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If he was reading her surprised expression right, she was expecting somebody else to be on the other side of the door when she swung it wide open. Cautiously, the willowy blonde pushed the door partly closed before politely inquiring if she could help him.

Justin took his time letting his eyes roam from her short, tousled hair down to her very long legs. He noticed, in typical male fashion, how very shapely those long legs were. She was wearing a loose fitting shirt and cut off jeans, her feet were bare.

Layne felt uncomfortable as the stranger’s eyes made their leisurely excursion. She closed the door just a little bit more and then fortified her courage with the thought that her nosy neighbor, Mrs. Addamson, would open her door at the least little yell she might make.

“Is there something you want?” She impatiently asked him and then blushed when his eyes flew up to meet hers with an amused smile.

Oh baby, where have you been all my life? He thought and then smiled politely. “I was looking for…” he carefully checked a piece of paper he held in his hand. “…for Layne Gillette.” Justin said ‘Lane’.

She refrained from correcting his pronunciation. For the last few years, Layne had explained to people that it was pronounced like Janie except with an L.

“Who’s asking?” No matter that he seemed to fit the exact description of tall, dark and handsome that she and her friends always joked about, she was wary of any stranger who came looking for her.

“My name is Justin Ross…” He waited just a moment to see if there was any recognition, he was disappointed. “I was told that Layne Gillette lives here.”

“It’s Lay-nee…” She was expressionless.

“Hi, I take it you’re Lay-nee?” His eyebrows arched as he emphasized the proper pronunciation.

“What do you want?” Layne inconspicuously braced herself against the door so she could slam it forcefully in his face if need be.

“It’s… uh… personal. May I come in?” He was mesmerized by her golden eyes.

“No.” She was firm.

It took a moment before her refusal totally sunk in. Not many dared to refuse Justin Ross anything. He took a deep breath in and started to patiently explain to her that he needed to speak with her privately. “Look, I just came a long way… and we really need to talk…”

“Hey Mom, is that Rita?” The childlike voice startled the both of them. Layne turned her head to answer when Justin pushed on the door with his hand and knocked her off-balance. The door swung open and Justin got his first look at the little boy who had his mother’s golden eyes. Like his own hair, the boy had jet-black curly locks and the contrast was extraordinary.

“Is that him?” Justin pushed his way past Layne and went to the boy. “Are you Dennis?”

The little boy stared at the stranger who had pushed past his mother. Justin didn’t mean to scare him and started to smile.

She was ready to physically tackle him as she shouted at her son. “Go to your room… now!”

“But Mom…” The boy looked between the stranger and his mother.

“And close your door!” She put herself between the stranger and her child. The door to the hallway swung wide open.

“Mommmm…” He did his best to hide his trembling lower lip.

“Now!” Layne stared at him until he obeyed. She stood with her hands against Justin’s firm chest to block his advance. She swung her gaze back to Justin, he could have sworn her eyes glowed with rage. “Did Charlie send you?”

He was puzzled by her strange behavior. She seemed overly melodramatic. All he wanted to do was see the boy. “Who’s Charlie?” He was annoyed when he heard the click of the boy’s bedroom door.

“Just answer the damn question!” Layne had tried to mentally prepare herself for just this kind of confrontation for the last six years, but she never thought her anger or her fear would be so great.

“I don’t know… who the hell… Charlie is!” He forcefully brushed her hands off of him. “Look, I came to speak to you because…”

“If Charlie didn’t send you, who did?” She cut him off.

Justin tried to control his own frustration. He understood this woman’s need to protect the boy from someone she didn’t know, but he needed desperately to see the boy. He resented her refusal.

“No one sent me!” He made sure not to yell.

“Then why are you here?” She wouldn’t trust him.

“Because… we need to talk.” It was harder to say it than he realized.

Layne was prepared to defend her son with her life if she had to. “…about what?”

“You and I need to talk. I’d really like to do this calmly.” Justin knew she wasn’t going to react very well. She was being too overprotective without knowing the reason for his visit. Once she found out…

“What do you and I have to talk about? There’s nothing for us to talk about.” She wasn’t letting her guard down for anything. And if he thought he could just come in here and shove her around, he’d soon learn differently.

“Layne…” He tried to reach out for her, she sidestepped him. “We need to talk about… our son.” He saw her look of shock. “We need to talk about Dennis.”

She slowly turned her head to look at a photograph of Dennis that was sitting on the top of her television set and made the comparison to the man standing in front of her.

Suddenly she screamed at him and began to beat at his chest with her clenched fists. “Get out! Get out of here! Get the hell out of my home!”

“Layne, calm down.” Justin tried to defend himself from her blows. He grabbed at her hands and tried to hold the struggling woman away from him. “Stop struggling. Just calm down!” That’s when he heard a door open.

“Should I call the police, Layne?” Mrs. Addamson called across the hallway from the protection of her own doorway.

Justin wanted to see the boy again. He wanted this beautiful lunatic to stop attacking him. He didn’t want to have to call his lawyer to get him out of jail. “I’ll be back.” Justin turned on his heel and left. Mrs. Addamson slammed her door as he entered the hallway.

Layne pushed the door closed behind him and locked it. Then she sunk down to the floor and held herself to keep from trembling.

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“He is a pompous ass!”

“I agree. But he is also a big name and he has to be kept happy if we are going to pull this acquisition off successfully.”

Paige sat and fumed. She couldn’t believe that Jeanmarie was asking her to charm and entertain this male chauvinist pig who penned a weekly column on how men were God’s gift to women.

“Why can’t you just buy him dinner and tickets to a Broadway show for him and one of his many adoring hordes?”

“Excuse me?” Jeanmarie grinned mischievously.

“I said hordes.” Paige emphasized the “D” sound. “Seriously, I’m sure that Lon Bartlett would prefer to choose his own company for the evening.”

“Paige that would be fine if we were just sending some executive a simple holiday remembrance but we need to court this publication. And if we want the publisher happy, we make his star writer happy.” She looked down at her phone as if trying to hurry the young woman from her office. “This requires a more personal touch. Take him out, wine and dine him. Do whatever you have to and make him happy.”

Slowly a frown settled on Paige’s face. “I hope you’re not suggesting…”

Jeanmarie laughed suddenly. “Oh gosh no! All I want you to do is schmooze with him a little bit. Make sure his evening is pleasant.” She stopped and stared at the young woman pensively. “You know Paige, a lot of the women in the secretarial pool would die for this chance to spend an evening with a man like Bartlett. This is a great opportunity for you… professionally.”

Paige bit the inside of her cheek to keep from retorting. She spent two years in the secretarial pool waiting for a promotion into the public relations department of this company. Of course though, she thought to herself, the first time she was given an opportunity to prove herself it had to be with someone whose ethics she couldn’t tolerate.

“I just need to know that you can do this Paige.” Jeanmarie had taken a huge personal gamble by pushing Paige’s name when this opening came up.

“I’ll make sure he’s happy.” She nodded even though she was filled with all kinds of self doubts. In reality, Paige wasn’t worried about refusing the man’s possible advances, she was afraid she would be tempted to accept them.

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After Karma Visited…

Annie’s Karma by Chelle Cordero

Do You Believe in Karma?

Annie Furman has a gift that allows her, while she sleeps, to visit people in their time of need – but who will be there for her when she needs help?

Undersheriff Dave Turner is investigating a series of home invasions and homicides. He has no idea that solving this case will lead him to the woman of his dreams.


Excerpt from Annie’s Karma:

We just got into town. I haven’t had a chance to make any connections yet. I’m trying to get a job and I have to open a bank account. I just enrolled my son in the school.” Donna took the handwritten receipt from Annie’s hand. “Thank you. This apartment will be perfect. I’m grateful that you’re renting it to us.”
Donna explained to Annie that she and her four-year-old son were slowly meandering their way across the country, but she realized that the child needed a stable place to live instead of being on the move constantly. She was driving through and liked the small town atmosphere she noticed in Catawai. Donna told Annie that she was a recent widow and that her husband died of cancer, it was already very advanced when they discovered it. Neither she nor her late husband had any family. She wanted to move away and get a fresh start where there weren’t so many memories. She wanted someplace where her little boy could grow up without the constant reminders of a dad who was no longer there for him.
There wasn’t much that Gene left us, but he had taken a small term life insurance policy, so at least I have cash in my pocket to pay our way for a bit without worrying too much.” Donna shrugged. “Hopefully I’ll get that job I interviewed for…”
Annie listened sympathetically and tried not to ask too many questions, but she noticed a look in Donna’s eyes that she thought she could understand even without knowing why. She couldn’t say for sure, but she knew that Donna wasn’t being entirely truthful. Annie suddenly realized why she felt connected with the woman. She wondered if she had ever had that same look during the years she needed to escape from Scott. Annie decided not to question Donna’s story, at least not for the time being. Maybe she could even find some way to help the other woman.


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