“Don’t forget, Nicky. Please, sis, you can’t
Nicky Taylor ground her teeth, then stopped, worried that
her older sister Susan would hear it over the Bluetooth connection.
“What?” Susan asked. “What did you
“Yaieee!” Nicky swerved her car, then slammed
on the brakes as she tried to avoid a motorcycle zipping too
fast down the on-coming lane. No less than three other cars
had do something similar, and their horns blared angrily all
“Damn cyclists!” she cursed even as she flushed
in embarrassment. Truthfully, that near-accident had
been her fault. She’d been trying to maneuver
around a slow moving bus. She was in a section of Chicago
that had the triple threat: narrow lanes, heavy traffic, and
three streets intersecting in a confusing mess.
“Nicky! Nicky are you all right?”
“Yes, yes,” she groused to cover her own guilt.
“I’m meeting Tammy at that club and I’m
“You’re always late. What happened?”
“Nothing, nothing. Just a motorcyclist and a city
bus.” She glanced at the time and her chest tightened
exponentially. Damn, she hated being late. “Tammy
is going to have a fit. The first amateur act has probably
“We’re used to you being late. I’ll
text her that you’re on your way. Just drive carefully,
Nicky winced, knowing that her reputation was well deserved.
But she was building a career, didn’t they understand
that? “I’m not always late. And I
drive just fine.”
Susan’s inelegant snort blasted through the line.
“You drive fine when you’re concentrating on it.
When was the last time you tried to do one thing at a time?”
Nicky didn’t answer. She was too busy straightening
out her car behind the gawd-awful bus. At least with
it going slow, she’d be able to check her emails as
soon as she got off the phone. Her company manufactured
plastic containers. It wasn’t rocket science,
but they made a lot of containers. Unfortunately,
the world was cutting back on its plastic consumption which
meant as regional head of five distribution nodes, Nicky had
to find a way to scale back without firing hundreds of employees.
Part of her just wanted to throw in her resignation along
with the lay-offs. Shipping plastic parts around the
country wasn’t exactly what she’d planned when
she received her MBA. She’d dreamt of making green
products, saving the planet while earning her money.
Plastic was as far from that as she could have gotten.
But they’d offered her money and a fast track to the
executive boardroom. She hadn’t counted on the
100 hour workweek or the fact that she’d stall out in
middle management while the economy took a serious downturn.
Fortunately her little sister Tammy knew a guy who specialized
in shipping optimization. That’s who she was really
meeting at amateur night. Nicky just prayed that Prof.
Thompson could help her optimize without firing. But
he’d have to look at the reports first which had to
be compiled from data from each division head, and then...
“Nicky? Are you still there?”
“Hmm?” She forcibly pulled her attention
back to her sister. And the damn bus. And being
late to see Prof. Thompson at some stupid amateur night, all
before she looked at those figures from the east coast factory.
Her chest tightened further, and she had to force a deep breath.
She would not have a panic attack here. Not while driving.
No, no, no! She just needed a moment to breathe.
“Yeah, I’m still here,” she said, still
willing her breath to even out. “Still stuck.
There was a picture on the back of the bus of a tropical resort.
Nicky stared at it a moment, her thoughts wandering to a sandy
beach and a hot guy rubbing oil on her back. Wouldn’t
that be heaven? She held onto the image for a moment,
really savored it. It had been years since she’d
been with a man. She’d been too busy, too focused,
and too afraid of making another bad boyfriend choice.
But in fantasy land, she could pretend anything. She
could be on a hot, fantasy beach with the absolute perfect
man caressing her in the most intimate ways. It would
be so good...
She held onto the thought, soaked it into her skin, and felt
her breath lengthen. Moments later, her body relaxed
enough for her to function. No panic attack. Life
Except of course, life wasn’t good. She still
was nearly an hour late for her appointment, and even when
she made it, she didn’t have all the figures together.
She didn’t even see a time when she could take her island
vacation. Not until the economy took a better upswing.
“I’ve emailed you the dates...”
Nicky frowned. Dates for what? Oh yeah, her goddaughter’s
christening. There was a meeting with the priest and
then the actual event. She just couldn’t forget.
“Five o’clock Thursday with the priest, okay?”
Nicky nodded, her thoughts still wandering toward the tropical
island and a hot guy with body oil. “Does it have
to be at five?” She couldn’t remember the
last time she left work that early. Sun, sand, a man...
“You already said you could make it at five!”
“Okay, okay! Five o’clock Thursday.”
“You just can’t–”
“Can’t forget, I know, I got it!”
An ache cramped her belly more painful than it had been in
years. It was stress. Duh. Her breath was
getting short again, so she continued ranting because it felt
good. And because it staved off the panic attacks that
were getting more frequent with every passing day. “I
manage five nodes, supervise nearly two thousand employees,
and everyone thinks I can’t remember a simple appointment
with a priest!” She’d have to remember to
put it in her phone calendar. With warnings three days
in advance. But she couldn’t do that while driving
and talking on the phone.
“Nicky, honey, it’s not that I don’t think
“I know, I know. I gotta go. This bus is
driving me nuts.” Then she clicked off before
her sister could argue.
With a grunt of frustration, she swivelled around in her seat,
watching for a break in traffic and furious when she didn’t
see one. She knew she was over-reacting. She’d
already texted Tammy that she was on her way. But she
was already an hour late, she still had a ton of work to do
without a clue about when she’d get it in. Who
put amateur night on a Thursday, anyway? She should
have said no, but she needed to consult Prof. Thompson.
And, oh no, she still had to do her laundry. Did she
have anything clean for tomorrow? Did she have time
to buy some underwear on the way to the bar?
Her phone beeped with a text just as she was finally shifting
to the next lane. The pressure built in her mind and
body as she stopped her instinctive jerk to answer the phone.
She was driving, damn it. Any text could wait!
She steadied the car and pushed through a light, but the cramp
in her stomach returned as she ignored the message on her
phone. What if it was her boss? What if it one
of the offices had trouble sending the report? It was
well after seven, but she knew at least three of her immediate
subordinates worked the same crazy hours she did. If
it was one of them, then she needed to get on the problem
right away. Jobs were on the line, hers included.
She knew there was a way to save most of them, but she had
a lot of work to do to find it.
With a grunt of disgust, she grabbed her phone and hit the
appropriate button. It was awkward reading and driving
at the same time, but she’d mastered it a long time
ago. With a sigh of relief, she saw it was from her
sister Tammy and not a work disaster.
Where r u???
She stopped at a light and whipped off a response. Almost
there! she texted. It was a lie, but if there were
no more busses between her and the bar, she’d make it
before the end of the second act. Unless another disaster
hit. She tried not to think of that. She tried
not to think of tropical islands either or the way her entire
body clenched with frustration. If she could just get
through the immediate crisis, she would deal with the rest
later. But God, what she wouldn’t give to be on
that tropical island now...
Jimmy Ray did a double take, jerking the curtain slightly
as he peered out at the crowd. It couldn’t be
her. That absolutely could not be Nicky Taylor,
his high school fantasy walking into the bar. She’d
been a volleyball star, class president, and the girl voted
most likely to run the country in twenty years. And
he’d wanted her forever. What was she doing here
at amateur night?
He leaned forward, peering into the dimly lit crowd.
He couldn’t be sure it was her. Lots of women
had long legs, gray business suits, and that look of anxious
harassment in their eyes. But only Nicky walked that
way, with her hips shifting in a lilting cadence while her
pointy chin dared a man to try for her. Could that really
be her? The blonde hair was right, but this woman had
a tight lift to her shoulders that high school Nicky never
had. She was also walking and trying to read on her
Blackberry while taking off her coat and greeting another
woman at the same time. That was vintage Nicky, even
in high school. He bet she’d mastered multi-tasking
by the time she was six.
He frowned as he watched the woman-who-might-be-Nicky reach
her destination. There was another woman there nursing
a margarita. He had to wait for a shift in the lights,
but...yes! That was Tammy, Nicky’s younger sister.
He was sure of it. After all, he’d lived down
the block from the Taylor family for years. He knew
all of Nicky’s family, had trick-or-treated at their
house, and even shared a yearly Christmas potluck. He
knew them like he knew how to construct a saw-the-lady-in-half
illusion. The woman at the table was Tammy, which meant
the other woman–the blonde with the overstuffed briefcase–was
Nicky Taylor. Here at amateur night. Of all the
Anticipation tightened his gut. Or was that fear?
He closed his eyes, clenching his jaw in disgust. He’d
gotten past the nausea that came with painful shyness the
day he’d received his first six-figure check.
He’d even forced himself up on stage at his brother’s
bar just to make sure he could overcome his fear of public
speaking. But one look at Nicky’s long legs in
killer black pumps, and he was right back in high school complete
with gut-churning panic. Back then he’d resorted
to the fantasy of being a magician, of mesmerizing all in
his path with his suave charm. Now he was a man and a millionaire.
He did not need to hide in fantasy to talk to a woman.
Even if that woman was Nicky Taylor, the girl who’d
owned his heart since he was twelve.
He had to find a way to talk to her, to have that shot he’d
missed in high school. But how? A dozen scenarios
spun through his brain, each growing more far-fetched.
In the end, he cut off his over-active reasoning. That
had been his problem in high school: too much thinking and
too little action. By the time he’d worked up
the perfect plan to seduce Nicky Taylor, they’d already
graduated and gone on to college. Tonight he would keep
He would magic her into his arms.