Home > Work in Progress (Red Lipstick Coalition #3)(13)

Work in Progress (Red Lipstick Coalition #3)(13)
Author: Staci Hart

I heard a mewl from the living room and rolled my eyes.

“I doubt I’ll find anyone, Amelia. I’m not warm or friendly. I’m too honest. I don’t have feelings and don’t understand them. I don’t even have a cat to keep me company when you find someone and move on.”

I snorted. “Please. That would mean I actually spoke to a man. There’s a higher likelihood of you developing a desire to hug someone.”

She shrugged one shoulder. “You talked to Thomas Bane today, didn’t you?”

My cheeks warmed. “That doesn’t count. He’s not interested in me. Although…”

Katherine waited, one brow climbing slowly. When I kept zesting rather than speak, she prompted, “Although what?”

“Well…I think maybe…” I made a noise. “It’s too stupid. I’m sure I imagined it.”

“Imagined what?”

My nose wrinkled. “He sort of…well, I thought for a second maybe…maybe he was going to kiss me.”

At that, her face opened in shock, which was an impressive animation for her. “Thomas Bane. Thomas Bane almost kissed you?”

“I know. I know! It’s ridiculous. I had to have imagined it. I’m not even sure what those signals are.”

“They’re actually quite natural. A firing of nerves and a surge of brain chemicals. Did you know there are nerves in the tip of your nose that can detect another person’s nose so you can kiss in the dark? They literally reach for each other like magnets, positive to negative. Kissing is…it’s like a litmus test for a relationship. You can tell if the chemistry is right. And if it’s not, it’s your body’s way of warning you. Sometimes, it’s that simple—an instinct based on pheromones and micro-expressions to indicate compatibility. Your body knows things your mind doesn’t, and chemistry is the first test. Arguably, the most important one.”

It was my turn to frown. “It couldn’t be possible for Thomas Bane to be attracted to me.”

“And why not? You’re loving, generous, beautiful. You’re small, which triggers a protection instinct that dates back to the dawn of man. You are the kindest, purest of us all. If he wasn’t attracted to you, I’d say he was a heartless asshole and that you should run.”

My face softened. “Katherine, you really think that?”

Another careless shrug. “It’s science. Maybe I’m biased because I love you, but that’s the truth.” Before I could comment, she continued. “So he almost kissed you? Did you faint?”

A laugh popped out of me. “I might have if he’d actually done it, but we were interrupted by his dog.”

Her brow quirked. “Is that really the end of the story?”

Another laugh. “He knocked us down. I ended up sprawled on top of Thomas Bane on the couch.”

“That sounds even more interesting than the almost-kiss.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so embarrassed. Like, where do you put your hands?”

“Oh, I could think of a place or two.”

“I think I might have inadvertently brushed a few of those places. Anyway, I’m sure he almost-kisses every girl who crosses his path. And I’m even surer I’m at the bottom of his list. He dates girls like Aurora Park and Olivia Nash and Marley Monroe. Tall, beautiful, leggy, famous women who are charming and lovely and can speak to strangers. Not girls who show up in a blouse with cats on it.”

“What would you have done if he’d kissed you?”

“After I went into cardiac arrest?”

“Yes, after that.”

“Well, assuming I didn’t come back as a ghost…” I paused. “I actually don’t know.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Did you want him to kiss you?”

I opened my mouth to answer with a resounding yes. But I closed it again, my brows drawing together as I considered it.

“No, I don’t think I did,” I finally answered.

Those narrowed eyes tightened even more in either assessment or confusion. Both maybe. “Why?” she asked simply.

I frowned. “Well, because. I don’t want my first kiss to be with a random guy on a random couch.”

“Nothing about him is random. He’s Thomas Bane.”

“That almost makes it worse. I bet he passes out kisses like religious tracts.”

Katherine snickered.

“I mean, don’t get me wrong. I don’t need a parade or anything. But I’d at least like it to be with someone I was in a…thing with.”

“A relationship thing?”

I shrugged. “Dating at least. Or even just a date. I mean, is it too much to ask for dinner first? It doesn’t feel like too much to ask.”

“No, that’s not too much to ask,” she conceded.

“Plus, we work together. I don’t know how to just run around kissing people without rules or boundaries. I like him, but I don’t want to like him like that. I don’t want him to think of me like that. It’s just too much pressure,” I said with the shake of my head. “Best to keep things professional.”

“I’m just saying, I don’t think you should rule it out. I bet he’s a good kisser. And it’s a scientific fact that men who smirk excel at cunnilingus.”

“That is not a scientific fact.”

She shrugged. “It should be. I read it in a romance novel, and it’s maybe one of the truest things ever written.”

“In all your worldly experience?” I teased, brow arched.

She mirrored me. “I’ve collected more data than you.”

“Most eighth graders have collected more data than me.”

A laugh shot past her lips.

“Anyway, I’m sure I imagined it. I’m nothing to him, just a means to an end. I’ve got his manuscripts, and we’re meeting tomorrow to go over them.”

“And when he kisses you—”

“He’s not going to kiss me, Katherine! Ugh, don’t even put that into the universe.” I set down the lemon and zester to give her a look. “It’s hard enough to do this—talk to him, put myself out there—without being worried he’s going to kiss me and confuse things even more. I have a job to do, and that’s all I’m planning on doing. Not only will my therapist approve, but my résumé will be so shiny and pretty with Thomas Bane’s name on it.”

“Your lips would shine with his name on them, too.”

I rolled my eyes. “You are the worst, you know that?”

She smiled, a thin curl of her lips. “I know. But I’m usually right.”

“Are not,” I lied, telling myself like a fool that it was the truth.

Dumpster Fire


“So, what did you think?” I asked the next morning, trying not to sound too eager.

Amelia didn’t answer right away. I watched her unpack her bag, eyeing the stack of manuscripts now tagged with screaming neon-colored sticky tabs. I imagined that they annotated every failure.

I swallowed my bile.

“Well,” she finally started, setting her notebook and pen on top of the stack, “I can see why you haven’t been able to finish any of them.”

“Mmm,” I hummed noncommittally, wanting her to tell me the truth before I decided to light the whole stack on fire.

She took a steadying breath and picked up said stack of trash. “Your writing is impeccable—that’s a given—but none of them quite make sense. If it’s not the stories—which, for the most part aren’t fully formed—it’s the characters. They’re missing something…the…oomph. The spark. The thing that makes them real.”

I nodded. Once again, she was right.

“But each of them has a distinctive quality. I could feel what you latched on to. Like in this one,” she said, sliding one out for inspection, “it was your heroine. She’s the most real thing in the entire piece. Or this one.” She pulled out my mpreg werewolf story. “It was the dynamics of the pack. I could feel your inspiration, but you never quite grabbed it. To be honest, I think this one is your strongest story. But…well, I don’t think you can turn in a commercial novel about male pregnancy in werewolves, can you?”

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