Which is a shame, because he’s also got a reputation for having a magic touch. Several of my agent friends call him Midas. As in, “Everything he touches turns to gold.” (Though admittedly, some others refer to him as the Storm Cloud. As in, “He makes it rain money, but at what cost?”)
The point is, Charlie Lastra picks winners. And he isn’t picking Once in a Lifetime. Determined to bolster my confidence, if not his, I cross my arms over my chest. “I’m telling you, no matter how contrived you found it, Sunshine Falls is real.”
“It might exist,” Charlie says, “but I’m telling you Dusty Fielding has never been there.”
“Why does that matter?” I ask, no longer feigning politeness.
Charlie’s mouth twitches in reaction to my outburst. “You wanted to know what I disliked about the book—”
“What you liked,” I correct him.
“—and I disliked the setting.”
The sting of anger races down my windpipe, rooting through my lungs. “So how about you just tell me what kind of books you do want, Mr. Lastra?”
He relaxes until he’s leaned back, languid and sprawling like some jungle cat toying with its prey. He turns his water glass again. I’d thought it was a nervous tic, but maybe it’s a low-grade torture tactic. I want to knock it off the table.
“I want,” Charlie says, “early Fielding. The Glory of Small Things.”
“That book didn’t sell.”
“Because her publisher didn’t know how to sell it,” Charlie says. “Wharton House could. I could.”
My eyebrow arches, and I do my best to school it back into place.
Just then, the server approaches our table. “Can I get you anything while you’re perusing the menu?” she asks sweetly.
“Goat cheese salad for me,” Charlie says, without looking at either of us.
Probably he’s looking forward to pronouncing my favorite salad in the city inedible.
“And for you, ma’am?” the server asks.
I stifle the shiver that runs down my spine whenever a twentysomething calls me ma’am. This must be how ghosts feel when people walk over their graves.
“I’ll have that too,” I say, and then, because this has been one hell of a day and there is no one here to impress—and because I’m trapped here for at least forty more minutes with a man I have no intention of ever working with—I say, “And a gin martini. Dirty.”
Charlie’s brow just barely lifts. It’s three p.m. on a Thursday, not exactly happy hour, but given that publishing shuts down in the summer and most people take Fridays off, it’s practically the weekend.
“Bad day,” I say under my breath as the server disappears with our order.
“Not as bad as mine,” Charlie replies. The rest hangs in the air, unsaid: I read eighty pages of Once in a Lifetime, then sat down with you.
I scoff. “You really didn’t like the setting?”
“I can hardly imagine anywhere I’d less enjoy spending four hundred pages.”
“You know,” I say, “you’re every bit as pleasant as I was told you would be.”
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