HIS LEADING LADY
by Maggie Dallen
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Pub Date: 7/11/2017
Nothing less than a Hollywood romance would do . . .
Alice is calm, cool, and aloof—except for the night she meets her new neighbor Dr. Nicholas Bale—aka Hot Doc. The chemistry between them might be through the roof but that doesn’t mean she’s going to let him into her life. Having been seen at her most vulnerable, she vows to have nothing to do with the sexy doctor. After all, Alice learned long ago that love only leads to hurt.
Nicholas is smitten at first sight with the gorgeous, mysterious redhead upstairs. But between her attempts to push him away and the even bigger wall around her heart, the dashing doctor is having a hard time getting close to the sensitive beauty. Then he glimpses the emotion in her eyes as she watches Fred and Ginger whirl across the screen and he’s determined to uncover just what it will take to dance his way in to her heart . . .
Alice was once again faced with the daily showdown—between two pairs of shoes. She sank back in her office chair and contemplated the contents of her bottom drawer. One high-heeled and strappy—perfect for a night out on the town—the other her cozy, well-worn flats, which practically begged her to slip them on and walk home.
Her big meeting with the boss was over, everyone else in the midtown public relations office of Jamison & Co. had left for the day, and she should be out celebrating. But those flats looked so much more appealing.
Her phone chimed with a new text. Ugh, Bradley.
“Hey, babe, we on for tonight?”
No, Bradley. Just no. No for so many reasons. “Babe”? Really? Who does he think he was, an action star from the eighties? But mainly because she and Bradley went on date number three two nights ago and, while he may not know it yet, he’d maxed out. She had a strict three-date policy, and she certainly wasn’t going to be bending any rules for Bradley “Hey, babe” Newton.
She picked up the phone and texted back. “Sorry, made other plans.”
And like that it was decided. The comfy shoes won. Shoving the sexy heels back into their drawer, she slipped on the flats and headed home.
The walk from her office to her Upper West Side apartment was more than a mile, but it gave her a chance to decompress after a long, albeit successful, day. She stopped off at the corner store to pick up a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream before heading to her high-rise apartment building on Riverside. The doorman, Carl, gave her a nod of greeting.
The doorman and the view—that was what had sold her on her current studio apartment. Luxury studio, her realtor had liked to stress. And it was luxurious, but only because of the doorman and the epic, sweeping view of the Hudson and the Jersey skyline. Other than that it was just your basic studio.
She took the elevator up to her floor, let herself in to her luxury studio, and swapped out her form-fitting skirt suit for some oversized flannel pajamas and a pair of fuzzy slippers. After throwing her long red hair up into a haphazard topknot, she grabbed the ice cream off the counter, and took the stairs down three flights.
Ena answered on the second knock, her white frizzy hair a halo around her wrinkled, smiling face. “Alice!” she cried, as if Alice’s presence on her doorstep was a great surprise and not a frequent event.
Alice thrust the ice cream at her old neighbor. “I come bearing gifts.”
Ena chuckled as she took the ice cream and held the door open for Alice to enter. “What’s the special occasion?” Her eyes widened with excitement. “Did you get the promotion?”
“No.” She walked into the woman’s one-bedroom apartment, which miraculously always seemed to smell like something was baking. “Not yet,” she added quickly. It was just a matter of time. Alice did not take no for an answer, not when she really wanted something. And this promotion—she deserved it. None of the other junior associates worked as hard as she did. The senior associate job was hers. She just needed her boss to make it official.
Alice headed straight toward Ena’s DVD collection, which lined a bookshelf that covered most of one wall in her friend’s living room.
“So what’s this big news?” Ena called out from the kitchen.
Alice studied the lineup of old movies, skimming over the westerns and the film noirs. Tonight was a celebration, which called for—aha! She reached out and snatched Swing Time from where it was wedged between Easter Parade and The Maltese Falcon.
Ena came out of the kitchen, two bowls of ice cream in hand and handed one to Alice. “The news?” she prompted as they both took their usual seats on their respective love seats.
Alice grinned at her friend. “I got my boss to agree to my pro bono plan.” Ena tipped her head down and looked up at her with raised brows. “Oh, okay, our pro bono plan.”
Her friend smiled at that and leaned back against the couch, digging in to her ice cream. “So the big boss will let you take on The Ellen for free, huh? What kind of PR campaign do you have in mind?”
The Ellen was the old movie theater downtown that had fallen into disrepair. Alice, her sister, Meg, and her husband, Jake, along with some other friends, were part of the volunteer crew who went to the theater every other Saturday morning to do whatever fix-up work they could. Since none of them were in the construction field, that typically meant cleaning, painting, and other non-substantial handyman work that needed to be done.
Alice leaned forward, her ice cream temporarily forgotten in her excitement. “A costume party,” she said. “With my company’s sponsorship, I want to throw a party at the theater and everyone will come dressed as their favorite classic movie star or character.”
She waited expectantly; her body was still on edge with excitement. There was nothing she loved more than starting up a new PR campaign for a new client—and to have that client be as near and dear to her heart as The Ellen? It was too good to be true.
Ena’s answering excitement didn’t disappoint. The old woman’s face lit up with a smile. “Sounds perfect!” Her eyes narrowed a bit with suspicion. “It also sounds like the perfect way to earn brownie points with your Mr. Dixon.” Alice laughed. “You caught me.” So maybe it wasn’t quite as selfless as she’d made it sound. She did want to help The Ellen—of course she did— but it didn’t hurt that her immediate boss, the one responsible for handing out the promotions, had mentioned more than once how beneficial some good pro bono projects would be for the company’s image. Most of the junior associates loathed pro bono work—Alice included—since a good portion of their salary came from commissions and bonuses, which were a guaranteed zero if you took on a free project. But, Alice had been raking in the money these past few years, what she needed now was a promotion. Once she got that, more money would come her way. The problem with her junior colleagues is that they couldn’t see the long-term picture—they
didn’t have an end goal in mind.
But not Alice. She smirked at her friend. “Is there anything wrong with having my cake and eating it, too?”
Ena laughed and shook her head. “Not at all, dear. So, when are you going to tell the others?” Her voice held more than a hint of mockery as she added, “Team Operation Petticoat.”
Operation Petticoat was the name their little group of volunteers had given themselves, based on the old movie in which a motley crew salvages an old, badly damaged submarine. Ena thought the name was hopelessly cheesy. Alice had tried to explain that it had been Caitlyn’s idea—one of her friends in the crew, Caitlyn was beyond obsessed with Cary Grant, so of course she’d come up with a name that was also the title of one of his movies. While Ena could respect the Cary Grant adoration, she had a thing against Tony Curtis, the co-star of that particular Cary Grant comedy. “Our next meet up is this Saturday morning,” Alice said, ignoring the jibe at the name. “I figure I can wait a day to tell them so I can see their
reactions in person.”
Although, shifting in her seat with excitement, Alice started to reconsider that plan. They would all be so excited, particularly Tamara, her friend who ran the old theater. Since the owner didn’t seem to care what happened to the place, it fell on Tamara’s slim shoulders to try to get the theater on the city’s list of historical landmarks. So far she’d had no success—but an elegant gala for some of Manhattan’s wealthiest and most influential was sure to help. If nothing else, the publicity would make it harder for the owner to sell the property and have it turned into condos or a mall or a something, which seemed to be his most recent plan.
“Maybe I should call Tamara,” she said.
Ena stood from the couch. “I’ll make us some tea while you talk to your friend. And then…” She leaned over and picked up the movie where Alice had set it on the coffee table. “I see it’s a Fred and Ginger night, eh?”
Alice shrugged. “I was in the mood.”
Ena gave a little snort of laughter. She knew very well that Fred and Ginger’s flicks were Alice’s go-to feel-good movies. She was pretty much always in the mood for them. Every once in a while they shook things up with a screwball comedy or a classic drama, but more often than not, when Alice showed up at Ena’s door, she was either there for some comfort, which called for a feel-good movie, or to celebrate—which also called for a feel-good movie.
“Surprise, surprise,” Ena said. She straightened up and one hand flew to her chest, her already pale face blanching.
Alice leaned forward. “Ena? Are you all right?”
The tension eased out of her friend’s body, and she gave Alice a smile as she waved off her concern. “It’s nothing. Just indigestion.”
Ena headed to the kitchen to make tea, and Alice searched around her for her phone so she could give Tamara the good news. She frowned at the empty space on the couch beside her and the coffee table, which was covered in knickknacks but no phone. Muttering a curse, she realized she’d left it on the kitchen counter of her own apartment. Apparently in her rush to get down to her friend’s apartment, she’d forsaken her phone but remembered the always-crucial ice cream. After all, movie night wouldn’t be movie night without that.
She called out to Ena, who was still in the kitchen. “Mind if I borrow your phone for a quick call?”
“Go ahead, dear.”
Alice reached for the cell phone that she’d bought her friend as a Hanukkah present two years before. Ena had held onto the notion that a landline was good enough for her, but Alice had insisted that someone of
her age—which was well into her eighties, although Ena refused to say her exact age—should have a phone handy at all times just in case, so she’d bought her one, and Ena had finally gotten rid of her landline.
She found the prepaid phone on an end table and scowled at the device when it refused to turn on. “Ena, when’s the last time you charged this thing?”
Ena didn’t answer, though Alice was well aware her friend could hear her. She may be elderly, but there was nothing wrong with her hearing.
Rolling her eyes, she abandoned the dead phone to search for the charger. “What’s the use of having an emergency phone if it doesn’t work?”
Ena came out of the kitchen carrying two empty mugs and a sugar bowl. Setting them down on the coffee table she ignored the phone comment and placed her hands on her hips. “Tell me, Alice, what are you doing here celebrating with me when you should be out with that nice young man. What was his name…Bradley?”
Alice stilled, one hand buried in the drawer that held all kinds of random items, not one of which appeared to be a charger. She smiled up at her friend with as much sweetness and innocence as she could muster. Sweet and innocent were not exactly her forte, so she wasn’t surprised when Ena let out a snort of disbelief.
“What?” Alice said. “I’d rather spend time with one of my dearest friends. Is that so wrong?”
“Ha!” Ena’s laugh held no humor. “Poor Bradley hit date three, didn’t he?” Alice dropped the sweet smile and gave a shrug. “You know the rule.” Ena rolled her eyes. “Your rules are stupid.”
Holding back a sigh, Alice pretended to be absorbed in searching Ena’s end table drawer for the charger. The last thing she wanted was to hear this lecture again. But ignoring her friend did nothing to stop her. “You’re too young to be so cynical.”
Alice did sigh then. This was how every lecture started. She was too young to be cynical. But honestly, Alice had been cynical since the age of eleven when her father took off. Her cynicism had only grown since then, growing more ingrained with every one of her mother’s disastrous relationships.
“You should be out there dating, falling in love…” Ena was saying.
Alice tuned her out. She’d gotten good at doing that. The lecture would end soon enough, once Ena ran out of steam.
Hopping up off the couch, she temporarily gave up on finding the charger. She took a couple steps toward the kitchen. “Need a hand in there?” she asked. “Here, let me get that teakettle for you, the water should be done by now.”
Ena hustled toward the kitchen to cut her off, as Alice had known she would. She may be predictable with her love of old musicals, but Ena was even more so. She was territorial to the extreme about her kitchen. No one was allowed in there but her.
“Oh no you don’t,” she said, cutting Alice off at the doorway. Making a shooing motion, she waved Alice back.
She was heading back to the living room to continue her hunt for a charger when she heard a loud clattering sound from the kitchen. Spinning on her heel she raced into the forbidden room.
Her blood froze in her veins at the sight of Ena on the floor clutching her chest. She raced over to her side and saw the older woman’s face screwed up in pain.
9-1-1. Have to call 9-1-1. Panic had Alice’s hands shaking as she looked around the room for help. There was the old landline phone, which no longer worked. Her phone was upstairs, and Ena’s phone was dead.
Shit. This could not be happening.
Squeezing Ena’s hand, she said, “I’ll be right back with help.”
She raced out of the apartment and to the staircase so she could run to her apartment and call for an ambulance. But then, as if on cue, the elevator doors pinged open in front of her. Elevator. Yes, quicker. She darted for it and collided face-first into the man who was exiting the elevator.
Strong arms caught her but the full force of the contact had her winded.
Still, she managed to get out, “Doctor. I need a doctor.”
Maggie Dallen is a huge fan of happily-ever-afters. She writes contemporary and YA romance and has been known to rewrite the endings to classic love stories to ensure that they end on a happy note. In Maggie's version, Ingrid Bergman does not get on the plane. She lives in Northern California and works at a yarn store to support her knitting addiction.