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The Return Of Jonah Gray

The Return Of Jonah Gray

by Heather Cochran

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Despite being attractive, intelligent and friendly, Sasha Gardner knows no man wants a phone call from her. Because Sasha is— a tax auditor for the IRS.

Every job has its downside. Auditing may interfere with her social life, but it's orderly. It makes sense. And sh's very, very good at it. But when unexpected complaints draw her into the tax return of a


Despite being attractive, intelligent and friendly, Sasha Gardner knows no man wants a phone call from her. Because Sasha is— a tax auditor for the IRS.

Every job has its downside. Auditing may interfere with her social life, but it's orderly. It makes sense. And sh's very, very good at it. But when unexpected complaints draw her into the tax return of a man sh's never met, nothing seems to make sense anymore.

Using the information in Jonah Gray's return, Sasha begins to assemble his life story: a rising career as a respected financial reporter, a house in a posh seaside village, weekends sailing the coast—it all reads like a life Sasha herself had dreamed of living, down to the guy's itemized deductions. So why had he left it behind to cover school-board meetings in a one-newspaper town?

What begins as a welcome distraction soon becomes a search for answers. Sasha knows it's ridiculous—sh's never even laid eyes on him—but she wouldn't be the first woman to fall for a man who looks good on paper—.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

A by-the-numbers woman pursues an earthy beau in Cochran's above-average second novel. Sasha Gardner, a 31-year-old IRS senior auditor, is, of course, single, to the dismay of her mother. Her last boyfriend was a dud, and Sasha is merciless when sizing up potential dates, but the new archivist at work, Jeff Hill, passes muster; his "touch of OCD" complements Sasha's detail-orientation. Besides, with increasingly troublesome family drama, a terminally ill father and a series of strange phone calls at the office, Sasha could use distraction. Her relationship, however, is derailed as she's smacked with a taboo crush: Jonah Gray, the journalist, proprietor of a popular gardening Web site and, unfortunately, an auditee. As Sasha sifts through Gray's financial data, the man becomes more and more intriguing, and her professional queries only leave her more curious. Cochran's novel is better written than most in the genre, and her take on the divergent lives of arborists and accountants is both poignant and humorous. (Mar.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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The Return Of Jonah Gray

By Heather Cochran


Copyright © 2007 Heather Cochran
All right reserved.

I MIGHT HAVE BEEN MORE DISAPPOINTED HAD IT NOT been so predictable. Martina and I were at the Escape Room, the dive bar where we'd meet after work, maybe one day in five. Martina would have gone there five in five, but she'd always been drawn to dark places and men of a certain unwashed quality. Me, I found sig-nificance in the fact that the bar was equidistant from my work and my house. Not precisely equidistant--wouldn't that have been a fan-tastic coincidence though?--but within a tenth of a mile, assuming my measurements were correct. Having been an accounting major, I was trained to interpret the world through double-entry ledgers, where a debit on one side balances a credit on the other. At the bottom of the columns, if you add and subtract correctly, the totals match up. So I took symmetry as an encouraging sign, whether in a financial statement or bar location.

I was sipping my beer and leafing through the book I'd brought with me when Martina rushed back from the bathroom and practi-cally leaped onto the bar stool beside mine.

"Sasha, I want you to meet someone," she said. "Well, I want you to meet someone, too," I told her. "I want us both to meet men who are generous and kind and delight in who we are. I swear, my mother wants me to settle for any guy who will have me. But I'm not going to settle. So I'm thirty-one. That's not old. Who says that's old?"

"My God, would you please stop talking," Martina said."Some-times, I don't get the way you're wired. I meant, I want you to meet someone specific. His name is Kevin."

"Oh," I said. I looked around. I didn't see whom she was refer-ring to. "And Kevin is?"

"In the bathroom. I just met him in line. He was asking me about you. He'll be out in just a minute."

"He was asking about me? And you're giving me a minute warning?" I asked. She knew I needed more time than that."You know I need more time than that.You know I like to be prepared."

"Prepared for what?" Martina asked. "The most we're talking about is bar chatter."

"Prepared for everything. What to ask. What I want to know. What I'll say. What he'll say back, then how I'll respond to what he says back."

"How are you not exhausted all the time? Just relax. Give the guy a chance. I promise you, he's not the usual Escape Room fare."

"So now there's something wrong with the usual Escape Room fare?" I asked. "What, he's some freak? Some anomaly?"

Martina shook her head. I followed her gaze to the man at the far end of the bar, the one whose cheek rested against a coaster, his hand upending a bowl of popcorn. Martina looked from him, back to me, smiling as if she'd won something."How long do you figure it would take you to prep for him?" As she looked past me, her eyes went wide. "Okay, there he is. There's Kevin," she whispered, vacating her bar stool. "Make eye contact. Be nice. And what is that book? Principles of Accounting? Jeez, Sasha, it's as if you were trying to make things harder for yourself."

I looked up to see the Escape Room anomaly. The first thing I noticed was his smile. He had a nice one. More than that, he had the friendly face of a boy who might mow your lawn or hang a set of shelves for you. In short, the kind of guy who showed up at a dive like the Escape Room maybe one day in a hundred, and usually by mistake. He was a statistical outlier, and a cute one at that.

He looked at me. "Hey," he said. "Hey," I said back.

He pointed to the stool that Martina had just left. "Mind if I sit?" He held his hand out. "Kevin Carson."

I shook his hand. "Sasha Gardner." "Does that mean that you garden?" "No, I'm afraid it doesn't."

He smiled. "I always thought Sasha was a boy's name."

It wasn't the first time I'd heard that. Most people I met didn't understand my name's origin. "In the States it's either," I informed him. "But you're also right, since it's the diminutive of Alexander in most of the former Soviet bloc. Russia, Belarus, Latvia, Moldova. Almost all the Sashas there are male."

"Moldova?" Kevin repeated.

I wondered if I had mumbled. Maybe it was just loud in the bar.

"Moldova," I said, louder and hopefully more clearly. "You know, in there between Romania and the Ukraine. The capital is Chisinau?"

"Chisinau?" he asked, stumbling over the pronunciation. "That's a city or something?" "Well, some people call it Kishinev, but you've got to figure that's just a dialect difference. Besides, I'm not one for splitting hairs." A minute in, and I was already lying to the guy, for I split hairs on a regular basis.

"I was just going to ask what you were drinking or start with the weather or something."

I felt my cheeks flush. Why was I always assuming that people would be as interested as I was in lesser known facts and smaller topics, things that I found fascinating?

I thought quickly. "Maybe I'm Moldovan," I said. "But you don't have an accent." "Or maybe Moldovan-American."

Kevin nodded."I guess I should have thought of that. I forget that everyone's not a mutt like me. So who's from Moldova? Your par-ents? Your grandparents?"

I didn't want to lie to him again."The truth is, I'm not the slight-est bit Moldovan. That I know of, at least."

He laughed."Maybe we should start over," he said."Read any good books lately?"

Martina had shoved my dog-eared copy of Principles of Accounting into my purse, but I could still see it peeking out."I did have a great-grandmother from Romania. Family legend has it that we're all part gypsy." As I said it, I picked up my purse as surreptitiously as I could and stowed it at my feet.

"Now you're just pulling my leg."

"It's true," I said. I could almost feel the words forming, the story of my great-grandmother as told through the generations. How she'd long sworn that we had nomadic blood. But I caught myself just in time. I realized that I wanted Kevin to stay and that a long-winded and unprompted account of my family history was an unlikely aphrodisiac. Besides, my father's Anglo genes had washed out my mother's gypsy swarthiness along with whatever remained of the ancestral wanderlust. I'd lived in California for twenty-six of my thirty-one years at that point, and with light brown hair and blue eyes, I didn't look like any gypsy.

"Can you tell my fortune?" Kevin asked.

"Well, I could, but I'm off the clock," I said. "I do see an intrigu-ing stranger in your future."

"I see one in my present," he said.

Oh, he was good.

We talked for the next ten minutes, throughout which I managed to keep the conversation relatively light and avoid referring to any Eastern Bloc countries. He was funny, relatively new to the East Bay, and worked as a building contractor, renovations mostly. Martina, meanwhile, had taken the bar stool on my other side and struck up a conversation with the man next to her.

"I understand you've already met my meddling friend," I said, elbowing Martina. She looked over and smiled at Kevin.

"In line," he said. "Cheers on your promotion, by the way. Mar-keting crackers, did you say? Got any samples on you? These pretzels are stale."

"Premium packaged edibles," Martina said, nodding."It goes way beyond crackers, my dear. And I don't. I'm waiting for my next as-signment. Oh, this is Carl. Carl, this is Sasha. That's Kevin."

"Hey," Carl said, with a wan nod. He seemed uninterested in any detour in his conversation with Martina. He fidgeted with his key ring. From where I sat, I could see that it sported a Porsche trademark. "So your friend pitches food. I build things. What do you do?" Kevin finally asked me.

"Besides hang around with barflies?"

"Those weird facts in your head didn't get there by accident. And it's a pretty head, if you don't mind my saying."

"You know, I got it on special over at the dollar store."

I meant it as a joke, but he frowned a little, as if trying to gauge whether I was serious. "You're a little kooky, aren't you?" he finally asked.

It had taken him all of fourteen minutes to notice. Martina would probably count that as a record.

"I don't mean that as a bad thing," he added quickly."But seriously, where do you work?"

I felt my heart rate rise a little. I wasn't ready. "You know, the usual. In a building. Inside a cubicle. Behind a desk."

"So where's the desk?"

"Not far. Approximately 2.56 miles from here," I said."You could walk it, if you needed to. I mean, I didn't. I drove."

"2.56 miles, huh?"

"Give or take. I had my reasons for measuring it," I added, when I saw his frown return. I wanted the smile back.

"And what do you do there, besides sit and look cute?"

"That's about it," I told him. "Looking cute accounts for ninety percent of my billable hours. It's a huge growth industry."

"No, really." He was waiting, and at some point, I would have to answer him.

"Truthfully, I work for the government. I'm a civil servant," I finally said.

Sometimes that would be enough. Some guys would have stopped pressing for details and let me relax. But not Kevin. He was deter-mined. He was focused. In other circumstances, those traits would have been appealing.

"Better than being an uncivil servant," he said.

"Only when cornered," I said. "Then I scratch and hiss." He laughed."So who do you civilly serve?" he asked."We do a lot of government work.Maybe I'll come visit you.Do you have a card?"

Martina must have overheard him. Suddenly, she was at my elbow. "So, Sasha, Carl was just showing me his shoes. Show Sasha your shoes," Martina ordered, pulling us both into their conversation.

Carl held out his leg. The black leather of his loafers was shiny and even, as if he'd taken them from the box that morning.

"They're Prada," Martina said. "This season."

"Wow," I said, though I didn't trust a man who wore triple-digit shoes. I preferred Kevin's dusty work boots.

Carl's shrug belied how much he cared. "You gotta dress the part," he sniffed.

"And your part is?" I asked.

"I work over at Morgan Chase," he said.

I knew the investment bank, so I nodded."What do you do there?" He paused, narrowing his eyes ever so slightly."Well, I'm temping right now."

"Martina, maybe you can tell me where your friend works," Kevin said. "She's being evasive."

"Evasive, huh? Isn't that ironic." Martina laughed.

"How do you mean?" Kevin asked.

"Sasha just likes to control the flow of information. She likes knowing what's going to happen," Martina said. "She's not the most madcap person. She prefers to be prepared." "What, are you a Boy Scout leader or something?" Kevin asked, quite seriously.

"What? No."

"Isn't that their motto?"

"Be Prepared?" I asked. "Well, sure. It's the motto for both the Boy and Girl Scouts and the scout movement in general, which was founded, as you may know, by Robert Baden-Powell, who was known as B.P., bringing us full circle to Be Prepared. But no, I've never been a Scout. And Martina, I'll have you know that I'm just as madcap as anyone else in this place."

"You're right. That was incredibly madcap." Martina rolled her eyes.

Carl pulled out his wallet with a flourish."I'll get the next round," he announced, as if to force the conversation back in his direction. He handed his credit card to the bartender.


Excerpted from The Return Of Jonah Gray by Heather Cochran Copyright © 2007 by Heather Cochran. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Heather Cochran grew up in Virginia and received a bachelor's degree in literature from Wellesley College. She lives, and writes, in Los Angeles. This is her second novel.

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