Heart of the South

"Heart Of The South"

Linda McCullers loved the fast life and bright lights of New York. Her life was full with work and... other stuff. There was nothing wrong with her. Until the doctor told her there was.

Mac Proctor spends his life living out of a suicase. As an estate buyer and auctioneer, Mac searches the country for just the right items for his sales. So why does he find the travel less exciting, and the bargains hollow?

When Linda and Mac both realize what their lives have become, they each decide to take a risk, even though they both already know they will lose everything.



And now a preview of "Heart Of The South"

Linda McCullers was having a bad day. She knew it would be a bad day yesterday when her bestselling author called her up out of the blue and said she wanted to meet for lunch the next day. It might not be a big thing, except her bestselling author, Sukidi Proctor, aka Victoria Rose, lived over six hundred miles away, but said that she was in New York on business.

Linda had been a literary agent for over twenty years. She knew how the game was played. You find a young author, starving for publication, nurture her along, and make her the hottest thing in print. Before long, they get bossy, or they just dump you without giving you a chance to compete for them. She knew the score, it had happened to her dozens of times before, and it would happen dozens more. It was just business: nothing more, nothing less.

Unfortunately this time was different. This time it would hurt. When she grabbed Suki's first manuscript from her slush pile and skimmed the first page, it immediately caught her attention. Suki was on of the best writers she had ever read. She had a problem with passion and emotions her first few books, but that was more from inexperience. They had communicated mostly by telephone and email the first two weeks. Linda sent suggestions, and Suki made the changes. No arguments, no hassles, she just did what she was told, and she did it with incredible speed. Within two weeks, Linda had an exceptional manuscript in her hands.

Linda arranged to meet with Suki after the two-week whirlwind, just to make sure that things were what they seemed, and that's when the rulebook went out the window. Suki was not ready to meet the public. As incredible a writer as she was, Suki had so many emotional issues that she was a risk for any agent. The manuscript was amazing, but it would probably be her only book. Linda saw no way that this fragile young thing would ever survive the first wave of bad criticism. Still, Linda still took her on. She signed a three-book contract with an easy buy out and strict requirements.

Suki's first book was a hit. The second book was ready before the first one left the publisher. By the end of the first year, Suki had three bestsellers. The scared and oversensitive side of Suki never showed in her writing. She was an agent's dream. The only change Suki ever refused her was one that was an important part of the plot the next book. After rechecking, Linda agreed that the change was trivial in this book, but would have badly damaged the third book. Linda signed Suki up for another three books, and worked with her to try to get her more presentable to the public. Then the worst thing that could happen did happen. They became friends.

Literary agents are only able to do what they do because of a certain mindset. Becoming friends with the author more often than not ends up either destroying the author, humiliating the agent, or both. As soon as the "it's business" edge falls away, things get rough. Now she was afraid that Suki had been made an offer she could not refuse. In a way she was happy for the girl: in a way. In reality she was just angry. She had nurtured the child, and now she was getting dumped. Suki had not signed a new contract yet, and Linda was sure that this luncheon was going to be Suki's big kiss off. She was going to get dumped. Suki said that she had some big news, and wanted to tell Linda personally. She hated that word. "Personally" had always been the words someone used when they were about to justify their actions. Then, ironically, they would tell you "not to take it personally, it was just business." In this case, that was not necessarily true.

Linda stepped out, paying the cabbie and getting her expense receipt. She stepped away from the cab and wrote the tip amount on the back of the ticket. Then she stepped gingerly towards the door of the restaurant. Linda was still several steps away when a large shadow crossed in front of her. The large eclipse that stepped quickly down the sidewalk was a man. He was huge. He towered over most of the other people on the street. She only got a glimpse of the salt and pepper sideburns and jet-black hair with a distinguishing streak of gray as he quickly, with no motions wasted, stepped through the door.

She stepped in just a couple of seconds behind him. The door only half closed before she got to it. He was still focused only on what was in front of him. He stepped up to the maitre de and leaned down so he could be heard. He had to lean down; he was at least six foot six.

"I'm expected. I'm with the Proctor party," he said in a tone hushed enough so she barely heard him.

She looked at him closely now. So this was the new agent Suki had chosen. He was about the same age as she, late forties, early fifties. He had wonderfully sharp features. His jaw was squared, his nose sharp and severe, but well suited to his face. This was a man that was used to getting his way. His mouth was pressed into a firm line like he was waiting and watching. His suit was Armani. Where the hell did he find Armani that large? He was huge. His legs were each nearly as big around as Linda's waist, and she was no thin teen model. The man' back had a classic vee shape. His shoulders were so broad, each one had its own zip code. As he walked away with the maitre de, she saw his hazel eyes shine. Too bad he was stealing her best client, she could enjoy getting lost in his eyes.

Linda waited for them to step away and quietly shadowed them. She was about five steps behind them when they arrived at Suki's table. Suki was already there, along with her husband Joe. They both stood up, and Suki gave the man a warm embrace. Joe shook his hand. It was amazing to see Joe with this man. Linda had always thought Joe was the biggest man she would ever meet, but this man was bigger. He had a good three inches on Joe, and his arms and legs were larger. They exchanged greetings and sat down.

The man sat across from Joe, leaving the only empty seat beside him and opposite Suki. She waited for a few seconds, and slowly approached. She was mostly behind Suki and Joe, so the man seated with them saw her approach long before either of them. He looked up and his eyes locked onto hers. His mouth opened just a bit and then closed and locked. Linda figured he had seen her picture or something, and knew it was time for the confrontation. His eyes stayed on her. There was a look in them that definitely did not say that he was unhappy to see her. She searched his face, but found no clues that she had ever seen him before. He had a slightly familiar look to him, but he just was not anyone she remembered meeting before. If he was new, maybe she could still keep Suki out of his grasp.

Suki turned with a puzzled look on her face. When she saw Linda her face lit up. She got out of the seat and limped a step or two towards Linda and wrapped her in a great big hug. "My god, Linda, " Suki said, "I have missed you so much!"

Linda smiled back with her best agent grin. She had her emotional barriers on full. She would not let herself devastated by Suki dumping her for this uber-agent.

She shook Joe's hand and turned to the large man. He was now standing. He towered over her by nearly a foot. His eyes were still locked on her. Now she knew what a mouse felt like when a cat stood over it. She saw a puzzled look in his eyes, and returned it. She was about to sit down when she noticed that his hand had been out, ready to shake hers. She had not seen it, she was still half lost in his eyes and his chiseled face. She let her hand rise into his and expected a fast handshake and nothing else. As his large hand enveloped hers, she felt a warmth from him that she had not felt in years. Hell, she had never felt this much warmth from a handshake ever. His grip was firm, but gentle. Rather than shake her hand, he pulled it upwards a short distance, and bent down enough to kiss her knuckles. The heat went into overdrive. Her body reacted to the kiss on her hand like he was a long lost lover. No one had ever generated this much heat from a simple kiss, even a passionate one.

She had to get control of herself. This man was stealing Suki from her. He was stealing her livelihood. Her mask of emotional cold slipped back into place. She pulled her hand out of his grip. She saw his eyes cloud with confusion, and then change to something else. Was it regret? It did not matter. She had to get Suki back.

She sat down and ignored the nuclear reactor of heat beside her and focused her attention on Suki. She smiled her agent's smile and looked into Suki's bemused face. "Suki," she said, before we get to lunch, I wanted to get your signature on the new contracts." There, she said it. There was no taking it back now. Suki would have to go ahead and get the confrontation over with. Linda would see how far gone things were.

Suki visibly sighed. "I was hoping to get to business after we had a nice lunch."

"You know me," Linda said, "I take care of business first, get the job done. Then I do what comes next."

Suki looked at Joe. Joe just shrugged and reached below the table. He pulled out a brief case and placed it on the table between them. Suki opened the case and pulled a few items out. She handed Linda a packet of papers first. The papers were her new contract, all correctly signed and notarized. This contract was for six books at a very good rate with one of the larger publishers. Linda almost cried out in relief seeing the papers signed and ready. Then Suki handed her a CD. "This is the next book," Suki said, "and outlines for the two after that."

Linda stared down at the disk and the papers and looked at Suki with utter surprise on her face. Suki looked a bit confused. "What were you expecting Lin?" Suki asked.

"What did you need to tell me?" Linda countered. "You said you had something important to tell me."

"Actually," Suki said, her face brightening, "I wanted to ask you something," Suki's face turned slightly. "You too Mac," she said, "We want you two to be the god-parents."

"God-parents?" Linda asked, "Suki what are you talking about, whose god-parents?"

Suki just smiled. Beside her, Mac smiled and jumped up and went over to Joe. "You old dog," he said. "Congratulations!" The big man practically lifted Joe out of his chair with a hug. He stepped over and hugged Suki too.

"You're pregnant?" Linda asked. "When? Why?"

"Yes, Linda, I'm very pregnant," she said backing away from the table slightly so Linda would notice the slight tummy bulge. "As to why, " she pondered for a second, and finally said, "I'm told that being pregnant is the best way to have a baby. "

Linda was floored. Not only was she not losing her best author and a good friend, but she had the signed contracts, and she had been asked to be a god-parent, whatever that was. She smiled and went over to Suki and hugged her for all she was worth. Suki hugged her back just as hard.

Finally, she stood back up and went back to her seat. She settled in and looked at Suki. Su was positively glowing with happiness. "Let's eat," Joe said, "I'm starved."

She glanced over at him, and caught the large men beside her in her peripheral vision. She looked up into his eyes again, and once more started to fall into him. After a second or two, she noticed that she had leaned in towards him. He had leaned towards her as well. Their faces were only inches apart. When she realized that they were still getting closer to each other. She had to physically concentrate to stop herself from continuing forward. She stifled a sigh and managed to get out a few words. "Who are you?" Linda asked him.

"I'm Mac," he said simply, as if that explained it all.

"I'm sorry," Joe said, "I thought you met at Dani's wedding." He paused, "Linda, This is my brother Mac. Mac, this is Linda. Linda is Suki's agent and the closest thing to a mother that she has." 

© Steve Stone 2012