See disclaimers in Part 1

Comments/Constructive Criticism: I welcome all feedback. You can reach me at

Copyright January 2000 by Jules Kurre

The Guardian

Part 7

"Keagan, sit down and try not to move your arm." The loving look she had given her ex-lover was quickly masked as Rudy focused her attention on Keagan's injury.

Keagan sat down on the couch. For a second, she had seen the old Rudy, but it was all too brief. The constant pain radiating from her shoulder was becoming unbearable, and to avoid dwelling on her situation with Rudy, she simply gave into it. Rudy suggested going to the hospital immediately, but she refused, wanting to wait until the police arrived. The security guards had taken the handcuffed Neal outside to wait and that left them alone.

Rudy looked at Keagan with concern. Her left arm was turned inward and Rudy could no longer see her shoulder curve, which was now angular looking, and out of shape. "I think we should go now."

"It's called a shoulder dislocation. We go to the hospital, they pop it back in." Rudy winced. In spite of the pain, Keagan smiled at her reaction. "As long as I stay still, it'll be fine. I want to talk to the cops when they get here, so there aren't any questions about what happened, okay?"

Rudy was about to disagree, when a uniformed police officer came into the office. "Which one of you is Rudy Whitman?"

Rudy stepped forward. "That's me."

"I'm Officer Daley. Now supposedly, the young man out there in the hall attacked you?"

"Not supposedly," interjected Keagan. "By my calculations, he's guilty of assault, battery, and attempted rape…not to mention sexual harassment." Keagan was familiar with criminal terminology because she had researched it for a book.

Before Rudy could get a word in, Daley responded to Keagan. "He says that Keagan Donovan, I'm assuming that's you, barged her way into this office, and attacked him. All because you were jealous that he was with your girlfriend. That's his story. I'm here to get yours."

Keagan's jaw clenched as another wave of pain wracked through her arm. "Barged my way in?!" Look at that door. I broke it down, because that bastard was in the office attacking her."

"He said that Ms. Whitman locked the door so they could have some privacy."

Rudy snorted. "Not in this life or any other for that matter! Keagan was a witness to what happened and she'll be happy to make a formal statement later, but right now, we need to get her to the hospital because she's hurt. He locked that door without my knowledge by the way. Neal hit me and threatened to rape me and she stopped it." Rudy found herself uncharacteristically shaking again. She could hardly believe that the police would entertain the notion that Neal's story could be true.

"All right, Ms. Whitman. I'm not accusing anyone of anything. I just want the truth. I'll meet you at the hospital and take your depositions there."

"Fine," said Keagan. "I'm looking forward to it."

As Daley turned to leave, Keagan spoke again. "Officer?"

He turned back around. "Yes?"

"Take a look at her face. That bruise didn't just appear by itself."

Daley looked sympathetically at Rudy, nodded, and left.

Rudy put aside her feelings of anger at Neal's false statements and focused on Keagan. "C'mon. I'm driving you to the hospital."


Keagan and Rudy gave their depositions to Officer Daley during the two-hour wait in the emergency room. Eventually, a nurse showed Keagan to an examining room. As Keagan stood up, Rudy did also. "I'll come with you."

"That's okay. It'll probably gross you out, what they have to do."

"That's all right. I want to be with you in case there's pain."

Keagan grinned. "You gonna hold my hand?"

"Yeah, I am. You got a problem with that?"

"No. I don't think I'll get anywhere arguing with you."

The nurse led them to a private room, separated from the rest of the ER by a curtain. Keagan sat down on the examining table. "Put on this gown and the doctor we'll be in shortly to check you out." She left.

"Oh, baby, I'm gonna get checked out! I hope it's a female doc!" Keagan laughed, even as another spasm of pain surged through her arm.

Rudy glared at her and hit her on the arm. Unfortunately, it was the left arm. "Ow! Some thanks I get for comin' to your rescue!"

"Oh, sorry." Rudy grinned shortly before reaching over to remove Keagan's leather jacket.

"Ow! I can do that."

"Just thought I'd help."

"Don't need it." Slowly, Keagan slipped her right arm out of the jacket sleeve, but when she moved to do the same for the left arm, she took a deep breath to hide the pain. She glanced to Rudy, who had been watching her closely the entire time, and realized it would be easier to let her take it off. "It's harder than I thought."

Without a word, Rudy stepped forward and gently finished taking off the jacket, careful not to touch the top of Keagan's shoulder directly. Before Keagan could protest, Rudy's fingers were at the front of her shirt undoing the buttons. "Hold on. I should do that."

Rudy raised her eyebrows. "You're not going all modest on me, are you? It's obviously easier if I do it and it's nothing I haven't seen before."

"Okay, but I'll get the bra."

"C'mon, that's the one thing you couldn't possibly get! Tell me how you could possibly unhook it." Rudy, amused at Keagan's unease, finished undoing the shirt. She took it off, noticing that Keagan's eyes refused to meet hers.

"Um…well, I guess…I guess I can't." Keagan sighed, hating the feeling of helplessness that had come over her.

Rudy moved behind her and unhooked the bra, sliding it off her shoulders from behind. Keagan was then able to remove it completely with her right arm. Rudy picked up the gown and slid it over her arms, tying it in the back for her. When she faced Keagan again, the author had a scowl on her face. Rudy laughed. "Aw, it's not so bad, Stretch. You got one of your fantasies fulfilled. You got to have me undress you."

Keagan directed a glare in Rudy's direction for her use of the nickname. "I never knew you were so evil."

"I've changed since you knew me before."

"Oh, I can see that."

A half an hour after that, the doctor came in. She was an attractive woman in her mid thirties. Keagan directed a smirk toward Rudy. "I'm Dr. Sanders." Taking one look at Keagan's shoulder, she knew what the problem was. "It's dislocated. How'd you do it?"

Keagan looked to Rudy who shrugged and shook her head. It was up to Keagan if she wanted to tell the whole story. "I was just helping out a co-worker and had a little accident."

"Ah." The doctor said nothing further and examined Keagan, who endured the poking and prodding for a few minutes before she spoke again. "Keagan, you have an acute shoulder dislocation. Most times, these heal in a week or so, so there's probably nothing to worry about. First I want to get an X-ray of your shoulder so we can make sure there's no permanent damage to your joint and that you don't have any broken bones. And to be on the safe side, I want you to get an arteriogram."

"What's that?" asked Rudy.

"It's a test that'll tell us if she has any blocked blood vessels."

"Whatever you say, Doc." Keagan was anxious to get the ordeal over with and go home.

"We'll have to give you a local anesthetic to put the shoulder back in place. I assume your friend will be able to take you home?"

"I'll be here," said Rudy.

"Good. Then we'll take you down to X-ray and get started."

Rudy watched as a nurse helped Keagan into a wheel chair and they took her away. Keagan waved goodbye to her and had a big smile on her face as if the whole thing was fun, but Rudy knew how much pain she was in. She went back to the waiting room, not quite able to stop the guilt she felt for the whole incident with Neal. If she had reported him for sexual harassment, the attack may have never occurred.


It was well after 8PM when Rudy made the obligatory calls about what happened. Waiting for Keagan was making her restless and she was tired of reading the newsmagazines that sat in the lobby. She strolled through the ER waiting room past several families who waited for news and spotted the pay phones. She called Sloane first, getting her voicemail and then called her father. After a few rings, he picked up.

"Hi, Daddy."

"Hello, dear, what's up?"

"Actually, something happened. I'm at the hospital. Now--"

"Hospital? What's wrong? Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, I'm fine. Just let me tell you what happened first." After that, Del quieted and let Rudy tell the entire story.

"I can get there in a half an hour," said Del with concern.

"No, Dad, it's okay, really. I'm fine."

"Are you sure, dear?"

"Yeah. I'll be taking Keagan home soon, anyway. By the time you got here, we'd probably be gone."

"All right then." When Del was satisfied that his daughter was unharmed, the lawyer in him surfaced. "From what you've said, Neal is guilty of assault, battery, and attempted rape. Sexual harassment, too, but that's a whole other ball game."

"That's what Keagan said. I'm not much up on my criminal law definitions."

"Is she the same Keagan who you were friends with in college?"

"Yeah, Dad. Actually, we dated."

"Did you? I don't remember you mentioning that."

"You didn't know about me yet."

"Hmm, you're right, I didn't. Remind me to thank her for saving my little girl."

"Dad, she didn't save me, she helped me. I could have gotten out of the situation by myself if I had to."

"Of course you would have, honey. So, what's the scoop with you and your old flame? Apparently, she cares about you a lot to just go busting down a door like that." Del had never had much opportunity to hear about Rudy's romantic life and wanted her to know that he had no problem discussing it.

"She just works with me. That's all."

"Hmm. Why are you still at the hospital? Doesn't she have friends that can come and help her?"

"Yes, but I'm here. There's no sense bothering any of her friends."

"Ah, right," Del said, unconvinced. "Honey, you take care of yourself. I'll call some of my contacts at the precinct and see what I can find out. I'm so glad you're all right."

"Thanks, Daddy." Del promised to call her the next day and the conversation ended.

Rudy made a few more calls, and then retired to a sofa in the waiting room. She only realized she had nodded off, when she felt a hand gently shake her shoulder. Looking up, she saw Keagan. Dr. Sanders was standing next to her. From what Rudy could see, Keagan's arm was back in place and held in a sling. "Is she okay?" she asked the doctor.

"She should be fine, but she'll have to keep the arm immobilized for a couple of days. There's a splint on it now and I want her back here at the end of next week so we can check her arm again. Don't let her take it off--"

"Hey, why are you talking like I'm not here, Doc?" asked Keagan indignantly.

"Maybe because when I was explaining this all to you inside you seemed to be otherwise occupied."

Keagan shrugged. "I've never been in an ER. There's a lot to take in. I thought I might miss something."

"Keagan's a writer, Doctor. She's always looking at things. Just tell me the instructions and I'll make sure she follows them."

"Was a writer," Keagan said softly.

Dr. Sanders smiled. "Like I was saying, don't let her take off the splint. It's very important that her arm isn't moved. The test results were good. No broken bones and no injured joints. We gave her a painkiller and her arm's still under a local anesthetic. If she wants to, when you get home, you can give her one muscle relaxer. The dosage instructions are on the bottle."

"Thank you. Let's go, Stretch." Rudy got up with a smirk on her face, hiding her relief that Keagan was all right.

"Hey, stop calling me that." Keagan directed a brief glare in Rudy's direction, thanked the doctor, and started down the hall. Rudy followed after her and their bickering continued for a few moments before the two disappeared around a corner. Dr. Sanders watched the two in silent bemusement before returning to the ER.


"I've often wondered about pills," said Keagan.

"What about 'em?"

"You take a Tylenol, an Advil, an Ibuprofen…a muscle relaxer…"

"I get the point."

"You take that pill for pain in a lot of different places: the arm, the shoulder, your stomach…"


The perplexed look on Keagan's face almost made Rudy laugh. "How does the pill know where to go for the pain?" she asked.

That did cause Rudy to laugh. "What?"

"I have a pain in my head one day, a pain in my stomach another day, but I take the same medication for it all. How does it know where in my body to go? Haven't you ever wondered that?"

"I never stopped to consider it. I suppose it goes into the bloodstream and makes its way through the whole body." Rudy's voice rose at the end of her statement as if she were asking a question.

Keagan looked away for a second as another thought occurred to her. "I've never understood why tomatoes are really a fruit. I mean, who says?"

"I think you should go to bed now." Rudy knew that Keagan's medication was obviously affecting her. She wondered what would happen when Keagan took the muscle relaxer.

"Who makes up the rules for what constitutes fruits and vegetables anyway? I think clearly a strong case could be made for a tomato being a vegetable. Don't you?"

"Absolutely," replied Rudy, content to play along.

"I mean, when's the last time you had a fruit salad with strawberries, melon, bananas, blueberries, and TOMATOES!!" Keagan laughed.


"See? You know, I've always thought it was strange how names are words and yet, they're different from regular words. Know what I mean?"

"Yes, I know what you mean. Don't you think--?"

"Like your name, 'Rudy.'"

"Yeah?" Rudy momentarily forgot about getting Keagan to go to bed.

Keagan got a big smile on her face. "You have such a great name." She gazed directly at Rudy.

"I do?"

"Oh, yeah, but I could never use it for a character because people would think the character was you. People are dumb that way."

Rudy laughed. "You're probably right." She thought it odd that Keagan talked as if she was still writing, but realized it was the medication influencing her.

"Normally, Rudy is the name of a Mafia kingpin, a boss, the bad guy in charge, or the hit man, you know? Like, 'One step outta line, and Rudy's boys'll kick your ass!'" When Keagan accentuated her dialogue by adding a Marlon Brando imitation, Rudy chuckled. Keagan's eyes remained riveted to her the entire time. "La Roux, you're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen."

Rudy looked away, hiding the slight blush that colored her features and trying to ignore her body's response to Keagan's comment. "For a former writer, you're having a real problem with transitions tonight."

Keagan rubbed her head. "My mind feels kind of fuzzy. Sorry."

Rudy saw the pouty look on Keagan's face and the way she sat slouched on the couch, defeated by her arm in a sling. "It's okay but I think you should go to bed now. It's been a rough night."

"Will you come with me?" It was said innocently enough, but Keagan's ornery nature couldn't stop her from flashing a seductive smile, however jokingly.

"I'll be in the next room."

"But, what if I need something?" Keagan said in a helpless, whiny voice.

"It's not going to work, Donovan." Rudy smiled sweetly and then motioned for Keagan to get up. As they began walking toward the bedroom, Keagan's thoughts took flight again.

"Don't you hate those people who have to squeeze every last damn drop of shampoo out of the bottle?"

Rudy rolled her eyes. Here we go again.

"You go into their bathroom and the goddamn bottle is upside down balancing precariously on the too small shelf in the shower. And, like, say you stayed over that night. Well, now it's morning and you want to take a shower. So you get in, grab your full bottle that you wisely brought with you, but when you do you accidentally drop their wimpy bottle with two drops of shampoo in it. You pick it up and try to put it back in its place, but it keeps falling. Meanwhile, all the hot water is being used up while you're trying to save two damn drops of shampoo! And on a related matter, these are the same people who will MIX the remaining two drops of shampoo with water. What the hell is that? You've got to put more on your hair anyway when you do that! I never got that. People are so cheap--"

"Keagan, you are high as a kite."

"I am, aren't I? Heh, heh."

"They gave you a local anesthetic and acetaminophen. I don't know a lot about medicine, but I know that those two things shouldn't make you inebriated."

"Hmm. Must have been that Flexerall I took when I went to the bathroom at the hospital."

"You took the…Flexeril…at the hospital?"

"Yeah. It's a muscle relaxant and I wanted to relax my muscles."

"The doctor said to wait until you got home."

"She did? Hmm. I don't remember that."

"How many did you take?"

"Only two."

"You were only supposed to take one at a time. I can't believe you! You could have really hurt yourself!"

Keagan's eyes started to close and she lay down on the bed. "She still cares." She sighed contentedly. In a couple of seconds, she had fallen fast asleep.

Of course, I care. Rudy considered waking Keagan to undress her, but she looked so peaceful that Rudy merely draped a blanket over her, turned out the light, and left the room.


Keagan awoke early the next morning. Sitting up in bed with a groan, she reminded herself to be careful of which way she moved. One wrong turn could mean instant pain in her condition. As her eyes sleepily took in the bed, she wondered where Grendel was. Usually, her cat slept at the bottom of the bed, but on this morning, Grendel was nowhere to be found. Moving the blanket aside with her right hand, she stood up and stretched, being careful not to over exert her injured arm.

She left the bedroom and padded the few steps down to the room that Rudy would be sleeping in. Peeking in, she saw that her ex was still asleep and she couldn't help but smile at the sight of a furry orange cat curled up and sleeping soundly on Rudy's stomach. "She always did like you better. Not that I blame her."

Later, after a reluctant Keagan had let Rudy help her take her shirt and jeans off, she took a much-needed shower. Getting back into her clothes was somewhat more of a challenge than even the shower, but she managed it because she didn't want to ask for help again. Feeling refreshed, Keagan returned to the living room and smelled food cooking in the kitchen. She headed in that direction, as Grendel approached and attempted to rub her leg. Just as the cat was about to make contact, she stepped out of the way, enjoying the look of confusion on the animal's face. After doing this a few more times, she finally took pity on her and let the cat rub her leg. She poked her head into the kitchen and spotted Rudy with an apron on and dressed in sweatpants and a sweatshirt that were a little too baggy on her. Her hair was still wet from the shower she had taken and her feet were bare. "Hi."

"Morning, Stretch!" Rudy grinned at the mock look of anger that spread across Keagan's face. "I borrowed some of your clothes. I hope you don't mind."

"No, not at all." Keagan shook her head. "But you might have picked something that you're not swimming in." Keagan snickered.

"Out of your clothes?" Keagan knew she was right, of course, but enjoyed teasing her about it anyway. "I'm making you something to eat, so you can take your medication. How are you feeling?"

"I feel fine," Keagan lied. In truth, she felt lousy. Her arm was in constant pain and she didn't like being dependent on someone, least of all Rudy. She sat down and took a drink of the orange juice Rudy placed in front of her.

"Right," said Rudy, unconvinced. She went back to preparing the scrambled eggs and bacon as she thought of a way to broach the inevitable subject. "Um, I was thinking…I think I better stop by each day, just to see if you need anything."

Keagan shook her head, no. "You don't have to stop by every day."

"But you need someone just to check in and--"

"I'm sure Gracie would stop by if I asked."

Keeping her back turned to Keagan, Rudy's jealousy was hidden from her view. "Would you rather have Gracie?"

"No, I'd rather have you, but you're only doing it because you think you owe me. I don't want--"

"Even if you had gotten hurt not helping me, I'd still be here." Even though Keagan couldn't see Rudy's face, she recognized the sincerity in her words.


"Yeah, and because you're so lousy at taking care of yourself."

"I take care of myself just fine."

"Sure you do," Rudy said shortly, but Keagan saw a little smile on her face as she turned sideways to get two dishes out of the cupboard. "You still like shredded cheddar cheese on your eggs?"

"Yeah." Keagan watched in silence as Rudy got the cheese out of the refrigerator and sprinkled it on the eggs. "I don't need you," she added as Rudy turned back around, placed the plates in front of them on the table and took a seat across from Keagan.

"For a second there that sounded like a flashback from four years ago." Keagan looked up to meet intense green eyes staring back and instantly regretted how her comment must have sounded.

"I know," she said with candor. "I always had a hard time needing people…especially you." Keagan averted her eyes and took a bite of the eggs. "These are good. Thanks for putting the cheese on."

"Sure. What you just said doesn't sound like the Keagan I know."

"It's been a long four years. I had a lot of time to think."

"And after all this time, you finally decided that you do love me?"

Keagan glanced up from her plate. "No, I never had to think about that. It was the implications of it that concerned me."

"Are we finally talking?"

"Only if you want to."

"Is it all right if I tell you I'm not ready to have this conversation?"

Keagan nodded and returned to her meal. "So, what's this about you stealing my cat's affections?" Rudy looked up with a smile that was returned by Keagan.


After breakfast, Rudy called the police station and was told that Neal had been arraigned and was out on bail. They weren't able to get any more information than that, much to Keagan's disdain.

Rudy seemed intent on hanging around Keagan's apartment and so they spent the day together watching movies. As the credits to Thelma and Louise rolled across the screen, they found themselves having totally different views of the film.

"You think what?" asked Rudy. "That's ridiculous!"

"No, it's not. That's what I actually thought when I first saw the film."

Rudy threw Keagan an incredulous look. "You, of all people, actually believed that they made it across the chasm and escaped? You've got to be joking."

"I was in that feel good Hollywood movie phase back then. I'd know better now."

Rudy shook her head upon realizing that Keagan was serious. Before she could respond, there was a knock at the door. Rudy answered it, to find Brad. "Hi, Brad." She smiled at him even though their last meeting had been anything but friendly. He had refused to tell her why Keagan had left town and where she was.

"Rudy…honey. Hi." For a second, there was an awkward silence.

"It's good to see you," said Rudy giving him a hug. As Brad hugged Rudy, he looked over at Keagan who was watching the whole exchange with interest. She smiled and raised her eyebrows.

"Good to see you, too." Relieved that Rudy didn't seem to be holding a grudge, he entered the apartment, immediately noticing Keagan's arm. "Girlfriend, what happened to you? You roughin' her up again, little Rudy?"

"No…not yet." She directed a devilish smile toward Keagan.

"Ha, ha," said Keagan.

Brad laughed, glad to see the two of them bantering. "Sit down and we'll tell you what happened," said Keagan.

"I have a feeling this is going to be a good one!"

At that moment, the doorbell rang. "Wow, someone actually used my doorbell for a change," Keagan muttered.

Rudy again went to answer the door. "You know, I'm perfectly capable of answering my own door," said Keagan.

"Fine. Sorry for helping." Rudy sat back down, irritated at Keagan's staunch independence.

Keagan got up and answered it. "Hi, Gracie. What are you doing here?"

The strawberry-blonde bartender tilted her head and peered at Keagan's arm. "That's a nice greeting. Nice to see you too."

"Uh…oh, sorry. C'mon in." Keagan nervously opened the door further and allowed her entrance. "I think you remember Brad and you know Rudy." Brad smiled at her from his seat perched on the chair in the corner of the room.

"Yes, Brad. I remember you. You were nice enough to warn me about Keagan." Gracie laughed to dispel the tension she sensed and to let everyone know she was just joking around. Keagan and Brad joined in half-heartedly. Rudy remained silent. "Hi, Rudy."

Rudy smiled pleasantly, although she wished Gracie hadn't stopped by. "Gracie."

"So what happened to you?"

"How did you know what happened?" asked Keagan.

"Val told me last night, so I thought I'd stop by to see if you needed anything."

Keagan's look of confusion grew. "How did Val know what happened?" All heads turned suspiciously in Rudy's direction. Her hand had slid down to play with a stray strand of material on the pillow at the end of the couch, but when she sensed their gazes, she looked up.

"While I was waiting for you at the hospital, I made a few calls to let people know what happened." She shrugged innocently.

"Evidently," said Keagan. As if on cue, the doorbell rang. "Wow, twice in a row. That's got to be some kind of record."

Gracie, who was still standing near the door, opened it. There stood Sloane with a box of candy. Becky, Keagan's assistant, stood behind her and Ray was there as well holding flowers. Gracie laughed under her breath, thinking that Sloane Denton looked quite out of place holding a present like candy. "Ms. Denton. C'mon in and join the party."

"Gracie, you can call me Sloane," said the executive editor as she walked in and headed for Keagan. Ray set the flowers down on the long table behind the couch. Brad nodded to him with a smile and Ray nodded back.

Becky was the last to come in. Keagan tried hard to hold back a groan. She turned to Rudy and glared at her, whispering under her breath, "Is there anyone you didn't tell?"

Rudy looked back sheepishly. "Lots of people. Most of the world actually." She laughed uneasily, knowing Keagan wouldn't appreciate the attention. She suspected that her apartment might never have held that many people all at once.

Sloane walked over and handed the box to Keagan. "Donovan, enjoy it. You've certainly earned it. I'll even overlook your destruction of Rudy's office door."

Everyone chuckled. "Um, thanks, Sloane…I think."

"We all wanted to stop by to make sure you were all right, but I see you're in good hands," said Sloane, indicating Rudy and Gracie.

"Um…yeah." Keagan had forgotten to exhale for several seconds and finally did so. Being the unwanted subject of attention made her uncomfortable.

"I had forgotten how much I enjoy our conversations, Donovan. I talk, you don't."

Keagan felt intimidated by the surprise visit from Sloane and the others. She thought about ways to get them to leave, but none of them seemed to be good enough excuses. "Sloane, thanks for coming by but I'm fine really. Rudy's the one who was attacked."

"Yes," said Sloane turning to Rudy. "I'll want you to fill out a detailed statement about what happened up to and including Barr's attack. I'll need it to fire his ass."

"Of course."

"Oh, and…you're okay, kid?" Sloane's dark eyes showed the only amount of compassion that she would in front of the others.

"I'm fine…really." Sloane hadn't called her 'kid' since her first days working at Tandem and Rudy knew her boss was trying to convey her concern. "Everybody, once and for all, I'm okay. It's Keagan who got hurt."

"About that, Donovan. When can I expect you back at work?" Sloane peered at Keagan with mock severity.

Keagan unconsciously looked to Rudy who spoke up. "She's got a doctor's order for one week off. After that, it's up to her."

"What she said."

Sloane regarded Keagan and Rudy with amusement. To her, they almost seemed like a couple; they were so in sync. "And you?" she asked Rudy. "Will I be able to tear you away from your rescuer long enough to get you back to work?" Sloane didn't often tease anyone, least of all her employees, but the curious part of her nature wanted to see if the chemistry she sensed was real or not.

Rudy couldn't hide the slight blush that came across her features. "I'll be back first thing on Monday."

"Good. That's the answer I expected." And the physical response. "One thing I want to know, Rudy. Had Neal ever said anything harassing to you before?"

Rudy hadn't been looking forward to this confrontation. "Can we talk about this privately?"

"Sure. We'll talk about it on Monday."

"So," Becky piped in. "How did it feel when Keagan came in, right at the last minute, and popped Neal one good? Give us all the juicy details!"

Keagan did groan aloud that time and reached for the nearest pillow, burying her head in it. If they didn't leave soon, it would be a long afternoon.

Becky sprinted over and pulled the pillow from Keagan's hands. "C'mon, this is the most excitement we've had at work since Sloane and the plant lady!"

"What plant lady?" asked Keagan, her curiosity piqued.

"She killed my office plants," growled Sloane under her breath. "So I--"

Rudy held up a hand. "Let's not go there right now, okay? Keagan, why don't you tell everyone the story? You're much better at it than I am." The insistence in Rudy's voice and the puckish smile on her face told Keagan that she was being set up. She knows I hate being the object of attention. No matter. If it's one thing I can do, it's tell a story. "I'd be more than happy to tell the story."

The occupants of her apartment all took seats; Ray plopped onto the floor, Becky seated herself at the dining room table and Sloane took a seat across from Keagan in the chair next to Brad. Gracie sat next to Keagan, who quickly moved over to accommodate her. In so doing, she found herself thigh to thigh with Rudy and feeling uncomfortable being sandwiched in between the two women.

"Oh, please, stay awhile," muttered Keagan with disgust as she made a mental note to always answer the door herself and look through the peephole so she could discriminate against who she wanted to let inside.

"C'mon, c'mon," prompted Becky.

"Okay, you asked for it. There was once a man with beady little eyes, too much cheap cologne, and too big of an ego to see that no woman with even 1/8 of a brain--"

"One eighth?" asked Rudy. "I think that's a little too extreme, don't you? How 'bout half a brain?"

"Don't you ever stop working? What are you going to do? Edit my oral recount of the incident?"

"No, I just think 1/8 is overkill, that's all. You'll make your point fine by--"

"I don't care. I like extremes and this is my story, so--"

"Yeah, but I just don't think--"

"Will you two please put a lid on it?" said Sloane in her best menacing voice. "Or we will tell the story about what I did to the plant lady! Continue, Donovan."

"Like I was saying, he couldn't see that no woman, man, or beast for that matter, with even 1/8 of a brain…" Hearing a disgusted sigh from the woman seated next to her, caused her to pause for a second. She directed a satisfied smirk toward Rudy and continued. "Would come near him with a ten foot flag pole--"

"Cliché," said Rudy so quietly so that no one could hear.

"And you always wondered why I never let you read my stuff," Keagan whispered back.

"Huh?" asked Becky. "Speak up! We can't hear!"

Sloane smiled to herself in amusement, not missing one part of the banter going on.

"Okay, no chicks would dig him. So one day, he took the opportunity to be alone with a pretty nice looking one and--"

"Chicks?!" said Rudy. "A pretty nice looking one?!"

"Ego, ego," said Keagan. "'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,'" she quoted looking at Rudy guilelessly. When she received the expected glare from Rudy, she smiled in triumph. Edit my speech, will you? I think not.

"Maybe Rudy should leave the room while Keagan tells the story," said Gracie with a laugh.

"Hear, hear!" said Keagan. "How many want Rudy to leave?"

All hands rose and Keagan directed a victorious smirk to Rudy. "Fine, I'll be good," said the editor. "I won't say another word."

"Can I get that in writing?"

Rudy pretended she was about to slap Keagan and let her hand fall back down at the last second, just missing Keagan's injured shoulder. "Just tell the story."

"Anyway, he sneaks into her office, locks the door without her knowing it, and attacks her. But, at the very last moment, an extraordinarily intelligent strikingly beautiful woman--"

Rudy gave the gag sign but remained silent.

"Also with extraordinary hearing, hears something. She goes to investigate and hears a noise. It sounds--"

"Too many 'hears'," mumbled Rudy. An irritated Keagan glanced at Rudy and she looked away innocently, as if she hadn't said anything.

"Like I was SAYING, it sounds like banging against the door. She realizes the damsel in distress--" Before Rudy could speak, Keagan placed her hand over the editor's mouth, with a look of warning on her face. Rudy stuck her tongue out defiantly, in the process getting Keagan's hand wet. Not wanting to call any more attention to their childish antics than they already were, Keagan pulled her hand away and wiped it on Rudy's jean-covered thigh. "Is her much valued co-worker, and so unable to get the door open by any more efficient means she breaks down the door with her own, highly developed, athletic, muscular--"

"Give me a break!" said Rudy as the others laughed.

"As I was saying, her own highly developed, athletic, muscular body. She knocks the bozo out, they call the cops, and all's well that ends well. The end."

"Don't quit your day job," said Rudy.

"Cliché," said Keagan regarding her with a smug smile as the others, excluding Sloane, hooted and hollered over her heroics. "But the oddest thing is, we don't really know why he did it and the only thing I can conclude is truth is stranger than fiction."

"I'll tell you why he did it," said Sloane. "He's nuts! The sooner he's out of that office, the better. I never should have hired him." Sloane didn't add that she had been given no choice but to hire him. She stood up. "We should get going while we still have a chance to eat on our lunch hour."

"I think I'll take off, too," said Gracie. "Where are you going for lunch?" she asked Sloane. She was starting to feel hungry herself.

The question took Sloane off guard. "Serendipity. Would you like to join us?"

Gracie got an inquisitive smile on her face. "Actually, I'd like to hear about what you did to the plant lady, so yes."

"They all say they want to hear that story until they actually hear it."

As her co-workers and Gracie headed for the door, Keagan stood up to see them out, noticing that Ray had stayed behind and was talking quietly to Brad on the other side of the room. "I think you can count Ray out," she told them.

"Take care of yourself, Donovan. Oh, oh wait. I guess you don't have to do that. You've got Whitman to do it for you!"

Rudy came up and put a hand on Keagan's shoulder. "I'd be careful how much you tease her, Sloane. She's ruthless with paybacks."

"So, I've seen," replied her boss with a smile. "Shall we?" Sloane, Gracie, and Becky said their good-byes and Keagan closed the door, only to turn around and see Brad and Ray about to leave.

"We're going to lunch, girlfriends. Ciao, babes," said Brad.

"Take care, Keagan," said Ray. "See you back at work."

"Bye." Keagan watched as the two young men left. Closing the door and locking it, she turned back around. "What was that all about? First Gracie goes to lunch with Sloane and then Brad and Ray miraculously make up and go off together. What do you make of that?"

Rudy had watched Brad and Ray interacting and had sensed an attraction between them. "Ray Faye is gay?!"

They both laughed at the way the rhyme made the question sound. "Yep. He and Brad had a thing about a month or so ago."


"Brad didn't want to get serious," she said, heading into the kitchen. Rudy followed her.

"He never was much for relationships when I knew him either."

Keagan opened the refrigerator door and looked for the lunchmeat. "Some people are no good at relationships." She grabbed the ham and cheese, closed the door, and set them on the counter by the sink.

"You were."

When their eyes met for a second, Keagan averted hers to get the bread out of the cupboard. "I was?"

"Yeah, you were."

Not knowing what more to add to that, Keagan began learning the process of making a sandwich one-handed.


The first thing Rudy did on Monday morning was head to Sloane's office. Not looking forward to her boss's reaction to her withholding what Neal did, she walked smoothly down the hall and although her body didn't betray her reluctance, her heart's increasing beat did. Her stomach grumbled loudly as she reached the door; there had been no Keagan to bring breakfast that day and she hadn't stopped to pick up anything. She knocked on the door and entered upon hearing Sloane's voice ushering her in.

Her boss was on the speakerphone with someone and didn't appear to be too happy about what they were saying. Sloane's brown eyes looked up at her and she motioned with her hand for Rudy to sit. Then with a short smile and a nod of her head she indicated the box of donuts sitting on her desk.

Oh, no. She only offers donuts when she's about to counsel someone. Deciding that if she had to be reprimanded by her boss, she might as well be sated, Rudy picked up a chocolate cake donut and smiled at her boss in thanks. Soon after that, Sloane's call ended.

"Good morning, Rudy. You won't have to worry about Neal anymore. I just fired him. His stepfather wasn't thrilled, but I assured him it would be the best for all concerned."

"It was that easy?" Rudy picked up a paper napkin from Sloane's desk and wiped her mouth with it.

"No, actually, I told him that if he insisted in letting that little mole on the face of humanity return here after what he did, that I'd have no choice but to reveal the whole truth regarding his employment here in the first place."

Rudy didn't ask for details, knowing that Sloane wouldn't give them. It was professional suicide to be known as non-discreet. "I see. Thanks, Sloane."

"And now for you." Sloane sat up straight in her chair and focused her entire attention on Rudy. Her face clouded over and Rudy could see the instant transformation from friendly boss to stony professional. "Did Neal ever bother you before last Friday?"

"Yes. He had been harassing me for months."

Sloane nodded her head, having figured as much. "Why didn't you come to me immediately about this?"

"I honestly didn't see it as that big of a deal. I didn't want to bother you. I had the situation well in hand." Even as the words left Rudy's mouth, she knew they were a lame excuse.

"Obviously, you didn't have the situation well in hand. It looks to me like you lost all control of it. You were just lucky that Donovan had to come back for something--"

"I didn't need her help. I would have taken care of it."

"Maybe, maybe not. But we both can't deny that the possible consequences of you not coming to me immediately with this problem could have been a lot worse than they were."

"I am sorry. I'm sorry about the door--"

"This isn't about the door, Rudy. If you want the promotion to senior editor, you have to communicate better with your superiors, namely me."

"I didn't say anything because I wanted the promotion."

"Because you wanted it? Let me guess. You didn't want to appear difficult, whiny, or ineffective. You thought telling me would make you look weak."

Rudy couldn't deny that Sloane was exactly right. She nodded her head, yes.

"Coming to me about certain things would make you appear to be all of those things, yes, but not in this case. Your inaction caused a danger to your own safety, the injuring of one of our employees, and lastly and least important of course, the door. I'm not blaming you for what happened. You're the victim here, I know. However, you need to take responsibility for your own inaction. If you had told me what Neal was doing, I would have taken steps to see that he stopped doing it. If that hadn't worked, I would have seen that he was fired. And most importantly, you wouldn't have been the least bit penalized for telling me."

"Maybe I don't know you as well as I thought. I underestimated you and I'm sorry."

"You're one of my best employees, Rudy. Dedicated, efficient, talented. But, I also think you're a nice person and I consider you a friend. Believe me. I don't reserve that title for just anyone. Aside from the fact that I'm your boss, I like you. If you wouldn't come to me as an employee, I'd hope you'd at least come to me as a friend. I would have put a stop to it immediately."

Rudy nodded, surprised at the admission. "I like you, too, Sloane. I--"

"Whitman, let's not get all mushy here. Here's the bottom line. If I can't trust you to come to me with a problem like Neal, how can I trust you come to me with a problem you might have when you're senior editor?"

"Neal was personal. If it had to do with work, I'd come to you immediately."

Sloane shook her head. "Neal was not a personal problem. He was a work problem. His actions potentially affect your work and others' work. Sexual harassment is illegal. We have policies that ensure you won't have to put up with that kind of treatment. This situation should have been confronted and resolved months ago. Instead, it escalated out of control. For that, I do hold you responsible."

"I understand."

"The first thing I want you to do is look up the employee manual and read it. Have you ever read it?"

Rudy had to admit that she never had.

"Read the section on sexual harassment. Read it more than once."

Rudy felt like a recalcitrant child in grade school being admonished by her teacher. "I will."

"Okay, that's it. And take the donuts with you."

Rudy's eyes brightened a little bit. "Thanks. But, what was the second thing you wanted me to do?"

"What second thing?"

"You said the first thing you wanted me to do was read the manual."

"You don't miss a thing, do you? It was just a figure of speech."

"Ah." Rudy stood up and grabbed the donuts. With a short smile, she left the office.


Keagan was feeling better. Her arm was unnaturally stiff, but her body had adjusted to the pain medication well. Rudy stopped by that evening and spent a few hours with her. Their relationship was companionable and they enjoyed each other's company, but the tension between them caused problems. Rudy was unable to discuss their prior relationship and Keagan respected that, but it made things between them awkward.

As they ate the Chinese takeout Rudy brought, the conversation turned to work.

"Sloane really laid into me," said Rudy.

"What the hell for?"

"She said I was partially responsible for what happened because I didn't come to her about it."

Keagan took a bite of her egg roll. "That's bullshit. Don't let her put this on you."

"She's right."

"How so?"

"I ignored the problem, thinking it would go away. I should have taken action to stop him."

"He hadn't even bothered you for a month. For all you knew, he wouldn't again."

"That doesn't excuse what I did. You had to pay for it. I'm just glad you didn't get hurt more than you did."

Keagan shrugged. "I don't mind getting hurt, if it's for you." She turned away.

"Yeah, well I mind."

"Ah, she cares. Just a little bit?" Keagan grinned and plopped a big piece of shrimp into her mouth.

"Just a little." Rudy went back to eating. "Have you ever called me La Roux in front of anyone we work with?" she asked after a few moments.


"I don't remember you doing it either, but are you sure?"

"Yes. I made a point not to call you that. I didn't want anyone to ask any questions since you're not out."

"He called me that. He said, 'You're not going anywhere, La Roux.' How did he know?"

Keagan shook her head. "Maybe he eavesdropped."

"Maybe, but he seemed very sure I was gay and I never did anything to suggest I was…except not go out with him."

"For some guys that's enough of a reason. What are you getting at?"

"When he had me cornered he said something about my unnatural relationship with you. How did he know about us?"

"Maybe he just made it up to taunt you. Everyone at the office knows we knew each other in college, so he knew we had a history. And I think he assumed I was gay from reading my novel. Lucky guess?"

Rudy looked skeptical. "Probably, but it's creepy that he was so right on. Well, not about our relationship being unnatural, of course."

Keagan said nothing for a second as they looked at each other. "Let's just hope they put him away awhile so you don't have to worry about it."

"I got a call from my dad today. He says that it's his first offense and all they're charging him with is assault. It's my word against his."

"And mine."

"When you broke in, all you saw was me on the floor, fully clothed, and not one tear on any of my clothing. You did see him holding me down, but that's all you saw. You didn't see an attempted rape and that's what your deposition states."

"We both know what he would have done."

"People don't go to jail for what they would have done…at least not in this case."

"Damn. I hope he doesn't have any sick twisted ideas of coming after you."

"Don't worry about me. Daddy hired a security service to follow me. He denies it, but there's these two guys always following me around, so--"

Keagan perked up. "There's two guys following you around? And you didn't say anything to me? What if--?"

"What if what? You know what? The big butch overprotective girlfriend…" Rudy stopped as the familiar phrase slipped out. "Ex-girlfriend act isn't appealing on you." Rudy paused when she saw a brief flicker of hurt appear on Keagan's face. "Look. If they wanted to attack me, I think they would have by now. Besides, it looks like they're wearing Armani suits." Rudy laughed. "When Dad denied it, it was the kind of denial where he knows I know and I know he knows I know. You know?"

"No, I don't know." The recent events of Neal's attack had severely affected Keagan's view of the world; basically, that no one was safe in it.

"You can ask them yourself, if you'd like," she said nonchalantly. "They're probably right outside."

Keagan's eyes widened. "Outside this apartment?!"

"Probably, but you have to be fast to catch them," Rudy deadpanned, hiding a smile.

Keagan said nothing further, but stood up and carefully tiptoed to the door. When she was satisfied that no one on the other side heard her, she opened the door much more quickly than necessary. "Ah, ha!" Her eyes scanned the hallway, but instead of seeing two menacing figures wearing Armani suits, she looked into the frightened eyes of the janitor who stood five feet away from her, clutching a trash can and shaking with fright. "Um…sorry, Rich." Not waiting for the man's response, she backed inside the apartment and shut the door. Rudy was cracking up. "You're putting me on!"

"No, no," Rudy said, in between bouts of laughter. "They're just really fast."

"Yeah, right." Keagan sat down on the couch and put her feet up, not looking at Rudy, who went to get some juice from the kitchen.

When she came back, she handed Keagan a tomato juice. "Stop worrying about me. I've taken steps to prevent something like that ever happening again." She took a sip of her white grape juice and plopped on the couch opposite Keagan.

"Oh, and what's that?"

Rudy smiled. "I'm taking a self-defense course."


Chapter Six

In a couple of days, Keagan felt up to going out again. Rudy succeeded in scaring her into submission ever since the accident by telling her daily that she had to be careful or her arm could be permanently damaged. She stopped by around 8 o'clock every evening after her self-defense class and although she had assured Keagan that she was coming by because she cared, Keagan had the nagging doubt that Rudy felt responsible for her condition.

She had said nothing to Rudy about the manuscript, the editing of which had been put on hold by Sloane until Keagan returned to work. Keagan wanted to find out where Erin was first. She was used to handling problems on her own and wanted to gather all the information she could before telling Rudy. Getting an original copy of the manuscript was the first item on her agenda.

One evening, Keagan checked all the bars and coffeehouses she and Erin had frequented during their acquaintance. Having no luck, she found herself wandering down the Avenue of the Americas. She was mostly unaware of the lights that even at midnight continued to sparkle all around her. She passed many people on the street, not one of them meeting her eyes. The late April weather was windy and she was glad she had her Reds cap on so her hair didn't blow everywhere. Getting it cut had been nice, but with the slightest bit of wind, it completely covered her left eye. Sometimes that was nice, she mused. It kept her from seeing what was going on around her and often that was just what she needed. Tonight, however, she wore the cap knowing that it was time to leave her vision unobstructed.

It was at that point in her musings that her eyes set upon a bum on the street. Usually, she kept her eyes straight ahead and when they had to take in other people, they scanned quickly across their chests, but something caught her off guard that night. "Hello," said the man to Keagan, who looked to be in his late thirties. He had large, mournful chocolate brown eyes, was unshaven, and wore tattered clothing, the tan coat of which he wore sporting a big hole in the side. His boots were old, the black leather faded almost to a light gray,, and his toes protruded out the top. The oddest thing about him was that his socks were sparkling white and appeared to be brand new. Keagan reached into her pocket for a couple of dollars. It had been her mistake by making eye contact and now she didn't want to make him angry, especially with her arm immobile. As she started to hand him the money, he shook his head. "Just wanted to say hi and to share my good fortune."

What? He didn't want money? "What good fortune?"

The man pointed to his boots. "I was sitting here for hours and then someone came by and just dropped this pair of socks into my lap."

Keagan's mind refused to consider how someone that young could find himself in the position he was in. What had brought him to that point? What brings anyone to any point? "Um, yeah. So, you don't want any money?" She couldn't believe he was saying hello to a total stranger. People in the city didn't do that.

He smiled. "Lovely night, isn't it?" His gaze left Keagan's and he looked straight up into the sky. Only a few stars were visible, but his face lit up upon seeing them.

Keagan shoved the two dollars back into her jacket pocket and took out a twenty-dollar bill. If nothing else, he puts on a great act and should be rewarded for that. Leaning over, she held it out to him and he took it, surprise lighting his features. "Please don't thank me," she said, with a short smile and continued on her way. Now I'm giving money to bums. I must be going crazy.

Her distracted thoughts continued and as she walked the few short blocks to The Mix, she thought briefly of when she had met Erin. As she did, she cursed her former agent, Kip Stetson. He had told her, "You have to associate with other authors. It's who you know in this business. It'll be good for you to interact with colleagues." Shaking her head in disdain at how impressionable she had been, she thought back to when she had attended a writer's retreat.


November, 2002

Keagan had just gotten her hotel card from the front desk and turned around to find the elevator. She was dressed casually in jeans, a T-shirt, a button-down blue-checkered shirt and her customary black leather jacket and combat boots. Her long hair was tied in a ponytail and she had no makeup on. She wore a Cincinnati Reds baseball cap to complement her outfit and donned dark sunglasses. A well-worn backpack with only the essentials inside was slung over her shoulder. She looked no more like a New York Times best-selling author than she looked like a woman over twenty years old. Of course, she was both.

The retreat was taking place on Long Island. At least there'll be some nice scenery, Keagan said to herself as she headed for the elevator. Before she could make it through the doors to the awaiting freedom of her hotel room, a voice sounded from behind her. "Ms. Devin, is that you?"

Fuck! Keagan inwardly groaned. Why the hell did I agree to this? Because Stetson is a good agent and you want him to help you get The Guardian published, that's why. She repeated her recently adopted mantra over and over, as she turned around to face the woman. Recognizing her as Carolyn Mclane, the administrator of the retreat, she greeted her with a pasted on smile. "Hi, Carolyn. Yes, it's me."

"I'm so glad I ran into you, Kerry." Carolyn was two decades older than Keagan, and didn't wear her age well. Of course, under all the rouge and beige foundation she had on, she might have been only seventeen.

"I told you before, since you know my real name, you can call me Keagan." Keagan only held onto her pen name for purposes of anonymity. To her, it made no sense for someone who knew her true identity to call her Kerry.

"Oh, yes, of course, Kerry, um, heh, heh, Keagan." Keagan stood patiently, waiting for the overly enthusiastic woman to speak so she could get out of there. "I have you down for the lecture entitled, 'Ego and Art -- Two Peas in the Same Pod.' That's right isn't it?"

This has got to be some kind of a cruel and twisted joke. What the hell kind of title is that for a writing lecture? As a successfully published author, Keagan had relented and told the administrators that she'd give a lecture, but not on ego and its importance to art. "Um, no. My lecture is called, 'Plot is a Four-Letter Word' Getting great plots without plotting. Plotting negates creativity and invention. Remember? We discussed it ourselves two months ago."

"Ms. Devin, that was just tentative, remember?" Carolyn smiled sweetly at Keagan, but her body language communicated something altogether different: she would do the ego lecture or no lecture.

"Why the change?"

"One of the other authors insisted on being more qualified than you to do plot and we didn't think you'd mind."

The story of my life. When you're a quiet type, they all think you won't mind. "Who?"

"I'm not at liberty to say, Ms. Devin," replied Carolyn coyly.

"Yeah, whatever." Keagan stepped inside the elevator. "And my name is Keagan."


"In regard to precision of language," Keagan began, "I think I myself am the best writer today." Those were the first words out of Keagan's mouth in her lecture. She delivered them as if they were her own and the audience, which consisted of students, writers, lecturers, and teachers applauded loudly in response. Interesting, thought Keagan. But precisely the reaction I expected.

"I actually came to this retreat to tell why plot is a four letter word, but one of my esteemed colleagues arranged to give the lecture herself. Is that an example of her ego? Is my opening statement an example of my ego? The answer to the first question is yes. The answer to the second question is no, because I didn't say it. Ayn Rand, famous mid-twentieth century creator of the philosophy of objectivism and writer of such classics as The Fountainhead and Altas Shrugged did. And granted, she is great. But does that justify making a statement like she did? I don't know. The title of this lecture is 'Ego and Art -- Two Peas in the Same Pod'. That would seem to imply that they go together. Is that what I'm here to discuss? I don't know. I didn't prepare much for this lecture. Like I said, I was supposed to tell you about plot." Keagan shrugged, enjoying the defensive looks on several of the faces in the front row. She didn't look beyond it, for fear of getting too nervous. She hadn't given an oral speech since college and even then, she hadn't been very good at it.

"But I'm here and you're here so let's give it all we've got, shall we?" Keagan fleetingly wondered how she must appear to them. Dressed in very much the same fashion that she had been on the day of her arrival at the retreat, the only difference now was that she took the sunglasses off. There was no point in wearing them, if everyone knew who she was.

"Whenever I have a question about something, I always define my terms. Ego is defined as the 'I' self of any person; a person as thinking, feeling, and willing, and distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from objects of its thought. In the psychoanalytical world, it's of course defined as the part of the psychic apparatus that experiences and reacts to the outside world and mediates between the primitive drives of the id and the demands of the social and physical environment. Thank you, Webster's unabridged. But somehow, I don't think that's what we're talking about. Do you?" Keagan paused for a moment to scan the first row faces again. This time, she had their complete attention and their eyes were riveted, rather than defensive. A few of the awed students shook their heads in response to her rhetorical question. One of the older students, who sat in the third row, didn't shake her head. She was too busy thinking up questions for the lecturer.

"I am very foolish over my own book. I have a copy which I constantly read and find very illuminating." The audience laughed and Keagan joined them. "Oh, um, not me. W.B. Yeats. That's what we're talking about -- ego. Egotism, conceit, self-importance, arrogance, boastfulness, megalomania, over confidence, swellheadedness, vanity, pomposity, self-worship, well. You get the idea. Is this kind of ego necessary to produce great art? Absolutely not. I submit to you that it hinders great art." Keagan heard a small cry coming from the end of the front row. Her eyes turned to see Carolyn sitting there with a scowl on her heavily made up face. "Oh, excuse me for a second. Carolyn, are you quite all right? Our administrator, here, appears distressed that I'm unwilling to give a lecture on something I don't believe. This is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. If I had an ego, I'd make up a pretty speech about how it's healthy to be egotistical as a writer. I'd go on and on about it, cite examples, quote classics, quote famous writers and make my point quite well. And you'd probably all applaud me, just as you applauded the egotistical quote at the beginning of the lecture. I'd do this to um, save face, I think it's called, when in fact I'd be saving someone else's face, not my own. Because my own doesn't subscribe to the ego, art, two peas in a pod, balderdash."

The student in the third row raised her hand and spoke. "You're saying you have no ego?"

"I'm saying that I have a healthy one; one that sits in the back of my mind, under my constant control. If it wants to come out and play, I say no."

"That doesn't sound very healthy to me. Under constant control and not being allowed to play. Is that healthy for anything?"

Keagan smiled, although her energy to put up with the current scrutinization she was experiencing from over two hundred people was beginning to falter. "It's healthy for a lot things. What's your name?"

"Erin," replied the student.

"Erin, it's healthy for, let me think for a second. It's healthy for pitbulls, rattlesnakes, billygoats (in most cases), black widow spiders, raving lunatics and murderers." Keagan tried to think of animals or persons who, when set loose would cause some kind of disruption.

"Is your ego really that dangerous?" asked Erin. Keagan was surprised at the openness of her comments and questions.

"Believe me. You don't want to know." It was said as a joke and the audience laughed, but there was a truth to her statement that unnerved Keagan.

"Someone might say that your focus on ego indicates that you do have quite a large one."

"My focus on ego is a result of giving this lecture. I am, by default, required to discuss it, the title of the lecture being Ego and Art…" Keagan swirled her right hand around several times.

"But--" Before Erin could speak again, Carolyn had made her way up to the stage and interrupted her. "Kerry, we're going to move right on to the Q&A part of the lecture, since we're running short on time." Keagan didn't respond to the fact that they weren't at all running short on time.

A young man in the second row asked the first question. "Is your work schedule rigid?"

"Five hours a day and the rest of the time I edit. I start at seven in the morning." Keagan answered the question dispassionately. She hated inquiries about the physical act of writing. If people couldn't figure out how to do it on their own, she didn't figure she'd be any help.

"Do you hear the words in your head as you write them?" asked a student in the fifth row.

Keagan refrained from speaking the answer she really felt like giving: Yes, of course I hear the words in my head. How else would I be able to write them? She realized that what the student probably meant to ask was whether or not it seemed to her as if her characters were living and breathing. Could she hear their voices as she wrote? However, Keagan was not in the habit of interpreting vague questions, so her answer was simple. "Yes, I do."

"Why did you want to be a writer?" was the next question, coming from an older woman in the back row.

"I didn't want to be one, I just was. My favorite thing to play with as a child was always a notebook. When I was three, I got my first one. By the time I was fifteen, I had a stack of notebooks filled with stories. By the time I was nineteen, I decided I ought to whittle those stories into something readable. I did. My family thought I was nuts. They still do, I think. My mom wanted me to be a doctor. I told her as a doctor I could take care of people's bodies, yes, but as a writer I could take care of their souls and doing that meant more to me than anything." Keagan looked down, feeling suddenly vulnerable. She was used to being stripped bare through her work, but that she could do in a room alone. To have it happening in front of two hundred people was something entirely different.

The next question came from the front row. "It's been said that Faulkner drank while he wrote. Do you?"

"Well, maybe it worked for him, but not for me. It would be like trying to have sex while you were asleep, you know?" The audience laughed and Keagan was glad to have finally said something funny again to dispel the tension she felt.

Keagan answered a few more questions until she saw Carolyn gesturing to her that she should wrap up. "One more question," she told the group. Erin, the woman she had chatted with earlier about ego, raised her hand.

"How do you feel about discussing your work before you write it?"

"Hemingway said never to talk about writing while you're working on it. If you tell it, you never write it. Somehow, it's spoiled. I guess I might compare it to giving birth prematurely. You wouldn't intentionally have a baby at only three months. It likely wouldn't survive. It needs to have a lot more things before it can make an appearance. It's the same with writing. I love what Ray Bradbury said about that subject. He said, 'Writing is like sex. You have to save your love for the love object. If you go around telling your idea, when you finally go to bed with the--"

"When you finally go to bed with the idea, there's no charge left. You can't have children that way."

"Right," said Keagan, surprised at her knowledge of the quote.

After the lecture, Keagan allowed herself to be talked into autographing some books and then she made a discreet exit. As she was heading back to the elevator, she felt a hand on her arm. It was Erin, the woman from the lecture.

"I'd really like to talk to you some more. You want to go with me to the bar for a drink?"

Why not? Keagan said to herself. Erin definitely wasn't her type, but she might provide some amusement for an hour or so.


"Why didn't I just say no, like I usually did?" Keagan's mind returned to the present as she reached the front door to The Mix.


"I'll just have a Coke," Keagan told Gracie. She didn't want to drink while unable to use her arm.

Gracie came back with a Coke a few moments later. "I'm on break, so we can chat."

"Cool. So did you ever find out about Sloane and the plant lady?"

Gracie got a big smile on her face. "No, not yet. I think Sloane was using that story as bait to get me to go out with her."

"With Sloane? As in…date? I didn't really know she was a lesbian. I mean, she seems like one and everything, but…you never know."

Gracie laughed at Keagan's logic. "We're going out tomorrow night. Jealous?"

"Of course."

"Good answer. So what's up?"

"I think I need to tell you something."

"You think?"

"No, I know. Do you remember last October when I started coming in here? How somber I was?"

"I'll never forget that. You came in every night at the same time, had two drinks and left. And you barely said two words to me."

"Yeah, well. Something happened right before that. And then I stopped writing."

"Tell me."

"I had met this woman, her name was Erin Mavis. I met her at a writer's retreat that my agent talked me into going to. She was a creative writing student and I was giving a lecture. She took a liking to me. We became friends at the retreat and that continued after. She sort of became my protégé even though I didn't consider myself near qualified to be anyone's mentor. I mean, she was five years older than I was anyway. It was ludicrous. But we became friends. Our main connection was writing. All we did was talk about it. She shared her work with me and I tried to help her improve it. She wasn't very good, but I was more than willing to help her. I had no problem with that."

Keagan paused for a second, and took a large drink of her Coke. She wasn't used to talking in such large increments. "I had been working on a novel. A novel that was different from my other two. Its theme was redemption, renewal. How we can go back and change things or rather we can make amends and start anew. It was the best thing I had ever done. It was a departure for me. Let's face it. My other two books are morose. This one stirred me much more than the others did. I didn't let Erin read it, but I told her how I felt about it. That's all she knew."

"Why didn't you let her read it?" asked Gracie.

"I never let anyone read my work until it's finished. Even then, I often don't let them." Her mind flashed back to Rudy asking to read Clandestiny.

"This story doesn't have a happy ending, does it?"

"No, not at all. My agent, Kip, had a synopsis of the novel. That's all I had given him up to that point. He wanted sample chapters, but I didn't feel they were ready for him to read. I was always paranoid about my work. I wanted it to be perfect before even my agent saw it. It was around that time that Erin told me she had feelings for me. It came out of nowhere. We had been friends for ten months and there was nothing sexual about it. In fact, in many ways, it was the ideal relationship. Our main connection was my favorite subject; she didn't live with me, and I could say, 'Go away, I have to write now.' And she would."

"Was that your problem with Rudy?"

"I had no problems with Rudy. I was the problem. So anyway, she told me she loved me and really expected me to feel the same way. To me, it was ridiculous. I had already told her that there was a woman that I was in love with that I'd always be in love with, but that it didn't work out because relationships were not for me. That's all I told her. I never discussed Rudy with anyone at any length except Brad. I was totally shocked by Erin's admission."

"I could see how you would be."

"She pointed out that I had enough flings here and there and that indicated that I was looking for someone…her. I told her that I wasn't looking for anyone and that I saw her as just a friend. She appeared to take it well and we went back to our former relationship, but something was different. If I had been any better at reading people I would have known she was planning something…and I would have made sure the extra key to my apartment was well hidden." Keagan shook her head ruefully. "It just never occurred to me that she would do that."

"Jesus, what did she do?" asked Gracie, who already suspected what Keagan was about to reveal.

"She stole my book. Every trace of it. Every hard copy, every backup, every damn thing. I had gone to the grocery store and when I got back home, I went to the computer to do some editing. Usually, I leave what I'm currently working on right on my desktop, but it wasn't there. When I searched, I didn't find it anywhere. I can't explain to you the panic I felt. I'd been working on this book for over five years, here and there, adding chapters, even while I worked on my other books. With the other books, they were cut and dried. This one was different in that I kept discovering new things about the plot, the characters,, and even myself. It was such a part of me that I felt barren inside when it was gone. Anyway, I had everything backed up on disc and kept in a fire proof safe. Erin didn't know about it. I immediately went to find it and it was gone, too. I went to find my hard copies of notes. They were gone, too. She took it all."

Gracie put her hand over Keagan's, trying hard to comprehend how anyone could do something so immoral. "What happened when you contacted her?"

Keagan's face went blank. "She disappeared, right off the face of the earth it seemed. She must have planned this for weeks. I went to her apartment. She wasn't there. The landlord said she had moved. No forwarding address of course. She certainly knew how to get her revenge."

"Did you call the police?"

"What would I have told them? I came home and my book was gone? There was no forced entry; she didn't trash the place or anything. What would I have said? I was a fool and trusted some woman who stole my book?"

"You should have at least filed a report with the police, so there would have been a legal record of what happened."

"I wasn't thinking too clearly at the time. That's when I decided that writing wasn't for me, either. Relationships weren't for me and neither was my career. I always seemed to be doing something to fuck either one of them up. I quit writing altogether. I never intended to go back to it."

"But couldn’t you have re-written the book? You still had a synopsis."

"My agent had the synopsis. And I didn't tell him about this either. Could I have reproduced the synopsis from my head? Sure, I could have. Could I have re-written the book? Not in the state I was in." Keagan shook her head. "I don't think I could ever have reproduced it. It's like having a child or painting a picture. No two are alike."

"I understand so much more about you now."

Keagan smirked. "Oh, there's much more. The story is not yet complete by a long shot. My book was called The Guardian. Rudy and I are slated to edit a manuscript called The Sentinel written by an author named Maris Winthrop -- a first-time author. I read the synopsis of Sentinel and it sounded so much like The Guardian that I asked to read the first few chapters even though we weren't going to work on it for another month. When I read the chapters, I knew it was my book. She changed the viewpoint, but it's my book. Erin took my book to Tandem and got a contract."

"That's outrageous. The ultimate revenge. Not only stealing your book, but putting her name on it. What did Rudy say when you told her?"

"I haven't told her. You and Brad are the only ones that know and I want to keep it that way. I have to believe that she has an original copy somewhere. I want to find that copy and the less people that know about it the better."

Gracie shook her head. "No, no, no. You have to tell her right away. You're not only jeopardizing your job by not telling, you're risking losing Rudy again."

"I don't care about the job. All I want is my work back. As for Rudy, I don't have her, so how can I lose her?"

"How can you be so callous about this? When I stopped by the other day, I saw a woman who loves you very much. She may not have told you lately, but it shows."

"Rudy feels guilty about me getting hurt. That's all."

"You're exasperating, do you know that? I don't see how any woman could stay in love with you for very long. Rudy must be a saint!"

"I agree with you on both counts."

"Look, aside from the Rudy connection, I'm almost a lawyer and I know a bit about these things. You are the original copyright owner. Erin can't compete with that. She can't win, but you have to tell Rudy and Sloane."

It just occurred to Keagan that Gracie had said she was going out with Sloane. "You won't tell Sloane, will you?"

"You're pathetic, do you know that?"

"If being seen as pathetic is what I have to do to get my book back, I'll gladly pay the price."

"Apparently. It's not my place to tell Sloane, it's yours. The copyright is--"

"Copyright belongs to whomever has the goods. I don't have the goods. Copyright is not a disembodied concept up for grabs. You want the copyright, you have to prove it's yours. I can't do that, unless I have the original copy."

Gracie sighed, hoping that Keagan wasn't about to cause herself more pain than she already had. "How far have you gotten in finding her?"

"Not very far. She may not even be in New York."

"Want some help?"


Later that night, as Keagan walked home, she intentionally took the same way she had come. Not long after she had passed by Radio City Music Hall, she spotted a familiar form hunched in the corner of a darkened alcove. Peering closely, she could tell it was the same bum from earlier in the evening by looking at his bright white socks that poked through the holes in his boots. He was passed out cold, and held an almost empty bottle of whiskey in his left hand. Why couldn't I just be a pure cynic? I always want to think that people are different from how they appear. And now I've bought a bum a night of drunken frivolity. And for what? Because he had a nice story and touched my heart. Fuck that shit! She continued on home, thinking how ironic it was that she continued to trust complete strangers.


When Rudy took Keagan to the doctor for her follow-up visit, she was given a clean bill of health and told that her arm was healing normally. The doctor freed her arm from the sling so she could begin the recuperative exercises necessary to bring back the strength in the arm.

"So what's going on with our manuscript?" Keagan asked when they had returned to her apartment.

"Sloane delayed it until you get back. That manuscript needs a lot of work and she wants us both on it at the same time. It's really a mess."

Keagan snorted and leaned back in the chair she was seated in. "It's not that bad."

"I thought you read it." Rudy's green eyes gazed curiously at Keagan.

"I did. If it was that bad, Tandem wouldn't have picked it up."

"It's not uncommon for us to choose a manuscript that needs a lot of work. We don't do it often for obvious reasons. We're not in the business of re-writing. We're interested in editing and publishing. Every once in awhile, though, something like this comes along where you can see through it. You know it'll be good, with a little work."


Rudy's brow crinkled. "You know, kind of like…you're looking into a deep, dark forest. It seems really scary to you and you don't want to go inside of it. But then, from out of nowhere a cute, furry little bunny rabbit comes hopping out and runs back in and you follow him. This book is like a bunny rabbit." She smiled.

My book is like a bunny rabbit. Oh, geez. "Right. So, you've got your class tonight? How's it going?"

Rudy smiled enthusiastically. She was on her way to the class, dressed in a blue sweatshirt and pants, white tennis shoes, and had a headband on. "It's going great. If I'm ever attacked by a man again, I'll be ready!"

"How 'bout a woman?" asked Keagan dryly with a mischievous look in her eyes.

"Oh, what? You mean you? I could take you."

"Only if I let you."

"Is that what you think? You're just lucky you're still recuperating, Stretch!"

"You gonna show me some of your moves?"

"Yeah, and I'll knock you right on your ass!" Rudy jumped up from her seat on the couch and began bouncing around, throwing fake punches at Keagan, who laughed.

"I'm really scared." Keagan pretended to shiver with fright.

"Go ahead and laugh, but Marty says I have the highest assertiveness rate in the class!"

"So, he's a good instructor?" Rudy had attended the class for a few days, but hadn't said much about it until now.

"She is fabulous!"

"She…oh, I thought Marty was a guy."

"Marty's no guy, that's for damn sure," Rudy shot back quickly.

"Oh," said Keagan feeling uncomfortable with Rudy's level of enthusiasm for her instructor. "What's she look like?"

"Why do you care what she looks like?"

"Just curious." Keagan looked away.

"Uh, huh," replied Rudy, as comprehension dawned. She fought to hide a smile. "Well, I could hardly do her justice with words, but I'll try." Rudy could have sworn she detected a faint scowl on Keagan's face that disappeared as soon as it appeared. "You know the actress, Demi Moore?"

"Yeah, sure I do."

"The spitting image of…and her body…as hard as a rock, too." The look on Rudy's face alternated between admiration and lust.


"Well, time to go to class!"

"Have fun."

"Oh, I always have fun at class!" Rudy turned around and left, enjoying the look of jealousy on Keagan's face. She didn't tell her before she left that the only things her instructor had in common with Demi Moore were muscles and hair coloring.


Rudy continued to visit Keagan the rest of the week. They continued to grow closer and it seemed to Keagan that the only thing they couldn't talk about was their own failed relationship. During this time, Keagan continued to look for Erin with no luck. Gracie used some of her contacts in the hopes of getting a lead, but that accomplished nothing. Keagan considered hiring a private investigator, but was reluctant to let any strangers in on her personal business.

One Sunday night, she was seated in front of the picture window in her apartment and lifting weights with her left arm. They were small, only 3 lb. weights, but the doctor had told her that in order to rebuild the strength in her arm, she'd have to exercise it. As she was doing this, the phone rang. She listened as the answering machine picked it up. "Keagan, this is Mom. Gerry's in the hospital. She's very ill and I think you should come home." Joan left the hospital number before the message ended.

Keagan continued to work out as she battled with her rational and emotional sides. Things hadn't been good between her and the family before she had left for New York. She had distanced herself from them after they had met Rudy and behaved so inhospitably. For several months after that, they had barely spoken, usually only when one of them wanted something from her. When she had left for New York, they had both said goodbye, but hadn't wished her well or expressed their confidence in her abilities. The timing of Joan's call couldn't have been worse. She had to return to work the next day and wasn't about to request more time off. Gerry had been in the hospital several times before, usually for malnutrition, and although an immediate cure wasn't forthcoming, she had always been sent home with suggestions for improving her health, which she never heeded. Keagan suspected that this was the case now and was reluctant to take more time off work for what would probably turn out to be a brief illness. They've been crying wolf my whole life.

When Keagan returned to work, she was surprised to find a bouquet of red roses sitting on her desk. Sitting down, she picked up the attached card, opened it, and read: Welcome back. We missed you around here. There was no one to tell us how we really should be editing. Rudy. Chuckling lightly, she picked up the bagels and coffee and decided to deliver them personally.

A few people passed her in the hallway as she headed to Rudy's office. They all wished her well and some even gave her the thumbs up sign. She just nodded politely with a smile and continued on her way. When she reached Rudy's office, the door was slightly ajar and the editor looked up and motioned her in with a smile. "Nice door," said Keagan.

"You're gonna love this. This door's lock is remote controlled." Rudy reached into her office desk drawer and pulled out a small controller. "Go ahead. Lock the door." Keagan did so. In the next second, the door unlocked at Rudy's command.

"Impressive. How did you manage that?"

"I think they were afraid I might sue!" Rudy laughed. Keagan grinned and shook her head as she set the coffee and bagels down.

"Thanks for the flowers."

"Sure. Thanks for bringing breakfast."

"Sure." Silence fell on them both.

"You look really good," said Rudy. She reached into the bag and took out a blueberry bagel.

"I feel good. I've been lifting weights with my left arm and everything. It feels back to normal."

"You haven't gone over 3 lbs., have you?"

"No, way. I don't want to have to answer to you."

They both laughed.

"Listen," said Rudy. "I've got a meeting at nine with an author. After that, I'm free to start on The Sentinel. You want to drop by around ten?"

"Sure. So, you're meeting with an author. Do you do that often?"

Rudy appeared surprised at the question. "When I need to, yeah. Today, we're signing a contract."

"Do you always do that in person?"

"There's no need to, but if the author lives in New York, they usually come in and do it to speed the process along."

"How did Maris sign her contract?"

"We did hers through snail mail. She doesn't live here." Rudy began to wonder why Keagan was showing such an interest when she never had before.

"Where does she live?" Keagan tried to phrase her questions in a nonchalant manner so as not to arouse suspicion.

"Why so many questions about Maris?"

"I'm just interested in the whole process of author contracts. My agent always handled that stuff for me, that's all."

Rudy suspected there was more to it than that, but had no idea what it could be. "Are you sure that's all?"

"Yeah, what else would there be?"


"You know what? This is a personal observation and I shouldn't be making it, but I just want to strangle Riley Calloway!"

Keagan laughed. "What?" She looked up from her notes to see Rudy looking at her, almost as if she were Riley. The eerie thing about it was that Riley was a somewhat autobiographical character. Keagan had taken all her bad qualities and plugged them into the character.

"She never learns from her mistakes. Over and over and over again. She keeps doing the same dumb things and you know why? Fear. Plain and simple. I think I actually hate this character!"

"Hate?" Keagan said weakly. "But, you know how it turns out in the end, right? You've read the whole thing. This time it's a happy ending." Keagan mentally kicked herself for verbally comparing The Guardian to her other two novels, both of which ended unhappily. Shit. Maybe she won't catch that.

"Compared to what? What do you mean 'this time'?" Although Rudy asked the question, she looked down at her notes distractedly.

"Slip of the tongue."

"Uh, huh." Rudy looked at her watch. "Let's wrap this for today. I've got that meeting with Sloane. We've covered what needs to be done in chapters 1-10, we'll do 11-20 tomorrow, okay?"

"Sounds good to me." Keagan picked up her notebook and stashed it in her briefcase.

"Not going to forget that again, are you?" Keagan looked up to see Rudy smiling at her.

"Only if I want a reason to come back."

"You don't need a reason to come back."

A jolt of warmth coursed through Keagan's body, but she couldn't recall where it had started or where it ended. She only knew that the feeling was there because Rudy was serious. "Oh, really?"

"Yeah, really. I've been doing a lot of thinking since the attack. I've concluded that sometimes I push things aside rather than deal with something unpleasant. I do it out of fear."

"We all do that."

"Not me. I never used to. I confronted things. Dealt with things. Lately, I've kept everything inside. I've felt myself changing and I don't like it."

This was not what Keagan expected Rudy to say. At most, she hoped that Rudy would finally consent to discuss some things. She never pictured Rudy analyzing herself.

"You seem different to me, but people change a lot in four years."

"How about four months?"


"Ever since you came back, I've been battling with myself. Do I talk to her or not? What will happen if I do? What if she leaves again? I've tried so hard to keep you out of here." Rudy put her hand over her heart and shook her head. "But you're still there. And you're still here and you don't seem to be going anywhere."

"I'm not going anywhere." When a couple of tears streamed down Rudy's face, Keagan reached over and wiped them gently away. "Hey, don't cry. What's Sloane gonna think I did to you if you show up at the meeting all red-eyed and teary?"

Rudy laughed and finished wiping her eyes. "You're right. I don't want to face another Sloane-style interrogation."

"No." Keagan laughed.

"I want to talk to you. Obviously, not here at work. You up for it?"

Keagan had been waiting for Rudy to say those words for over four months, but the timing couldn't have been worse. With the truth about the manuscript hanging over her head, she felt like there was an insurmountable wall standing in between her and Rudy. Telling Rudy would easily rectify it. After she questioned Keagan about why she didn't say something initially, Rudy would no doubt be kind, understanding, and supportive. She'd also be required to drop Erin as an author. It would be immediate and Erin would no doubt disappear again, along with Keagan's book. I need my book back and I have to do it my way. Once I have it back, I'll explain everything and she'll understand. "Sure, La Roux. Of course I'm up for it."

Rudy scribbled something down on a sheet of paper and handed it to Keagan. "Number one: this is where I live. Number two: come over at seven and have dinner with me. Number three: this does not mean we're getting back together. I just want to ask you some questions. Number four: Throughout the evening, always keep number three in mind."

"Got it." In spite of Rudy's adamant number three point, both of them found themselves with smiles on their faces. As Keagan left her office, she was already trying to figure out what to wear for their date.

Continued in Part 8




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