Andrew stretched with a sense of satisfaction. Well, boyo, another one gone without making too big an ass of yourself. He knew the drill: Dana’d be furiously occupied for a couple minutes with tech stuff. Most of the studio audience were gathering their coats, heading for the exits; a number collected before the stage, as close as the watchful uniformed security let them, but expectant, well-mannered.
The producer darted over to take his mike and transmitter; she whispered in his ear. He said, “Good. Thanks.” His plan was coming together.
Next step. He turned to the writer.
She sat rigid, unseeing, gripping the Night Talk mug.
He said, “Kary?” as the producer reached for Kary’s clip-on.
Sharp inhale, polite smile. “Yes?” She put the mug on the table, let the producer unclip the mike as a child might wait for adults to care for her. She leaned back, gripped the chair arms. “Thank you, Melly.”
He examined Kary’s face. Confusion? This one became still when stressed, hard to read. Sheep in headlights? “It gets easier.”
“What? What does?”
That was better. The inward focus was replaced by an awareness of her surroundings. She was actually looking at him. “Interviews, shows…”
“I’m not planning any more.” She shook herself, shivered. Ghost of smile. “I’ve done my bit.”
Now that he was out from under pressure, he put pieces together: ‘first interview,’ ‘support group,’ the graciousness, nerves. She’d claimed illness—but she didn’t look ill. Fragile, yes; like the bone-china shepherdesses his mother so loved. “Satisfy a bit of curiosity?”
“If you can keep it to yourself—it’s been a tough night.” Her forearms lay quiet along the arms of the chair; her fingers stretched, calmed.
“You were something else before you were a writer. Am I right?” Nosy, nosy. Make it mutual? “Me, a bartender—or anything ye might be wanting.”
“I trained as a neonatologist.” Precise. Uninflected. She was watching his eyes.
“‘Winter’ is a pseudonym.”
Ah! “You let Dana out you.” For a cause.
“Technically, Dana didn’t. But someone will.” She shrugged it off.
“It means that much?”
She cocked her head, self-deprecating but good-humored. “From those to whom much has been given—”
“Much is required?” His eyes narrowed reflexively. How could she say that? Years: med school, residence, internship, practice. All down the crapper. Start all over—reach the level where talk shows wanted you. She has guts.
Dana’s approach interrupted his prying. Her post-show wrap finished, she beamed down at them. He recognized the type, surrendered to Dana’s smile: Dana’s guests were again worth noticing. She ran long fingers through her hair, grabbing handfuls and tugging, hard. “Ready?”
“Trying to pull it out?” Kary sounded alarmed.
“Nope. Loosens the scalp.”
He watched, amused. Women! “Now what?”
Dana glanced at the small crowd. “Studio guests get a few minutes for autographs?”
“No problem.” George and the guys were headed over. Least he could do—these folks stood in line in the cold.
“Kary? You up to it?” Dana tipped her head toward the waiting fans.
“I’m positive I know whose autograph they want.” Kary smiled at him, but he had the sense the portcullis was dropped, the castle secured.
She’s making me awkward, like a schoolboy. Refreshing. “Wait a bit.” He met Kary’s gaze, glanced up at Dana. “My agent’s throwing a little party at Mallory’s. Just friends. I was hoping you’d both come.” He trotted out his ace. “Dana, Melly’s having Brian bring your sister.”
Dana blinked several times. “Chrissy’ll love that.”
He had achieved the right touch. Good. “If Kary comes, they could talk…” He appealed to Kary. “You’re probably tired—but…”
She considered so long he thought he’d lost her.
Prolonged exhalation, nod. “I think I can manage. My plane doesn’t leave until late tomorrow. It’s a short flight.”
“There’s a lass.”
“On the condition I don’t have to stay ‘til the wee hours.”
“Cross me heart—the minute you’ve had it, you’re out.” He made the child’s sign before he could catch himself. “Okay?” He’d make time to talk to her later. That settled, he popped to his feet. “Bring on the Christians.”
Kary remained rooted.
Aha! “You’ve never done autographs, have you?”
“Am I that obvious?”
He chuckled. “It won’t hurt. Much.” He bowed, offered his hand. “Come here to me.”
She laughed and shook her head as if to a wayward beau with wheedling ways, put her hand in his. But she didn’t need actual support. Her hand was as light as one of the baby birds he used to try to rescue, all feathers and no substance. She stood up as models did, in a single fluid motion, retrieved her hand with a nod of thanks.
They walked side by side toward his rowdy mates at the barricades where a table was set up for Kary. He wasn’t surprised to notice a substantial portion of the crowd wanting her autograph.
He welcomed his obligations: his fans awaited, young and old; he was there. As usual, some of the pretty ones hung back, hoping to leave a lasting impression. It was twenty minutes before the final fan was escorted to the studio door, squealing happily to her friends with Andrew’s pen in her hand.
He shook his head with regret as she left. What a bloody waste.
~ ~ ~
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Copyrighted material by Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt.