Keli’s third novel Third Time’s a Charm will be completed late 2019.
“An avian biologist moves back to her hometown after a bitter divorce, 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…and mend her broken wings.”
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, ridiculously extravagant Louboutins. His “little thank-you” for agreeing to play hostess at tonight’s last-minute cocktail party.
The shoes are gorgeous, of course, and I admit I felt a little flutter of Carrie Bradshaw-esque joy lifting them from the scripty-logoed box.
But that was six hours ago. Now the strap has rubbed a blister 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, mentally counting 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 haute couture 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. Ian never does anything small.
A rueful smile flits across my lips. It’s not that I mind Ian’s colleagues from the brokerage. Well. Not much, anyhow.
It’s just…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, looking for Ian, and finally spot the deep cerulean blue of his shirt on the stairs heading toward the house. My heart lifts and I take a step in his direction but I’m stopped by a high, nasal voice just 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 thick peach-colored liquid.
“Oh—they’re Bellinis, I think.”
Actually, I know. I can see the bar’s “Specialty Cocktail” sign from here.
“Oh! Well they’re divine,” she replies, taking a sip through perfectly plumped, glossed lips.
“Yes. I—uh—I like them, too.”
I rack my brain, trying to remember the woman’s name. She’s gorgeous, in that over-the-top LA kind of way, and I feel a little drab in my plain white sun-dress. My toe taps out a nervous beat on the flagstone as I try to think of something else to add.
“It’s made out of Prosecco and peach juice. They’re Italian.”
Bebe! It hits me. That’s her name. She’s one in a long line of women I’ve seen at Mason’s side in the year and a half Ian’s worked in acquisitions at Cooper & Cameron.
“Ooooh—Italy!” Bebe trills, clutching my arm. Her red-taloned fingernails dig uncomfortably into my skin. “Mason promised he’d take me to Rome this fall. I really wanna see the Mona Lisa.”
My smile turns wooden and my IQ drops a point as I picture the Mona Lisa hanging in The Louvre. In Paris.
“Won’t that be nice…” I choke out in response.
Desperate to escape before I say something that embarrasses us both, I smile and murmur, “Will you excuse me, Bebe? I just—uh—need to check on something…”
She’s already looking around for someone more interesting to talk to, so I turn and make a beeline for the lower patio, taking care to circle around the men clustered near the bar. Tucked out of view at the far end, I lean back against the 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 on the horizon. The waves fan gently across the sand 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?”
With a start my head whips around 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 through me. I take a tiny step away before answering.
“Yes, it’s beautiful. 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 the faint, peaty whiff of alcohol rises.
“Ian was lucky to get hold of this house.” A slight slur suggests this is 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 led me into this gorgeous, three-story beach-front house and handed me the keys.
Like I said—Ian never does anything small.
“No, it sure wasn’t on the market,” Mason agrees in an odd voice. “It belonged to a, uh, client of sorts.”
A flicker of unease skitters down my spine. “A client?”
“Yeah.” With an odd smirk he tilts the glass, draining the last of the whiskey. “I had my eye on this place, but Ian scooped us all.”
The uneasy feeling grows, but Mason slides his hand along the small of my back, an inch shy of inappropriate.
“Can I buy you a drink?”
He waggles his eyebrows toward the bar and smiles at his own lame joke.
I manage a tight half-smile but sidestep away from him 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.
But when my eyes hit the bar, a familiar flash of bright blue drives the uneasy feeling away—like the sudden scatter of birds—and I glide to Ian’s side, forgetting both Mason and my sore feet as my hand slides into his.
“There you are!” I lean against him, breathing in the faint, spicy whiff of his pricey French cologne.
His lips press a soft kiss to my temple and his 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 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 new position as Senior Analyst?”
My pulse races but Ian plays it cool.
“Sounds good, Mason.”
Ian’s eyebrows raise a hair, and his eyes cut to mine. This is the promotion he’s been waiting for! Behind Mason’s back, Ian raises his glass to me in a private toast of victory. 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.