The fact that it was just the two of us against the world only made me love her more. She was my little girl, and we collectively kicked ass.
Sort of, at least. Objectively speaking, money was tight and the future didn’t always feel like it held promise. But I did what I could. I tried to keep myself thinking positive, because she’d already seen one of her parents walk away, and she needed to know that I would never give up on her.
“I want a rainbow one,” Zoey said suddenly.
“A rainbow bookmark?” I asked.
“And a pink one. And a cat one.”
I grinned. “I bet they have all kinds. We’ll just have to wait and see what you get.”