Keli’s third novel Third Time’s a Charm will be completed late 2021.
“After a bitter divorce, an avian biologist moves back to her hometown to mend her broken wings…only to end up living next door to the high school boy who broke her heart the first time. But when an out-of-town developer shows up with plans to build a flashy new subdivision on the town’s prized nature preserve, they must band together to save the town’s quaint way of life.”
Excerpt, Third Time’s a Charm, (WIP)
©2019, Keli Vice
My feet are killing me.
I was going to wear my old tan wedges—the ones I found on clearance at TJ Maxx. But then Ian surprised me with a pair of strappy Jimmy Choos. His “little thank-you” for agreeing to play hostess at tonight’s last-minute cocktail party.
The shoes are gorgeous, of course. A ridiculous extravagance. And I admit I felt a little flutter of Carrie Bradshaw-esque joy lifting them from the silver-logoed box.
But that was six hours ago. Now the strap has rubbed an angry blister raw on my ankle and I just want everyone to get the hell out of my house. I really need to get back to work.
Guests swirl around me like an eddy. I shift from foot to foot trying to ease the pressure while I mentally count the minutes until I can stop sucking in my stomach and kick the damn shoes off. Our back terrace is packed—a stylish LA crowd dressed to the nines in overpriced “California casual.” Ian said he’d invited a few clients and co-workers, but I smelled a rat when the caterer arrived at 4:30 with food for seventy-five and three bartenders.
I should have known better. A rueful smile flits across my lips. Ian never does anything small.
It’s not that I mind Ian’s colleagues from the brokerage. Well. Not much, anyhow. But…some of their dates. Ugh! If I hear one more Botoxed beauty complain, “I just can’t seem to find the right Pilates trainer,” I’m going to stick a fork in someone’s eye. How hard is it to find a Pilates trainer in LA for Christ’s sake?
I scan the crowd for Ian and finally spot the deep cerulean blue of his shirt on the stairs leading to the house. My heart lifts and I take a step in his direction but I’m stopped by a piercing nasal voice behind me.
“Kate, darrrling. What arrrre these?”
I close my eyes and count to three before turning with a smile plastered on my face to find…
Shit. What’s her name?
She came with Ian’s boss. It’s Barbie. Or Bethany. Something with a “B.” She’s holding a Champagne flute filled with a thick peach-colored drink.
“They’re Bellinis,” I answer, clasping my hands in front of me to keep my fingers from fidgeting.
“Oh! Well they’re divine,” she replies, taking a sip through unnaturally plumped, sticky-looking glossed lips.
“Yes. I—um—I like them, too.”
My right Jimmy Choo taps out a nervous beat on the flagstone and I rack my brain, still trying to remember the woman’s name. Bitsy. Bunny. Ugh. She’s gorgeous, in that who’s-your-plastic-surgeon kind of way, and I feel drab in my plain white sun-dress. A sparrow next to a flamingo.
“What’s in them?” She demands, gesturing with her drink that sloshes perilously close to the rim.
My eyes dart to the bar a few feet to our right where the Bellini’s ingredients are listed in huge letters on a three-foot-tall Specialty Cocktail sign. Can’t she read?
I plunge on, still grappling to remember her friggin’ name. “It’s—uh—Prosecco. And peach juice.”
Bebe! It hits me. That’s her name. She’s one in a long line of women I’ve seen at Mason Cooper’s side in the year and a half Ian’s worked at Cooper & Cameron. I struggle to think of something more to add.
“They’re Italian!” I declare, inwardly wincing. I suck at party chatter.
“Ooooh—Italy!” Bebe trills, clutching my arm where her long French-manicured fingernails dig uncomfortably into my skin. “Mason promised he’d take me to Rome this fall. I really wanna see the Mona Lisa.”
My eyes go wide but I manage to choke out, “Won’t…that be nice,” picturing the Mona Lisa hanging in The Louvre. In Paris.
Desperate to escape before I say something that embarrasses us both, I smile and murmur, “Will you excuse me, Bebe? I just need to—uh—check on something…”
I needn’t have worried. Bebe’s already flipped her long, artfully curled hair over the other shoulder, looking around for someone more interesting to talk to. I turn and make a beeline for the lower deck, taking care to circle wide around the men clustered near the bar. Tucked out of view at the far end of the patio, I lean back against a big wooden pillar and take my first deep breath of the evening. It must be close to eight o’clock, but the early summer sun still lingers, a molten ball of orange-tinged gold dripping into the horizon. The waves fan gently across the sand below the terrace while a light breeze lifts the hair from the back of my neck.
I sigh, enjoying my moment of stolen solitude. The view in Malibu never gets old.
“Pretty, isn’t it?”
My head jerks sideways to find Mason Cooper standing just behind me. The lapel of his linen jacket brushes the bare skin on my shoulder and the thick scent of his cologne sends a shudder of distaste across my skin. Mason makes my skin crawl, but Ian’s vying for a promotion, and I can’t afford to piss him off. Casually, I push off the pillar and smooth my dress down to cover a tiny sidestep away from him as I reply.
“Yeah, it’s my favorite time of night.”
Mason takes a sip from the double old-fashioned in his hand. The ice cubes clink in the nearly-empty glass and a faint, peaty whiff of alcohol rises.
“Ian lucked out to get hold of this house.” A slight slur suggests this was not his first whiskey.
“Yes, he was. I don’t think it even went on the market.”
Not long after our whirlwind marriage last summer, Ian drove me to Malibu, where he slipped a silk scarf over my eyes and led me into this gorgeous, three-story beach-front house. I almost fainted when he handed me the keys and said, “Welcome to our new home, luv.”
Like I said—Ian never does anything small.
“No, it never hit the market,” Mason agrees in an odd voice. “It belonged to a, uh, ‘client’ of sorts.”
A flicker of unease rises. “A client?”
“Yeah.” With a smirk he tilts the glass, draining the last of the whiskey. “I had my eye on this place for months, but Ian snaked us all.”
Nonplussed, I’m processing this bizarre comment when Mason slides his hand along the small of my back, an inch shy of inappropriate.
My breath hitches in to protest but he beats me to the punch, teasing, “Can I buy you a drink?”
He waggles his eyebrows toward the bar and smiles at his own lame joke.
His hand drops and I manage a tight half-smile as we turn to head for the bar. Ian works in a competitive industry, and sometimes it feels like his colleagues can’t stop trying to outbid each other. For clients. For cars. For women.
Mason’s words linger uncomfortably, like a cool shroud of morning fog off the ocean. But when my eyes hit the bar, a familiar flash of bright blue burns the uneasy feeling away and I glide to Ian’s side, forgetting both Mason and my sore feet as my hand slips into his.
“There you are!”
I lean against him, drinking in a faint spicy whiff of his pricey French cologne.
He’s only a few inches taller than my own 5’ 5” and his lips press a soft kiss to my temple while a lock of thick, carefully mussed blond hair falls over one eye as he murmurs, “Hello, luv,” and squeezes my hand. As always, his British accent sends a tingle across my skin.
Never in a million years would I have pictured myself with someone like Ian. I was always the nerdy girl with glasses who spent too much time in the classroom…and then I grew up to become the nerdy Associate Professor who spends too much time in the lab.
But, Ian. Smart, handsome Ian. He saw me through different eyes. He called me beautiful. And sexy. We met at a dinner party hosted by one of the donors to the University and he swept me off my feet with flowers and dinners and, two months later, a surprise trip to the Caribbean.
Though my mother might never forgive me for eloping, our impromptu wedding in the Caymans was like a scene from a romance novel. Ian sank to one knee in the sand and proposed under the setting sun, then led me directly to the magistrate waiting between the Tiki torches to marry us right then and there on the beach.
I sigh in memory, snapping back to the present as Mason joins us at the bar. With a satisfied smirk I notice he keeps his distance now that Ian’s there.
“How about a whiskey, Ian, to celebrate your promotion.”
“Promotion?” Ian’s voice is controlled. Only I would notice the gleam in his eye.
“Monday morning we’re naming you Vice President of Acquisitions.”
My pulse leaps but Ian plays it cool.
“That’s good news, Mason. And a drink sounds great, thanks.”
While his boss places the order Ian’s eyes cut to mine behind Mason’s back. This is the promotion he’s been vying for, killing himself with late nights to outperform his competitive co-workers! I’m thrilled for him, but all I really care about is the feel of his hand sliding around my waist to pull my body tight against his, right where I belong.