After the Kiss:The Stiletto Series

By: Lauren Layne

For Anth. We did it.

Chapter One

Julie Greene had built a career out of falling in love. Staying in love? Not so much.

Julie’s boss apparently hadn’t gotten the memo.

“I’m confused,” Julie said slowly, leaning forward with a placating smile. “You want me to write what?”

Translation: You’re confused. I don’t write that shit.

Camille Bishop leaned back in her chair and studied Julie with puzzled eyes. “I’d have thought you’d be jumping at the chance to have such a simple assignment after last month.”

Julie pursed her lips together and considered. Last month’s assignment had been exhausting. Documenting the seven kinds of first kisses had required a lot of research.

Pleasant research.

But this? A two-page spread, to be called “How to Take Relationships to the Next Level”?

What was Camille thinking? This was Stiletto magazine, not Dr. Phil. Stiletto was sex and high heels, not companionship and freaking clogs.

The rocky post-honeymoon period just wasn’t Julie’s scene. Which is not to say she didn’t have plenty of other skills.

The first date? She had men begging for it.

The first kiss? An art form she’d long since mastered.

The first time you lost your panties in his sheets? Soooo not a problem.

This wasn’t to say that Julie had perfected only the major, most obvious dating milestones, however. She also knew how to finesse the subtler moments—those key moments where the breath caught and you thought, Yes, this. Julie could explain every single nuance, from the toe-curling euphoria when his hand brushed yours to the tingle when eyes held for just a beat too long. And then there was her personal favorite moment: the bone-deep satisfaction when you made him laugh for the first time—a real laugh.

Most women thought these moments just happened. Julie Greene knew better. These moments were created.

As for what happened after all that good stuff?

Julie couldn’t care less. She had no need for the first fight, no desire to meet the parents. No interest in finding dirty boxers in her hamper or making room in her bathroom for a man’s razor. That was all a one-way trip to Julie’s personal vision of hell: couples movie night.

Julie had found that the women of New York City erroneously used movie night as a yardstick of how close to the altar he was. After all, if he was satisfied to spend a Friday night at home instead of at a strip club, he must be whipped, right?

Wrong. So wrong.

Movie night was just another way of saying that you didn’t want to bother dressing up for him and that he didn’t care. Julie lived in fear of the moment when fancy dinners and cocktail parties would be a thing of the past, and the highlight of the weekend would be lounging in yoga pants and watching car chases or beautiful people making out on-screen.

The sexiest part of that scenario was the butter on the popcorn.

She shuddered. Julie Greene didn’t do movie night.

“Camille, look,” she tried again. “It’s not that I don’t respect your suggestions . . .”

“Oh?” Camille tilted her head, making her chemically straightened bob sway ever so slightly, and Julie froze. Over the years, Julie had come to think of Camille’s usually immobile hair as her “tell”—when it moved, someone’s life was about to get really messy.

Up until now, it had never been Julie’s life.

In the six years that she’d been working for Camille as a full-time columnist, this was the first time Julie had received a direct order on a story topic. Even when Julie had been fresh out of college with nothing but a handful of internships under her belt, Camille had given her wide latitude on what to write about.

Julie knew that Camille trusted her judgment. So what was with the sudden power trip?

It didn’t make sense. Julie was one of Stiletto’s best columnists, and they both knew it. And Camille had always encouraged her writers to play to their strengths. Julie’s niche was the single readers with the dream of falling in love. After that, they were on their own.

Julie sat up straighter. Wait, no. That wasn’t entirely true. Readers did have someplace to go once they got past the fun part of dating.

Grace Brighton.

“Why not have Grace do it?” Julie asked excitedly. “She’s your relationship guru.”