“So, Ms. Costanza, how much sexual research do you do?”
Even now, almost four hours after the Geraldo interview, Lainie winced at the offensive question.
She played and replayed it in her mind, every time coming up with a witty, stinging retort. So, Geraldo, how much research did you do before you blasted Capone’s basement on prime time?
Of course, she hadn’t said anything that clever or intelligent. Oh, no. Not her. She’d let anger get the best of her–again–and spoken without thinking. “Could you ask a stupider question, Geraldo? Really, inquiring minds want to know.”
She winced at the memory. She should have known better than to respond so bluntly. He was much too skilled an interviewer to let some historical romance author make a fool of him on national television. He’d seen right off that she was hostile, so he’d adroitly cut her off in midsentence and gone on to another guest. A woman who did as she was supposed to–blush and squirm and apologize for the books she worked so hard to create.
He’d also been smart enough not to come back to Lainie. He hadn’t asked her another question for the remainder of the hour. She’d sat there, pinned to her uncomfortable chair like a dead insect, barely listening to what was going on around her, waiting desperately to be let loose.
God, it had been awful. It wasn’t until now, hours later, in the anonymous, vast open space of John F. Kennedy International Airport, that she’d finally begun to relax.
She glanced sideways at the woman beside her. Judith gave her a tense, irritated smile, and Lainie knew immediately that she shouldn’t have made eye contact. Her editor was still spitting mad.
“Did you have to look at your watch so often?” Judith snapped.
Lainie lit up a Marlboro. Dropping her purse on the pile of cheap powder blue luggage heaped beside her left ankle, she glanced at her editor. “I only take that kind of shit from men I’m in love with.”
Judith shoved a well-manicured hand through her blunt-cut, Clairol-blond hair. Behind her, a steady stream of people pushed through the security check-point. “But it was so . . . hostile. You practically told America you thought you were wasting your time.”
“The publicity director worked damned hard to get you on that show. National exposure isn’t easy.”
Lainie rolled her eyes. “The next time someone says the words ‘national media tour,’ I’m going to projectile vomit. Maybe that’ll get my point across.”
Judith almost smiled in spite of herself and shook her head. … I know I shouldn’t have picked your manuscript out of the slush pile. I should have taken that one about the cross-dressing pirate. Now, that was a book.”
Lainie smiled at the familiar complaint. It was the same thing her friend had been saying for ten years. Back then, Judith had been a hungry young editorial assistant, and Lainie a dreamer. Now Jude had her own imprint, and Lainie was a New York Times best-selling author. “And especially relevant for today’s readers.”
“I don’t think you’re cut out for television interviews. You were so . . . testy.”
Lainie laughed. “I’m a testy kind of gal. Ask anyone.”
Judith snatched the cigarette from Lainie and took a long drag, blowing the smoke out in a hurried puff. “Why should I bother to verify the obvious? You spend more time alone than anyone I know. If I hadn’t personally seen you in the daylight, I’d swear you were a vampire.”
Lainie shrugged. “I like being alone. I don’t need anyone besides Kelly.”
Judith took another drag and handed the cigarette back. “ Your daughter’s a nice kid–in a prepubescent coil of hormones sort of way–but she’s not enough, Lainie. You’ve got to get out of the house.”
Lainie snorted. “Who do you think I am . . . Madonna? I get out of the house every day. I go to the grocery store, the mailbox, the . . . ”
Judith gave her a knowing look. “Uh-huh.”
Lainie extinguished her cigarette in a nearby ash can. “I’m fine, Jude. Don’t worry about me. Okay?”
“I wouldn’t waste my time worrying about an author. You’re all a bunch of self-absorbed, undisciplined media hogs.”
Lainie cracked a smile. “Yeah, be sure and book me on the Howard Stern show as quickly as possible. I’m on a roll.”
Judith gave her an arch, knowing look. “You need a roll . . . in the hay, if you get my drift.”
“It would be hard to miss, Jude. But there’s not a lot of hay in Seattle. Especially not healthy, heterosexual, single hay. But if I find myself a bale, I’ll give it a good roll.”
Jude hesitated. “I mean it, Lainie. You know how you get when Kelly’s gone.”
Lainie flinched. “She’ll be back in two weeks.”
Judith started to reach out to Lainie, then checked the impulse. Reluctantly she drew her hand back and pressed it to her side. “Why don’t you stick around for a while? Les and I would love to have you over.”
Lainie looked into her friend’s eyes, wishing, just this once, she could relax enough to let someone care for her. …Thanks, Jude.” Her voice was embarrassingly husky. “But I’ve got to learn how to cope with this. Kelly’s getting older. She’ll be leaving . . . more.”
“I know, hon.”
Lainie cleared her throat and reached down for her mismatched luggage. “Well, I’d better run or I’ll miss the plane.”
Judith gave her a sad, understanding smile. A look that said too much from a woman who never would. “Don’t forget, kiddo, if anyone asks you who you are on that plane, make up a name. We don’t want your readers to know that Alaina Costanza is a foulmouthed, spike-haired, tattooed slob with a carton of Marlboro Lights sticking out of her handbag.”
Lainie grinned at the familiar advice, knowing it was only half a joke. Her downtown, tough-girl look was a far cry from the media image of a romance writer. Oversized sweaters, holey Levi’s and cowboy boots weren’t exactly the outfit du jour. “’Bye, Jude.”
Jude’s smile dipped a fraction; her gaze turned serious, maybe even a little sad. “’Bye, hon. I’ll be waiting for the Lightning manuscript.”
The two friends stared at each other for longer than they should have; perhaps it was only a second too long, but Lainie knew instantly that it was a mistake. She sighed. Christ, she hated good-byes. She stiffened and tossed Jude a half-assed smile. “Not long, you won’t.”
“Safe flight. Don’t drink too much.”
Lainie made a harsh, defiant sound that was meant to be laughter, but even to her ears sounded more like a snarl. “Is that possible?”
Jude’s attempt at a smile made Lainie feel even worse. “Take care of yourself these next two weeks. Don’t fall so deeply into your book that you don’t have a life.”
“I wish to hell that I could fall that deeply in, Jude.”
Judith reached for her. “Oh, Alaina . . . ”
Lainie lurched backward before Judith could touch her. Resettling the garment bag’s wide nylon strap on her narrow shoulder, she gave Jude a cocky grin. “Well, gotta run. ’Bye, Jude.”
Lainie straightened and headed toward her gate.