by Blythe H. Warren
Harper Maxfield is going to change the world. But first she has to change her life.
Harper’s mundane job provides a steady paycheck but not much else—leaving her feeling frustrated, a little empty, and wondering how she let her girlfriend talk her into it in the first place. Her friends and family wonder how she let her girlfriend talk her into anything—especially a relationship. But how could she help falling for a gorgeous, successful doctor who saves kids from cancer?
At least Harper has her volunteer work with Mental Illness Allies to fulfill her. And if the big fundraiser she’s organizing is the success she hopes it will be, maybe it will end in a full-time position with Allies.
When comic book artist Eliot DeSanto isn’t thinking about superheroes, sidekicks and archrivals, she’s worried about her niece, whose recent cancer diagnosis has turned her life upside down. Eliot has no time for anything outside of work and family. But when eager humanitarian Harper asks for help with a fundraiser, Eliot finds herself unable to resist the attractive young woman.
Their work brings them closer together, but with so many obstacles between them, will they have the courage to follow their hearts?
FROM THE AUTHOR
"Comic books are pretty much the embodiment of my entertainment preferences—impactful messages wrapped up in a disarmingly innocuous package. To the casual observer, they seem frivolous—pictures with word balloons, how deep could they be? As it turns out, the answer is incredibly.
The more I learned about the hidden depths of comic books, the more I understood Eliot’s character and, in a sense, myself. For Eliot, it’s not just that she, like the characters she draws and is drawn to, is unexpectedly complex, complicated and serious, but also that she connects with what’s beneath the surface. As a character she ends up being at least as much heroine as heroine addict."
—Blythe H. Warren
Betty H. - This is actually a very pleasant romantic tale with serious undertones, specifically families living through issues of mental illness and childhood cancer. The author did an excellent job of weaving these very significant issues into an adorable romance between Eliot and Harper.
The writing in this story is excellent. The illnesses are handled in a very compassionate manner, and the characters are realistic. I am glad that I read this book. It is a beautiful story, and I enjoyed reading it. I will also be looking for more from this author.
Phoebe M. - Warren writes about some heavy topics in this slow-burn romance story, but like all comic story heroes, they always come from a dark past—or in this case present. There is plenty of humor mixed in here too. Warren keeps the reader balanced on that fine edge of just about to cry and then pulls you back with some humor.
Harper Maxfield glanced around the deserted lobby of Golden Eagle Insurance, Inc. and sighed. It had been twenty-five minutes since she’d seen another living soul, and the phones had been notoriously quiet since she’d returned from lunch. She assumed that, like her, most people were eagerly anticipating the impending three-day weekend. In spite of mercurial weather and a too-cold-to-be-comfortably-enjoyed lake, the opening of the beaches meant that Memorial Day was the unofficial beginning of summer in the city. As a result, most of her fellow Chicagoans had taken off early to get a head start. She, however, was stuck at the currently pointless receptionist desk until five o’clock. A quick glance at her impossibly slow watch and then the it-can’t-be-right clock on her computer screen, followed by a disheartening confirmation from her hard-to-deny cell phone, told her quitting time was still a painful two hours and forty-three minutes away.
She straightened the already tidy stack of files she’d organized for Floyd the intern before lunch. He’d yet to pick them up, and she began to suspect he’d snuck out early. That, or he seriously underestimated her alphabetizing skillset. Now she wished she had been less efficient in her earlier tasks, or that someone, anyone in the office, would call upon her to assist with a project. She would even settle for data entry as a way to pass the time. Sighing as another glance at her legion of damnable timepieces told her that one sad minute had passed since she last checked, she gave up hope of surviving the next two hours and forty-two minutes as the exemplary employee she normally prided herself on being.
Surveying the vacant lobby for any signs of life and seeing none, she tentatively pulled her book from her bag and opened it to where she’d left off at lunch. She was twenty pages from finishing the biography of Amelia Earhart, and even though she knew how it ended, she found the life of the great adventurer fascinating. She wasn’t supposed to read (or text or tend to any non-Golden Eagle business) while at reception, but Amelia’s tragic fate called to her. And there was no one around to catch her in the act, so what was the harm?
“Harper, sweetheart.” She startled at the sound of Doug’s oily voice and slid a file folder on top of her contraband reading material. The last thing she needed was to give him a reason to formally discipline her—an opportunity he’d likely take entirely too much pleasure in. Even in the vast lobby, being alone with him made her feel claustrophobic. She dreaded the thought of being trapped with him behind the closed door of his office.
She turned on her Doug smile—the one that looked to most people like she was digesting a cactus and pine cone salad but usually prevented him from badgering her about her preferred expression of indifference toward him—and gave him her undivided attention. He wasn’t her boss, exactly, but he didn’t seem to be aware of that fact.
“What can I help you with, Mr. Lawrence?” Fake half-smile firmly in place, she waited for his latest condescending response, all the while envisioning his silk tie (the cost of which could likely cover her rent twice over) tightening around his neck.
“You can call me Doug, sweetheart. You know that.”
She knew but chose not to. She broadened her grin by a fraction but offered no other acknowledgment of his habitual request.
“Listen, I’m heading out for the weekend. A little early.” He winked, and her stomach turned. “The wife wants to leave for the summer home before traffic gets too heavy. I tried telling her we couldn’t beat the traffic if we left yesterday, but she’s the boss.” He threw his hands up defensively, as if Mrs. Lawrence were about to beat him into submission. If only. “Anyway, if anyone comes looking for me, just let them know I’m in a meeting with an important client and can’t be disturbed.”
“Of course, Mr. Lawrence. Enjoy your weekend.” And now she was his involuntary coconspirator. The perks of this job were endless.
He tossed another wink her way and sauntered out the door, inspiring a wave of nausea in her.
“Come on, five o’clock,” she whispered, thinking not only of a reprieve from this place, but also of much-needed time with Caroline. They hadn’t seen each other all week, and she intended to do some serious catching up over the next three days, starting that night promptly at six. Harper’s work friend Lainie had invited them to join her, her partner and some friends at dinner, and even though she’d never met Alice or the other women who would be dining with them, she hoped that Lainie’s friends would be just as fun as she was.
Just then she heard the muffled tones of Neil Diamond alerting her to an incoming text from her girlfriend, Caroline. She smiled at the idea that they were thinking about each other at the same time, and having already violated company policy once and gotten away with it, she unearthed her phone from the clutter of her bag. Her smile faded as soon as she read the text.
Got an emergency here. Have to cancel dinner. Sorry we’ll disappoint your friend. See you when I’m done.
She blinked at her phone several times, letting the plot twist sink in fully before she formulated an answer. She knew this was a possibility—it always was with Caroline. This wasn’t the first time her work as a pediatric oncologist had canceled their plans for them, but since a work emergency for her likely meant that a child’s life was in danger, Harper couldn’t be angry. She loved how committed Caroline was to saving kids’ lives. Harper should be proud of her work, not upset that it interfered with her plans.
Yet that’s exactly how Harper felt—upset and disappointed. Instead of a fun dinner with her girlfriend and prospective new friends, she had the choice of sitting around waiting for Caroline, who very well could be in a justifiably foul mood, or going out alone. She read the text again, hoping for inspiration, and found herself growing irritated, not by Caroline’s sudden modification of the plans they’d had for weeks, but by her presumption that Harper would just drop everything to wait for her. But why should she miss out on what could be an enjoyable evening? She’d be of zero assistance to Caroline or her patient, and though it would be rude to change the lineup so close to dinner, it would be even more inconsiderate to back out entirely.
Mind made up, she fired off a quick reply: Unless I’m still at dinner. Then without waiting for a response, she tucked her phone away to concentrate on the complete lack of people who needed her.
By quarter to five, most of the office had cleared out. It was just Harper, the old guard partners who would rather die at their desks than leave one second before five p.m., and a handful of others who either had legitimate work to complete before disappearing for three days or were terrified of seeming less than completely dedicated to the company.
And then there was Lainie. Harper suspected she fell into the second category of stragglers. Lainie was neither a slave to the old-fashioned notions of office propriety nor a shrinking wallflower afraid of losing her job. She ran the marketing division efficiently and expertly, and anyone who questioned her methods needed only to look at the crop of fresh clients her efforts garnered to understand that she got results, even without terrorizing the junior members of her staff. Quite the opposite, everyone in her department (and most of the office, really) adored her. Harper wished she had some legitimate reason to transfer to marketing, as working for Lainie would be amazing, even without the added benefit of escaping Doug. But even under the most liberal interpretation, Harper’s degree in non-profit management couldn’t be construed as being in any way related to PR or marketing.
As usual, Lainie paused at the reception desk. “We’re still on for tonight, right?” Generally, she offered a sincere farewell before heading home to her partner of over two decades, but tonight, since Harper was joining them and a few of their friends for dinner, Lainie checked in. It was such a Lainie thing to do. She had a powerful position with the company, yet she always had time to make sure those with less seniority were doing well.
“Slight change in plans.” She cringed before filling her in on her recent solo status.
“Not to worry, Harper. I’m sure Alice will take care of it. If she doesn’t want an odd number of people for dinner, she’ll find someone to fill in.” Though Harper doubted how easily Alice could wrangle someone into a last-minute dinner, Lainie’s genuine smile put her at ease. “Don’t stick around here too much longer. It’s a holiday weekend, after all.”
She offered a hearty wave and headed for the elevators, leaving Harper alone with the frightened newbies and the curmudgeonly patriarchs of the firm. But with only a few minutes left to her workweek, she felt almost buoyant. The end was definitely near, and she wouldn’t have to think about this place for three whole days.
“When’s the last time you got out of this room?” Eliot studied her sister, whose unsettling resemblance to an extra from The Walking Dead couldn’t be healthy.
“I’m not abandoning my daughter.” Georgie’s eyes were as wild as the hair that had escaped from her ponytail over the last several hours, and though she kept her voice low, there was no mistaking her intensity.
“No, but you are going to take a walk to get something to eat or at least a cup of coffee,” Eliot said. Georgie didn’t budge. “You know, if you starve to death or fall over from exhaustion, Mom will blame me. Please, for my sake, give yourself a break. No one will think any less of you if you leave this hospital room for fifteen minutes.”
The set of her jaw relaxed slightly. “You’ll stay with her?”
“Every second. And if the doctor comes in, I’ll call you immediately and trap her in the room until you get back.” She stared into her sister’s glassy, red eyes, her heart breaking for their collective helplessness. “I won’t let anything happen to her.”
Georgie stood motionless a minute longer, then grabbed her purse and phone, kissed her sleeping daughter’s forehead and reluctantly stepped into the hallway.
Eliot’s shoulders dropped as soon as the door closed. “It’s just you and me, kid,” she whispered and settled in the chair at the foot of her niece’s bed where she could watch her.
The view through the window to her left was pure spring gloom and menace, the brewing thunderstorm a perfect complement to her mood, and though the overcast sky allowed little natural light into the room, with the assistance of the light pouring through the open bathroom door, it was enough for Eliot. She could see Audrey, and underneath the obvious signs of illness and the medical war against it, her resilience and strength.
Inspired, Eliot pulled a sketchbook from her messenger bag and began drawing the girl asleep before her. The soft shushing of graphite on paper blended with Audrey’s rasping breaths and the symphony of medical equipment, surrounding Eliot in an eerie almost-quiet.
“What are you drawing, Zizi?” The tiny voice seemed immense compared to the near-silence it interrupted.
“Are you turning me into a superhero?” A small smile played at the corners of her mouth.
“Would you like me to?” Eliot asked, thinking it would hardly be a stretch to imagine her incredible niece as a hero. Audrey nodded, and her smile spread. “What kind of superpowers do you think you should have?”
She scooted higher in the bed and scrunched her face in thought as Eliot watched, ready to pounce on any of her needs. After carefully considering her options, she said, “I want to be a shapeshifter, like Husk.”
Eliot nodded, pleased and surprised that she hadn’t simply gone for flight or one of the more obvious choices. Though still in its early stages, her comics education was already developing nicely. “Anything else?”
“I get more?”
“You get whatever you want.”
“I should be strong and a good fighter.” Eliot almost pointed out that she already was but Audrey cut her off. “And I should have a dark past, something I’m atoning for.”
She was torn between asking how much of a past a six-year-old could have and wondering where she got such an idea, though she knew the answer to that was most likely her.
“I made her give us some time alone, but she’ll be back soon. I bet she didn’t go far. I can call her to come back if you want.”
“Are you going to stay with me?”
“For as long as you want me here.” She stepped to the head of the bed and gently squeezed her niece’s slender shoulder. “I’ll always be here whenever you need me.”
“Good. Okay.” She nodded once perfunctorily. “What should my superhero name be?”
Eliot dragged her chair closer so they could brainstorm, and over the next several minutes, they discussed the comic book version of her niece as she lay in a hospital bed, her small body filled with chemo but both of their hearts full of hope.
Somewhere between proposing no fewer than fifteen possible aliases and deciding against a cape as part of her superhero disguise, Audrey lay back in her bed, eyelids drooping tiredly and the pillows and blankets engulfing her small body. A yawn escaped her, tapering off in a ragged breath.
Eliot tucked her sketchpad away as Audrey drifted off to sleep, cursing softly as the ringing of her cellphone cut through the stillness of the room. She fumbled to silence it, noting the caller with curious irritation.
Why would Alice be calling her now? She knew where she was, what she was doing and that the likelihood of Eliot being up for a chat was right up there with a Smiths reunion tour. Rather than answer and risk keeping Audrey awake with her conversation, she rested the phone on the tray table, amidst her coloring books and puzzles, the pitcher of water and the packets of cookies. She’d find out what Alice wanted later. For now, she set to tidying her niece’s temporary residence while she rested up for the biggest battle of her young life.
She’d already received dozens of cards from family and friends, and these, along with the batch of well wishes from her classmates and teacher, hung on the wall surrounding the window. Every inch of that space filled, Eliot turned to an adjacent wall to display the latest crop of greetings from the outside world. As the stack of cards diminished, she wondered if they would run out of space before Audrey went home, hoping all the while that she was wasting her time and that, by this time tomorrow, she would have to undo her current efforts. As she affixed a particularly cheery card to the wall, she heard the insistent buzz of her phone again. Not wanting the rattling vibration to disturb her niece, she snatched it off the table, noting that, once again, it was Alice calling. Her determination was hardly surprising. This was, after all, the woman who took a spur-of-the-moment, five-hour road trip to buy a two-hundred-and-fifty-dollar bottle of bourbon as a gift for her father-in-law. Pair that tenacity with her top-notch impatience, and her inconveniently timed phone calls were the logical conclusion.
Regardless, she would have to wait. Eliot had promised both Georgie and Audrey that she’d stay here, keeping an eye on Audrey. No way would she drop her guard for a most likely frivolous conversation with her overly dramatic friend, especially since she would either have to leave the room (which she refused to do) or take the call and risk interrupting her niece’s much-needed rest. It’s not like she could whisper her side of the conversation, not if she wanted to be heard. Beyond that, Alice’s volume control was practically non-existent. In a normal, everyday conversation, her voice carried across time zones. The possibility that, even on the other end of a phone call, she wouldn’t be audible to the entire ward was too small to chance. Back in her pocket went the phone. She’d deal with that later.
By the time she positioned the last card—an adorably under the weather puppy urging Audrey to get well soon—she’d ignored two more calls despite the hint of worry that crept in. Behind her, the soft sound of the door opening pulled her attention from her active phone. Georgie, with the most hushed, calm swiftness possible, moved to Audrey’s side. Her eyes fluttered open when Georgie bent to place a kiss on her forehead, and they both smiled serenely. Without looking away from her daughter, she asked, “Why haven’t you answered your phone?”
“Because I promised not to let anything happen to Audrey, which is easier to accomplish when I’m not distracted. How did you know about that?”
“Alice called me when she couldn’t reach you. She thinks you’re being dramatic, by the way.”
“Pot meet kettle,” she muttered. “Of course she does. Not that I’m the one making a half a million phone calls in a ten-minute span. Did she happen to mention what she wants? She seems to have forgotten how voice mail works.”
“You’re invited to dinner tonight. Call her for the details.” Georgie settled herself in the chair beside Audrey’s bed and continued her hawk-like surveillance of her daughter.
“I don’t need the details. I’m not going.” She dismissed the thought of a trivial outing at a time like this.
“Do I need to remind you of our conversation earlier? You’re not allowed to wither away in this hospital room any more than I am.”
“But Mom won’t care if I keel over.” Georgie hit her with her patented impatiently incredulous look, the one she’d been throwing around since Eliot’s initial brush with puberty awoke the more contentious side of her relationship with their mother. “Glaring at me doesn’t make it any less true.”
“We’ll argue about that another time. Right now you have to get ready for dinner.”
“I don’t want to go to dinner. I want to stay here.”
“Duly noted. But I think you should go. You deserve a break too. Just call her and see what her plans are, okay?”
Eliot balked, wanting nothing more than to sit vigil beside Audrey’s hospital bed (as she knew Georgie planned to do), but her sister wasn’t having it.
“If you don’t at least call her, I’m going to tell Mom how you used to forge her signature on your less impressive report cards.” She folded her arms across her chest and set her jaw, an obvious challenge.
“You wouldn’t.” As if she needed another bump in the rocky relationship with her mother. Georgie merely raised her eyebrow, her determination written plainly on her face. “Blackmailed by my own baby sister. I can’t believe it.” But it worked. She made the call.
“I need you to come to dinner,” Alice answered, circumventing the wary greeting Eliot would have offered. “How fast can you get here?” Though she questioned the urgency of this request, Alice did sound desperate.
“First, how do you know I’m even free for dinner?” It wasn’t the best opening argument, but it was a place to start and maybe get Alice somewhere closer to focused than frantic. It would be easier to decline her surprise invitation if her friend was in the neighborhood of calm.
“Because I know you. Let me guess, right now, you’re sitting in Audrey’s hospital room, watching her sleep and trying to will her into perfect health. You’ve probably been at that for hours, maybe all day, and have worn out your welcome, but your sister is too sweet to kick you out.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. She’s telling me I should go,” she blurted triumphantly before realizing the emptiness of that particular victory.
“You should.” Georgie’s interjection earned a glare from Eliot.
“Your sister has always been the voice of reason.”
Eliot snorted at this recent designation.
“It’s unanimous. You’re coming to dinner tonight.”
“How is two against one unanimous?”
“Lainie agrees that you should come, so it’s three against one.”
“Still not unanimous.”
“With that kind of logic, I can see how you’ve risen in the ranks of the police department.” Joking aside, she got the sinking feeling she wasn’t getting out of this and dropped her head in resignation. “This isn’t a setup, is it? Because you know—”
“That you’re still inexplicably grieving the abrupt loss of she-who-will-not-be-named. I know all about it, and I promise this is just a group of friends breaking bread.”
“Good, because I look like hell, and I don’t have time to go home and clean up.”
“I’m sure you look fine. Plus, you’re an artist. You’re allowed to be eccentric.”
“Am I allowed to be a slob? Because after spending eight hours in a hospital, I’m not exactly fit for public consumption.”
“Would you quit arguing and just let me buy you dinner? You deserve a little fun, kid. One night off will do you a world of good.”
Her softened tone told Eliot everything she needed to know. Alice was concerned, and like everyone, wanted to do something to help. And even though she wasn’t the one who needed to be taken care of, she understood the impulse. It was the same thing that had kept her tethered to this hospital room for the last two days.
“Fine,” she sighed, resigning herself to the terrible fate of a nice dinner with friends. “I’ll be there as soon as possible.”
Thirty minutes into her fun, friendly evening with this mixed bag of women, Harper found herself rethinking her life choices. Not all of them, of course. She didn’t mind having a college degree (even if she had yet to put it to good use), and she loved her volunteer work. That wouldn’t go away.
But why hadn’t she followed Caroline’s lead and excused herself from this outing? Why had she stubbornly insisted on coming to a dinner full of strangers by herself? Not that she couldn’t talk to strangers. Her entire career, plus her lengthy history of volunteering, reflected her skills in that area. But normally the strangers she spoke to sought something from her, and the reciprocity of their communication eased the exchange. Here, she had nothing to offer, or so these ladies seemed to think. Within five minutes of meeting her, half the table had written her off as an entitled Millennial with nothing to contribute, so she’d been reduced to polite smiling and stifling of yawns. At least if Caroline had come with her she’d have someone to talk to, and considering how close in age she was to the rest of the party, she might have provided an in, sort of like a bridge to span the generation gap that had stymied their conversation thus far.
But instead of having support for this extra social socializing, she was alone and irritated, thanks to the fight with Caroline that had kicked off her thus far disappointing evening. That hadn’t been her intention, of course, but what had started as her innocently expressing her desire not to spend Friday night waiting around for her girlfriend to get out of work had rapidly escalated into her defending her intentions. Caroline, who devoted a startling amount of time to texting her in the throes of an emergency, had seemed hurt, offended and angry that Harper intended to honor the commitment they both had made. When Harper said as much, Caroline suggested that she was happy Caroline couldn’t make it and that she seemed a little too eager to spend her time with other women.
Her stubborn refusal to see any side but her own, her insistence on fighting about it, even when, according to her own explanation for her absence, she should be working, were frustrating to say the least. But Harper had only herself to blame for her current mood. After all, she chose to engage. She could have told her that they could discuss it later, or she could have ignored the texts. Instead of doing the sensible thing, she’d jumped right in. She’d almost been late thanks to their argument (which she knew they would resume later), and now, on top of being part of the scenery, she was extra grumpy with no viable outlet.
Lainie and her partner aside, her present company didn’t help matters much. After their initial attempts at conversation fizzled out, the woman across from her, Paige, had assumed the burden of communication for the entire party. Unfortunately, she had mastered the art of “I guess you had to be there” storytelling. While she found great amusement in every nugget she trotted out for their enjoyment, the rest of them were reduced to uttering polite sounds of something close to amusement and trying not to check the time or turn to the numbing effects of alcohol. Except Paige’s partner, of course. Jocelyn’s face emerged from behind her hair only long enough to nod and smile adoringly at her mate. Then back into hiding she went, like a socially awkward lesbian turtle. Harper couldn’t even remember if she’d heard her speak.
She contemplated making an excuse or feigning an illness to secure an early departure. She doubted anyone here would miss her anyway. The only thing preventing her from doing that was the thought of feeding Caroline an “I told you so” opportunity. She’d rather endure a few boring hours than hand her the gift of winning this argument. Still, she looked longingly toward the bathroom, wondering how long she could reasonably hide there before it became a problem. With a sinking heart, she realized her only hope was that someone would eventually fill the vacant seat beside her and through the miracle of physical proximity manage to acknowledge her existence. She didn’t dare hope that this mystery person would be likeable.
Shortly before the appetizers arrived (and in the midst of Paige’s meandering and most likely pointless tale of Eastern European wanderlust in the Czech Republic), a stranger strode casually up to their table, and with a mere smile at their hosts, brought all conversation to a blessed halt (for which Harper planned to thank her would-be savior as soon as the opportunity arose).
“Eliot! You made it.” Alice leapt from her seat and threw her arms around the newcomer, her effusive greeting cutting through the noise of the restaurant. Not to be outdone, Lainie also rose and joined in the enthusiastic welcome. She assumed they would all eventually be introduced to this apparently amazing specimen of humanity, but for now she was content to enjoy Paige’s stupefied silence and to observe Eliot.
As she was trapped in two alternating hearty embraces, her features were as good as invisible to Harper. All she could really tell was that she was petite and seemingly unconcerned with the dictates of fashion. Alice and Lainie (both shorter than Harper) stood a few inches taller than their friend.
Eliot (who she hoped to officially meet before the arrival of the main course that they had yet to order) wore faded jeans that looked like they’d avoided more than one laundry day, and though they fit her extremely well, they seemed a bit more casual than appropriate for the trendy restaurant in which she currently stood, especially since they appeared to have a hole in one knee. Her thick, black hair was pulled into one of those haphazard ponytails that Harper would never even dream of trying to pull off. It seemed somehow sloppy and cool at one and the same time, and Harper ran her fingers through her own brown waves as if to make sure she would pass inspection. She could only guess what fashion treasure was hidden beneath the black motorcycle jacket. Despite the indifference suggested by the stranger’s appearance, the woman didn’t seem disrespectful or in any way unappreciative of the hospitality extended by her friends. It was almost as if she happened to walk past, saw her friends and decided to pop in and say hello.
When she finally escaped from the furious adoration of Alice and Lainie, the woman turned to greet the rest of the assembled party. She took a moment with each woman, offering a polite if distant hello to Paige, and blessing the rest of them with a broad, sincere smile. When her turn came, Harper felt herself blushing as blue eyes, vibrant and piercing even from behind thick black-framed glasses, focused exclusively on her. She couldn’t help thinking that this was what it must feel like to meet a rock star.
She held out a hand that Harper was slow and clumsy to accept, like she’d never encountered a handshake before and didn’t know what to do with an extended appendage. “Harper. Maxfield.” She cringed, wondering if she sounded too much like James Bond. “It’s nice to meet you.” She pumped Eliot’s hand as if she expected to draw water from a well. When she realized what she was doing, she blushed again and quickly pulled her hand away, knocking over her water glass with her elbow in her haste to end the awkward greeting. At least she hadn’t dumped her half-full glass of syrah directly in this woman’s lap.
Unfazed, Eliot grabbed the upended glass before it rolled onto the floor and used her napkin to absorb the small lake spreading across the tablecloth. It did little to dam the flow of liquid seeping across the surface of the table, but Harper appreciated her quick action. Even more, she appreciated the gentle smile Eliot favored her with. Rather than adding to the scene that Harper had caused, Eliot treated it as a non-event, even though her lap had come dangerously close to bearing the sodden evidence of Harper’s clumsiness. Everyone else, however, gasped and stared, intensifying the delightful shade of red she knew her face had become.
At last, she had everyone’s attention.