tagRomanceSomeone Like You

Someone Like You

byPinknite©

I want to thank Amanda for copy editing this work. She was a lifesaver. Many thanks.

=====

Leslie Winston was studying me over the top of her glasses, waiting for my answer. I shifted uncomfortably in my chair, hoping I could disappear. Her frustration with me had reached her fingertips. The tapping of her nails on her spotless desk was sending my nerves into overdrive. She glanced at the clock. "You know, I've only got twenty minutes."

We were sitting in her small contemporary office in downtown San Francisco. The light, filtered from the city, came in gray through the window behind her. The view was a 1920s landmark office building across the street.

Leslie, my marketing guru and wrangler, was waiting for my decision on a new hire. As usual, I was fraying her last nerve ending.

It seemed a bit hot in her office. Maybe the heater was working overtime. I grabbed my mug from the edge of her desk to buy a little time. I looked inside the cup, but the tea smelled cold. I couldn't believe we had been sitting here that long.

"Emma Antonia Wallace," she barked.

I looked up at the mention of my full name. Leslie placed her hand on the phone.

"Why do I have to decide now? Can't I put this off a little longer?" I moaned.

"I don't see why it's a hard decision," Leslie said, trying to sooth me. "You've had more than enough time."

"That's true, but..."

"If you need more time, I can just tell them we've moved the deadline, but if you want this project to be finished for a Valentine's Day release, we've got to start recording no later than Monday."

I was ready to jump out of my seat. What would Frank do? Forget it, I wouldn't be in this mess if he were here.

"Fine, I'll go with William Kaulder."

Leslie raised an eyebrow. "I thought you liked Austin?"

# # #

After two years I still had a problem waking up in the morning without Frank. I'd roll over on his cold side of the bed, and for a few moments I'd wonder if he was just outside the room. I tried to sleep in the middle, with my arms and legs extended to take up as much of the mattress as possible, but it didn't help. I needed a corner to hold onto when I slept.

That was just one of many big things I had to cope with, like holidays and anniversaries, but it was the millions of smaller things that kept blindsiding me, like junk mail or taking his name off a bank account. I was not Mrs. Frank Wallace, as if anyone ever called me that. I was Frank's widow and only half of a couple.

I pushed out of bed, ready to start my routine. I stretched a bit, then smoothed back the duvet. I sat on the corner of the bed to begin my meditation. I closed my eyes and took in a long relaxing breath of coffee aroma. The automatic coffee maker had kicked on, and it was brewing my first cup.

Okay, I just needed to stop thinking about my morning coffee and practice my breathing. Before I could take another cleansing breath a large lump of black fur landed next to my thigh. Intelligent green eyes looked up at me.

"Good Morning, Daisy," I said, stroking my cat. She meowed back a greeting, then rubbed her head against my thigh. "Yeah, I'm hungry too; let's get something to eat."

# # #

Mug in hand, I padded down the hall to my office. I tapped on the light as Daisy ran ahead of me to my desk. One wall of the room blazed hot pink. At the center of this pink explosion hung my oversized inspiration board that took up most of the space. Pictures of actors and models were pinned three deep like a careless afterthought. Amidst the sea of faces were tacked notes, quotes, even pictures of items or scenery around the edges. I collected these bits and pieces as resource material for my stories.

The top right corner of the board was reserved for family photos. Our families, mine and Frank's, had dozens of smiling and serious faces of Wallaces and Bentons all the way back to an outlaw great-great-great uncle.

Daisy walked the perimeter of the desk. She took a long feline stretch, plopped onto her pillow next to the phone, staring at it, annoyed. The red caller light and digital counter signaled that two voicemails were waiting. Taking a sip of coffee, I leaned forward to press the play button.

"Hey, Em," came the excited voice of Leslie, my excellent marketing guru. "We really need to nail down an MN."

MN was code for male narrator. I rolled my eyes.

"Don't roll your eyes" she said, busting me.

I almost coughed coffee through my nose. Good thing I had cooled it with cream.

"You always do that when I bring up this subject. Seriously, you are losing revenue on the Cooper Flynn series because you haven't released an audio version. Not to mention your audio fans are getting restless. They've started an online poll on who should be the voice of Cooper. William Kaulder is polling off the charts."

Kaulder would be. He was the rock star of narrators since he hit the scene about five years ago. He could voice anyone, including women and children, with alarming accuracy. He even voiced a crying baby, although how he nailed that I was still wondering.

With his legion of fans and my cult following, we could push the Cooper series into bestseller territory, and a lucrative movie deal could follow. I'd seen it happen to two authors from my critique group. His voice somehow had this magic touch.

"Call me soon," said Leslie a little urgently. "I have something very interesting to share with you...bye, bye."

I pushed the pause button. I looked at Daisy. Her green eyes stared back at me with quiet concern.

"Yeah, I know," I said to Daisy, "he would be the perfect choice for this project."

Frank and I had decided that we needed a fresh, unknown voice for Cooper. But this was William Kaulder, and I was in love with him—well I was in love with his voice. I had every book he'd ever narrated, including two horror stories that scared the shit out of me. I was so scared, for two weeks I didn't want to be alone. Frank had to convince me not to take a knife to bed because I thought aliens were coming for me. But I sucked it up and listened to those creepy stories, because it was Kaulder who had the voice of the hero.

I began to scroll through emails when I realized there was a second message. I pushed play.

"Hi, Em girl, it's me," came a low, lazy male voice. I dropped into my chair, almost spilling my coffee. "I'm back in town. I was hoping to see you soon. I have some loose ends to tie up, then I'll be free. I'll find you when I'm finished. Today, tomorrow, I'm not sure. But I looking forward to catching up." He was humming something just before the phone clicked off.

I didn't believe it; that was Parker or at least a very good facsimile. Parker was my husband's younger brother. He was adventurous, fun, and sexier than any man had a right to be—and unfortunately, he knew it---and used every ounce of his charm to get what he wanted. I'd bet five bucks that the loose end was a woman.

Why was he showing up now? Out of instinct, I grabbed my cell to go through my contacts. I put the phone back down. There wouldn't be a number in there, and nothing showed up on my phone. I hadn't seen him for almost two years. After Frank's funeral, he was just gone. I'd gotten cards for my birthday, Christmas, and Valentine's Day, but other than that, nothing. I gave up thinking about his motives. I would know soon enough when he showed up. In the meantime, I decided to invite Leslie to my house for mojitos. I figured that was the only way I was going to get through the MN conversation.

# # #

I balanced a tray of mojitos that I had made from scratch, thank you very much. I also had some nibbles. I figured if our session lasted all afternoon, I would treat Leslie to dinner and a Lift ride home.

"What's this news you wanted to share?" I said as I placed the tray between us on the table. Leslie looked appreciative, sizing up the pitcher. I admit the limes and mint looked refreshing. I had used a heavy hand with the rum, so they were also lethal. I slid into the lounge chair. It was warm in late November even by Northern California standards. We sat like two ladies who did liquid lunch in my backyard overlooking—what else? —the pool.

Leslie sipped her drink. "Before we talk about my news, I think we should discuss the MN. You've been putting it off for months, Em. You should have done it with the release of the first book, but I get it. You wanted to make sure it was a success. But here we are, going to release book three..."

"You need to take a breath," I said. "I get it. I understand. I'm ready to start the process."

"Goody, I thought you might be amenable, so I brought a binder full of men."

"Oh, like a binder full of women?"

"Ah, no—--better." She pulled a blue plastic binder from her oversized bag and pushed it across to me.

"So, this is it?"

I couldn't help it. I looked at it as though it were a cobra about to strike. Maybe I wasn't ready. Frank had always managed this part of the business. He was the one who interviewed and hired Nancy, who narrated the Molly Dixon series. The Cooper Flynn series continued the adventures of Molly Dixon, but through the point of view of her love interest, Cooper Flynn.

"The men aren't actually in there," she snorted.

"Yeah, I know," still not pleased.

"The book contains bios, samples of work, and even pictures."

I frowned. "You know my rules."

Leslie placed her hand over her heart like she was about to pledge allegiance and dutifully recited my creed. "I won't meet actors, and I'm not Molly Dixon," she said, droning through it.

I shook my head and reached for my drink. "Words to live by."

"I understand about the Molly Dixon part, but why won't you meet actors?"

I sighed. "When an actor is really good at what they do, you fall in love with them. When you meet them, and they're nothing like the wonderful character you love, you're heartbroken. It's like finding out that the impeccably dressed guy you've been dating is a hoarder with a

foot-wide path through all his junk in his house."

Leslie seemed to be working hard to follow my logic. "Yeah, right...that's a concept. Anyway, they're not actors," she said and then frowned. "What am I saying? Most of them are veteran stage, film, and TV actors with training from places that have Royal Academy in the name."

"Yeah, well, you know my rules."

"Look, you're not meeting Gerard Butler or Idris Alba."

I smiled. Hummm..., now that was an exciting range.

"Many are working actors. You might have seen their faces, maybe not know their names." She grabbed a piece of cheese and was waving it for emphasis. "Sorry, I tried to interest Brad Pitt in your project, but he said he was too busy being famous."

I pushed the book forward. "I changed my mind. Maybe we can table this a little while longer."

"Okay, okay," she pouted, "let's just put it to the side for a bit. My news is that I received an email from William Kaulder's agent. He's a huge fan of Molly Dixon and is interested in narrating the Cooper series."

"We can't..."

"Wait, let me finish. He is willing to wave his ginormous fee for a small doable retainer and a percentage of the sales." She grinned.

"Oh my god, Kaulder, the narrator of my dreams... Wait, he's a fan, he knows my work?"

We stared at each other for a heartbeat then screamed and stomped our feet like two tweeners getting One Direction tickets.

"He submitted a bio, too, with a picture." She placed a large unopened FedEx envelope on the table.

As far as I knew, no one had seen a picture of William Kaulder. He was a recluse. I could relate to that decision to be anonymous. I wrote under the pen name of Angela Stryker. I sometimes gave written interviews or, on the very rare occasion, a phone interview.

"I know his agent, and I had to promise the photo would not be given to anyone and would be returned. I think he's serious enough about this job to let you see him."

True, we could sign a contract, he'd work in a studio, and I'd never need to meet him. Actually, that's how we could handle hiring a narrator.

"This is not like meeting him. Think of Kaulder as another member on your team, like me or your accountant," Leslie encouraged.

"Have you seen the bio?"

"No, I received it by FedEx. I thought we could review the information together. When I responded to his agent, I told her we wouldn't consider working with him without a full bio, a demo of a sample piece of material that we've chosen, and a meeting if it goes that far. She agreed to it. Looks like they made an exception with you."



I held the envelope in my hand. It felt weighty. "If you didn't open it, how do you know there is a photo in here?"

"The agent told me what would be in the packet, and oh, by the way, there's also a contract included. Are you going to keep talking, or are we finally going to see what the mysterious William Kaulder looks like?"

I grimaced. My fingers found the tab. I noticed my hands were a little unsteady. I pulled out the sheets of paper. The bio was on top. I glanced at it. It was a who's who of the New York Times bestseller list. Leslie walked around to plop herself on the lounge next to me. Daisy appeared from nowhere and wedged herself between us.

I pulled the photo from the stack. It was a head shot. He had thick dark hair, mischievous dark eyes. He was very handsome, a strong jaw and a mouth that smiled often. He was a heart-breaker and at least twenty years older than me. Age wasn't a big deal for me, but there needed to be a spark. He would be a fascinating man to meet for dinner.

Leslie moaned. "I was hoping it was really Zac Efron and that this was his other secret job."

"You don't have to be twenty to be hot. Besides, we're not hiring him for his face."

This could be a quick solution, but no, Frank and I decided it should be a new voice.

"No," I said placing the photo on the table. "We won't go with Kaulder." I glanced at the binder again. There had to be fifty people to sort through. "How about this, why don't you go through the book and whittle it down to three, and I'll look at them. No photos of the final three, just bios and samples."

"You're sure you're up for this?" Leslie said as she returned to her seat. Daisy bounded off after her, deciding to sit with her. The little traitor.

It would be hard because I was doing it without Frank.

"Yes, I'm sure." I sighed. "You know what we're looking for, and three shouldn't be overwhelming to review. Email Kaulder's agent and let her know we've decided to go with someone else."

Leslie was stroking Daisy. I could hear the cat's purr of contentment from where I was sitting.

"I have a suggestion," she said, looking up from the cat. "Why don't we hold off on talking to Kaulder's agent until you're sure. Why not let him still think he's in the running? You never know, you might want to work with him someday."

"Okay, fair enough," I said, picking up my glass for a toast. "To hearing Cooper speak!" We both smiled and clinked glasses.

# # #

I checked the text from Leslie again. After reviewing the three candidates, I'd decided to meet with Austin Santoro, someone who had very little narration experience and wasn't even an actor. The samples he sent were promising, but what really caught my eye was a recommendation from William Kaulder.

Leslie set up a lunch at Pacific Fresh in Campbell. She thought it might be better for us to meet in the South Bay where we both lived instead of making the trek north to her San Francisco office.

The text said to meet Austin at 11:00 a.m. The restaurant must have just opened its doors when I arrived because people were lining up.

I confirmed the reservation with the hostess, then snagged a seat near her podium, facing the door. I hadn't seen a photo of Austin; Leslie just said to look for a tall guy. I took out my cell to check messages, then started to play a game. I was losing badly to a bunch of birds when I noticed the restaurant was filling up. Then I realized I'd been waiting for forty-five minutes. I hadn't received any more texts. I normally gave someone ten minutes before I'd start checking on their ETA. I was about to text Leslie when a man appeared at the door. He wasn't just big; his presence seemed to block out the sun. People around him were murmuring and stirring nervously. Black hair to his shoulders. A chest that looked more like a Roman breastplate. The man's face seemed to exude menace. He was searching the room.

Well, she'd said he was tall. He looked about 6'3". I weaved my way to him somehow, parting the crowd as I walked. I finally got in front of this looming titan and looked up with my best howdy smile. He looked down at me and arched an eyebrow.

"I'm not interested," he said as if I were being dismissed. I felt my cheeks singe. I mumbled an apology and stepped back. I turned and bumped into another man who was tall as well, but there was no doom swirling around him. I repeated my big smile, and he returned a huge grin.

"Are you Austin?" I asked.

"No," the man said, looking me up and down, "but for a pretty woman like you, you can call me anything you like."

Before I could answer, I heard a voice rumble behind me. "I'm Austin. Is this man bothering you?"

I turned looking up at Mr. Doom again. His expression hadn't changed, but the eyebrow wasn't arched. He looked past me to scowl at the man, who took a step back.

Great, rude and protective. Wonderful combination.

"Are you Leslie?" he said, puzzled.

"No," I said. Why did he think I was Leslie? "I'm Emma, good to meet you."

"Yes, you as well," his voice barely above a whisper.

More diners crowed into the foyer, and Austin began surveying the room. The hostess approached us, glanced up at him and suggested a table out on the patio. I walked in front of him. People were staring as we walked between the tables. I did a quick look over my shoulder to see him in full scowl mode. He looked like an enforcer walking in back of a mob princess.

When we got to our table, the hostess dropped the menus then scurried away. I was about to grab my chair when a big hand clasped it and pulled it out.

"Thank-you," I said. He nodded and pushed the chair in as I sat. He found his seat facing out to the restaurant.

"Have you been to this restaurant before?" I asked, looking over the menu.

"Yes," he said, equally engrossed with his menu.

"Do you like seafood?" I asked, hoping I would get more of an answer.

"Yes."

There it was, I was going to be peppered with monosyllabic words for the rest of this interview. Why did I agree to a lunch? Maybe it wouldn't be too unprofessional to order a double scotch. I looked up to catch the waitress's eye and found him studying me.

"I apologize for being late," he said, putting his menu down. His eyes were dark and intense. "There was an accident on 280, and Leslie didn't provide me with your number."

I was caught by surprise. He had a lovely, intimate voice.

"Oh, no problem, it happens." I smiled.

He didn't smile back but just looked less formidable. Something about him was tugging at me. Leslie said Austin was not an actor, but he looked familiar. I shrugged; I might have seen him in an industry magazine that profiled him as a reader. I shot another glance at him. He had resumed looking at the menu. He was wearing a light jacket, black long-sleeved T-shirt, and jeans. I was wearing something similar. This was Silicon Valley; it was kind of our uniform around here. Tats were peeking out from under his right sleeve, the design extending to his hand.

He scratched his goatee and looked over at me. "You're staring," he said.

"Sorry, but has anyone told you--- ah, you look like that wrestler?"

"Yes," and he resumed looking at his menu.

"The one that did the cute commercial with the little girl...I think the little girl was his daughter?"

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