A ringtone started deep in my diaper bag.
We both turned to stare at it. Vero drew her sunglasses down her nose. "Whoa. I think you just manifested dessert."
I took a step back. "I'm on a diet."
She reached into the bag with a roll of her eyes, grabbing my phone before I could stop her. "That resolution of yours is a load of horseshit. This is the age of sex positivity, body positivity, and hashtag MeToo. It's Lizzo's world, Finn; we're all just living in it. Don't let anyone tell you you can't have dessert." Her expression dulled as she read the caller's name. "It's Sylvia," she said, holding the phone out to me.
It may have been the first time I'd ever been relieved to see my agent's name on the screen. I swiped to connect. "Hey, Syl. I'm at Walmart. Can I call you back?"
"No, you can't," she said bluntly. Her accent was always more pronounced when her patience was thin. More Jersey than New York. "We have something very important to discuss. Your editor called. She read your manuscript."
I pushed my cart farther from Vero's as she hovered in my personal space, her head tipped to hear. "What did she say?" I asked.
"She's not paying you."
"What do you mean, she's not paying me?" I slapped Vero's hand as she lunged for my phone. "I turned in a finished manuscript, Sylvia. I've earned the second half of my advance."
"Only if your editor approves it. She wants a revision." "What kind of revision?"
"She wants more of the cop in the story."
"But I put the cop in the story. There's plenty of the cop in the story." There was far more cop in my story than there probably should have been.
"The cop is hot, but the romance is not, and your publisher's not paying you for fifty shades of boring." I held the phone away from my ear as Sylvia shouted for a taxi. A car door slammed and she barked out an address. "You're holding back on this one, Finlay. The cop and your heroine waste too much time staring longingly at each other's assets. By the second act, they should be sampling the goods."
"She's still mourning the attorney," I argued.
"The attorney disappeared in chapter one. That relationship is over.
It's time for your heroine to move on."
"Well maybe she needs a minute to figure out what she wants," I said bitterly. I pinched the bridge of my nose. It had been almost three weeks since I'd broken things off with the younger law student/ bartender I'd been seeing, and while breaking up with Julian Baker had felt like the right thing to do, I still ached a little thinking about it. "Your heroine knows what she wants. She wants the cop. She said as much on page forty-three when she was lying in bed, alone, staring at the ceiling. If you're not going to let her have the cop in the second act, at least let the woman have a sex toy."
Vero gave me an 'I told you so' smirk. I turned away from her.
"It doesn't matter what my heroine wants, Syl. She's a criminal. She can't just jump into bed with a cop. She'll risk getting caught."
"That's precisely what I'm talking about. Raise the stakes. Take some risks! You've got the perfect setup for a star-crossed romance. Your assassin has escaped from jail. She's on the run from the one man she shouldn't want but can't deny her feelings for. Meanwhile, the cop is hot on her trail, determined to catch her. Only the longer they play cat and mouse, the more he wants to bring her to bed instead of bringing her to justice."
"Oh, that's good," someone said in the background.
"See?" Sylvia assured me. "Even the taxi driver loves it."
"You put me on speaker?!"
"Yes," Sylvia and her driver said.
"The cop and the assassin should give in to their desires," Sylvia insisted. "They should do it someplace dangerous—"
"On a plane," the driver suggested.
Sylvia answered with a "Meh."
"As it's crashing into shark-infested waters?"
"Fine," I snapped. "I'll rework a few scenes."
"While you're at it, rewrite the ending," Sylvia said.
I gripped the phone tighter to keep myself from throwing it. "What's wrong with the ending?"
"Your heroine can't ride off into the sunset with her sidekick. This is a romance novel, not Thelma and Louise."
"Thelma and Louise won an Academy Award."
"They held hands and drove off a cliff, Finlay." I bit my tongue through her exasperated sigh. "The assassin and the cop are good together. Give your heroine the happy ending she deserves. And do it quickly," she added. "I, for one, would like to get paid."
"Me, too," the driver and Vero said in unison.
"Great. I'll tell your editor you're on board with the changes." Sylvia disconnected before I managed to respond.
I handed my phone to Vero. "Happy?"
She shook her head as she took my cell and dropped it in the diaper bag. "I don't understand your hesitation with the cop."
"Because whenever the cop and the assassin get together, somebody dies."
This excerpt ends on page 12 of the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book The Body Falls by Andrea Carter.