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"I have a résumé for the freelance position that you might find interesting. The writer seems to have a lot of expertise in family issues, just like you wanted."
Amy Hamilton spared her sister a quick, distracted look, then went back to reviewing the layouts for the next edition of Nashville Living magazine. "I don't need to see it. You're the features editor. Just weed through the applicants and find some good people for us to interview."
Heather tucked a soft wave of long brown hair behind her ear, took a deep breath and stood her ground. "I think you should look at this one."
Stifling a sigh, Amy prayed for patience--a virtue she sometimes found in short supply. Always driven, always a high achiever, she hated to waste time. As managing editor of Hamilton Media's popular lifestyle magazine, she didn't need to be involved in the nitty-gritty of sorting through applications. She trusted Heather to select the best candidates. Maybe more than Heather did,Amy reminded herself. In recent years Amy had come to realize how difficult it had been for Heather to live in the shadow of her successful and popular oldest sister, with the inevitable comparisons--and insecurity--that brought. So more and more she tried to factor that into their relationship, taking extra time to let Heather know that she was appreciated and respected.
"Okay. What have you got?" Amy pushed the layouts aside and gave her sister her full attention.
The rigid line of Heather's shoulders eased, and she entered the office, handing Amy the résumé as she spoke. "It came from a recruiter. I have a feeling the candidate may not even know it was forwarded to us."
Planning to give the résumé only a quick perusal before passing it back to Heather, Amy focused on the section delineating the applicant's experience. Impressive, she noted, as she scanned the credentials. An eight-year stint at a daily paper, most recently doing feature work--much of it family related. "Sounds promising." Amy held out the résumé to Heather. "I assume you're going to call her for an interview?"
"It's a him."
A flicker of surprise darted across Amy's face. She'd just assumed any writer interested in family topics would be a woman. But that was reverse chauvinism, she chided herself. There was no reason a man with the right qualifications couldn't do this job. She, of all people, should be sensitive to gender stereotypes, considering her ongoing rivalry with her two older brothers, who held the choicest positions in the family business. Still, the magazine job suited her and she harbored no resentment about the distribution of duties. Besides, considering the mess things were in right now at Hamilton Media, she was glad she was out of the line of fire.
"Okay. Him," Amy corrected herself. Instead of taking the proffered document, Heather gave her an odd look. "Check out the name."
Something in her sister's expression and tone put Amy on alert. Curious, she pulled her arm back and scanned the personal data at the top. It took her only a second to find the name.
The man who had broken her heart. Several seconds ticked by as Amy stared at the name. As she thought about the earnest, auburn-haired high-school senior who had professed his undying love, and asked her a few months later to be his wife. But much as she'd cared for Bryan, the timing hadn't been right. She'd had too many things she wanted to do before tying herself down with the obligations of marriage and a family. So she'd asked for time--and space--suggesting that they both date other people before making a permanent commitment. Though he'd agreed in the end--with reluctance--they'd begun to drift apart. And after the time he'd shown up unannounced a few months later on her campus, she hadn't heard from him again. Memories of that unexpected visit never failed to bring an embarrassed flush to her cheeks. Still, she'd loved Bryan and been confident that when she was ready, he'd be available. That he'd wait for her. But he hadn't. He'd married someone else. Started a family. Moved away. And left her heart in tatters.
It was one of the few times in Amy's life when things hadn't gone her way, and she could still recall with vivid intensity the shock that had rippled through her the spring of her senior year in college when Heather had given her the news of Bryan's engagement. That initial shock had given way to hurt, then to anger. In the end, she'd written him off, telling herself things were better this way. That he'd been the wrong man for her anyway, and that someday the right one would come along.
Except he never had. At thirty, Amy wasn't exactly over the hill. But unlike her high school and college years, when she'd had more dates than she could handle, her social life now was pretty bleak. Partly because her job kept her too busy...and partly because Bryan had ruined her for anyone else. The simple fact was that in all the years since they'd parted, she'd never found anyone who could measure up to him.
"So what do you want to do?" Heather prompted, when Amy didn't respond.
Prodding her brain into action, Amy leaned back in her chair, her casual posture and tone conveying none of her inner turmoil. "What do you think we should do?"
"He's got all the right qualifications." She couldn't argue with that. But even though she'd gone on with her life, even though their relationship was ancient history, even though she'd learned to accept the fact that Bryan wasn't the partner God intended for her, it would still be awkward to have him around. "Don't you have any other strong candidates?"
"None that can match Bryan's experience. Besides, I think he needs the job."
"The recruiter sent a cover note. Bryan's paper in Missouri has been acquired by a syndicate, and they eliminated a lot of the staff writers on August first. So Bryan decided to come home. It can't be easy for him, Amy. Losing his wife, raising his son alone...he's had some tough breaks, from everything I've heard."
Amy knew about his wife's death. She also knew that he had a son. Though the Healeys and the Hamiltons had never traveled in the same social or economic circle, nor shared the same friends, Heather had managed to keep tabs on Bryan. Probably through Betty at the Bake-shoppe, who always had her ear to the ground. Sometimes Amy had wondered if Heather carried a secret torch for Bryan herself. Not anymore, of course. Not since Heather's fiancé, Nashville Living staff photographer Ethan Danes, had come along and stolen her heart.
When Amy didn't respond, Heather tilted her head and gave her sister a speculative look. "You don't still have feelings for him, do you?"
"Of course not."
The skeptical expression on her sister's face told Amy that her reply had been too prompt and too vehement. So she decided that offense was the best defense--even if the offense was a weak one. "But I always thought you did."
The ploy didn't seem to fool Heather--or ruffle her. "I like Bryan. I always did. Most of your boyfriends treated me like a piece of furniture. Bryan not only noticed me, he always took the time to say a few nice words. He was a genuinely nice guy. But no one compares to Ethan." Her face softened, and a smile whispered at the corners of her lips before she got back to business. "Anyway, I think we ought to consider him. Under normal circumstances, I would have scheduled an interview without even consulting you. But I wasn't sure how you'd feel about this."
Toying with her pen, Amy debated her next move. Heather's comment about Bryan's difficulties tugged at her conscience. She supposed she should at least consider interviewing him. After all, when his recruiter told him where the interview was, he'd probably decline, anyway. She would, if the circumstances were reversed. Despite the fact that they'd both moved on with their lives, the history between them would make the situation very awkward. She couldn't imagine why he'd want to put himself through that kind of stress. But at least, by offering an interview, she'd be able to soothe her conscience with the knowledge that she'd given him the opportunity.
With sudden decision, Amy pulled the layouts back toward her. "Go ahead and set up an interview."
"Is later this week okay?"
As Heather left, Amy tried to transfer her attention back to the material in front of her. She'd always been able to switch focus in a heartbeat, to concentrate on the task at hand. For some reason, though, that skill deserted her today. Instead, memories of Bryan kept intruding on her consciousness. And she couldn't still the nervous flutter in her stomach at the thought that he might accept the invitation to be interviewed.
But that was a remote possibility, she reassured herself. In all probability, he would find the thought of renewing their acquaintance just as uncomfortable as she did. She was pretty sure that nothing would come of the recruiter's submission. At least, nothing job related.