Firefly Lane Page 30


"What are you sorry about?"

She wished she had the nerve to answer him, to tell him how she felt, but some things were better left unspoken.

Seated in an uncomfortable chair in an unfamiliar office, Kate stared out the window at a bare, leafless tree and the gray sky behind it. She wondered idly when the last tangerine-colored leaves had fallen away.

"Well, Ms. Mularkey, you have a very impressive résumé for someone your age. May I ask why you're considering a career change to advertising?"

Kate tried to look relaxed. She'd dressed carefully for today in a plain black wool gabardine suit, with a white blouse and a silk paisley tie tamed into a floppy bow at her throat. She hoped it was a look that said professional through and through. "In my years in TV news I've learned a few things about myself and a few things about the world. The news, as you know, is go-go-go. We're always moving at top speed, just getting the facts and then moving on. I often find myself more interested in what comes after the story than the story itself. I'm better, I believe, at long-range thinking and planning. Details, rather than broad strokes. And I'm a good writer. I'd like to learn more about that, but I won't do it in ten-second sound bites."

"You've given this a lot of thought."

"I have."

The woman across the desk leaned back, studying Kate through a pair of trendy, bead-encrusted glasses. She seemed to like what she saw. "Okay, Ms. Mularkey. I'll discuss this with my partners and we'll get back to you. Just so I know, when could you start work?"

"I'd need to give two-weeks notice and then I'd be ready to go."

"Excellent." The woman stood. "Do you need a parking voucher?"

"No, thank you." Kate shook the woman's hand firmly and left the office.

Outside, Pioneer Square huddled beneath a stern charcoal-hued sky. Cars clogged the narrow, old-fashioned streets, but very few pedestrians walked past the brick-faced buildings. Even the homeless people who usually slept on these park benches and bummed smokes and money from passersby were somewhere else on this cold afternoon.

Kate walked briskly along First Avenue, buttoning up her old college coat as she went. She caught the uptown bus and got off at the stop in front of the office at exactly 3:57.

Surprisingly, the main office room was empty. Kate hung up her coat and tossed her purse and briefcase under her desk, then went around the corner to Johnny's office. "I'm back."

He was on the phone, but he motioned for her to come in. "Come on," he was saying in an exasperated voice, "how am I supposed to help you with that?" He was silent for a moment, frowning. Then, "Fine. But you owe me one." He hung up the phone and smiled at Kate, but it wasn't the old smile, the one that had taken her breath away. She hadn't seen that one since the night with Tully.

"You're wearing a suit," he said. "Don't think I haven't noticed. Around here, that means only two things, and since I know you aren't anchoring the news . . ."

"Mogelgaard and Associates."

"The ad agency? What position did you apply for?"

"Account executive."

"You'd be good at that."

"Thanks, but I don't have the job yet."

"You will."

She waited for him to say more, but he just stared at her, as if something troubled him. No doubt she reminded him of the night with Tully. "Well, I better get back to work."

"Wait. I'm working on this story for Mike Hurtt. I could use some help."

"Sure."

For the next few hours, they sat huddled together at his desk, working and reworking the problematic script. Kate tried to keep her distance from him and told herself never to make eye contact. Both resolutions failed. By the time they finished work, night had fallen outside; the quiet outer offices were banked in shadows.

"I owe you dinner," Johnny said, putting his papers away. "It's almost eight."

"You don't owe me anything," she answered. "I was just doing my job."

He looked at her. "How will I get along without you?"

Months ago, when there was still hope, she would have blushed at a moment like this. Maybe even a week ago she would have. "I'll help you hire someone."

"You think replacing you will be easy?"

She had no answer for that. "I'm going now—"

"I owe you dinner. That's all there is to it. Now get your coat. Please."

"Okay."

They went downstairs and got into his car. In minutes, they were pulling up to a beautiful cedar-shaked houseboat on Lake Union.

"Where are we?" Kate asked.

"My house. Don't worry, I'm not going to make you dinner. I just want to change my clothes. You're all dressed up."

Kate steeled herself against the emotion knocking on her heart. She would not let it in. For too long she'd let herself be pulverized by dreams of a happy ending that wasn't to be. She followed him down the dock and into a house that was surprisingly spacious.

Johnny immediately went to the fireplace, where a fire was already set. He bent down, lighting the newspapers and kindling fire roared to life. Then he turned to her. "Would you like a drink?"

"Rum and Coke?"

"Perfect." He went to the kitchen, poured two drinks, and returned. "Here you go. I'll be right back."

She stood there a moment, uncertain of what to do. She glanced around the living room, noticing how few photographs he had. On the television cabinet there was a single picture of a middle-aged couple, dressed in brightly colored clothing, squatting together in a jungle-looking setting with children clustered around them.

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"My parents," Johnny said, coming up behind her. "Myrna and William."

She spun around, feeling as if she'd been caught snooping. "Where do they live?" she said, going to the couch, sitting down. She needed distance between them.

"They were missionaries. They were killed in Uganda by Amin's death squads."

"Where were you?"

"When I was sixteen, they sent me to school in New York. That was the last time I saw them."

"So they were idealists, too."

"What do you mean, 'too'?"

She saw no reason to put it into words, this knowledge she'd gleaned over the years, cobbled together into an image of his life. "It doesn't matter. You were lucky to be raised by people who believed in something."

He stared at her, frowning.

"Is that why you became a war correspondent? To fight in your own way?"

He sighed and shook his head, then walked over to the sofa and sat down beside her. The way he looked at her, as if she were somehow watery or out of focus, made her heartbeat speed up. "How do you do that?"

"What?"

"Know me?"

She smiled, hoping it didn't look as brittle as it felt. "We've worked together a long time."

It was a long moment before he said, "Why are you really quitting, Mularkey?"

She leaned back a little. "Remember when you said it was awful to want something you can't have? I'm never going to be a kick-ass reporter or a first-rate producer. I don't live and breathe the news. I'm tired of not being good enough."

"I said, it was awful to want someone you couldn't have."

"Well . . . it's all the same."

"Is it?" He put his drink on the coffee table.

She shifted her weight to face him, pulled her legs up underneath her. "I know about wanting someone."

He looked skeptical. No doubt he was thinking about the times Tully teased her about never dating. "Who?"

She knew she should lie, gloss over the question, but just now, with him so close, she felt a wave of longing that nearly overwhelmed her. God help her, but that door seemed opened again. Though she knew it wasn't, knew it was an illusion, she walked through it anyway. "You."

He drew back; it was obvious that he'd never imagined this. "You never . . ."

"How could I? I know how you feel about Tully."

She waited for him to say something, but he just looked at her. In the silence, she could make up anything. He hadn't said no, hadn't laughed. Maybe that meant something.

For years, she'd expended effort to keep the faucet of her longing for him turned off, but now that he so close, there was no holding back. This was her last chance. "Kiss me, Johnny. Show me I'm wrong to want you."

"I wouldn't want to hurt you. You're a nice girl, and I'm not looking for—"

"What if not kissing you hurts me?"

"Katie . . ."

For once, she wasn't Mularkey. She leaned closer. "Now who's afraid? Kiss me, Johnny."

Just before her lips touched his, she thought she heard him say, "This is a bad idea," but before she could reassure him, he was kissing her back.

It wasn't the first time Kate had been kissed; it wasn't even the first time she'd been kissed by a man she cared about, and yet, absurdly, she started to cry.

He tried to pull away when he noticed her tears, but she wouldn't let him. One moment they were on the sofa, making out like teenagers; the next thing she knew, she was on the floor in front of the fire, naked.

He knelt beside her, still clothed. Shadows concealed half his body and highlighted the sharp angles and hollows of his face. "Are you sure?"

"That would have been a good question before my clothes came off." Smiling, she angled up and began unbuttoning his shirt.

He made a sound that was part desperation, part surrender, and let her undress him. Then he took her in his arms again.

His kisses were different now, harsher, deeper, more erotic. She felt her body responding in a way it never had before; it was as if she became nothing and everything, just a ragged collection of nerve endings. His touch was her torture, her salvation.

Sensations became everything, all that she was, all that she cared about; pain, pleasure, frustration. Even her breathing wasn't her own. She was gasping, choking, crying out for him to stop, and not to stop, and to make it go on and make it go away.

She felt her body arching up, as if the whole of her were reaching for something, needing it with a desperation that made her ache, but she didn't even know what it was.

And then he was inside her, hurting her. She gasped at the suddenness of the pain but made no sound. Instead, she clung to him, kissing him and moving with him until the pain dissolved and there was none of her left; there was only this, the feelings of them where they came together, the sharp, aching need for something more . . .

I love you, she thought, holding him, rising to meet him. The withheld words filled her head, became a soundtrack to the rhythm of their bodies.

"Katie," he cried out, thrusting deep inside her.

Her body exploded, like some star in space, breaking apart, floating away. Time stopped for a moment, then settled slowly back in place.

"Wow," she said, flopping back onto the warm carpet. For the first time in her life, she got what all the hype was about.

He stretched out beside her, his sweat-dampened body tucked in close to hers. Keeping one arm around her, he stared up at the ceiling. Like hers, his breathing was ragged.

"You were a virgin," he said, sounding frighteningly far away.

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