Mercedes sat in the television studio's waiting room, listening
to the quiet tick-tick-tick of the clock on the hospital white
wall. If she were a dedicated writer, she would have remembered
to bring her computer with her so she could work while she
waited, instead of listening to the constant beat of the chronographic
version of Chinese water torture.
She wiped her palms on her knees, wishing there was a mirror
in the place to check her make-up. This wasn't a room designed
for comfort, the sterile interior was designed to maximize
nervousness -- and it was working. Any second now her make-up
was going to smear from her sweating -- and that was in spite
of the forty degree ambient temperature in the room.
Man, she was a basket case. She should have brought Jeff with
her. He could have sat next to her, argued with her, and in
general, keep her relaxed. But Mercedes was alone in the panic
room. Where was Sam?
And then there was the matter of her wardrobe.
She'd packed three outfits for the show, trying to decide
between Donna Karan professional or Fighting Eel sultry. And
then she'd thrown in an Ella Moss blouse and skirt because
wardrobe choices shouldn't be a life-altering decision, but
it felt like one. What if her career tanked because she wore
a buttoned-up blazer, rather than opting for a little cleavage?
Back at her apartment, she tried on all three, finally zeroing
in on the cleavage. Nothing slutty, of course. She was a professional,
but if she was the face of the sexual white noise of her generation,
she needed to look the part. But she packed them all. And when
she got to the hotel, she'd stuck with her original decision.
Where the heck was Sam? The other time she'd been on the show,
he'd seen her before the show started. What did it mean if
he wasn't going to see her this time? Was that a bad sign?
It was probably a bad sign. It'd been twelve months, twelve
months was a long time. He probably had a girlfriend now. Hell,
what if he had a wife? He hadn't had twelve months of monk-like
celibacy, he'd been going at it like bunnies with his new bride!
No. He wasn't married. She was getting spazzed up over nothing.
Mercedes took a deep breath. She wasn't going to assume the
worst. And who said that if he was married now, it was the
worst? She didn't need him. There were lots of single men in
the waters of Manhattan. Lots. She was single, attractive,
and had a certain je ne sais quoi that men seemed to go for.
Sam was nothing to her.
Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
Oh, God. She was going to scream and she hadn't even pondered
the matter of the hotel yet.
Her hotel had been changed to the Ritz-Carlton, so what did
that mean? It had to be a good sign, and she had to admit that
her room was nice and cheery, and then there was the small
fact that it was the Ritz. The Ritz.
Where was Sam?
She flew out of her seat, realized it wasn't Sam, and took
in more oxygen in her lungs.
"Mercedes Brooks?" he asked, his face creased into
a tired smile.
"Yes," she answered, casually sitting back down
and crossing one leg over another.
"I'm Jacob. Sam won't be here to talk to you directly,
so I wanted to go over the instructions. Have you ever been
on television before?"
A confident laugh emerged from her lips. "You didn't
see me on the show last year, did you?"
"Sorry, no. I'm local to the San Francisco area, so I
don't get to see it much," he said. "Bet you were
Mercedes made a circle with her hand. "Thanks."
"So, you write erotic fiction, is that right?"
"Yes, I have a copy of the book if you'd like to read
He looked around and then smiled in a secret manner. "I
already have. Very. Very. Hot."
"Really?" she asked. "Wow."
"My girlfriend loved it and she gave it to me."
"Wow," Mercedes repeated, sounding just like a gauche,
non-sophisticate, but okay, it was cool.
"Oh, yeah. You're going to have to autograph one later."
"Not a problem. So you have instructions for me?" she
asked, because she as much as she liked the little ego-bits,
she needed to stay focused, sharp, and ready for action.
Jacob took the chair next to her and proceeded to go over
the layout, and while he was talking, all she could think was "Where
was Sam?" She needed someone here. A familiar face. A
familiar voice. The familiar brown sports jacket that he wore
a lot of times on Thursday nights.
National TV. Jeez. What had she been thinking? No, no reason
to panic, she'd done this before. With a blood relative sitting
next to her.
Jacob droned on, and Mercedes hoped it sunk into her subconscious
because her consciousness had left the building.
"Got all that?" Jacob asked.
"Oh, sure," she said with a wave of her hand. "Walk
in the park."
After that, he left, and she sat alone in the room. Alone
in the room with the damned clock.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
The voice. She knew the voice. Sam. Oh, thank you, thank you,
thank you. He was silhouetted in the doorway, his hand holding
the doorjamb, as if poised for flight. Her expression was probably
goofier than she wanted, but she was so happy to see a familiar
face. His face. Okay, there was nothing wrong with goofy.
"Sure," she lied. Mainly she needed to find a bathroom,
because in a few seconds she might possibly lose her lunch.
"Good. See you in about twenty-five minutes."
"Sounds great," answered Mercedes in a faux-cheerleader
voice, even though she had never been a cheerleader, and had
never wanted to be a cheerleader. She watched him leave.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
Kristin was counting down, Mercedes was seated across from
him, a mere eighteen inches across from him, and all he could
do was study the tiny silver ring on her finger. Why did she
have to wear a silver ring?
He swallowed, got a last glimpse at his notes, and prepared
for the camera.
"Back in three, two, one."
"And we're live." Camera three picked him up, and
Sam blinked before his innate skills kicked in to save him. "Tonight,
we have as our guest, Mercedes Brooks, author of The Red Choo
Diaries, a work of rather steamy fiction. Ms. Brooks, welcome
to the show."
"It's good to be back."
"So, I caught a glimpse of your book in the store, read
some, and when I was reading, all thoughts worth anything flew
out of my head. National debt? Not a problem. Trade deficit?
No big whoop. Failure of the educational system? What's that?
Within two pages, my brain was pretty well smashed."
Her full lips curved into a warm, welcoming smile. "I
think that's the point, Sam. We have so many serious problems
in the world now, it's nice to forget sometime. To get so carried
away with a moment, that you don't have to worry about the
national debt, the trade deficit, failure of the educational
system, or even carting clothes to the laundry."
"It was nice to get carried away, certainly. But we're
getting messages like yours in an daily, heck, hourly basis.
Advertisers are using sex to sell every product from soup to
health insurance. Now how is that going to help anything? Sex
shouldn't be thought of strictly as entertainment. What happened
to the emotion behind the act?"
"Done correctly, it's still there."
He wanted to change topics to something less heated, and something
less Johnson-hardening, but sex was the point of this segment.
It'd been his idea. Stupid idea. However, he had to stay on
point. Sam swallowed and gathered his thoughts. Quickly he
dove right into the mix. "But sex is one of those primitive
drives. It's not a corporate brand; it goes much deeper. If
everything uses sex to sell, sex to entertain, sex to tease,
then it becomes nothing more than a brand." There, that
one was safer.
"But you're forgetting that we need sex. We need sex
to procreate, to reduce stress, to live longer, to keep our
heart healthy, to make us happier, more functional people."
"But if we're busily engrossed in all things sex, the
function goes out the window."
"Has your function gone out the window, Sam?" she
asked, the wicked gleam flickering in her eyes, and Sam's brain
function went out the window. Every inch of him was focused
on her, the gleam in her eyes. He had to see that gleam when
they were making love.
He tried not to smile, but Camera 2 might have caught it. "Do
you ever feel bombarded by sexual messages, Mercedes?"
"But after being filled with all that pressure, doesn't
it diminish the desire for sex? Maybe not for men, of course,
we're not that analytical when it comes to it, but what about
"There are ways to relieve that pressure," she reminded
him in a schoolteacher's voice.
Sam shifted uncomfortably, because he didn't need a hard-on
right at that exact moment. Not now. He glanced up at the clock
behind the cameras. Three more minutes. All he had to do was
get through three more minutes. Quickly he charged into another
question. An even safer question.
"Does it bother you that you write about sex? Does anyone
tease you about it being cheap or degrading to women?"
Mercedes flicked back her hair, and he glimpsed anger in her
eyes. Anger was much better than that sexy, come-hither gleam. "Sex
is empowering to women," she started. "It may take
us longer to get where we want to go, but the end result is
just as sweet. Why can't women be aroused? Why should we be
afraid to admit it?"
"Personally, I don't you think should be afraid to admit
it. Do many women feel that same way? Afraid?"
"I know I'm not the only one."
"So, when you write about sexual freedom, from a woman's
point of view, you're celebrating the woman's desire and control
of sex? Interesting. Do you believe in love, Mercedes?"
"How do those two work together? From an empowered, sexually
liberated woman's point of view?"
He watched her small, white teeth nip into her lower lip.
She was fascinating to watch, thoughts flying across her face,
until the dark eyes widened, and the full lips split into a
satisfied grin. "We all crave love as much as we crave
sex. In some ways, even more. That's deeper, more insidious
than sex. People kill for love. Not so much for sex. Sex can
be expression of that love, or it can be a hit of pleasure,
but just because you're not in love with someone, doesn't mean
that sex is wrong."
"And the dangers of sex?"
"You talk about responsibility all the time on your show.
There's nothing wrong with sexual responsibility."
"But when you get carried away? When your brain gets
smashed, how do you remember? What if you forget?"
"You can't forget."
"But sometimes you do."
"That's not good, and that's not what I want to represent
to my readers. Sex has consequences. Good and bad, and you
have to prepare for those consequences. If you're not prepared,
you shouldn't have sex."
"But isn't that the silver, uh, brass ring for erotica?
Two people so carried away that they forget the stresses and
the responsibilities and they act on very deep, primitive impulses,
stimulated by the very media messages that you provide."
She laughed. "I just write books."
"So did George Orwell and Sinclair Lewis. They changed
the world with their books."
"That's some pretty big company I'm expected to keep."
Out of the corner of his eye, he got the signal from Kristin.
Thank God. "We're almost out of time, Mercedes. It's been
a pleasure, and I suppose we'll agree to disagree."
"I don't think we disagree on everything," she said
smoothly. Her voice was polite, almost perfunctory, but he
knew. There was no invitation in the words, not even an invitation
in her eyes. But he knew.
She turned to camera two, seducing America as effectively
as she had seduced him.
He smiled, a little too confident, a little too male, a little
too sexually charged, but he couldn’t help it.
Something had happened twelve months ago. A flash of lightning,
a magnetic pull. And for twelve months it had stayed buried.
But no more. Tonight they were going to finish it.
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