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Muse by Katy Evans (1)

 

Becka

 

New York can be a cruel, cruel city.

To me, anyway.

I came here to cheer up my best friend, Bryn, who was going through a bad breakup.

But now she’s back with her man. Mission accomplished. Yes!

I also wanted to research and finish my romance novel.

I just didn’t.

Why? Because I suck. I didn’t really do much of anything. Except if you count wondering why my muse wouldn’t cooperate.

I did that a lot.

Now I’m heading back home, hoping that my bitch muse will come back and get playing.

Keep talking to me like that and I’m leaving for good, I can almost hear Bitch Muse say.

Sighing as I get my last good glimpse of the city I barely tasted, I spot my Uber pulling over and haul my suitcase to the curb.

The driver steps out to grab my luggage and puts it inside the trunk.

I climb in the back, and we’re on our way to JFK. I drink in as much as I can of the busy streets that chewed me up and spit me out as we head out of the city. Manhattan. The Big Apple. New Fucking York.

I’d really wanted to explore. See the sights. Get some inspiration. I’m in the middle of my book—aka Best Love Story Ever—and I got stuck when the characters fought. It’s the big black moment, and I made it happen. I know, I’m so proud. I’m God in my own little world, which I love.

But now I have no idea how to fix it, to draw them out of the big black pit of despair. Ben, my hero, is acting like an asshole. Leia, my heroine, is a pain in my ass. I was sure that going out and absorbing a city like New York would cure me of anything, especially writer’s block.

But Bryn was too busy with the launch of her House of Sass enterprise. Her roommate Sara has been banging some rich mogul dude and hardly came home. I was certain that a big girl like me, independent and with her pants strapped on correctly, would have no trouble going out on her own exploring Manhattan.

Well, I did. I rented myself a hotel room for two weeks and went out and explored.

And got lost when I went to Chelsea, to the Meatpacking District.

I got yelled at by cab drivers, passersby, and even some stupid barista at a café when I couldn’t decide what I wanted to eat in a second flat.

Turns out, things move really fast in this city. I felt humiliated, confused, and in the end, wondered if I was the same girl that thought she had her pants on straight when she left Austin.

This city? It doesn’t seem to think I’ve got on anything straight, from my pants to my brain.

Truth is, I’m not sure I like New York. It just wasn’t what I expected, it didn’t give me what I needed…and I’m pretty sure New York doesn’t like me back.

Checking my phone for messages (I’ve got nil), I suppose it’ll be a good thing to go back home. Maybe being away from the grind will make me appreciate it more.

I miss my cat Tibby, and I also miss the quiet. It’s noisy here, so noisy it’s hard to hear yourself think. It’s also colder than I like it, definitely colder than in Austin. I miss my usual Starbucks café where the barista greets me with a smile and always knows what I want and has it ready by the time I walk in and head to my writing corner. Except my writing corner has been uninspiring lately—and my well, yes, my BITCH muse hasn’t shown up since I somehow fabricated this whole dramatic black moment between stupid Ben and stupid Leia. Ugh.

On my way home, I text my sister Lily.

 

Lily: How’s the book? All wrapped up?

Me: HA! More like about to be dumped into the smelliest, closest New York dumpster.

Lily: Haha. You can do it. You were so excited about this trip

Me: Was is the keyword. The city is crazy and I seem to be more incompetent than I’d like to let myself believe. Could hardly go out on my own without getting trampled or nearly run over. It’s a jungle I tell you

Lily: Aww. Well you’ll be home soon. The place you so anxiously wanted to ESCAPE! The one you called your jail!

Me: Whatever. I was being dramatic. That’s what writers do when they can’t figure out their books. They create drama in their own lives from out of nothing. What about you?

Lily: Taking the bar tomorrow. Bleh. Oh! Saw Trevor on Dirty 6th this weekend

 

Ugh. I did not want to hear the T-word.

I think of asking Lily what he looked like. Who he was with. Whether he asked about me.

But I already know the answers. A) hot, B) a bunch of his college frat brothers, C) no.

Sigh. He was the boy who made me want to spew poetry and made writing the first half of my novel a breeze. We dated for three weeks, and I’d never been so inspired.

Then he cheated on me. Stupid Trevor.

It’s been four months. I should’ve gotten my mojo back by now. Or at least gotten back into the dating scene. Nope.

So, I just finish with: Good luck, not that you’ll need it. You’ll slay it

My little sister doesn’t need the luck. She’s brilliant, top of her class at UT Law. She’s the one who all my family used to look at and say, “That girl. She’s gonna make something of herself!”

And then there’s me. The other one.

I head to the gate and take a seat, pulling my laptop from my carry-on and rereading the last paragraph I’d written. Chapter nineteen, which I’ve been stuck on for…oh, four months.

Then I delete, delete, delete.

Stupid. Pathetic. A bunch of monkeys left in a room with my laptop probably could’ve done better.

I have a feeling people are laughing at me. I glance around, then peer at the screen near the gate. St. Louis, departing at eight p.m.

What? What happened to Dallas Fort Worth, the first leg of my connecting flight to Austin?

I set my laptop on the chair beside me and head to the counter. “Ma’am…”

“One moment.” She halts me, typing in something at her keyboard.

I breathe and count to ten.

She looks up. “Yes?”

“The screen’s wrong. Isn’t this the flight to Dallas?”

“Flight to Dallas?” She looks at me as if I’ve sprouted horns. “Oh no. The gate was changed.”

Shit. “Changed where?”

She types some stuff and gives me the new gate.

“And where’s that?” I ask, near hyperventilating.

“It’s boarding now, so you’re going to have to do a whole lot of running. You have to get to Concourse C. This is Concourse B.”

I’m only half-listening as she spits out directions. I don’t know how I do it, but within two seconds I’ve run back to my place, grabbed all my stuff and run a sprint that would’ve won me a medal somewhere.

I slide into the gate like a baserunner and see my plane still outside. I exhale in relief, but then I notice the doors are shut.

Like a dumbass, I try to pry open the door, even though there isn’t a handle.

“Miss…you can’t go in there. You’re too late.”

“No, I’m—”

The woman at the podium points outside. The plane is already easing back.

“Oh no, no!” I groan. “Nobody told me the gate changed!”

The lady behind the podium looks at me like, Did you read the screen, dummy? “We changed it an hour ago. We made an announcement.”

I stomp around and circle angrily, shaking my head because I’m going to have to wait here for who knows how many hours, plus am I going to have to pay for another ticket? I’m not that rich right now considering I’ve got a useless Best Love Story Ever sitting in my laptop. I pace back and forth, thinking of my empty checking account.

“Please tell them to stooooop,” I beg.

“We can’t. I’m sorry.”

I’m turning around, glancing down at my carry-on items as a voice yells, “Hold the plane!”

A guy is charging toward the doors. I don’t realize I’m in the guy’s way until we’re stumbling in the aisle together, like a Twister game gone wrong.

“Sorry,” he apologizes, his hand snaking out to grab me. I shiver and don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad, and my skin feels weirdly branded where he touched me as he steps toward the podium.

“Hey! Hold the plane?” he grits it out as a question, like, Didn’t you hear me the first time?

“Sorry—” She points at the moving aircraft as it taxies out of the gate.

“Fuck. It.” The guy steps back, as agitated as I was a second ago, and plunges a hand into his rumpled, sandy hair. He shakes his head side to side, his jaw working mercilessly. “Fuck. Me.”

Fuck. Everything? My sentiments exactly.

He drops his bag and kicks it, then throws a beaten leather jacket down atop it. Dragging a hand down his jaw, he bee-lines to the window and watches. He fists his hair in one hand, his knuckles white, shaking his head again as he comes back, grabs his carry-on and jacket, and drops them on one of the empty chairs.

He collapses in the chair next to it, crosses his arms, and sighs.

I feel a little sorry for him. I’m tempted to go and tell him I know just how he feels, but he seems more pissed off than normal, and I decide I’m irritated on my own without having to deal with someone else’s anger.

I take a page from his book though. I sit, my back to him, as I text my sister. I missed my flight!

The guy makes a phone call.

“Hey… I know you won’t like this but…tomorrow morning’s not looking good. Yeah. I missed my flight out of JFK.”

He sounds deeply peeved. I wonder who he’s talking to. If it’s a girlfriend, he sounds like he hates her.

Trying not to eavesdrop, I peer into my bag, and—didn’t I put my laptop there? I panic as I shuffle all my belongings inside.

It’s not there.

My laptop

Is

Not

There.

I spring to my feet and head to where I was standing only moments ago, retracing my steps in growing apprehension. It’s not anywhere. Where the fuck is my laptop?

I start hyperventilating—and this isn’t good. I have anxiety—which has been known to be crippling from time to time. I suppose it’s because I rarely go out of the house. Writer, solitary business, yada yada yada. So when I do go out, and anything does not go to plan, my lungs begin failing, my heart palpitating, my palms sweating.

Like…now.

I feel the familiar choking sensation of my windpipe closing, and my eyes begin to sting in frustration. God. No, not here, not now, please!

The guy hangs up and spots me. Everyone spots me, because I’m breathing like an animal in labor, about five seconds away from falling to the ground into fetal position, like a poked pill bug.

His lips move in slow motion. I can’t hear anything because my heartbeat is a drum in my ears. But I think it’s, “What’s up your butt?”

“I…” I fight for words. “I lost my laptop. Did you see it?”

I glance at his bags, desperate for any sign of my laptop.

My laptop is my life.

My work, my stories, my life.

I close my eyes, and it helps. I calm down. My heartbeat slows.

“I didn’t steal your laptop.”

I open my eyes and scowl at him.

“I’m not accusing you!” I cry, exasperated. “I’m just asking—” I clutch my stomach. Oh god, I may have written the story in weeks, when I was with Trevor, but I spent four months tweaking it—and now it’s all gone. I’ve never been good about backing my stuff up. And in that laptop are all the starts of other books, my whole life. Poof. Gone.

Dormant Bitch Muse has left the building.

He has his arms crossed, and is stroking his chin, like he’s trying to understand me, but I’m speaking gibberish. “Well, what are you trying to say?”

“You don’t understand.” I tap on the podium frantically until the busy attendant looks up. “Please, can you ask if I left a laptop over at Gate 2? It’ll take me ages to get there and I want to be sure no one steals it by the time I—”

“You think whoever found it will return it to you?”

I pause at the sardonic laughter in the voice behind me. I whirl around and glare. “I…yes.”

“Whoa. You’re not from around here, are you?”

I scan him from head to toe. Despite being intent on crushing my hopes, the guy is pretty darn gorgeous. A little disheveled looking. His hair standing this way and that. His gray t-shirt hugging muscles that would make any woman’s knees weak.

But gorgeous does not equal all-knowing. There are plenty of good Samaritans in the world. And I shall prove it, right now.

“No. I’m not from here. Thus the airport,” I snap, pulling my eyes away from his gorgeous muscles. I focus on the attendant. “Please.”

She holds up a finger and picks up a phone. She converses briefly with someone on the other end, then hangs up. “I’m sorry. No laptop at Gate 2.”

It takes all my restraint to keep from lunging over the podium and grabbing her lapels. “Please. Can you make an announcement or something? I’ll offer a reward. I need that laptop back!”

Suddenly, the palpitations become a squeezing in my chest. I gasp as my breath becomes shallow and fast. My windpipe constricts on me. My vision bends.

Oh, no.

The floor under my feet waves, bringing me to my knees, and my hands scrabble around, grasping at a whole lot of nothing. Nausea rolls over me, and when I raise my head lights blink back at me, blurrier as the darkness starts coming.

That’s it. I’m dying. I’m dying, and now Leia and Ben will never have their happy ending. I guess it serves them right for being assholes, but still. I gasp “help” when I feel a woman’s hand on my shoulders and smell her rosy perfume.

“Are you all right? This girl needs help!”

“She’s with me,” a familiar voice says. Someone hands me a paper bag, and the voice says, “Breathe.”

I start breathing into the bag, and my throat begins to open up again. My pulse rate slows.

I try to stand, my mind ragged as I hold onto the first thing I can grab. It’s a solid, hard arm and once I’m assured that I’m standing on my own, I let go but sway. The hand comes back. I gasp again because even in my state, the touch causes my body to immediately contract.

I glance up at the guy—that same guy who missed his flight, whose lips are now curling in a devilish grin.

“You all right?”

How can some stranger make it all better, make me feel as if I’m safe?

I try to step back, but he tightens his hold as I nod nervously.

“You sure?”

I continue nodding faster, his eyes trekking my face in assessment as he drags his hand over my back, as if making sure I’m okay. I’m definitely okay, but affected, affected by this guy in ways that confound me.

“You can let go now.”

He raises one eyebrow at me. “Your body doesn’t want me to.” He glances pointedly at my fingers, digging into his bicep.

“I…ah…” I try to pry them free, and when I hear a slow chuckle, I jerk my face back.

“What’s so funny?”

I tilt my chin up as the guy studies me. He’s ridiculously close, and I can smell him. He smells yummy and exciting, comforting and like danger all at once.

“You can’t help it, can you?” he asks, running a hand down my arm, watching as my flesh pebbles.

I snatch back my arm. “You’re a dick.”

“A dick who just saved you from kissing airport tile.” When I just gape at him, he says, “You’re welcome.”

Total dick, with a cherry on top.

I blink and look around. Still no laptop.

I was hoping that was just a bad nightmare.

The guy’s still looking at me, a grin of amusement on his face. Dick with cherry and whipped cream.

Oh god, I don’t need the mental image that’s creating in my head. Like the guy isn’t lickable enough without it. “And by the way, I’m not with you.”

He shrugs. “Okay, fine.”

I make a move toward the podium, and he does at the exact same time. We end up tangling together again, my shoulder bumping against his broad chest. He holds his hands up, palms out, and lets me go first.

How the fuck is it that in one of the world’s biggest airports, we keep butting heads?

I mean, he has a very nice head, but still…

Podium lady is getting pretty miffed at me by now. I can tell by the look on her face. “I know, I know. No laptop. But…when’s the next flight to Austin?”

She types in some stuff and shakes her head. “Direct? Not until tomorrow evening.”

Tomorrow evening? FML. “But—”

“And it’s a full flight, so you’d be on standby. Storms down south cancelled a lot of flights. You could take a connecting flight with a layover in Raleigh Durham or Dallas tomorrow morning. They’ll get you to Austin a little earlier.”

I groan and hand her my ID. “Fine. Just…put me on the connecting flight through Dallas.”

“There’s a two-hundred dollar fee for that.”

Of course there is. I hand her my suffering, overused credit card.

I get my new ticket and step aside. I check my phone for the time.

Only…sixteen hours to kill. Fantastic.

At first, I think this could be good. Maybe I can just sit somewhere quiet and force myself to write.

But then it hits me.

My laptop is still missing.

Damn damn damn. I open a text to Lily who still hasn’t responded to my last rant: And my laptop is gone. I may die here at JFK.

I watch hot annoying guy leaning over the podium, as he talks to the woman. He strikes me as familiar, but I can’t think of from where.

When he finishes, two cool, ashy-gray eyes focus on me.

I look back at my phone, ignoring him.

“Hey,” he says. “We’re on the same flight. Let’s not fuck this one up, shall we?”

I harrumph at him. “I plan not to.”

“Want to get out and see the city?”

I frown at him. “That’s presumptuous of you to think I’d go anywhere with you just because…”

“Because you react to my touch in a way that excites the bloody daylights out of me?” he asks, not smiling, his gaze intent. “I actually think we should go straight to bed and explore that a little more, don’t you?”

I struggle to gain my composure. But this guy exudes cockiness, a devil’s attitude, and a shit ton of confidence.

“I’m not going anywhere with you.”

He laughs at me like that’s the more absurd option than sharing a bed with him, a stranger. “You’re staying here all night? Doing what?”

I have plenty to do. One, find my laptop. Two, FIND MY LAPTOP. Three, make damned sure I’m the first one at the gate tomorrow. The right gate. I can’t afford to have another panic attack.

But the last thing I need to do is explain myself to Cocky McCockerson. “Things.”

He looks at me with that lopsided smile that simultaneously makes my heart skip and annoys me. “Mysterious. I like that. Like what?”

“All I know is they don’t include sleeping with you.”

I exhale, trembling, still, after my panic attack—or maybe the way this guy unsettles me.

“So…which is it? Do you really love JFK, or do you really hate Manhattan?”

“Neither, I just—”

“Because sleeping on these chairs doesn’t sound fun. A hotel room—”

“I don’t need a room. I have friends in New York,” I huff, looking around for a comfortable, out of the way place to collapse and spend the next sixteen hours.

“Good for you. But one thing your friends don’t have? Me.”

Wait. Before, I’d thought he was just joking, being a cocky asshole. Is he seriously insinuating that I’d get a room with him? Really?

His eyes twinkle, and yep. That’s exactly what he’s saying.

It probably works for him, too. I notice he keeps getting glances from all the women around him. He slides on a baseball cap, and I can only see his lips. What pretty pink lips, for a man.

God I want that mouth on me.

What are you thinking, Becka? Did the panic attack get into your head?

“Let’s get one thing straight,” I say to him. “You can go wherever you like. But I’m staying here. I’m not leaving without my laptop. And I’m definitely not sharing a room—or a bed, or anything—with you.”

A bold gaze traps me. “What’s got you so peeved?”

“My laptop. I’m a writer. My whole life is inside there.”

“It can’t be. If it were, you wouldn’t be sitting here, all gorgeous and riled up next to me. You look perfectly fine to me.”

I shoot him a dark look. “Do those lines actually work for you?”

“Come now. Or when we get to the hotel.” He grins. “You can relax, whatever you lost can be regained.”

“No, it can’t. It’s all on my hard drive.”

“Then you’ll replace it with something better.”

His hard cock, I’m sure. He certainly thinks a lot about himself.

With good reason.

I clench my teeth. I hate myself for having those thoughts about him because he can clearly read my mind, just as easy as he can read the way I’m blushing from head to toe, or the way his touch flips my switch to ON.

“Like, hello? NEVER.”

He shrugs, confident, and says, “You want it as much as I do,” as he stretches his hands over his head, baring a sliver of cut, tan stomach.

Holy lord.

This buffet of eye candy simply can’t be real.

In my books, Leia always has a comeback ready. But it takes me a moment to recover. More than a moment. I practically have to pick my tongue up off the floor.

“You delude yourself. You’re probably so used to women throwing themselves at you that you’ve never seen one who doesn’t.”

“And yet I remember pulling you up to your feet just now…and never having watched anyone respond to me like you just did.”

I suck in a breath and glower at him. “I admit, you made me lose my head, but that doesn’t mean I can’t recover. See? All better. Now go on to your hotel room and leave me alone.”

“Aw, Rebecca. After we shared such a nice time together.”

I stare at him. “How did you…”

“I may have seen your ID when you booked your ticket.”

“Oh, okay. Creep. Is that how you pick up women?”

“Pretty much.”

To be honest, nobody uses Rebecca. It sounds so serious and important, so mature. But I don’t want him to call me Becka. I want him to think I’m mature, to respect me. He’s using every line in the book to try to coax me into bed. So…why do I want him to respect me, again?

Because he’s hot as hell and does things to my body that make me not respect myself?

“Thank you for helping me out back there. That was…surprising…”

“You’ll find I’m full of surprises, Rebecca.” He nods, smiling while he eyes me intimately. “So many I hope you don’t discover them all.”

He reaches out, touches my lips, and I gasp and physically react to him again.

Good heavens, this man is going to kill me.