Karen Booth is returning to the beauty circles of Manhattan with another ‘over-40 romance’ showing us it’s never too late to find true love in life, and I have a fabulous sneak peek for you. As my own years begin to add up, I find myself gravitating more and more towards stories like these, and Karen Booth seems to have a direct line to my one-click finger.
Alec Trakas was pretty sure that if there was a hell, it looked exactly like the studio for Good Day USA, with its quintessential American view overlooking a bustling sidewalk in midtown Manhattan. He was counting down the minutes until the show signed off and he could flee his personal Hades. Alec referred to the final hour of the broadcast as the marshmallow factory—an endless conveyor belt of fluff. Today’s sweet and pillowy treat was Jason Adams, star of the next blockbuster film, Lavaman, about a superhero who gained his powers after a childhood tumble into a volcano. Because of course. If a kid can survive lava, why shouldn’t he save the world?
Alec’s co-hosts, Tilly Ann Bostwick and Renata Herrera, were drooling over Jason. That was no exaggeration—one of the make-up artists scrambled over to Tilly Ann in a panic between segments, dabbing at the corners of her lips with powder. Now, she was pawing Jason like a tiger with a fresh piece of meat. “Tell us about your workout routine to prepare for the film,” she purred.
“Before we do that, let’s see some of the stills from the trailer,” Renata interjected, not to be outdone when it came to a little fun objectification.
A monitor lit up with images of Jason in his skin-tight red-and-black superhero costume. Renata and Tilly Ann hummed their robust approval. Alec, in a concerted effort to not roll his eyes, focused on the things that kept him on set five days a week—his legally binding contract, the paycheck, and the tiniest sliver of a chance at a spot in the news division. Plus, he reminded himself that propping up movies like Lavaman was part of his job—the network and the film studio were owned by the same massive media conglomerate. Still, he couldn’t blame Tilly Ann and Renata too much. Jason Adams looked like a badass.
“It’s so impressive.” Tilly Ann leaned closer to Jason. “Please. Tell us all about how you did it. I’m sure Alec could use a few pointers.” She laughed and Renata joined in.
Alec dutifully tossed his head back in feigned laughter while Jason recalled the number of hours in the gym, the staggering amounts of lean protein consumed, and the time he passed out when he’d stupidly run ten miles after ingesting nothing more than a glass of kale and celery juice. Alec hated being a part of the segments with the latest Hollywood hunk. It wasn’t jealousy. It was more the sting of being reminded that his time in this business was sifting through the hourglass. He was already forty-four. He still looked good, but he was tired of obsessing over that part, and that wasn’t what he’d gone to journalism school for.
“And we’re out,” the set director said. “Great job today.”
Alec was untethering himself from his mic when Jason slinked past Tilly Ann.
“Thanks so much. I’m a huge fan of yours.” Jason offered his hand.
Alec felt like a grade-A ass.
“Well, my mom is the real fan.”
Moms were Alec’s top demographic. Or so he’d been told by marketing. And pretty much everyone else on the planet.
“She turned me on to the show,” Jason continued. “I’d watch with her during summer vacation. Or if I was home sick from school.”
Alec officially felt old. “It was great having you on. The movie looks amazing. Can’t wait to see it.”
“I’d love to send you tickets to the New York premiere. Two? You and a date?”
Alec cleared his throat. Of course he’d have to find a date, but that was usually easily done, even if it never seemed to amount to anything. “Sounds fantastic. I’d love it. I guess have your people contact my people.” He hated himself for uttering those words.
Jason was quickly cornered by one of the show’s producers and Alec used that as his chance to sneak off set before anyone else talked to him. He changed into jeans and a T-shirt, baseball hat and sunglasses, then ducked out a side door and slipped into the stream of people on the NYC sidewalk, the one place where it wasn’t so hard to be anonymous. Normally he’d use the car service the network provided, but it was a beautiful day, so he took his chance to walk the twenty-plus blocks down to Chelsea.
At 22nd Street, he turned West toward his brownstone. Despite his seven-figure salary, he’d never bought into the whole business of a high-rise overlooking Central Park. Maybe it was because so much about his job had nothing to do with staying grounded. He always wanted to remember that in the end, he was a regular guy. Hungry, he ducked into a corner market to grab a half-gallon of milk and a box of cereal.
He swiped off his sunglasses inside, and just as his eyes were adjusting to the fluorescent light of the store, the world came screeching to a halt. Holy crap. Ahead stood Brooklyn Monroe. His ex. It’d been more than a year since he’d seen her. Memories hit him like a tidal wave—nights when they stayed up talking in the dark or the weekend mornings when he made breakfast while she sat on the kitchen counter drinking coffee and looking like everything he’d ever wanted. And then of course, there was the kissing in the rain. It was one of Brooklyn’s rules. If it was raining, you kissed. No umbrella, and not a peck. A real kiss with water rolling down your nose. The first time she’d insisted on it, he thought she was crazy. Then he tried it, and his opinion was forever changed.
She was the only woman he’d ever loved. The only woman he’d been ready to propose to, ring and all, and the only woman he’d ever invited to meet him for a romantic weekend in Bermuda only to have her stand him up because of work. Right now, she was standing in the baby aisle, scanning the diapers.
“Brooklyn?” he asked, finding himself wandering up to her.
She turned and her eyes flashed. It felt like a flaming arrow shot right through him. She beamed, and he was transfixed. “Alec? Oh, my gosh. What are you doing here?”
“I just walked home from work.”
“Oh, right. You like to do that to clear your mind, right?”
“Yes. I stopped here to grab a few groceries.” This all felt so surreal and yet oddly normal. He pointed at the package in her hands, the one with the chubby-cheeked baby on the front of it. “Is there something I don’t know about?” He had no earthly idea what was going on in her life. She could have a boyfriend. A husband. Please don’t tell me you have a baby.
Brooklyn’s eyes darted to the diapers. “No. These are for my sister.” She clamped her eyes shut and her shoulders shrank up around her ears. She shook her head just enough to leave him with a subtle whiff of her perfume. “I mean, they’re for my niece. Virginia brought her new baby into the office today. She ran out of diapers and I needed some fresh air, so I volunteered.”
He could never admit how relieved he was to hear that. “But you’re blocks from your office.” Alec knew exactly how far—only four streets and an avenue away. He avoided it on purpose. He’d convinced himself it would be too awkward to run into her. Now he wasn’t sure what exactly he’d thought he might be saving himself from.
“Yeah. She likes this one brand of diapers. This baby has a very special butt.”
Alec smiled. “It’s really great to see you.” In fact, it was amazing. He’d had such an idiotic day at work and now everything felt so much better. “How are things at Posh Post?”
“Busy. But good. The company’s growing like a weed. Sort of like a baby, I guess. What about you? Any exciting assignments?”
“Just did a piece on a crawdad eating contest in Southern Louisiana.”
“That’s a hot story right there, huh?” She elbowed him in the ribs.
Alec cringed, but she wasn’t wrong. “Definitely not what I went to Northwestern for.”
“Still no luck getting a spot in the news division?”
He was surprised Brooklyn remembered. She’d seemed so distracted for much of their relationship. “I just need the right story to come along.”
“What you really need is for the women of America to stop crushing on you so hard. At least you already have a job you’re great at.”
“I need to do something more meaningful than cooking demos and talking about the latest superhero movie.”
“You make it sound like you’re a coal miner, Alec. Most people would kill to have your job.”
As much as it hurt to hear it, that right there was what had drawn him to Brooklyn. She was honest. Genuine. No, she didn’t have much of a filter, but most people had too much of one. “You know, we should get dinner.” The words had popped out of his mouth before he’d had much chance to think about how it might sound. “I mean, some time. Just so we can catch up. I’m sure you need to go. Your niece needs her diapers.” Nice save, idiot.
Brooklyn narrowed her sights on him, which was not helping his utter lack of confidence right now. “You’re asking me out?”
Alec stuffed his hands into his jeans and stepped aside so a woman could make her way down the aisle. “It was just a dinner invite. You aren’t obligated to say yes.”
“The last time we spoke, you told me you never wanted to talk to me again.”
Alec wasn’t particularly proud of that moment, but he’d been hurt, stuck in a four-star hotel suite in Bermuda at the tail end of a work trip, left to eat chocolate covered strawberries and drink an entire bottle of champagne by himself, while the Tiffany box in his suitcase mocked him. To make it worse, he’d stupidly told the front desk that it was going to be a big, romantic weekend. Pull out all the stops. He’d had to call them and cancel every last syrupy sweet detail because Brooklyn was still back in New York, having mixed up the dates she was supposed to meet him.
“I know. I was angry. Let me make it up to you.”
She pressed her lips together tightly. “I don’t know.”
“Now who’s acting like they’re a coal miner?”
A smile broke across her face. “Fine. I’m game.”
“When and where?” He wanted her to set the time and place. That would say a lot about how she felt about the invitation.
Saturday. That’s a date night. “Great.”
“I know it’s hard for you during the week. You have to get up so early to be on set.”
Not a date. She’s being thoughtful. “Good thinking.”
“There’s this new ramen house that everyone is raving about. They don’t do reservations, but I’ve heard the line moves fast. Maybe seven?”
Hot new restaurant. Maybe a date? “Sure. I’ll pick you up? I’ll use any excuse to drive in the city.”
“Ooh. Yes. The little red corvette.”
Brooklyn had always been obsessed with Prince, one of her many charming qualities. “It’s called rouge red, and it’s an Aston Martin. You know that.”
“A girl can bend the facts to build a fantasy around Prince Rogers Nelson, can’t she?”
“I’m not about to be the guy who tries to stop you.”
“Good. I can’t wait to cheat death in your zippy little car.” She cleared her throat in her surprisingly adorable way. It always had a little musical flourish at the end. “I’d better get back to the office, though. Virginia will kill me for being gone so long.” Brooklyn snugged the package of diapers to her chest. “I hope this doesn’t sound weird, but you came up in conversation today when Virginia and I were talking and, well…” She peered down at her feet. “It just seems funny that we ran into each other. Like fate.”
She’d been talking about him? Why did the idea of that make him so stupidly happy? He knew better than that. “Fate?”
“Ugh. No. Sorry. That sounds too much like a word my mom would use.” She grimaced. “Anyway, I guess I’ll see you Saturday.”
Alec watched as Brooklyn breezed past him, her hips swaying with every step, which suddenly made his pants embarrassingly snug. Why did she have this effect on him? It was a mystery. And Alec didn’t do well with the unknown.