Pushover Excerpt

Chapter 1

Iris Thorne opened her eyes and squinted at the bright sun, low in the sky. She touched her lips. “Did you kiss me?”

Garland Hughes leaned down, bracing his arms against the back of the Adirondack chair and lightly brushed her lips with his. “Yes.”

She ran her hand through his hair, holding his face close to hers, then let him go, only then noticing that he was dressed to leave. “What time is it? I must have dozed off.” She yawned and stretched, wriggling her toes in the grass of her backyard.

It was a warm September afternoon. The air was still and the Pacific Ocean, down the cliff and across Pacific Coast Highway, was calm and glassy.

“Time for me to leave. You must have had a nightmare.”

“Why?”

“You were moaning.”

“I was?” The dream, as ethereal as a residue of perfume on a long-closeted garment, had nearly dissipated, but his comment brought it vividly back to her.

She was in Paris. It was night, a light rain was falling, and she was running down the street, wearing only a slip. Her bare feet were unsteady against the slick cobblestones, and the thin slip, damp from the rain, clung to her skin. She either wasn’t aware of her state of undress or didn’t care, feeling neither cold nor shame.

She stopped in front of Le Café des Quatre Vents and peered through its double doors, past the daily menu written on the glass panes in black wax pencil. The café was clogged with smoke and crowded with workers having a drink before heading home. She looked this way and that and finally saw him sitting at the back table. She saw Todd Fillinger and was happy.

She pushed down on the tarnished brass door handle, rubbed shiny in spots, and opened the door. A rush of warm air billowed the hem of her garment and her hair. Across the room, Todd stood to meet her. Suddenly, without having walked there, she was next to him. They kissed. No one paid any attention to them. He pressed her against the table, sending a demitasse, spoon, and saucer of sugar cubes clattering to the floor. Still no one noticed them. He raised the slip above her head and pulled it off as she unbuckled his belt, his pants dropping to his ankles. They made love. A ceiling lamp bathed them in a harsh light and images danced behind her closed eyelids.

Iris blushed as she recalled the dream, the heat ascending her neck to her face. She cupped her hand to her forehead, shielding her eyes against the
bright setting sun that had migrated into her subconscious. The gesture also hid her eyes from Garland. “I did have sort of a funny dream.”

He was too rushed to ask about it. For once, Iris was glad instead of irritated. He jerked his arm forward to uncover his watch beneath the cuff of his shirt. “I have to go. I have to drop off the rental car before my flight.”

She took the hand he offered and let him pull her up from the deep chair. Cinching the belt of her terry cloth bathrobe more tightly around her, she walked hand-in-hand with him across the small yard, taking the steps to the redwood deck and moving past a French door that led to the bedroom of her 1920s bungalow. “Garland, I wish you’d change your mind and come with me. It’s only for a week.”

“I have a slew of meetings I can’t change. Plus, you don’t want me to go with you.”

She didn’t respond.

His rubber-soled casual shoes squeaked against the polished hardwood floor as they walked down the hallway and into the living room. At the front door of the small house, he turned to face her, running his thumb across the backs of her fingers. “Iris, I trust you, in Moscow or anywhere. You know I don’t mean that. I just have a…” He sighed as he carefully chose his words. “I’m uncomfortable with this. Something about it seems strange.”

“I agree with you.” She stood with one bare foot on top of the other. “But if you knew Todd Fillinger, it wouldn’t seem strange. Turning up in Moscow, sending me a letter out of the blue after not being in touch for years, asking if I want to get in on the ground floor of his latest business venture is very Todd.”

“He was very Todd when you left him standing at the altar in Paris five years ago. How do you know he’s not carrying a grudge and this isn’t some sort of a setup?”

She angled her mouth with amusement. “A setup? Pretty elaborate, wouldn’t you say? Especially when he asked me to bring a boyfriend, husband, or whomever with me.” She slipped her arms around his waist. “It’s a chance to see Todd and clear the air. I’m not proud of how I treated him.”

“I have to admit it made me a little nervous when you told me about it.”

“It was a weird time in my life. It was a stupid, impulsive, nutty thing to do. I’ve always wanted to tell Todd I was sorry. I wrote him a letter some years ago, but I guess he never got it. And it has nothing to do with us.”

Garland checked his inside jacket pocket for his airline tickets. He was flying home to New York City. “Maybe he wants to see if he still has a chance with you.”

“Garland, I told him about us.” She frowned. “If you don’t want me to go, I won’t go.”

“I’m not going to be the man who tries to stand in your way.” He rested his hands on top of her shoulders. “Look, it’s a good business move for you. The Russian Federation is an emerging market. It couldn’t hurt politically at your firm to have first-hand knowledge of the region.” He gently shook her shoulders. “But please be careful.”

“I’ve lived in Los Angeles my entire life. How much worse could Moscow be?”

“Don’t go anywhere alone—”

“I won’t.”

“And try to blend in. Don’t look like an American.”

She sniggered. “Yeah, right.”

“I’m just a phone call and an airplane flight away.”

They kissed. He opened the door and picked up his suitcase. “I’ve had enough of this bicoastal romance. We need to talk about a more permanent arrangement.”

“I’ll line up some negotiators,” she joked.

They kissed again.

“But I’m not living year-round anyplace where snow falls from the sky.”

“She’s stated her opening position. Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

He gathered his belongings and she followed him out the door, standing on her front lawn and waving until his car disappeared around the curve at the bottom of Casa Marina Drive. She wrapped her arms around herself and looked at the empty street that matched the hollowness she felt inside. From her pocket, she took Todd Fillinger’s letter. Tucked inside the envelope was the snapshot he’d sent of her and him in front of Le Café des Quatre Vents. Through the windows, she could glimpse the corner table from her dream.

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