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Fifty minutes counseling Mr. and Mrs. Martin left Megan Lowe's head pounding. She needed to talk with Dr. Weiss about getting their meds adjusted, or else one of them would end up killing the other soon enough.
Megan made a few notes in their file while the session was still fresh in her mind, and added it to the stack in her in-box. She then went in search of aspirin.
Julie, another of the three interns who handled most of the actual counseling here at the Weiss Clinic, held the aspirin bottle in her direction as Megan pushed through the swinging door of the lounge.
"I heard that all the way in here. You should be getting combat pay."
Megan laughed as she opened a bottle of water and popped two pills gratefully. "Their volume is just set on eleven this week. I don't think there's any actual danger to anyone or anythingexcept my eardrums."
"A thousand years in grad school and you end up the equivalent of a referee for pro wrestling." Julie shook her head sadly.
"Only it doesn't pay as well."
Julie tapped the sheet of newspaper under her hand, calling attention to the full-page, full-color ad for Devin Kenney's book. "Well, if you can't sort them out, at least you can recommend a good divorce attorney."
Megan felt her eye begin to twitch. "That is not funny, Julie. Not funny at all." Why couldn't Devin toil away in obscurity like everyone else? She'd fielded a bit of press interest last year when Devin's radio show, Cover Your Assets, had gone into syndication, but since his book of the same name had hit the top of every bestseller list, she'd felt like the most famous ex-wife in America. Or at least Chicago.
"Actually, it is kind of funny." Julie's smile wasn't in the least bit sympathetic. "And the irony is just delicious."
"Don't make me hate you. It's annoying, not ironic. Plus, it's ancient history." History that should have been lost in the mists of time, only Dev had to make it part of his career.
"A marriage counselor whose starter marriage left Devin Kenney so bitter he made it his life's work to get other people out of their marriages? Sorry, Megan, that's delicious. And newsworthy."
"You have a very liberal definition of news." Megan flipped the paper over so the ad no longer stared at her. "New topic. Did you get your grant paperwork in?"
She didn't miss the eye roll that accompanied Julie's dramatic sigh as Megan went to get her lunch from the fridge, but Julie did pick up the new topic, thank goodness. The amount of time she spent thinking about Devin these days simply wasn't good for her mental health, and talking about it wasn't going to help either. Strangling Devin for putting her in this position might, but that wasn't really an option. No matter how tempting the thought.
They were joined a minute later by Alice, the clinic's receptionist, who brought a stack of messages for them both. Megan flipped through the papers absently, until one caught her interest. "The Smiths canceled?" Allen and Melissa Smith were her most fanatical clients. They had a standing Monday appointment promptly at one o'clock. They never missed it. "Did they say why?"
Alice winced as she put her lunch in the microwave. "Yeah, they did."
There was that eye twitch again. She wasn't going to like this. "And?"
"They're very uncomfortable with the level of notoriety you've reached lately, especially since that blogger who's been lurking around here called them at home yesterday to ask about you."
"That guy identified and called one of my clients?" She caught Julie's shocked face out of the corner of her eye. "Please tell me you're kidding."
"Oh, my God. That's
"An invasion of the Smiths' privacy and a black mark on the reputation of this clinic." Dr. Weissthe Weiss of the Weiss Clinicspoke from behind Megan, making her jump.
"Dr. Weiss, I'm so sorry. This is just insane."
"I agree." Dr. Weiss looked unperturbed and calm, but Megan knew that might just be her "counselor face." Dr. Weiss had been a therapist for more than thirty years; she wouldn't show surprise if Megan jumped up on the table and danced a naked cha-cha. At the moment Megan sincerely wished Dr. Weiss wasn't quite such a master of the poker face. It was simply impossible to tell how much troubleif anyshe was in at the moment. Strangling Devin was sounding better and better.
"I'm sure this will blow over soon. I'm just not that interesting, you know. And we all know how fickle people's interest can be," she finished with a lame attempt at humor.
"I'm glad to hear you feel that way, Megan." Dr. Weiss's voice was understanding and kind, but that didn't stop the sinking feeling in Megan's stomach. "I think you should take some time off until it does."
The sinking feeling became a twenty-story drop.
Dr. Weiss joined them at the table and sipped her coffee. "You have plenty of vacation time, and now might be a good time for you to take it."
"But my clients
"We can handle them for a couple of weeks." "Weeks? Dr. Weiss, I know this isn't a great situation, but
"Megan, I will not have my clinic turned into a three-ring circus. And I will not have our clients embarrassed or inconvenienced."
She felt like a chastised childwhich was probably exactly what Dr. Weiss was going forand anger at Devin boiled in her stomach. Julie and Alice were feigning attention to their lunches, but she could feel their pity and it tossed fuel on that fire. She fiddled with a pencil, focusing on it as she forced herself to remain outwardly calm.
"I understand. I'll work with Alice to get everything rearranged after I finish with my anger-management group this afternoon
." She trailed off as Dr. Weiss shook her head.
"I'll handle your group." The pencil snapped.
Dr. Weiss's eyebrows went up. "Perhaps you might wish to join the group this afternoon."
"No." She forced her jaw to unclench and tried to smile. "It's okay. I'll start getting everything together. Alice, when you're finished with your lunch, will you have a few minutes to look at my schedule?"
Alice nodded, and Dr. Weiss looked pleasedor maybe not. It was very hard to tell.
"This isn't a punishment, Megan. As you say, this will die down soon, and you can work on those journal submissions while we wait for it to pass."
"That's a wonderful idea, Dr. Weiss." And I'll get right on that, right after I kill Devin Kenney.
Megan managed to walk out of the break room with some small measure of dignity, but she couldn't get her fists to unclench. Her nails were digging painfully into her palms by the time she made it back to her office and shut the door.
Trying to focus on something other than Devin, she checked her calendar and started pulling files and making notes for Julie and Nate, the other therapist, who'd been with a client and missed the fun. But she was sure he'd be brought up to speed about thirty seconds after his client left.
I'm not fired. I'm not being punished. This will blow over.
Damn Dev. How many more times would she have to reorganize her life because of him?
This will blow over soon enough.
She kept repeating that phrase until she heard the soft knock and looked up to see Julie and Alice tiptoeing in.
"We're so sorry," Julie said.
"There's nothing to be sorry about. This will pass."
Julie sat in the chair across from her desk as Alice took the files from Megan's hands. "We all know hate is a very negative emotion," Julie began, "but I think we'd all agree that it's not an inappropriate one in this situation."
"Thanks, Jules." She sighed. "You know, I've never hated anyone before in my entire life."
"Not even Devin?"
"Oddly enough, no." At Julie's obvious disbelief, she tried to explain. "It wasn't like that. I was bitter and angry and hurt, but I didn't hate him. I was disappointed, disillusioned, heartbroken
but it never crossed over into actual hate." She shrugged. "And then I moved on. Dev's obviously the one with lingering issues."
"Sounds like he could use a good therapist." Julie smirked. "Know any?"
"Sadly, I'm off the clock for the foreseeable future." She rested her head on her hands. "All that time patting myself on the back because I'd moved on. Now I'm angry. The man is dead meat if I ever get my hands on him. Like I could," she scoffed. "I'm sure he's unlisted these days, and I doubt his firm would let me in the front door."
"You could just go to his book signing, you know," Alice offered.
That caught her attention. "His book signing?"
Alice nodded. "There was an ad in the paper today. He's signing books downtown today from three to five."
"Really. Hmm." Devin was in townnot off doing the talk-show rounds in New York or L.A. "Interesting."
" Julie's voice held a warning tone. "Do not make this worse."
Megan was already running a search on Google for the bookstore. "How could it possibly be any worse? He's already destroying my career, my reputation, my life."
"Nothing's in complete ruins just yet. Let's not build a bonfire in the rubble prematurely."
"I'm a professional, Julie. I think I can confront my ex-husband in a positive, appropriate manner."
Julie snorted. "You really think that?"
Megan lifted her chin. "I do."
"You know that means you can't kill him, right? Or even throw a punch?"
She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. "Unfortunately, yes. But I've got to put a stop to this somehow. Before it gets any more out of hand."
"You, Devin Kenney, are a force of nature, my friend. Incredible. You need anything? Water? A soda? By the way, love the shirt. It looks great on you."
Devin wasn't even slightly bolstered by Manny Field's exuberance or insulted that Manny bolted off before those words were fully out of his mouth. It was just part of the job. Manny saw everything in terms of his 15 percent, and Devin knew he was the biggest cash cow in Manny's herd at the moment; therefore, he was worth milking. And sucking up to, as well, he thought darkly. But Manny was his agent, not his friendthe kowtowing notwithstandingand as his agent, Manny had made Devin a hell of a lot of money.
And vice versahence the pandering.
The last person in line approached. He scrawled his name one more time and handed the book over with a nod, trying to ignore the overbright smile and overenhanced cleavage of the woman gushing at him. She looked as if she was in the market for a husbandnot looking to leave one. Just as the feeling registered, her next words confirmed that hypothesis.
"You know, Mr. Kenneyor can I call you Devin?even after my last divorce, which your book would have helped me considerably with, I still think I'm a bit of a romantic at heart." She smiled coyly and leaned forward, offering him another view right down the front of her blouse.
"What about you? Are you still looking for true, lasting love?"
His on-air persona of Bitter Divorced Guy helpeda littleto avoid situations like this, but some women saw that as a challenge instead.
"If Ior anyone elsereally believed in true, lasting love, I'd be out of a job."
That should have shut her down midflirt, but instead she leaned closer and murmured huskily, "Maybe you haven't met the right woman yet."
Maybe Manny needs to get his ass back over here and run some interference. He heard the quiet whir of a camera and knew this woman and her breasts were about to make the front page of someone's blog. Great. He didn't want to insult a fan with his rebuff, but he didn't want to hear the next offer either. Where the hell is Manny?
He scanned the store until he found Manny engaged in a conversation with a small blonde. Her back was to him, so he couldn't see her face, but Manny certainly looked aggravated. The woman spoke animatedly, the motion causing a long ponytail to sway against her shoulders. She was casually dressed, the white T-shirt skimming over a lovely back and narrow waist before it disappeared into the waistband of faded jeans. Those jeans hugged her butt in a way that got his body's attentionmuch more so than the cleavage nearly under his nose.
The woman hitched a battered brown bag over her shoulder, and something about the movement seemed oddly familiar. A moment later she turned to look in his direction and pinned him with a stare.
Aware she now had his attention, she turned to face him, crossed her arms over her chest and tilted her head to one side. As her weight shifted onto her back leg, two realizations hit him at once.
First, the years had been very, very good to her.
Second, she was madder than hell.
Manny tapped Megan on the shoulder. Old instinct kicked in, and he was on his feet before he knew it. Manny could be caustic and slice people apart with mere words, and from the look on his face, Megan was seconds from getting the full Manny treatment. He barely glanced at the woman in front of him as he stood. "Enjoy the book. Hope it helps next time."
The woman's sputter barely registered as he crossed the bookstore, dodging a table full of his books, and got closer to Megan. As he closed the distance, her blue eyes narrowed, but not before he saw the cold fire burning there.
So the anger was directed at him, personally. Interesting. He should let Manny handle it, but his conscience wouldn't let Megan's feelings be hurt like that. It would be letting a bully kick a puppy, and regardless of anything else, he couldn't let that happen.
Plus, he was too curious now to see what had brought Megan intentionally back into his universe after seven years.
The freshman fifteen she'd battled in college was long gone, bringing out her cheekbones and giving her a delicate look that was at odds with the angry jut of her chin. That T-shirt scooped low on her chest, snuggling tightly against the curves of her breastsbreasts that the position of her arms were pressing together and up as if they were begging for his attention.
As if she realized the direction of his thoughts, Megan shifted, bracing her hands on her hips and pressing her lips into a thin line. With her light blond hair, big blue eyes, tiny stature and ticked-off look, Megan resembled an angry Tinker Bell at the moment.
Manny stood behind her, still talking, but Megan didn't spare him a glance. Her eyes bored into his as he approached.
"Sorry, Devin, but this woman says" Manny started.
He waved Manny silent. "Not a problem." Manny sputtered, and Megan seemed to be grinding her teeth. Aware of their audience, he turned on his best media-honed charm and smile. "Megan, this is a surprise. I'm flattered you'd come."
She shook her head. "Don't be. You're a dead man, Dev." Her voice was quiet, but the heat behind it was fierce.