Anyone but You Read online

  Charity shook her head. “Nope. That was years ago now. I’m going forward. But I’ve learned from it. The next guy I hook up with is going to be my last. My Raoul.”

  Nina’s thoughts went back to Alex. “It’s not just the sleeping. He’s drinking too much.”

  “Alex? He doesn’t seem like the drunk type.”

  “He’s not.” Nina bit her lip. “His brother shows up four or five nights a week with a six-pack and they split it. And then they both look at the empty cans the way Fred looks at an empty Oreo wrapper.”

  Charity scowled. “Well, there’s your explanation. It’s his brother.”

  Nina shook her head. “No, it’s not. Max is a good guy. In fact, Max is a great guy. The rest of Alex’s family is sort of cold, but Max has been great from the start.”

  “Sort of cold? You didn’t tell me you met his family.”

  “We had dinner.” Nina’s face twisted as she remembered. “His father looked at me and said, ‘We were hoping Alex would have children.’”

  Charity winced. “Ouch. What did Alex say?”

  “He said, ‘No, we weren’t,’ and Max said, ‘Can I get you a drink, Nina?’ and Max’s mom did something to his dad and he sort of flinched and shut up. But it was ugly. And then there was the dinner with my family.”

  “Oh, boy. How is your mother? Still flash-frozen?”

  “She was very polite to Alex,” Nina said. “And then after dessert, she pulled me to one side and said, ‘What are you going to do when he leaves you for a younger woman?’”

  Charity rolled her eyes and picked up her milk shake to finish it off. “So I guess you and Alex won’t be spending the holidays with the families.”

  Nina laughed shortly. “Just with Max. I like him a lot. We’ll make our own family with you and Max and Fred.”

  “Well, if you’re planning on marrying me off, I’ll take Fred before I take Max.” Charity stood up. “Listen, I’ve got to go. Thanks for the milk shake.”

  “Wait a minute.” Nina scrambled to her feet. “Don’t you want to talk about the book?”

  “No. The book is finished. I wrote it and rewrote it and rewrote it and now I want to forget it for a while. Do I need to rewrite it again?”

  “No,” Nina said. “I’ll do the final edit and send it to you to check over, and then we’ll send it to the printer. Jessica put a hurry-up on it, so we should have bound ARCs in a month.”

  Charity stopped stretching. “ARCs?”

  “Advance Reader Copies. They go out to reviewers so we can get some good review quotes for the jacket.”

  Charity’s arms dropped to her sides. “Lots of reviewers?”

  “For your book, yes.” Nina bent to pick up their milk shake glasses. “I’m sending this one to every reviewer on the planet. It’s going to be great.”

  “I hope so.” Charity’s voice sounded hollow. “I really want this to be good, Neen. I’ve never done anything with my brains before.”

  Nina blinked at her. “Of course you have. You run that store beautifully.”

  Charity swallowed. “I mean creative brains. I already have an idea for another book. I really want this to work.”

  Nina hugged Charity, wrapping her arms around her so that the glasses in her hands clanked as she clutched her. “It’s going to work,” she promised her, while she said a silent, fervent prayer that it would, not only for Charity’s sake, but for her own and Jessica’s, too.

  “SO HOW’S IT GOING with Nina?” Max asked Alex at lunch the next week in the hospital cafeteria.

  “Nina’s great.” Alex tried to sound happy but a yawn overwhelmed him. “Life’s great.”

  Max raised an eyebrow at him. “Well, don’t let the enthusiasm make you lose your grip.”

  “No.” Alex shook his head and then regretted it. It felt as if his brains were rattling in his skull like marbles. “I mean it. She’s great.”

  Max leaned back. “And how’s cardiology?”

  Alex tried to focus on him. “Cardiology? Cardiology sucks.”

  Max shook his head. “Why don’t you knock this off and go back to the ER and make everybody happy?”

  Alex glared at him. “People are happy I’m in cardiology. Dad’s ecstatic.”

  Max looked at him with disbelief. “How can you tell?”

  Alex ignored him. “And Nina’s going to be happy once I get this work schedule ironed out—”

  “And then you will be miserable,” Max finished. “I can’t believe you’re doing this to yourself. And for what? Nina will love you no matter what you do. She’s great, the best thing that ever happened to you. And you’re missing it because you have some dumb idea that she needs to be rich.”

  “I’ll tell you what’s a dumb idea,” Alex told him. “The Incredibra. That’s a dumb idea.”

  Max nodded. “Yes, I can see how we got from cardiology to bras. Makes perfect sense. A word of advice—get some sleep before you kill a patient.”

  “I may kill myself first,” Alex said, and then blinked. “Forget I said that. I don’t know what I’m saying.”

  “You’re saying you’re unhappy.” Max stood up and shoved his chair back, and the screech it made on the floor made Alex wince. “Stop this, Alex. You’re going to end up like Dad. And me.”

  Alex blinked up at him. “You? What’s wrong with you?”

  Max looked down at him, and for the first time, Alex saw his brother as an older man, not just a guy to pal around with. “I’m thirty-six, I’ve poured my whole life into my career, I’m burned-out and I’m alone,” Max said, and his voice was like lead. “I’m tired, and I’ve got nowhere to go. And no one to go to. You have Nina. Hell, if I had Nina, I’d grab her and go to a beach somewhere and just watch the sun come up and go down forever. You’ve got it all, and you’re throwing it away. Don’t screw this up, Alex.”

  Alex swallowed. “You’re exaggerating.”

  Max nodded, defeated. “Probably. I’ll be by with a six-pack tonight, and we can forget I said that together.”

  “Good,” Alex said. “Make it a twelve-pack. I’ve got some other stuff to forget, too.”

  “SOME OF THE advance reviews are back, Charity,” Nina said to her a month later on the office phone while she stared at the letters before her. “We’re just getting them.”

  “Well, how are they?” Charity demanded.

  “They’re good,” Nina said. “They’re really good. They’re just not what I expected.”

  “Like what?” Charity said. “Nina, you’re killing me here!”

  “Like ‘funniest sex farce in years,’” Nina read to her. She picked up another review. “Like ‘Moll Flanders meets Odysseus.’ Like ‘Jane Errs will do for boutique owners what Jane Eyre did for governesses.’ Like ‘Read Jane Errs and find out all the things your mother never taught you about sex.’”

  “That’s good, right,” Charity said dubiously.

  “Well, it’s going to sell books,” Nina said.

  “Didn’t they notice the other stuff?” Charity said. “How she changed? What she learned? Didn’t they notice the important stuff?”

  Nina flipped back through the reviews. “They seem to be concentrating on the sex, but that’s probably because they weren’t expecting it. Howard Press doesn’t usually publish a book like yours.”

  Or as one of the reviews put it: “This book blows a hole in the side of stuffy old Howard Press and lets the light of the twentieth century in. The surprise is that it’s the bedroom light.”

  Jessica was going to have heart failure when she showed her the reviews.

  But what Jessica did instead was fire her.

  “It’s fiction?” she screeched to Nina when Nina gave her the reviews.

  “It started out as a memoir.” Nina clasped her hands in front of her. “It truly did, but in the last rewrite, Charity changed it to fiction, and it was better that way, and the reviews are good—”

  Jessica waved a review at her, apoplectic with rage. “Listen to t