Happy Release Day, Phyllis!
The Italian Job
SYDNEY COOKE, a California magazine writer assigned to describe a tour of Italy, meets TAYLOR MITCHELL, an artist/computer consultant, on the flight to Rome. They click, but sometimes he’s mysterious. Just her luck if an eligible man has skeletons in his closet. Nine days later, a false accusation, plus a problem from his past forces Taylor to leave the tour. Can Sydney find him, and–in her unique, resourceful fashion–heal old wounds and bring about a happy-ever-after?
EXCERPT of The Italian Job:
I landed the assignment to go to Rome—not because I was the best writer on the staff of L.A. Life Magazine, nor because I could speak Italian (because I couldn’t). My incredibly important skill was availability. Time was short. Jason was on his honeymoon. Pamela was very pregnant. And no less than three staff members were out with the flu—or so they said. In May, go figure. Or perhaps it was because no one else was willing to fly 3,000 miles on two days notice. Shows what a stunningly bad social life can do for you.
Even so, my boss, Mr. Hardcastle, the first part of whose name should give you an idea of his personality, hesitated long enough before giving his assent to grow mold on my sweaty palms.
“You aren’t going to mess up again, are you?”
Like I planned to. Like climbing into the window of a strange person’s hotel room on my previous assignment for the magazine had been a well thought out decision. In truth, it was nothing but a fluke, the unavoidable result of making a serious miscalculation. Which, I fervently vowed, would never happen again.
“No, of course not.” I straightened up to my full five feet, six inches and shook my head. Which unfortunately set my ponytail swinging, not a good thing.
Hardcastle frowned. “So go already. My secretary will give you the tickets and itinerary. Take your laptop and be sure it works this time.”
I’d only made that mistake once so he had no call to remind me. And anyway, even without the laptop, I’d remembered almost the entire interview from that assignment and my article was highly praised in some circles.
“And, Sydney, don’t forget this is your last chance.”
He meant that threat, so I smiled and hurried from his office before he could change his mind about Rome.
The next day I found my never-used passport, had my hair trimmed, and packed my itinerary, tickets and laptop. I planned to record every minute of my first European experience into my journal and tucked it into my seriously overpriced handbag. I went to bed before nine in order to catch a very early flight out of Los Angeles the next morning.
However, as so often happens with me, I couldn’t fall asleep for hours. My brain wanted to replay the episode of the window, perhaps to reinforce in my conscious mind that the entire thing had not been my fault.
I’d been given the assignment to interview a minor local politician running for office in the next election, and I sat opposite him in an armless chair in his hotel room. I asked questions and he answered politely but softly, in what I later realized he considered a sexy voice. As I leaned forward to hear him, my skirt hiked up over my knees. I attempted to pull it down, dropped my notebook and bent to pick it up, and suddenly he was all over me like a case of hives.
I managed to get out of his clutches and protested in no uncertain terms, but he would have none of it. We did a little cha-cha around the sofa, and then, after slowing him down by pushing an end table in front of him, I grabbed my purse, dashed into the bedroom, and slammed the door.
Yes, that might sound like a foolish thing to have done, but I knew that old hotel. The windows were actually French doors and led to outside balconies. My aim was to get out there and call for help.
Much to my surprise, he didn’t follow me. Maybe he had a phone call, or he fell over the end table, or someone came to the door, but my problem remained. It was dark—he had set the interview time for evening—and the balcony was two stories above the street, too far for jumping even if I were an Olympic athlete instead of someone whose only exercise is changing the sheets on her bed.
However, the next balcony being merely a foot away, I decided to swing over to it, enter the next room by way of those French doors, and return to the hotel hallway. The next room, which I could only see through a crack in the closed drapes, seemed dark and empty. I paused but reasoned that even if someone were staying there, chances were slim it would be another man bent on hanky-panky.
So I hiked up my skirt, swung my legs over the two balcony railings, and gently tried the handle of the door. It was jerked open from inside, and suddenly I was face to face with a fledgling actor who was in town to audition for a part in an upcoming film.
Of course, I didn’t know his occupation at the time. That came in the next day’s newspapers. Even so, it could all have ended unobtrusively except that someone had apparently called a paparazzo, who flashed a bright light at me. I froze like a safe-cracker with his hand on the dial. Mr. Actor pulled me into his room, and I found myself among a dozen people watching a film clip on the room’s DVD player.
I was labeled a “groupie,” handed an eight-by-ten glossy signed by the actor, and laughingly sent on my way.
Except that, while climbing over the balcony, my handbag slipped off my shoulder and the paparazzo found the magazine’s business cards. That wasn’t the end, of course, the photographer had taken pictures and released them to the newspapers. As a result of the sudden publicity, Mr. Actor got a role in an action-adventure film. Nevertheless, Mr. Hardcastle was not amused.
I wrote up the interview as if none of that had occurred because I preferred to think the politician, perhaps, had never behaved that way before. Also, I learned a long time ago that I have plenty of faults of my own, so I lean toward forgiving others for theirs.
About Phyllis A Humphrey
Phyllis Humphrey’s writing credits include thirteen romance novels, a mainstream novel, a memoir about her husband’s aunt and a non-fiction book. In addition, she’s sold several short stories and many articles to national magazines, and her two 30-minute radio plays were produced by American Radio Theatre. She’s a member of Romance Writers of America, where she was a Golden Heart finalist. Another novel won the San Diego Book Award in 2002, and she’s a member of Mensa.
How to contact Phyllis:
Twiiter: @ PhumphreyAuthor