Light A Candle, Chase the Devil Away

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Chapter 3

Sunlight filtering through the window blinds formed horizontal ribbons of light on the walls of Katie’s small bedroom. Nick slid his hand under the covers and ran it down Katie’s naked body. She stirred and snuggled against him.

“Hey,” he whispered, “I’ve gotta go home and get ready for a meeting with Ruby this morning.”

“Okay,” Katie murmured into his chest.

“You have another hour before your alarm goes off, sleepy head. See you tonight.” He kissed her forehead, then tucked the sheet around her. Pulling on his jeans, he searched the dim room, then remembered he didn’t have a shirt. He backed out of the bedroom, easing the door closed and bumped into Katie’s roommate, Tara, as she exited from the bathroom.

“Sorry.” Nick skirted around her, pulling on his jacket.

“That’s your new look? Bad Boy Nickie?” Tara looked him up and down. “Or did you leave your shirt in someone’s bed?”

Nick ignored the comment. He disliked Tara and wasn’t in the mood to get into an argument. He shut the front door on Tara’s shrill laughter.

“You work on a Sunday?” His grandmother shook her head. “What about church, Nickie?”

“Sorry, Nonna, the agency keeps odd hours. This meeting is important.”

“You always walk to church with me on Sunday. Since you were little boy. I don’t understand this new job.” His grandmother threw her arms in the air. “Salvatore! Get dressed. You walk to church with me.”

“But Nonna, I’m resting,” Sal called from the living room. “I gotta work in the restaurant later.”

“You come to church!” His grandmother stood over him with her arms crossed. “Rest later.”

Sal pushed himself up from the couch. He punched Nick in the arm as he walked past. “Thanks a lot.”

Nick grinned. “Church is good for you, little brother.”

The door of Ruby’s office muffled the words shouted behind it, but the volume and tone of the two voices inside indicated a heated argument.

Nick sat on the corner of Stephanie’s desk. “Who’s he got in there?”

She shook her head, keeping her eyes focused on her computer screen.

“C’mon, you can tell me.” Nick opened the lid of the white bakery box he held. “Try one. It’s a thank you gift for not telling Ruby I was late yesterday.” He waved the box near Stephanie’s nose. “My grandmother’s cannoli are practically world famous.”

Stephanie raised her eyes from her computer and smiled. “They smell amazing.” She reached into the box. “I’ve never had a cannoli.” As she bit into the pastry, the sweet cream filling squeezed out the opposite end of the crunchy tube into her hand.

Nick laughed when she licked her fingers. “Messy, but good, huh?”

“Delicious.” She giggled and licked her fingers again. Watching her, Nick realized beneath the heavy make-up, was a girl of maybe eighteen. He wanted to ask how old she was, but instead asked, “How long have you worked for Ruby?”

“About four months,” she said.

“You like working here?”

“Uh huh. I get to meet actors and rock stars. And the pay is more than I’d ever dreamed of making back home.”

“Where’s home?”

“Oklahoma.”

“Do you have family here?”

“Nope. Just me. Packed up one day and got on a bus heading east.”

“That took guts.” Nick stepped into the rest room and grabbed some paper towels. “Here.”

“Thanks.” She wiped her hands on the towels. “I auditioned to be a singer when I first got here. That’s how I met Mr. Ruby. He said I sounded too country for him to represent me.” She shrugged. “He offered me this job instead.”

“So you’re a singer? Pretty cool.”

Stephanie dabbed around her glossy, red lips with the corner of a paper towel. “Not a good enough one, I guess.” She pointed to Ruby’s door and lowered her voice. “Ian Slaughter’s in there.”

“Who’s Ian Slaughter?”

Stephanie rolled her eyes. “Seriously? The lead singer of Blood Lust.” She pointed to the poster of the band hanging on the wall.

“Oh yeah, right. The metal band.”

“Like, only the biggest heavy metal band in the world. How old are you anyway, Nick?”

“Twenty-five. That’s not old. What are you, fifteen?”

Stephanie straightened her shoulders. “Twenty-one.”

“Really? You look a lot younger.”

Stephanie’s eyelids flitted downward, and her lips pulled tight.

“But you needed to be twenty-one to work here, right?” he asked.

“I have to get back to work.” She stared at her monitor.

“Hey, it’s all right. I won’t say anything.”

Another volley of shouting exploded in Ruby’s office.

A man’s voice bellowed, “Fuck you and your contract! I don’t need you!”

Stephanie and Nick looked at each other. He cleared his throat. “Should I leave and come back later?”

“Oh, no,” Stephanie said, “Ruby would be furious if you missed your appointment.”

They both jumped when Ruby’s door swung open, crashed into a large ceramic planter and toppled it.

A tall man with sandy-colored hair stormed past. He slammed the outer office door.

Stephanie hurried around her L-shaped desk to close the door to Ruby’s office while Nick righted the potted plant. She barely made it back to her chair when the door opened.

A smiling Victor Ruby strode out with his hand extended. “Nick, good morning.”

“Good morning, Mr. Ruby.” He shook Ruby’s hand.

“What’s this?” Ruby motioned to the box of cannoli on the desk.

Stephanie jumped to her feet. “I’m sorry, sir, I’ll put them away.”

“Don’t be silly.” Ruby glared at her. “You’ll insult Mr. Teravelli.”

“Did I do something wrong?” Nick instinctively stepped between Stephanie and Ruby.

Ruby laughed. “Of course not. Stephanie knows I don’t allow food in the office. But it’s Sunday and who could resist your grandmother’s famous cannoli?” He reached into the box and took one.

“How did you know my grandmother made them?” Nick asked. “And you also knew we have a family restaurant.”

Ruby didn’t reply. Instead he made loud sucking noises as he slurped the filling from the pastry tube. He nodded his head toward his office. “Come in. We have a lot to discuss.” He waited for Nick to enter, then shut the door.

“Exciting time for you, hey Nick?” Ruby crunched the pastry shell between his teeth.

“Yes, sir, it is.”

“You survived the photo shoot, I see.” Ruby led Nick to a round conference table. Two posters lay side by side on the table. One, a full-length enlargement of Nick from yesterday’s photo shoot. The wild hair and dark stubble accentuated his brooding expression. The second poster included the two bikini-clad models who were brought in to pose with Nick. The tall blond had her arm draped around his right shoulder while the raven-haired girl crouched, cat-like on his left, her arm encircling his leg. Purple colored mist swirled around the trio’s feet and gave a surreal effect to the image.

“Posters?” Nick asked. “Who’d want a poster of an author?”

“Merchandising,” Ruby said. “That’s where the money is. You underestimate your appeal with females, your target market. These are only proofs, the printed ones are on order. But I have a bigger surprise for you.” He placed a hardcover book on the table.

A single word Thirst shone in metallic silver letters on the glossy black jacket. Elongated descenders on the title text twisted into sharp points. Red ink, mimicking blood, dripped from the points. Below the title, Nick Tera was printed in red block letters.

“My book’s printed already?”

“A press proof. I had the publisher start work on it as soon as you signed your contract.”

Nick chewed on his lower lip. “The title’s changed and my name–”

“Genius, isn’t it? Terror-Tera. Perfect for a horror author.” Ruby smiled.

“But, Mr. Ruby, sir, that’s not my name.”

“It’s your name now. Do I need to remind you of our discussion in the dressing room yesterday?”

Nick felt the air temperature rising along with his frustration.

Ruby continued, “Nick Teravelli sounds like a pizzeria owner, or worse, a priest.”

Nick’s jaw muscles tensed. He couldn’t believe Ruby changed his name without asking, but feared if he argued, he’d blow his book deal of a lifetime and the ten-thousand-dollar advance.

“We had to move fast. I told the publisher to have his staff writers make a few changes to your story.” He took a cigar from his pocket as he studied Nick’s face. “Your vampire character is, let’s say, a bit less repentant. He revels in the dark side now. A much more enjoyable read.”

The words exploded from Nick’s mouth, “You had my story rewritten?”

The reflection of the flame from his silver lighter danced in Ruby’s dark eyes. “Problem, Mr. Tera?”

Nick rubbed his face, his skin slick with sweat. Drawing a deep breath, he forced himself to speak in a measured tone. “I understand manuscripts are edited. I expected that. But I hoped to do the revisions myself, to keep the integrity of my story.”

Ruby waved his hand sending a trail of cigar smoke above his head. “Normally, yes, you would work directly with my editors. But we needed to push this one through to meet the deadline.”

“Deadline?”

“Another surprise.” Ruby handed Nick a folded black card. Inside, an invitation to the annual Ruby International Promotions VIP Ball dated for the coming Saturday night.

“It’s a very swanky party, Mr. Tera. My top clients, celebrities, and every elite society snob in the city will be there. More importantly, there will be a live press conference. You’ll be introduced to your future fans and unveil your new book.” Ruby tapped the book cover with his shiny fingernails.

Nick’s mind reeled over his rewritten story and name change. Posters, parties and press conferences were not things he had anticipated when he signed on with Ruby.

“I’ll have Stephanie make arrangements to get you the appropriate clothing for the party. Something to match the image we’re building for you. In six short days your book will be on the shelves of every bookstore in the city.” Ruby’s eyes narrowed. “You have nothing to say?”

Nick felt like he’d been punched in the stomach. Yesterday’s argument over clothing for the photo shoot was miniscule compared to today’s shock. He struggled to maintain self-control and not let his anger show. His prolonged silence appeared to bore Ruby, who busied himself rolling the two posters together into a neat paper coil.

“Here you go, Nick. Your first book and posters.” Ruby slapped the posters into Nick’s hand. “Enjoy. Just don’t show either in public before the press conference.”

Nick turned to leave. He craved cool air and distance from Ruby.

“One more piece of business. You said you had two other books in your trilogy? I’ll need those manuscripts ASAP. There’s time for you to do the edits on those. What other story ideas do you have?”

“I started a new novel. It’s going slow, but I’ll—.”

“Ah, the dreaded writer’s block.” Ruby took a business card from the holder on his desk. “There’s a quote on the back of my card. Latin or some ancient language. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve forgotten which. Loosely translated it means, open your mind to inspiration. Call me superstitious, but I give one to all my authors.” Ruby tucked it between the pages of Nick’s novel. “Are you familiar with Joseph Cullen, Nick?”

“The king of horror? Of course, I’ve read all of his books.”

“And my client, I might add.” Ruby grinned, exposing perfectly white teeth. “You know, ol’ Joe tells me he reads the quote aloud every time he sits down to write. Seems to have worked quite well for him, don’t you think?”

“Yes. I suppose it has.”

“I can see you’re still digesting everything, Nick. It’s a lot happening in a short time. Go on, take off. I’ll have Stephanie call you to set up a time to shop for clothing for the VIP party.” Ruby opened his door. “Focus on writing your new book. I’m betting you’ll outsell Cullen one day.”

Nick mumbled good-bye to Stephanie and left the office. He punched the down button on the elevator and stared at the book in his hand while he waited for the doors to open. Stephanie called out as he stepped inside the elevator.

“Nick, hold the door please!” Her tall heels clacked down the hallway. She hurried into the elevator carrying a bulky shoulder bag, the box of cannoli and a black shopping bag.

“Here.” She held out the black bag emblazoned with a red RIP logo.

“What’s this?”

“Your clothes from yesterday. They’ve been dry cleaned.”

“That was fast.” Nick snorted. “Does he own a damn dry cleaners, too?”

“What’s wrong? You looked upset when you came out of Mr. Ruby’s office.”

Nick shook his head. “Most guys would be thrilled to be posing with hot models, having posters made—not to mention the fat pay check.” Nick dropped the book into the shopping bag and slid the rolled-up posters in beside it. “I want to be published, but this all feels like a circus side show.” He gave Stephanie a wry smile. “Sorry, I don’t expect you to understand.”

Stephanie touched his arm. “I dreamed of being a country singer. Yet, here I am, a secretary. I’m doing it for the money. I understand more than you think.” The girlish smattering of freckles across her nose contrasted her world-weary tone.

Nick sighed. “So, where’re you going?”

“Mr. Ruby said I could leave for the day.” Stephanie’s face brightened. “Guess I’ll grab some lunch. Maybe, do some shopping.”

“It’s Sunday. Most of the stores are closed. But it’s a nice sunny day. Go hang out with your friends. Have some fun.”

“I’ve spent every day at this office since I moved here. Including weekends. I don’t have any friends. Unless salesclerks count. I’ve become a shopaholic.” She stared at her feet and asked in a meek voice, “Want to have lunch with me?”

Nick started to say no, but, with Katie at work and sulking over his revised book his only plan for the afternoon, he reconsidered.

“Sure.” He smiled. “Hey, have you ever had a City Dawg hot dog?”

“No.” Her giggle sounded like a sixteen-year-old girl’s.

“You’re in for a treat.”

They settled on a bench in a small park across the street from the hot dog stand. Nick laughed at Stephanie’s dainty attempt to bite into the over-sized hot dog piled with toppings. She put the cardboard container down next to her on the bench and wiped her mouth with a handful of napkins.

“Can I see?” She pointed to Nick’s book in the bag at their feet.

Nick shrugged. “Sure.”

She picked up the book. “The cover’s awesome.”

They both turned at the rapid clicking sound behind them. It came from the 35mm camera a woman aimed at them.

Nick stood as Stephanie rushed toward the woman.

“You can’t print those, Janis! The book isn’t even in stores yet. Mr. Ruby will be furious!”

The woman lowered the camera, revealing deep-set, dark eyes. Though she replied to Stephanie, she looked at Nick. “It’s a public park. I can photograph whoever, or whatever, I want.”

“If I tell Mr. Ruby, you’ll lose your press pass to the VIP party.”

Stephanie’s statement made an impact. Janis pursed her lips. “Fine. I won’t print the pictures–yet.” She glared at Nick, then stalked away.

“Who was that?” Nick asked. “She looked familiar.”

“Janis Ford, a reporter for The Entertainer.” Stephanie walked back to the bench and slipped the book into the bag.

“I’ve heard that name before.”

“She was a finalist in the talent contest. She came to the interview all Gothed-out. I guess she thought if she looked freaky enough, Mr. Ruby would pick her.”

“Oh yeah, the Goth girl, now I remember. Why’s a reporter trying to get a book deal?”

Stephanie shrugged. “She said she wanted to change careers. Ruby said she’s a talented writer. Maybe that’s why he gave her the press pass for the VIP party. A consolation prize.”

“She gives me the evil eye every time she sees me,” Nick said.

“Probably jealous. And a sore loser.” Stephanie nibbled at her hot dog. “I don’t like her, she’s pushy. And the tabloid she works for is a real rag. I’m surprised Ruby gave her a pass. Reporters are only allowed to ask questions that he pre-approves. Janis doesn’t like to follow rules.”

After lunch, Stephanie and Nick said goodbye and then walked off in opposite directions. He texted Katie while he waited for the green light at a crosswalk. “[email protected]” A few moments later his cell buzzed. Katie’s text replied it would be eight o’clock, or later, when she finished work.

Nick shoved the phone into his pocket. Katie worked long hours at the hospital, especially since she started training to move to the Radiology Department. He was anxious to talk to her about the revisions in his book. She’d understand. The two had spent many late nights discussing the characters and story line. Katie was almost as invested in the original story as he was.

He checked the time as he neared the family restaurant. Twelve thirty, leaving him too many hours to wait before he could talk to Katie. His grandmother’s church group sat around the large table near the front window. Not in the mood to socialize, he ducked past the restaurant’s window and ran upstairs to his room.

Flipping open his laptop, he sat at his desk to work on the story he had started that morning. After several minutes of staring at the blinking cursor, he closed the computer and paced the room. Too agitated to write, he stripped off his clothes and changed into a tee shirt and sweatpants. He packed clean clothes, his book and the posters into his gym bag. As he jogged down the street to the neighborhood gym, he envisioned a punching bag with Victor Ruby’s face on it.

A few treadmills and stationary bicycles with peeling paint comprised the only modern additions made in years to Eddie’s Gym. A regulation-size boxing ring took up half of the old, high-ceilinged building. The other half housed free weights, benches, slant boards, pull-up bars and boxing bags. A row of dented green metal lockers lined the back of the big room; hidden behind them, a dressing room with white-tiled shower stalls.

Nick waved to the gym’s owner, Eddie, who sat in a raised corner office. His windowed perch allowed him to survey the entire gym. The old man’s docile appearance belied a gritty and tenacious personality. He had trained champion boxers for over five decades, including Nick’s paternal grandfather, Joe The Hammer Teravelli. Framed photographs of famous fighters, including his grandfather’s, cluttered the gym’s walls.

Eddie’s Gym had been a staple in Nick’s life since childhood. His father brought him and his brother, Sal, here as young boys, hoping one or both, would continue their grandfather’s boxing legacy. Nick’s preference for weightlifting over boxing maddened his father. His workouts intensified in his teens, when he concluded larger muscles attracted more girls.

Nick warmed up by punching one of the heavy bags. When he tired, he moved on to free weights, then a pull-up bar and finally over to a weight bench. He slid weight plates onto a bar and spun the end nuts tight. Positioning himself on the bench under the bar, he closed his eyes and gripped the bar.

“Need a spotter?” a male voice asked.

Nick opened his eyes to a familiar, though upside down, grinning face.

“Ray! When did you get back?” Nick slid out from under the bar, jumped up and hugged his best friend.

“Nick, man, it’s good to see you.” Ray thumped Nick’s back as they embraced.

“You on leave?” Nick asked.

“Nope. I’m done. I’m a civilian now,” Ray said. “Discharged last week.”

“That’s great. It’s been a long time.”

“Four years,” Ray said.

“I saw your grandma at a church benefit yesterday. She said you were coming home, but she couldn’t remember the date. I’d thought she’d have it memorized.”

“Yeah, she’s getting a little forgetful, but it doesn’t slow her down. She’s still running around doing her charity work at the shelter and the church.”

“Her and Nonna talk about you all the time. I hear you’re a hero. Medals and all.”

“I’m no hero.” Ray shrugged. “I only did what anybody would do in that situation.”

“So, you gonna grow your hair out?” Nick rubbed Ray’s crew cut.

“Working on it.” Ray laughed and lightly jabbed Nick in the chest.

“You here to work out?” Nick asked.

“Did that this morning. Eddie told me he has a new kid he’s training. A welterweight. There’s a three round practice match today I wanted to watch.”

Nick smiled. “Watch, or bet on?”

“Maybe both, we’ll see.”

“Let me do a few sets on the bench. I’ll meet you over there.”

A small crowd gathered around the ring. Nick wiped his face with a towel and walked over to stand next to Ray. “Is that the guy?” He nodded to a man in one corner being fitted with a mouth guard.

“No, he’s the sparring partner.” Ray pointed toward the locker room. “There’s the guy Eddie’s excited about.”

A young man with a towel draped over his head jogged toward the ring. Old Eddie shuffled along a few feet behind him.

“Holy crap!” Nick said.

“What?” Ray asked.

“That’s Sal. My freaking little brother.”

Sal’s eyes widened when Nick entered the locker room after the match. “Don’t tell Nonna.”

Nick hugged his brother. “That was an impressive fight, Sal. You’ve got talent.”

“Thanks, Nick.” A slow grin spread across Sal’s face. “You really think so?”

“Hell, yeah. Eddie’s picky about who he trains. He had that proud papa smile on his face when he watched you in the ring. I’ve never seen you here. How long have you been training?”

“A while. Pop lets me sneak out of the restaurant to come train. Evenings, mostly,” Sal said. “But Nonna, geez Nick, she’d pitch a fit if she found out. You know how she feels about boxing.”

“Don’t worry. I’m not gonna rat you out to Nonna.”

Nick unzipped his bag and pulled out a towel. He walked into a shower stall.

“Hey,” Sal called. “Is this your book, Nick? You changed your name?”

“Put it back in the bag.”

“Why? This is a big deal. My big brother has his own book.”

“Look, Sal, do me a favor, don’t mention it to Pop or Nonna, okay?”

Ray congratulated Sal on his win as the two brothers emerged from the locker room. “Good fight. I can’t believe you’re Nick’s little brother. You were, what, twelve or thirteen when I left for Iraq?”

Sal shrugged. “I grew up.”

Ray waved a small stack of bills in the air. “I’m buying the beer with the money I won off your brother. Is Mulligan’s still open?”

“Yeah. Looks the same, too,” Nick said. “Let’s go celebrate your homecoming and my brother’s win.”

“Cool,” Sal said, following the two to the door.

Nick shoved his brother in the chest. “Just ’cause you can kick ass in the ring, doesn’t make you legal to drink. And, if I catch you in a bar, I will tell Nonna.”

Ray and Nick each carried two bottles of cold beer from the bar to a high-top table near the jukebox. “You’re right,” Ray said, “The place look’s the same.”

“Except the two-for-ones on Sundays is new.”

“I’m not complaining.” Ray clinked his bottle against Nick’s. “So, you seeing anybody, Nick?”

“Yeah, I am. More than seeing.”

“Seriously?” Ray asked.

“Uh, huh. Her name’s Katie. She’s a nurse at Saint Mary’s. We’ve been together over two years now.” Nick scowled when Ray broke into a huge grin. “What?”

“What? I’ve seen all kinds of shit in that God-forsaken sand pit overseas, but I never thought I’d see Nick Teravelli in a serious relationship.”

“Like my brother, I’ve grown up.”

“What’s Katie like?”

“Beautiful, inside and out. Smart. Sweet. Most incredible woman I’ve ever known. She was at my mom’s funeral. The nurse. You remember?”

Ray’s eye’s widened. “Oh, yeah. I remember her. She’s gorgeous. So, what happened to horny dog Nick that I went to school with?”

Nick took a sip of beer. “We were teenagers then. When I met Katie, I wanted to be better, for her.”

“Damn, and here I am depending on you to hook me up.”

“What about Carla? I thought you two were serious.”

Ray grunted. “For a while. It crashed and burned on my second tour in Afghanistan. She married a friggin’ accountant and moved to Jersey.”

“That sucks. Sorry.”

“Just as well. So, does Katie have a sister? Roommate? Hot mother?”

Nick laughed. “She’s got a roommate. A real piece of work. I wouldn’t wish her on my worst enemy.”

“Well, I’m happy for you, Nick. What else is going on with you?”

“I recently got an agent. Getting my book published.”

“Damn, you’re full of surprises. That’s awesome.”

“Yeah, it is, except the agent’s a little weird. Tell me about all the medals your grandmother keeps bragging that you got.”

“I got a few. Mainly I’m grateful I got out with all my body parts and my sanity. Some guys weren’t so lucky. Let’s leave it at that.”

“So, what are your plans now that you’re back?”

Ray laughed. “You mean besides getting my buddy to hook me up with one of his hot ex-girlfriends?”

“Yeah, besides that.”

“My old man wants me to take over the body shop. I’m thinking, I’d like that. I’ve always loved restoring old cars. It’s in my blood. I’d be third generation.”

“You fixed up the old wrecks we ran around in.”

Ray laughed. “Then we’d wreck ’em again.”

A waitress placed four beer bottles on the table. She pointed to the bar. “Compliments of those gentlemen.” The group of men waved and called out. “Ray, welcome home!”

Nick sat on the hospital steps waiting for Katie. She finally walked through the doors after eight-thirty.

Katie wrinkled her nose when he kissed her. “You’ve been drinking.”

“Only a few beers.” He hoped she wouldn’t ask how many, he had lost count. “Ray Gonzalez is back from the army. We were catching up. Some neighborhood guys kept buying rounds.” Katie didn’t like it when he drank too much. After hearing her talk about her alcoholic father, he understood she had her reasons.

“You don’t have to walk me home. You look . . . tired.”

“Of course, I have to walk you home. I’m fine, just a little buzzed.” He slowed his speech so his words wouldn’t slur together. “You’re the one who looks exhausted.”

“Exams are in two days. I’m trying to get in all the Radiology training I can after my regular shift. And I still have a lot of reading to do tonight.” She held up the pile of medical books she carried.

“Here, give me those.” Nick packed her books into his gym bag and hoisted it onto his shoulder. He put his free arm around her and kissed the top of her head.

Katie slipped her arm around his waist. “At least you’re a sweet drunk.” She leaned her head against his chest. “Do you realize you’ve walked me home every night since our first date?”

“Damn, over two years of walking you home. Maybe I’ll get lucky tonight, huh?” He laughed when Katie punched his arm.

Nick waited in the living room while Katie changed her clothes. She returned wearing one of his tee shirts, the hem hanging below her knees.

“I’m so beat.” She yawned and cuddled next to him on the sofa. “I need to read two chapters tonight.”

“I know you’re tired, but I wanted to show you something.”

“What?”

He dug his novel out of his gym bag and handed it to her.

“Oh my God, your book’s printed! But wait, the title’s wrong. It should be Thirst of the Soul. And your name’s wrong, Nick Tera? What’s going on?”

Nick told her about his meeting that morning with Ruby.

“He had other writers edit your story? I thought the author made the changes?”

“Yeah, me too.”

“What did they change?”

“Honestly, I don’t even know, I haven’t had the heart to read through it all yet.”

“I’ll read it.” She flipped open the book. Ruby’s business card fell face down into her lap. “What’s this?’ She pointed to the odd writing on the back of the card.

“Ruby’s card.” Nick pushed it back into the book. “It’s a Latin quote. He said it inspires his authors and cures writer’s block. Supposedly Joseph Cullen swears by it. I’ll have to try it, especially if Ruby expects me to spit out books as fast as Cullen.”

Katie squeezed his hand. “This sucks, Nick. Your story was perfect. I can’t believe they changed it. And without telling you until after it was printed.” She turned to page one.

“Not tonight, babe.” Nick took the book from her hands. “You have to study.”

“My tests will be over in two days. Can I keep it and read through it for you? I’ll make notes. Maybe whatever changes they made can be modified somehow in the rest of the trilogy.”

“I hate to put that on you, you have work and exams.”

“I want to read it.” Katie put the novel on top of the pile of medical books Nick unpacked from his bag.

“Thank you. I know I should read it, but I just don’t have the heart to see the changes yet.” He picked up the stack. “Where do you want these?”

Katie gave a sheepish smile. “I usually study in bed.”

“Sounds like a fun night.”

Katie followed him into her room and curled up on the bed next to the textbooks.

“Be right back.” He went into the bathroom to relieve his beer-soaked bladder and brush his teeth. Returning to the bedroom, he found Katie sound asleep with an open medical book lying across her stomach. He thought about waking her, but decided she needed the rest. Piling the books onto the floor, he turned off the light and climbed into bed beside her. Between his workout at the gym, and the beer fest that followed, he passed out within minutes.

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