Anyone but You Read online

Great, Charity wanted other readers. Now she was going to have to go door to door to find somebody for a second opinion. Nina started to shove her own door open and then stopped, remembering a door worth knocking on. “Wait a minute. How about if I get you several other readers?”

  Charity looked cautious. “Who?”

  Nina pulled her door closed. “Come on. You have to meet Norma.” She started for the stairs, and Fred and Charity followed her up to the fourth-floor apartment.

  “Norma, this is Charity,” Nina said when Norma opened the door, and then she stopped while elegant Norma—dressed in olive cashmere and khaki linen—and over-the-top Charity—dressed in electric blue vinyl and silver lycra—sized each other up, came to their separate conclusions and smiled at each other. “Charity’s written a book,” Nina went on when it seemed safe. “Does your readers’ group ever read unpublished manuscripts?”

  “Well, we haven’t before,” Norma said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t start.” She opened her door wider. “Come on in and tell me about it,” she said, and Fred trotted in.

  Fifteen minutes later, they were down the stairs again, and Charity had a new deadline.

  “I can finish the last chapter by Thursday,” she told Nina. “This is so great of Norma to do this. Can you get the copies run off if I get it to you by Thursday night?”

  “Sure.” Nina put her key in the door. “Norma can give them out on Friday and then the next Friday—” Her voice broke off as she opened the door and heard her television.

  “We’re out of Oreos,” Alex called from the floor in front of the TV, and Fred went to join him.

  Charity raised an eyebrow at Nina.

  Nina lifted her chin. “I must have left the window open.” She led Charity over to the couch. “This is Alex. Alex, this is Charity.”

  Alex turned from the TV. “Ah, the great author—” he began, only to stop as his eyes traveled up Charity’s endless black-stockinged legs to her vinyl miniskirt and lycra tank top.

  Seeing Charity for the first time was always an experience, Nina reminded herself. But seeing Charity from floor level would be mind-boggling. It wasn’t Alex’s fault that his chin was on his knees.

  “I’ve heard a lot about you,” Charity said, and Alex climbed to his feet.

  “I haven’t heard nearly enough about you,” he said, and Nina wanted to kill them both.

  “I’ll go get the Oreos,” she said to get away from them, and Alex turned back to her and said, “I told you, we’re out.”

  “I moved them,” Nina told him. “I was trying to make a space for the Crock-Pot because you keep bitching at me about it, and I moved them. And then there still wasn’t enough space for the pot, anyway, but I forgot to move them back.”

  Alex shook his head at her. “Don’t move things around on me. Stability is the foundation of any good relationship. One day it’s moving the Oreos, and the next day it’ll be the couch, and then where will we be?” He leaned closer to smile into her eyes. “We’ve got a good thing going here, babe. Don’t screw up.”

  Nina’s heart lurched sideways, but she did her best not to smile back. “I’ll get the Oreos. You amuse Charity.”

  She headed for the kitchen, trying not to stomp, and then jumped when Charity spoke from behind her as she reached for the cupboard door.

  “That man was flirting with you,” Charity said, absolutely delighted.

  “That man flirts with tree stumps,” Nina said, absolutely disgusted. “You’ll see. Go on back in there and sit down next to him.”

  “I don’t want to see.” Charity plopped herself down into a chair. “I’m through with men forever. Every time I see one, I want to spit.” She grew thoughtful. “Except for Alex. He seems like a good one.”

  Nina dropped the Oreos on the table. “Then go for it.”

  Charity scowled at her. “You’re not listening. I’m through with men. You’re not. I think you should go after Alex.”

  “Don’t be ridiculous,” Nina said, feeling immensely relieved and immensely annoyed that she was feeling relieved. It didn’t mean anything that Charity wasn’t interested in Alex.

  “I’m not being ridiculous.” Charity picked up an Oreo. “I think you should seduce him.”

  “Seduce who?” Alex said behind her.

  Charity dropped her cookie. “Don’t sneak up on me like that.”

  “Sorry.” Alex crossed to the fridge, shoved the Crock-Pot back, opened the door and took out the milk. “Who is Nina seducing? I may be against this.”

  “I have a new date,” Nina said, mentally kicking herself because now she’d have to dig up somebody to date. Digging up made her think of Charity’s idea about digging up James Dean, and she grinned in spite of herself.

  Alex leaned on the counter next to her and scowled at her. “Stop smiling. You do not have my permission to seduce this guy.”

  Nina raised her eyebrows at him. “I don’t need your permission.”

  “Yeah, you do.” Alex reached behind her and got a mug out of the cupboard. “You’re a mother. You have standards to uphold.”

  Charity frowned at him. “She’s not a mother.”

  “Yes, she is.” Alex nodded at Fred, who was sitting at their feet, giving them his best I-Need-An-Oreo-Desperately look. “Fred’s at that difficult age.”

  Charity looked down at him. “Would that be the Age of Snot?”

  Alex snorted. “Come on, Fred. They’re being irrational, and Frasier reruns are on. Let’s go watch Eddie.” He picked up the Oreos, and Fred surged to his feet and trotted after him into the living room.

  Charity looked at Nina. “That man is nuts about you.”

  Nina sagged against the counter. “Don’t be ridiculous. You can’t be ridiculous because I’m being ridiculous enough for both of us. I’m the one who made up a phantom date.”

  “Why don’t you go out with him?” Charity said, jerking her head toward the living room, exasperated.

  Nina folded her arms. “Well, for one thing he hasn’t asked me.”

  Charity rolled her eyes. “It’s the twenty-first century. You’re allowed to do the asking now.”

  Nina snorted. “Ask out a guy who’s ten years younger than I am? Right. No.”

  Charity looked back over her shoulder toward the living room. “You’re nuts. He’s perfect for you, and you’re going to let ten years—”

  “That’s a lot of years, Char,” Nina said. “And Alex isn’t perfect for me. You know, he’s not exactly mature for his age. His idea of intellectual entertainment is ‘Mystery Science Theater.’ He has no serious thoughts.”

  Charity bit into an Oreo. “Sounds wonderful to me.”

  Nina sighed. “Well, actually, it’s wonderful for me, too, for right now, but what happens if we do end up together and the lust part wears off and I’m stuck with an infant significant other?” Nina bit her lip. “Not that we’d ever end up together. We’re too mismatched. I’m visibly older than he is, and it’s only going to get worse. And there’s my body.” She stopped and swallowed. “Everything’s lower and chunkier than it used to be. You should see the women he dates. They’re young and beautiful and—” she made a face “—taut and perky, the whole Playboy bit. And you want me to flash him a body that has twenty more years on it than the ones he’s used to? There’s a limit to how long I can hold in my stomach.”

  Charity opened her mouth, but Nina overrode her. “And he’s at the age where he’s probably thinking about settling down. I’m at the age where I’m tired of settling down. I don’t want to do the big house bit again. I love this apartment. I love my life.” She thought for a moment of her life, which included her big empty bed, a bed that grew bigger and emptier with every moment she spent with Alex. No. “We’re fine as friends,” she told Charity. “In fact, we’re phenomenal as friends. But for the rest of our lives? When he’s my age, I’ll be fifty. Men still look great at forty, but I’ll be fifty. I’ll look old.”

  Charity frowned at her in disgust. “