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By Melody Carlson
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2011 Melody Carlson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLos Angeles is always hot in the summertime, but when July stays in the triple digits for a week straight, I am ready to evacuate to my grandma's house in the mountains.
"You can't leave me," Mollie protests as I'm visiting her and two-week-old baby Fern. "I'm stuck here and I would be totally lost without you."
"You guys could come with me," I say quietly as I rock the baby in my arms. Fern's almost asleep now, sucking on her pacifier, eyelashes fluttering on her cheeks.
Mollie chuckles. "Yeah, right. You've told me how your grandmother lives—it's like going back in time. No, thank you. Besides, what about your grandma's new boyfriend? She might not want any company with him around."
"That's possible." I lean over the side of Fern's crib, trying not to disturb her as I gently lay her down, adjusting her pacifier and tucking the baby blanket around her. Fortunately, Mollie's basement apartment stays nice and cool despite this heat wave.
Satisfied that Fern is down for the count, we go to the other side of the room where we open some sodas and I pop my Britain's Got Style disc into her DVD player. The episode already aired in England, but it won't be on our show until early August. "Like I told you, Paige was supposed to be a judge," I explain as Mollie turns on the TV.
"But she was nursing a hangover," Mollie fills in.
"Right. Anyway, I was wearing an earpiece, and Dylan was supposed to be feeding me fashion critique."
"Seriously?" She frowns at me.
"Yeah, it sounds lame now, but at the time it made sense."
"So what's going on with that jerk anyway?" She pauses the DVD. "Give me the dirt on Dylan."
I groan and lean back in the chair, trying to remember the latest development in the ongoing drama of Paige Forrester and Dylan Marceau's engagement. "Well, I already told you that he's been sending her flowers and chocolates and shoes—"
"Shoes?" Mollie's expression is a combination of outrage and lust.
"Oh, you know, nothing says 'I'm sorry' like a pair of Louboutins."
"Yeah, that red sole is like a big ol' bleeding heart." She takes a sip of soda and rolls her eyes. "So what's Paige's response?"
I shrug. "She finally had an actual conversation with him a couple days ago."
"And?" Mollie leans forward with way too much interest. But I have to forgive her. It's not easy being cooped up with a newborn 24/7.
"I think she's kind of torn. I mean, on the one hand, it's hard not to believe Dylan. I honestly thought he was in love with Paige too. And it's possible that Eliza set him up while we were in the Bahamas. We know she's capable of something like that."
"Maybe so, but wasn't it his choice to share a room with her?"
I nod. "Paige specifically asked him why he didn't just camp out in the lobby until the hurricane moved on."
Mollie nods. "And he said?"
"He said he didn't think it was that big a deal and that he didn't mean to fall asleep on the sofa, but it was late. And he said that Paige should just trust him."
Mollie laughs. "Trust him? Overnight in a hotel room with a beautiful woman? And let's not forget, she's a beautiful, rich woman."
"That's true." I recall Eliza's interest in remaining in the fashion world even though her modeling career fizzled. To be honest, this is one facet of the dilemma I hadn't fully considered before. But if Dylan's design firm really is struggling, as Paige has suggested, it's possible that linking himself to an heiress would be a tempting bailout plan.
"And you said that Eliza has had her eye on Dylan for a while, right?"
"Eliza was totally into Dylan during New York Fashion Week, and even more so when we stayed at her parents' chateau in France. And you should've seen Eliza in the Bahamas when she congratulated Paige on her engagement. She was pea green with envy."
"So ... what if it really was a setup?" Mollie asks in an intrigued tone. "What if Eliza planned the whole thing right from the start—a way to trap Dylan and hurt Paige?"
"I don't know. It seems a little far-fetched."
"But what if Eliza, knowing the hurricane was coming, talked Dylan into taking her to that other hotel where she already had the suite booked? Maybe she pretended she needed his help, somehow enticed him up to her room ... and then slipped him a Mickey." Mollie looks at me with wide eyes. "What do you think?"
I laugh. "I think you've been watching too many old Hitchcock movies."
"It could've happened. Then after it was all said and done, Eliza acted like they'd had a little tryst and—"
"But why wouldn't Dylan just say that?" I shake my head. "No, I think Paige is right. Maybe Dylan's been using her all along."
"You think he's used her to promote his clothing line?" Mollie purses her lips like she's ruminating over this. "Yeah, I guess that's believable. Paige Forrester is a hot commodity in the fashion world. A designer could do worse than engage himself to someone like her—even if it's just for a short spell."
"I really hate to think of Dylan like that."
"But he's a businessman, Erin. He has employees, and the bottom line. He might've rationalized that he was simply saving his ship."
"But how does he look now? I mean, if word gets out that he was just using Paige?" I ask her.
She frowns. "Good point. But maybe that's why he has to move on to another girl—one with a lot of money."
"I don't know, Mollie. That just makes it all so sad and pathetic, especially for Paige. It's like she was blindsided."
"Life's like that sometimes."
"I just didn't think Dylan was that kind of a guy."
Mollie sets down her soda with a clunk. "Guys are so flaky."
I'm tempted to point out that not all guys are like that. But I realize that will only start an argument and will also initiate Mollie's questions about my personal life. So far I haven't told her much about what's going on between Blake and me. In fact, I haven't told anyone—perhaps because I'm still trying to wrap my head around it myself. Am I really ready to be as serious as Blake seems to want? Do I want to take it to the next level?
"Speaking of flakes ..." I smirk at her. "How's old Tony boy?"
Mollie rolls her eyes.
"Blake tells me that Tony's been coming to visit you."
She tips her head toward the crib. "More like to visit his daughter."
"But that's kind of cool, isn't it?"
She makes a lopsided smile. "I guess."
"And when he comes to visit Fern, I suppose the two of you don't talk at all?"
She shrugs. "We talk, a little."
"So ... what have you been talking about?"
"I don't know." She shrugs and doesn't meet my eyes.
"Fine. Just keep on being tight-lipped about the whole thing. All you'll do is make me even more curious." I point my finger at her. "In fact, now I'm suspicious. I'll bet you two are getting back together, aren't you?"
She scowls at me. "No way."
"No way on your end, or no way on Tony's?"
"No way—on my end."
I blink. "Seriously?" I find this hard to believe, especially considering how she's been pining away for her ex for months.
She nods. "I told Tony that even if he begged me—if he got down on his hands and knees and crawled over broken glass—I would still not go back to him."
"And what was his reaction to that?"
Her mouth twists to one side. "Probably relief."
"So does that mean he was asking you to go back to him?"
"Not exactly. He was more what-iffing. Like what if we got back together? What if we became a little family? Would it work?"
Mollie's expression softens a bit. "Sometimes I wonder if it would."
She laughs. "And then I wake up and realize I was just dreaming."
I actually feel relieved at this. Not that I wouldn't want Mollie to get back with Tony—if it's the right thing. But I've seen her hurt so badly, wounded so deeply ... I wouldn't want her to jump back into it again. "Well, anyway, I think it's cool that Tony is interested in seeing his daughter."
Mollie brightens. "And he's promised to pay child support too."
"Good for him."
She nods. "Yeah. But that means he can't move out of his parents' place like he'd been planning. And he'll have to keep working once school starts in the fall—just part-time, but he'll be pretty tied down."
"Not as tied down as you."
"That's true. But at least I'll be going back to school too. More than ever, I want to finish my degree now. I have to."
I want to ask her about acting, but hate to make her feel bad. I know becoming an actress had been her dream, and that aspiration got set on the back burner during her pregnancy. Maybe it's dead and buried now.
"So what's going on with the show these days?" Mollie asks.
"Mostly we've been putting together the Bahamas shows," I tell her. "I'm still getting to intern in the editing room."
"Yeah, it's a great way to learn."
"So when does your show go on hiatus?"
"All of August. After that we'll get ready for Italy. Late September is Milan Fashion Week. It's supposed to be really good, and most of the top designers in the world will—"
Mollie holds up her hand. "Sorry I asked. That's all I need, you know, when I'm scrambling around here, changing stinky diapers and trying to keep up with my homework. It'll just totally make my day to imagine you and Paige roaming around Italy."
"Hey, if it turns out anything like the Bahamas trip, I'd rather be in your shoes, going to classes and taking care of Fern."
"Yeah, right. I'm sure there'll be a hurricane in Italy, Erin." Her voice drips with sarcasm. "No, you and Paige will be hobnobbing and shoe shopping and I'll be stuck here doing the laundry. Do you have any idea how many loads of laundry I do a week?"
She makes a dramatic groan. "You and Paige ... man, you guys have the life."
I wish I hadn't mentioned Milan to her. Sometimes I forget that Mollie still has some serious jealousy issues. "So maybe we shouldn't watch this DVD either."
"No, no, I want to see that. I have a feeling it'll be pretty funny."
"You mean that I'll be pretty funny?"
She grins as she aims her remote at the TV. "Hey, you've never claimed to be a fashion expert, Erin. So shoot me for wanting to see you floundering on an international TV show. I'm only human."
But as we watch Britain's Got Style, I can tell that Mollie is a bit disappointed. Not only do I not totally flounder, I get more camera time than Eliza. Plus I get some laughs—not all at my expense either.
"Who knew?" Mollie says once the show is over.
"Who knew what?"
"That Erin Forrester is finally starting to get fashion."
I glance at my watch. "And now Erin Forrester needs to get going." As I gather my stuff, I explain that I promised to visit our director, Fran, this evening and leave the DVD with her.
"How's she doing?" Mollie asks with concern.
"She's scheduled next Monday for her bone marrow transplant. She just needs to remain stabilized until then."
"Oh, good. I'll keep praying for her."
"She'll appreciate that." I hug Mollie and tell her good-bye then head outside. Despite the fact it's close to eight o'clock, the temperature still feels like it's in the high nineties.
Fran's out of the hospital and back in her apartment now. Her mom even flew in from Boston to stay with her awhile. She's only been here a few days, but it's obvious they don't get along too well, which is why I've been trying to drop in sometimes, just to lighten the otherwise heavy atmosphere. After all I've been through with Fran during her cancer treatments, I can't just turn away. Maybe it's my calling to help others. Whether it's Mollie, Fran, or Paige, it seems that I've been doing a lot of hand-holding lately. But I'm okay with it—I think it's what Jesus would do.
Excerpted from Ciao! by Melody Carlson Copyright © 2011 by Melody Carlson. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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