Read the first chapter of The Rebound Guy!
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“Another late day at the office, Ms. Carpenter?”
“Another late one, Harmon.” Asia Carpenter waved good night to the doorman, who, as far as she knew, had never missed a night’s work in the six years she’d lived in a loft in this former 19th-century brewery in Manhattan’s historic Kips Bay neighborhood.
“This is the last time you get home after ten o’clock,” Asia murmured as she bypassed the bank of shiny brass mailboxes, heading straight for the elevator. Her finger hovered over the “up” button for just a second before she pivoted and walked back to her mailbox. She knew Cortland, her fiancé, hadn’t picked up the mail. Two years of living together and he had yet to have his mail forwarded from the apartment he’d shared with his old college roommate on the Upper West Side.
Asia thumbed through the junk mail as she walked back to the elevator, dumping it all in the brushed stainless steel waste receptacle before stepping into the empty car paneled with Scandinavian-blond wood. As she got off on the fifth floor, she whispered a silent “thank you” that she’d had the elevator to herself the entire ride up. She was too tired for idle chitchat with neighbors she still only knew by face. She’d learn their names eventually. If she ever found time to strike up a conversation instead of just offering a passing wave while striding through the lobby, that is.
She slipped out of her gray pumps before she even unlocked the door to her three-level loft apartment. Holding both shoes in one hand, she eased on the dimmer switch in the entryway so she would have just enough light to cross the kitchen to the lower set of steep, yacht-style stairs.
“Cortland?” Asia whispered, not wanting to wake him if he was already asleep in the open bedroom directly above her.
She tripped over something on the floor and grabbed the back of a barstool to break her fall, dropping her Italian glove-leather suitcase. She looked down to find the light-blue and dark-brown throw pillow that usually sat on Cortland’s armchair.
“What in the hell?”
Asia dashed up the six steep wooden treads to the high-ceilinged living room and turned on a lamp.
They’d been robbed. The flat-screen television, Cortland’s sound system, his favorite chair. All gone.
“Cortland!” Asia yelled. She turned and looked up to the open bedroom loft, but he wasn’t there. An eerie sensation traveled up her spine as she carefully navigated the tricky stairs down and walked through the tiny kitchen to the bathroom between the refrigerator and the entryway. She knocked before opening the door.
He wasn’t in there, either.
From the living room, she would be able to see all three levels of the small loft. Wrapping an arm around her waist to quell the sudden nausea swimming in her stomach, Asia trudged back there, slipping her personal cell phone from her jacket pocket so she could call to report the break-in.
Her eyes slowly scanned the space, trying to spot what else had been taken. All three levels of the apartment were visible from this vantage point.
Up in the bedroom, some of the sliding doors in the wall of closets were open, but she couldn’t tell whether anything had been touched inside. Down in the kitchen, in the wine cooler in which she kept her very best French and Australian wines, the racks were conspicuously empty.
A thief with a taste for the world’s finest wines. Lovely.
Asia was about to call the police when she caught sight of something on the reclaimed oak wine barrel that served as an end table next to her sofa.
For a moment she just stared at the three keys: one for the front door, one for the deadbolt, and a smaller one for the mailbox downstairs. Underneath them lay a sheet from the notepad she kept next to the phone. Her fingers shaking, she gingerly slipped the paper from underneath the keys and read the words scribbled in Cortland’s bold handwriting.
Look me up when you have more time for me.
The blue note dropped from her fingers onto the hardwood floor. Asia picked up a second piece of paper from the table.
It took a moment to register what she was looking at. It was an invoice with the balance owed to the jewelry store where she’d picked out her engagement ring. $8,283.14.
Her eyes slid shut. A heavy dose of guilt joined the unease churning in her gut.
Suddenly, she understood what this was about. Cortland had planned a dinner for the four-year anniversary of their first date. She hadn’t forgotten about the dinner, but she had forgotten to call to tell him she wouldn’t be able to make it.
His anger was expected, maybe even warranted. But going through the trouble of dismounting the television?
“That’s a tad dramatic, Cortland,” Asia murmured as she hit the speed dial for his number. The call went straight to voicemail. She immediately redialed, pulling the hem of her silk blouse from her slacks as she climbed the second set of stairs to her bedroom.
“Pick up the phone, Cortland,” Asia said to his voicemail, straightening the black and white photograph of the chateau at Inglenook Estates in Napa that hung above the whitewashed wood bureau in her bedroom. “I know we had plans, but I got tied up at work. I’m sorry.”
As if her words had summoned it, her work phone vibrated in her pocket.
“Dammit.” Asia hung up on Cortland’s voicemail and answered the second phone. “Asia Carpenter.”
She pitched her head back and massaged the bridge of her nose as she listened to the person on the other end of the line.
“Tell me you’re kidding,” Asia said, though she knew it was no joke. “I’ll be there in twenty minutes. Try to keep the camera crews away by any means within the law.”
The chime signaling a text message bubbled up from her personal phone.
“Don’t call. Don’t text. I’m done.”
Asia stared up at the ceiling and pinched the bridge of her nose. If she had a moment to throw a fit over Cortland’s departure she would, but spare moments were like snowstorms in July: nonexistent. She’d smooth things over with him tomorrow. Right now she had to deal with a reckless, trust-fund troublemaker with too much money and too much time on his hands for her peace of mind.
Tucking her shirt back into her pants as she made her way down the stairs, she grabbed her purse and lifted an apple from the small scale replica of a grape bushel basket on the kitchen counter. This would have to be dinner tonight. She grabbed a second apple for Harmon and locked the door behind her.
“You need to get rid of this plant. It’s dead.”
Asia peered at her sister over the rim of her reading glasses. “I thought you said you were coming over to provide moral support, not criticize my plants?”
“If you want my advice—”
Asia put up a hand. “I said support, not advice. And just to be clear, I didn’t ask for either.”
India continued talking as if she hadn’t spoken. “My advice is that you should consider yourself lucky and move on.”
Asia looked up from the summary she was writing, detailing the events that had occurred the previous night in a suite at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, where Noah Rochester II had apparently planned an orgy with a group of his “friends,” some of whom he’d met just hours before.
She cast a dubious look at her sister. “My fiancé just moved out of our home, and you call that luck?”
“You really need to update your movie collection,” India said, then she turned away from the distressed white-ash armoire where the DVDs were stored. “First of all, it’s your home,” her sister stressed. “You had it before you met him, which makes you very lucky. Secondly, Cortland Stewart has a stick the size of a balance beam up his ass. You should be happy you’re rid of him.”
“I thought you liked Cortland.”
“I’ve spent the past four years trying to figure out why you liked him.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because he’s perfect for me?”
“Perfect?” An incredulous grimace scrunched up her face. Then, per her typical tangential thought process, India asked, “What is his middle name?”
“That’s it. Cortland Robinson Stewart. He has three last names. That’s what was wrong with him.”
Asia threw her hands up in the air. “In what world does that make any sense? We’re both named after countries. What does that mean?”
“Asia isn’t a country.”
“Oh, shut up. You know what I’m saying. And Cortland is perfect for me. We work for the same PR firm. We’ve got the same career goals.”
“Neither of you have a life,” her sister injected. She gestured at the notebook computer in Asia’s lap. “Look at you. You’re supposedly going through this traumatic breakup and you’re working. That’s pitiful.”
“I have to get this done by this afternoon,” she said, returning to the document on her screen.
“I thought you’d taken an emergency vacation day?”
“Just the morning,” Asia murmured. “And it’s not a breakup. It’s just a bump. Cortland is upset because I missed a dinner he’d had planned for weeks. He has a right to be upset.” Though moving his things out and refusing to answer her call last night was over the top. “It’s not a breakup,” Asia reiterated.
Her sister let out an indelicate snort. Fitting because there was nothing delicate about India Carpenter. Asia took in her baby sister’s cargo shorts and faded t-shirt with the Dr. Pepper emblem across her breasts.
“I thought you had class soon?” Asia asked her.
“You’re going dressed like that?”
India glanced down at her clothing. “It’s ‘Ethics.’ As long as I don’t show up naked, I’m within the dress code. If it were my ‘Environmental Law’ class, I probably could show up naked.”
Asia held in her sigh. She’d learned to tolerate India; it was no use trying to change her. Asia wasn’t sure she wanted to anyway.
“Oh, oh, oh. I know what you need.” Snapping her fingers, India rushed across the glossy floorboards and plopped down on the sofa. She reached for the laptop, but Asia jerked it away. “Let me see it for just a minute,” her sister said.
“Repeat after me: Today. Is. A. Vacation. Day.”
“Half day,” Asia corrected her. “And I’m still working.”
“Just give me the computer.” India wrangled it from her and folded her legs underneath her. Asia wanted to strangle her for putting her dusty sneakers on the pale-blue linen sofa cushions, but didn’t have the strength.
“I swear, this is fate,” her sister said, her fingers flying across the keyboard. “I read this article online just this morning. The guy is fascinating. Here it is.” She turned the screen toward Asia.
“The Rebound Guy?”
India nodded, a wide, excited smile splitting her face. “He is exactly what you need.”
“I do not need a rebound guy. I already have a guy.”
“Who moved all his shit out and left you with the bill for your engagement ring. Why would you even want that guy? And why does he still owe over eight thousand dollars on the ring? You two have been engaged for two years. Was he paying a hundred bucks a month?”
Asia started to speak, then stopped short. Unable to think of a comeback, she went for her computer. “Thanks for coming over, but you should probably head to class.”
India stretched the computer out of her reach. “I’m only a few minutes away from campus. I’ve got time.”
“I don’t. I need to get back to work.” Her sister jumped up from the sofa, still holding the laptop. “Come on, India,” Asia said in a warning tone.
“Trying to get over a bad breakup?” India read. “Need help making your ex jealous? The Rebound Guy may be just what you’re looking for.”
Asia pushed herself up and started for her sister. India sideswiped her, still reading. “This knight in shining armor, with a heart of gold, specializes in helping women navigate the troubling waters we find ourselves in after the end of a long-term relationship. And take it from me, ladies, he isn’t hard on the eyes, either.”
“Would you give me that laptop and get to class?” Asia said, finally catching up to her sister and plucking the computer from her fingers. “Something told me not to answer the door when you knocked.”
“Hey!” India said with an affronted pout. “I just saved what’s left of your tattered pride. The Rebound Guy will make you forget you ever knew Cortland Robinson Stewart. Is he the second, or the third?”
“The third,” Asia confirmed.
“I knew it. Cortland Robinson Stewart the Third. Can you get more pretentious?”
“Goodbye,” Asia said, returning to the sofa. She stretched out across it, facing the fifteen-foot-high window with a view of downtown Manhattan. She settled the computer across her lap. “There’s an envelope on the bar in the kitchen. Buy yourself a new bicycle helmet with what’s in it.”
“What’s wrong with the one I have?” India held up the dented helmet covered with swaths of gray electrical tape.
Asia just stared at her.
“Okay, okay,” her sister said. She came over and gave Asia a peck on the cheek. “Call me if you need any more moral support.”
Asia snorted as she returned her focus to the computer. She heard the refrigerator open. Moments later, India called, “Were you planning on eating that block of cheese? Or those cold cuts?”
“Take them,” Asia replied.
“What about the loaf of bread?”
Asia growled. Loudly.
“Okay. I’m gone,” her sister said. A minute later the front door opened and closed quickly.
Asia released a tired breath and got back to the summation of the Noah Rochester incident. The senior Noah was CEO of Rochester Capital, an up-and-coming conservative-minded venture-capital firm and one of Global Partners Public Relations’ newest clients. As head of Global Partners PR’s crisis-management division, the overwhelming task of cleaning up Noah II’s most recent attempt to enter the Millionaire Brats Behaving Badly Club fell into Asia’s lap.
A half hour later, Asia emailed the report to the other five people on her team, attaching an electronic meeting notice for the next morning. She quit the word-processing program and found the article India had been reading still open on her computer screen.
Do you find yourself single after years of loving a man you only thought you knew? Are you unsure why your man left in the first place? The Rebound Guy can help you figure it out.
“Great, I’m the Rebound Guy’s target audience.”
Asia put the laptop in hibernation mode and set it on the coffee table.
She refused to think of herself as single. She was not single. She was just in a relationship with a man who should have a better understanding of her demanding work schedule. Cortland was legal counsel at Global Partners. He knew how the firm operated.
He was hurt, but he was not “done,” as he’d texted last night. His pride was bruised because she’d ruined his plans. She would go over to the apartment he’d shared with his best friend Rodney, where she was pretty sure he’d hauled his things, and straighten this out.
“Soon,” Asia yawned as she stretched out on the sofa. Right now, she would get some much-needed sleep. After a long night of putting out fires and not returning home until nearly four a.m., she deserved a few moments of rest.
Dexter Bryant jogged up the steps of the four-story red-brick brownstone that housed his one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill neighborhood. The leash he held in his right hand pulled taut as his Pomeranian stopped short and emitted a low growl.
“Come on, Rox.” Dexter tugged at the leash. She didn’t give an inch. “Roxie, come.”
The stray gray and black tabby that had been loitering around the brownstone pounced from behind a garbage can at the curb. Roxie went into attack mode, jerking the leash so hard it nearly flew out of Dex’s grip. He bent down and scooped the dog into his arms.
“Quiet down, Killer,” he said, running his fingers through Roxie’s coarse coat as he entered the building’s compact lobby and climbed the stairs two at a time to his third-floor walk-up. He turned Roxie loose as soon as they entered the apartment. He rinsed out her bowl, filled it with fresh water, and set it in the corner Roxie had commandeered the day he and Ebony had brought her home.
Three years later, he still had Roxie. Ebony he’d let go.
Dex pulled off his sweaty t-shirt on his way to the bathroom. He turned on the waterproof shower radio his sister had sent for his birthday and cranked up NPR, then he stripped out of his running shorts and hopped into the shower. As the water beat down on his head, Dex massaged his right shoulder. He’d added an English Setter to his Thursday morning dog grouping, and as was the breed’s nature, this one was an adventurer. The dog had attempted to sniff every tree, rock, and park bench they’d passed on the morning’s walk.
Dex remained under the spray until the hot water turned lukewarm. When he finally got out of the shower, he toweled himself dry, wrapped the towel around his waist, and headed for the Spartan kitchen.
After grabbing a bottle of water, he checked his work schedule scribbled on the dry-erase side of the magnetized cork-and-dry-erase-board combo on the fridge. He grimaced when he noticed that Bruno, the Anderson’s Mastiff, was on tap for tomorrow. Dex rolled his shoulder. It was in for another workout. Thankfully, the other two dogs in tomorrow’s grouping were both midsize breeds.
“Except for you, right, Rox?”
Roxie’s ears perked up, but her head stayed firmly planted on her plaid dog bed.
Dexter turned to the narrow bar separating the kitchen and living room. Leaning his elbows on the laminate, he flipped open the cover on his iPad. He tapped the screen and pulled up Alena Saunder’s Guys and Gals in the Big Apple blog. She’d sent him a text message late last night, letting him know his interview would be published online today. It had taken much arm-twisting by Alena, but he’d reluctantly agreed to the interview after realizing it would be a good way to test the public’s perception of his business.
Dex blew out an exasperated sigh when he read the article’s title: “The Rebound Guy.”
“You had to go there, huh?”
Alena had been the one to choose that moniker. At first, he’d balked at the label, yet he’d soon accepted that it was probably the most accurate way to describe the service he provided. But Dex wanted to distance himself from the unseemly connotation associated with the phrase. His vision for his business transcended being just a stand-in date.
The first couple of paragraphs read like an advertisement for some two-bit escort service, validating his initial resistance to doing this kind of publicity in the first place. He’d read Alena’s blog before; he should have known she would sensationalize the topic to within an inch of its life. Dexter grudgingly gave her the benefit of the doubt, figuring she needed a salacious element to pull readers in.
The rest of the article provided a fairly accurate accounting of what his business entailed and how he wanted to move forward in the future as a relationship advisor.
If anyone could do the interview justice, it was Alena. She had first-hand knowledge of the services he provided, seeing as she was his very first client and the only one Dex had allowed himself to remain in contact with. Although he and Alena had zero romantic chemistry—a very good thing given the nature of his business—they had discovered that, as best friends, they were a perfect match.
Dex scrolled down the page. He did a double take when he saw the comments. There were over a hundred. He took his water bottle and the iPad over to the dark-brown faux-leather couch and sat, balancing the electronic tablet on his lap.
The comments were mixed, with opinions ranging from people who considered him a glorified male whore to those who thought it was an ingenious way to score women. Only a few people commented that he was providing a unique and valid service, but even a couple of those commenters remarked on the sexual aspects of his occupation.
“I don’t sleep with all the women,” Dex muttered.
This reaction was what he’d been afraid of when Alena had first suggested an interview. Legitimizing exactly what he did for a living was a constant struggle. He knew his work had merit, but even he couldn’t accurately put into words what made him different from a run-of-the-mill escort. He needed to get across to people that it wasn’t all about “scoring women.” He was an advisor, not a random hookup.
In fact, over the past year and a half he’d come to think of his work as being damn near heroic. He saved women from guys who would have no qualms about taking advantage of them when they were most vulnerable. In the same vein, he spared men the potential heartache they would face after discovering the relationship they thought was real was nothing more than a means for their new girlfriend to pass the time while she waited for her next long-term mate.
Rebounding was a part of the healing process after a tough breakup. He helped women get through that process. He was a healer.
“A healer. I’ll have to write that one down,” Dex said as he continued to scroll through the comments.
The more he read, the more relieved he was that he’d insisted the interview be anonymous. It was apparent from the comments that the general public was not ready for his brand of hands-on professional relationship advice.
“Guess we won’t be advertising in the Yellow Pages, Rox,” Dex said with a heavy sigh. He would have to figure out a way to change people’s opinions if he was going to make his job a career.
Currently all of his business came through referrals. In his line of work he had to be selective, and the past clients who referred potential customers knew to give his information only to legitimate prospects.
Not every woman needed a rebound guy. Many were strong enough to handle the emotional turmoil that ensued after a bad breakup, but for those who had a difficult time moving forward, Dex was there to provide emotional support. Some needed a shoulder to cry on or an understanding ear to listen while they bitched about their ex. Sometimes a woman just needed to know that she still had it. He’d become a pro at building up shattered confidence.
Dex logged into his email account and found one from Alena with the word URGENT written in all caps in the subject line. He read over the email that had been forwarded from email@example.com. It seemed legit. At least legitimate enough for him to reply and possibly set up a meeting. He had concluded business with his latest client just this past week; he was ready for the next one.
Dexter’s Dog Walking Service brought in enough income to take care of a few incidentals here and there, but it was his other enterprise that paid the bills. There was never a shortage of women on the rebound, and a remarkable number of them were willing to pay his $1500 per week consulting fee.
With his iPad in hand, Dexter rose from the couch, losing his towel in the process. He picked up his cell phone from where he’d set it on the kitchen counter and dialed the number in the email.
“Let’s see what you’re all about,” he looked down at the name at the bottom of the email, “India Carpenter.”
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