Here is a short chapter from my contemporary romance novel currently being edited for submission. It doesn't have a definite title yet - so, if you have suggestions, let me know.
The premise is Libby, a single mom who has been burned by romance to the point of rejecting the possibility of lasting love, is in the odd position of writing romances by night, while, by day, she is a university professor who does research debunking the social construction of "love." Against her will, she meets a man, Seth - an ex-cop taking one of her classes - who is determined to change her mind. Unfortunately, Seth has troubles of his own, including a spoiled teenaged daughter who he's raised alone and who is nearly driving him to drink, and an ex-wife from hell.
Please, remember this is rough and not full edited.
Sitting up in bed, Seth was trying to read The Bell Jar, but the young girl angst of it was rather lost on him, and he found himself re-reading the same sections over and over again as his mind wandered to the day. It had been nice to see Libby and Charlie, but he wouldn’t blame her if she chose to run for the hills in the wake of Kelsey’s behaviour. Something had to break there.
Turning back a page, and trying unsuccessfully to force himself to comprehend the words, he was almost grateful when his cell phone rang. He fished it out of his jeans, which lay in a heap beside his bed, and flipped it open.
“Seth?” He recognized Jami’s ashy voice immediately, and sighed involuntarily. It was a funny thing, having an ex and a child – most people get to leave their ex and not talk to them again, but when you share a child, you are never able to truly get away from that person. But, no matter how many times they had talked about Kelsey since their breakup, he never really got used to hearing from her, and almost always felt like he was holding his breath until it was over.
“Hi Jami,” he muttered, snapping his little hardcover book shut with a bit more force than needed and tossing it to the foot of the bed. “Everything okay?”
“I just got off the phone with Kelsey.”
“I’m not surprised,” he sighed again.
“She said you guys were fighting,” Jami accused him. “She was crying.”
“We weren’t fighting. We were disagreeing.”
“Not the way she tells it!” Jami snapped at him. “She says you brought a woman home.”
“Oh yeah,” Seth said. “I had a few strippers in.”
“This isn’t funny,” Jami said in a warning tone.
“How many men have you had since you left?” Seth said, wondering why he was the only one they all expected to live in total celibacy.
“That’s not the point,” Jami replied, her tone dripping with condescension.
“No, I guess it isn’t, since Kelsey has been living with me for the past six years,” Seth shot back.
“I know,” he relented. “Low blow, I know.”
“Kelsey doesn’t like it when you parade your women in front of her, and she says you know that.”
“Jami,” Seth said in a reasonable tone, “I have dated a total of three women in the past six years, and none of those I brought home – Kelsey demanded I break those off by remote, and, since I wasn’t all that attached, I gave in. This one woman I invited to lunch, with her son, because she’s... special to me. I would hardly call that parading anything in front of Kelsey. And this time,” he added, “I will not be just letting her have her way.”
“So you don’t care that Kelsey is feeling very vulnerable right now about losing her father?”
“I am her father,” Seth said, controlling his temper, “and that will never change. She is not threatened by my love life. No more than she is by yours, right?”
Jami huffed, but did not argue.
“I have let Kelsey run things all along,” he said, “but no more. Not this time.”
“Then let her move in here,” Jami answered casually.
“Ah,” Seth said, almost feeling like chuckling. “So now we get to the root of all this indignation.”
“I have the right to have her with me, Seth,” Jami argued.
“Why now?” he asked. “Why after all this time do you want her now?”
“Ken wants us to be a real family.”
“Jami,” he warned, “if you want to win me over, saying your new boyfriend has an odd desire for our teenaged daughter to move in there is not the way to do it.”
“You’re sick,” she snapped. “All you cops, you have sick minds, and think everyone is the same.”
“If by “sick” you mean “cautious,” then fine – guilty as charged,” he shrugged. “But I am not rushing into this. Better to have everyone crying at me than to be sorry for it later.”
“You can’t keep us a part forever,” Jami warned. “And she’ll end up hating you.”
Seth closed his eyes a moment, wondering what everyone wanted from him. He was the one that stayed, but it was him, and not her mother, that Kelsey fought and accused. He tried to sit aside this bitterness to focus on the conversation.
“I need to meet this Ken,” Seth said. “I told you that before. If you keep stalling on that, I will never consent on Kelsey living there.”
“Do I get to grill your new lady friend to see if she’s safe for Kelsey, too?” his ex sassed at him like a child taunting an unwelcome authority figure.
“If you feel the need,” Seth said, evenly, calmly nailing the point home. “But be warned, you can’t hold a candle to her.”
“Why? Because she was trapped in some meaningless university while some of us were leading real lives?” she spat back.
“No,” Seth said in a voice that was soft but pinned with iron. “Mostly because when things got rough for her, she never questioned her loyalty to her child.”
“You can’t keep Kelsey away from me, no matter how much you and your new little rich bitch want to punish me,” Jami hissed as she poured her venom into the phone and slammed it down.
Shaking his head, he wondered what he had ever seen in his ex, who now seemed vulgar and shallow to him. Seth switched off the lamp and snapped his phone shut, and rested against the head board. No longer able to even pretend to read, he stared into the darkness of the room he had never shared with a woman and felt the loneliness of nighttime sink into his bones. How he ached to be able to turn to Libby in that bed and seek comfort in her arms. Instead, he sat there, alone, and miserable, wondering again what everyone wanted from him.
Sliding a finger against the smooth dark wine colored plastic of his cell, he flipped it open again and hit an auto-number.
“Hi there,” Libby’s voice came over the wires like a cup of warm milk. “What’s up?”
“Nothing,” he said, kicking his legs under the covers, and sliding down on the pillow. “Trying to read The Bell Jar, but I gave up. You?”
“Trying to write a lecture on The Bell Jar, and refusing to give up,” she answered with a chuckle.
“Thanks for coming over today,” Seth said in a near whisper. “I like seeing you.”
“I like seeing you, too,” she admitted softly, and, for a moment, they held an intimacy of their voices, and Seth rested his head in the dark room and pretended she spoke to him from the empty pillow beside him.
“I miss you,” he whispered.
They sat in silence a moment, and he thought he could hear her faint breath, and a wonderful drowsiness filled him.
“So,” he smiled, “what are you wearing?”
She laughed in surprise at his cheekiness. “Uh uh,” she said, “no premarital phone sex for me.”
“Okay,” he said without batting an eye. “Marry me, and then I’ll call you.”
“Be careful joking about that,” she laughed, “or some girl might take you up on it.”
“I can only hope,” he said with a yawn.
“I hope you can sleep,” she said softly.
“I know I’ll have sweet dreams when I do,” he promised, thinking of their hungry kisses from the afternoon.
“I hope so,” she said, almost in a purr that went straight to his nervous system and sent tingles through him. “Good night, Seth.”
“Night, Libby,” he whispered, and longed to kiss her good night.
Closing his phone again, feeling instantly better from his encounter with Jami, he sat the cell on the empty pillow beside him and looked at in the moonlight streaming in through the window.
And he slept, almost as if he was no longer alone.