|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.65(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Once and Once Again
By John Randolph Price
Balboa PressCopyright © 2014 John Randolph Price
All rights reserved.
New York City June 20
The wet, black street glittered from headlights as the taxi crept along with the heavy traffic on Park Avenue. The late afternoon thunderstorm had passed, and dark clouds parted to reveal a slice of the orange-tinted full moon. Shea rolled up the partially open window to shut out the fumes from the buses, leaned back, and tried to relax.
Eve St. John owned one of New York's largest model agencies and had been Shea's agent for nearly ten years. Now with the preferred bookings going to the younger, more exotic set, Shea wanted to move on. At age thirty she would finish the book she was writing and begin a new life.
Shea hadn't planned on a modeling career. With a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, she had come to New York with aspirations to eventually become the editor of a major magazine. With no entry level openings, she applied for a job as an ad agency copywriter and was asked to go in for an interview. "Excellent writing skills," the man had said, but she would be more valuable at the front desk as their receptionist.
Reluctantly Shea took the job and waited for the opportunity to move up. Then at an agency Christmas party, she was introduced to Bruce Grafton, president of Whisper Light Cosmetics, a new client. After gazing at her for a moment he silenced the crowd and announced he had found next year's Grafton Girl; her face would be featured in a national television and magazine campaign. Shea gave Grafton a playful pat on the arm; she thought he was joking or drunk. He wasn't. Cheers and applause quickly filled the room, agency brass stepping up with hugs of congratulations. Shea spent the rest of the evening as the center of attention. The whirlwind had begun.
Later Shea signed with Eve St. John and became one of Eve's most sought after models. Following the Whisper Light campaign, Shea was regularly seen in ads for the fashions and accessories of top designers, shampoo, and perfume. She was now glad the hype and hot lights were almost over.
The cab stopped at Weatherford Arms on Fifty-Seventh Street. Shea paid the fare, greeted the doorman Andrew, and took the elevator to the penthouse. A young woman Shea didn't know answered the bell. Dressed in what appeared to be white satin pajamas, she kissed Shea on the cheek and went on her way.
Shea was surprised to see the spacious living room nearly filled with people. It was usually close to midnight when most of the guests arrived, and she had hoped to speak to Eve in private before that happened. She stood inside the door for a moment and tried to spot her. A five-piece band near the fireplace played a heavy metal beat. Two women were dancing, and others were cheering on their erotic display.
Shea made her way through the crowd, waved to friends, and then finally found Eve in the kitchen, speaking to the catering staff. Eve was in her midsixties, trim from working with a personal trainer, and attractive. Her wrinkle-free face was courtesy of the skills of New York's most prominent cosmetic surgeons. The tight-fitting, low-cut, gold silk dress matched the color of her hair. She turned to see Shea standing at the door.
"Darling," Eve gushed as she stepped closer and took Shea's hand, "you make the little black dress a heavenly creation. You look absolutely gorgeous this evening, as always."
"Thank you." She hesitated and then said, "Can we talk?"
Eve tilted her head.
"Not if it's serious business. Only playtime tonight. And I want you to meet someone: Michael Ellington."
"Who's Michael Ellington?"
"Probably the best PR man in town and a very eligible bachelor. I met him last year when we were on a fund-raising committee for the Museum of Modern Art. We've become friends."
Shea wasn't comfortable with Eve's male friends, most of them seeking an introduction to a model.
"I don't know—," she began.
"I spent time with him yesterday, trying to convince him to do some publicity work for Chanti."
Shea shook her head. Eighteen-year-old Mary Bailey from Detroit was now a one-name model created by Eve St. John—the talk of the town.
"I wouldn't think Chanti needed more press," Shea said.
"Darling, there's never enough. Michael turned me down, but I invited him to the party anyway. Now get something to drink while I go and find him."
Michael Ellington was on the balcony, talking to Tynce St. John, Eve's husband. The French doors to the living room were open and Michael saw Shea approach the bar. He watched as the attendant poured her a glass of wine.
"Tynce, the woman in the black dress at the bar—who is she?" The bald, heavy-set man put on his glasses.
"Shea Cameron, one of Eve's supermodels. You heard the drum roll when she came in."
"Tell me about her."
"Well, she's had many accolades, and in her prime she was named Model of the Year at Styles Awards during Fashion Week ... and she's not married, if that's what you really want to know."
"Is she going with anyone?"
"I don't know much about these kids' private lives, except what I hear from Eve or read in the tabloids." Tynce put his glasses back in his coat pocket. "Eve says Shea's different from the rest of the pack. I think it's her Midwestern background. Solid, sensible. And she's got a head on her shoulders. She told Eve she's writing a book, a novel. I believe she's calling it Tiger Moon."
Michael smiled, glanced at Tynce, and asked, "About the modeling game?"
"No, about the murder of her roommate. Shea worked with the cops and helped convict the guy who did it."
Michael shook his head.
"Amazing woman, a real beauty with brains."
"Yeah, and with a body to match. She's all put together in the right places," Tynce said.
Michael moved to the door for a closer look at Shea and saw Eve coming toward him, her arm up and finger pointing.
"There you are, hiding in the shadows with my ready-for-bed husband. Michael, I want to introduce you to Shea Cameron." Eve pulled him close and whispered in his ear, "The word's out she's leaving me. She's only thirty, but she got tired of the runway and TV schedules a couple of years ago. Probably because of the book she's writing. As much as I love her, it's just as well that she's moving on."
He smiled and said, "I'd like to meet her."
"Come with me." Eve took his arm.
Shea was talking to the bartender and turned toward them as Eve called her name.
"Shea, this is Michael Ellington. Michael, Shea Cameron."
The instant their gazes met, Michael felt a tingling sensation. Shea was a lovely woman—tall, shoulder-length, auburn hair, sparkling green eyes, and high cheek bones. When he shook her hand, the touch sent ripples through him. It wasn't just her beauty. There was a certain essence that stirred a deep feeling of exhilaration within him.
Shea felt momentarily dazed and couldn't stop smiling at the over six-foot, trim, midthirties man with dark brown hair and eyes. He had a handsomely boyish face. Something magical was happening, and she liked the feeling.
Shea hesitated and then said, "Have we met before? Another time, another place?"
He continued to hold her hand and responded, "I think I would have remembered."
"Shea, we'll talk at the office on Monday," Eve said.
Shea didn't respond. She let Michael lead her to the balcony where they talked until after midnight. As the crowd became more boisterous, they said their good-byes to Eve and Michael drove Shea to her apartment.CHAPTER 2
Chicago, Illinois O'Hare International Airport December 19, two years later
Michael Ellington stood at gate eleven, waiting for the boarding call, when he heard the announcement on the loudspeaker: "Due to inclement weather, flight one seventy-three to New York's La Guardia will be delayed. We will announce boarding as soon as we have been cleared for takeoff. In the meantime we suggest you check the departure time on the monitor for updates. Thank you for your patience."
Cell phone in hand, Michael walked away from the collective moans and punched in his home number in Huntington, Long Island. Shea answered on the second ring.
He asked, "How's my girl?"
"Michael! Where are you?"
"Still in Chicago and running late. Bad weather. Could be several hours by the look of things here and in New York. You okay?"
"Yeah, and guess what was in our mailbox yesterday."
"A large brown envelope from Virginia with the proof copy of Tiger Moon." Virginia Randall was Shea's editor at Barkley Publishers.
"Hey, that's great! It's finally a book. We'll celebrate when I get home."
"With that in mind, Mr. Ellington, tell the airline to hurry and get that plane in the air. Your adorable, sexy, and terribly lonely wife is pacing the floor waiting for you."
Michael thought back to three days ago when Shea stood on the bed singing "What'll I Do" as he finished dressing, her slender body swallowed up in the starched white shirt he had discarded because of a frayed collar.
"You omitted panting, as in lusting after," he said.
"Add it to the list." She paused. "I miss you, love you."
"Love you too. I'll call you when we land at La Guardia."
With the disconnect, Michael leaned against the wall and gazed at the crowd. Every chair at the gate taken, men and women stood at the window, watching the rain. Young people sat on the floor. He was about to walk down to another gate to find an empty seat when the laughter of a couple caught his attention. They moved near him to look at the monitor. Given the obvious affection he imagined they were newlyweds going to New York for their honeymoon.
"It looks as though congratulations are in order," he said. "Am I right?"
They grinned, and the woman said they had gotten married the night before in Cicero.
"On my twenty-fifth birthday. If he can remember one special day, he can remember both," she said.
Michael smiled and said, "May you have the happy companionship of a lifetime together. Just believe in each other."
The young man nodded, put his arm around his wife, and said, "Thanks. And we do. See you later."
Michael watched them walk away holding hands. He thought about Shea. He hadn't known another woman quite like her. His mind reached back to those women who had openly talked to him about marriage, all with different personalities: Celeste was cool, aloof, and equated a reserved demeanor with sophistication; Nichole wore the opinionated mask perfectly; and Kimberly was the victim. Michael felt Kimberly had looked to him for the security she desperately wanted. He had decided he would be happier living alone. Then he met Shea. When he caught his flight three days ago, it was the morning after their second anniversary. He wished he was home and alone with her now.
After showering Shea put on a robe and went downstairs to the kitchen for another cup of coffee. She was jubilant and enjoyed the classical music playing on the radio—violins, occasional brass, happy sounds. Even with the rain and wind, it was a day to enjoy. Michael would be home later and they would celebrate. Thanks to him, she had moved beyond the uneasy feelings that had troubled her.
She filled the cup and sat at the kitchen table, her thoughts going back to the concerns of childhood. Tall and skinny, she'd been shy and sensitive; she'd worried about her looks and clothes and not fitting in with the popular kids who hung out together. She was a serious student in school, and as her face and figure matured, she found the solace she had been seeking and enjoyed the attention that beauty attracted. But bouts of apprehension came again after Deborah was murdered.
The trial was still vivid in her mind. The courtroom had been only half full with voyeurs, law students studying the case, a few yawning reporters, and groups of senior citizens seeking real life drama. Deborah wasn't a celebrity, just another statistic. Shea remembered trying to read the faces of the jurors as they filed in. The seven women and five men had no emotion and were silent. The foreman bowed his head. The man beside him looked at his outstretched palm. Two women gazed at the ceiling as though in prayer. Tip off, Shea had thought. They found Strickland innocent and felt guilty about it.
The judge, a heavy-set black woman with glistening hair slicked straight back, ascended the bench. Shea had noticed the dangling silver earrings and the cast of matching bracelets as the judge tented her fingers, the sleeves of her robe slipping back. This was something new, the jewelry not in keeping with the judge's usual unadorned look or her perpetual frown and finger-wagging, no-nonsense attitude. Then the verdict was read: guilty as charged. Thank God. The system had worked; it was finally over. Then Shea felt his stare. She looked toward him and saw Strickland slowly mouth the words, "You are dead." Shea felt a shiver run through her as he was led away.
Shea realized early on that despite the chill in the courtroom, she wasn't afraid of Strickland. He was in prison for life. But she frequently thought of the words that flowed through her mind more than two years ago when she was at that trial: death comes. She knew it had to do with the book and Deborah's death.
Shea had lived as the book's protagonist and had become her with dramatic emphasis on those final terrible moments. In her imagination she experienced the trauma, felt what Deborah went through, and transferred that feeling into word-pictures that captured the horror of the assault.
The make-believe stopped when Michael strongly cautioned Shea about the dangers of role-playing and drawing to herself what she felt deeply about. "To play the victim is to risk becoming the victim," he had said. She had laughed and said she was only fantasizing, being an actor playing a part. "There's a difference," he said. "Their showcase egos keep their personal identities intact. You're going over the line."
That was the awakening for Shea. She knew that on some level of consciousness there was a lingering fear that the deeply felt emotions from being Deborah in life and death had set in motion some strange twist of fate. She told Michael what she felt. He had taken her in his arms and said, "Drop that idea. You're free now. The book is almost finished and you can just be Shea." He held her close. "Darling, there's nothing to fear."
She took a sip of coffee and said to herself, "That's when my new life truly began. So much for self-fulfilling prophesies."CHAPTER 3
Southfield, Michigan December 19, 2:30 p.m.
Russell Grant opened the door to the bedroom and saw his wife sitting on the side of the bed, still wearing her baggy sweater and slacks.
"Elizabeth, time to get dressed. Your parents will be here soon and there's a lot to do before we head for the airport."
She sighed and said, "Maybe the trip isn't such a good idea, but I guess it's too late to change plans now."
"Elizabeth, when my mother died you were the one who suggested celebrating Christmas in New York with Dad. You wanted to make it a big family get-together with the boys and your parents. Why—"
"I was just thinking of the kids. I know they'd rather stay home."
"And you think Carl and Evelyn would, too."
"We'd be eating out most of the time, and that's not good for Dad's ulcer."
Russell shook his head. "What it boils down to is that you don't want to go. Well, I think it's time to break out of our dull routine and do something different. Jason and Bobby are looking forward to their first time on a plane, and going to New York this time of year is all you and your folks have talked about. And don't worry about your dad. Evelyn will make sure he eats right." He paused. "Come on, honey. We're going to have a wonderful time."
She stood and frowned.
"All right, you win. Forget I said anything. I just felt kind of unsettled. It probably has to do with that dream last night." She rubbed her forehead. "Wish I could remember it."
"Oh yeah, the dream. Your scream woke me up. No recollection at all?"
"None. Maybe that's good."
Excerpted from Once and Once Again by John Randolph Price. Copyright © 2014 John Randolph Price. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
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.