“Wait, you never answered the question. Was he hot?”
Grace paused in dumping sugar in her coffee and glared at Riley McKenna. “Who cares if he was hot? I said he was an ass.”
“Yes, but was he a hot ass?” This from Julie, who, like Riley, had apparently missed the point of Grace’s story.
“You’re giving him entirely too much credit,” Grace muttered as the three of them headed toward the conference room for their weekly meeting. Thanks to cab guy, she’d made it in plenty of time.
Riley and Julie exchanged a glance. “He was totally hot,” Julie said in a loud whisper.
“Are you allowed to say that? I mean now that you’re engaged and all?” Riley asked Julie.
Engaged. Grace ignored the little twinge that word caused.
She was happy for her friend, of course. Julie Greene was one of her best friends, and easily the most likable person Grace had ever met. With her honey-blond hair, wide smile, and friendly personality, it was impossible not to like Julie. And sure, it had come as a bit of a surprise when her flirtatious, chronically single friend had fallen for the subject of one of her articles a few months ago—particularly since Mitchell Forbes was pretty much the opposite of Julie.
But they were happy together. Happily engaged.
Which was great.
It was just . . .
Grace had always imagined that she’d be the first of the Stiletto “it girls” to take the marriage plunge. Instead she was the furthest from the altar she’d been in ten years. It was as though she were twenty again, back before she’d met Greg Parsons and had started mentally putting together the future Parsons family scrapbook.
Oblivious to Grace’s envy, Julie was twisting the diamond on her fourth finger. “Of course I can still ogle hot guys. What Mitchell doesn’t know . . .”
“Mitchell’s an omniscient robot when it comes to you,” Riley said as they filed into the conference room. “I’m pretty sure he knows everything. And I bet he knows that right this second you’re ogling Grace’s new man.”
“Grace has a new man?” asked Stiletto’s slim, skinny-jean-clad associate fashion editor.
Great, Grace thought. Now they had an audience. Just what she needed—the gabbiest person in the office thinking that she was seeing someone. Grace gave her friends a stern fix-this look. Oliver Harrington was better than Twitter when it came to spreading gossip.
And seriously, people thought she’d moved on already? It had only been just over four months since she’d learned Greg was having extracurricular time between his colleague’s thighs. Surely she was entitled to a little time to heal before she started dating again?
Say, like . . . six months more. Six months of glorious single time. Six months of girls’ wine nights and maybe training for a half marathon and figuring out how to be on her own.
It was a great plan. She was pretty sure of it. But only Julie and Riley knew that Grace’s sabbatical from men was an actual premeditated agenda, and she wanted to keep it that way.
No need for anyone else to know just how deeply Greg’s betrayal had cut. It was bad enough that her personal life was in upheaval. But in Grace’s case, the very fabric of her career had also been ripped in half by Greg’s admission.
Okay! I slept with her! But before you get up on your self-righteous high horse, take a good look in the mirror, because these things aren’t one-sided.
Yeah, that had stung.
But what had really burned her ass was that just two months prior, Grace had written the very popular “Ten Signs He’s Cheating” article.
She’d thought it was just another in a long stream of her typical relationship articles: “How to Tolerate His Football Habit.” “You Want Sushi, He Wants Wings—How to Compromise.” Basically she told women how to make their relationship work, and they’d listened.
The cheating article had been a diverting challenge. Since she’d (wrongly) believed that she didn’t have any personal experience in the area of infidelity, Grace had spent months interviewing women whose significant others had strayed. She’d recorded all the subtle signs, the little quirks. The lack of sex, the effusive compliments, the changed passwords . . .
By the time the story went to publication, Grace had thought herself an expert on picking up on infidelity.
She’d been wrong.
The worst part was, she hadn’t even thought to look at her own life. Hadn’t imagined it would ever happen to her.
But it had. And worst of all? Greg and Maureen’s fling had been going on the entire time she’d been writing the article.
The woman whom other women looked to as a relationship beacon was a complete sham.
Grace might have been able to accept that Greg wasn’t the man she’d thought he was. But accepting that she was ignorant about men in general?
Hence the creation of Grace 2.0.
Her alter ego was everything Grace 1.0 hadn’t been: wary, gritty, and smart. Grace 2.0 knew that men were lying snakes. And she was out to prove it personally and professionally.
“No, Grace doesn’t have a new man, and you’ll forget the thought even crossed your mind,” Riley was saying to Oliver in her scary don’t-make-me-lose-my-Irish-temper voice.
Oliver wisely pretended fascination with his phone as though he’d never been eavesdropping in the first place.
The three of them had just settled around the conference table when Grace spotted the unfamiliar woman who’d entered the meeting room.
“Who’s that?” Grace asked quietly. The woman was pretty in a natural, low-maintenance kind of way. Her shoulder-length hair was light brown and could have been mousy had it not been paired with gorgeous olive skin and wide, brown Bambi eyes.
Riley and Julie exchanged a nervous glance.
“That’s Emma Sinclair,” Julie said, her voice too bright.
It took a second for the name to register.
Emma Sinclair had been Grace’s replacement on the Love and Relationships beat when she’d taken the month off.
The month that Grace had sorely needed, but which had hurt to ask for all the same.
When Grace had reluctantly told her boss that she needed some time away from the office, Camille hadn’t hesitated. The Stiletto editor in chief might be a total hard-ass, but she was also a bit of a man-hater thanks to a disastrous marriage of her own.
All it had taken was the word cheat, and Camille had practically booted Grace out the door with an order to “have some me time” and a suggestion for a local voodoo doll vendor.
And Grace was appreciative, she really was. And of course she’d expected that Camille would have to find someone to fill in while Grace was out.
She just hadn’t quite been prepared for Camille to assign a backup who was quite so . . . qualified.
Grace had been envisioning one of the newish interns trailing around after Julie and Riley, maybe taking a few nervous story notes. Instead, Camille had hired Emma Sinclair from Sassy. Sassy was Stiletto’s chief competitor in the women’s magazine marketplace. And Emma Sinclair had been one of their top columnists.
During their weekly phone chats, Julie and Riley had sworn up and down that Emma wasn’t a replacement. But from her friends’ guilty expressions, it was obvious that Emma wasn’t just someone they’d tolerated until Grace came back.
Emma had become a friend.
That’s nice, Grace told herself firmly. It would be nice to expand their little family. Maybe even get some fresh blood into the trio of the Love and Relationships section. Change things up a bit.
Then Riley laughed at something Emma said, and it didn’t feel nice at all.
Lauren Layne graduated from Santa Clara University with a B.S. in political science that she has yet to put to good use. After dabbling in an e-commerce career, she decided to quit talking about writing and actually do it. A Seattle native, Lauren’s also tried on the Bay Area, Orange County, and most recently Manhattan. She’s currently back in the Pacific Northwest, missing the big-city life but also enjoying the cheap price of wine in the burbs. She lives with her husband and badly behaved Pomeranian.