By: Sandra Brown

Drex raised his glass in a quasi toast. “I try.” He’d shaved, but had left a scruff. He’d worn casual slacks and a button-up shirt, the shirttail out. Docksiders, no socks.

Jasper resumed his seat in the rocker and sipped from his drink. “So, you’re a writer.”

Drex pretended to strangle on his sip of whiskey and looked at his host with surprise.

“Your literary agent was one of the references you gave Arnott.”

“Oh! For a second there, I thought you were a mind-reader.” Looking abashed, he said, “I’m trying to be a writer. Can’t claim the title yet. I haven’t published.”

“Your agent told Arnott that you have real potential.”

He waved that off. “All agents say that about their clients.”

“She must believe it or she wouldn’t be representing you.”



“My agent is a he.”

“Oh. My mistake.”

My ass, Drex thought. That had been a test.

“Are you writing full-time?”

“Lately I have been.”

“How do you support yourself?”

“Frugally.” Jasper gave the expected laugh. Drex said, “My dad died a couple of years ago and left me a small inheritance. Nothing to boast about, but it’s keeping a roof over my head while I work on the book.”

“Fiction or non?”

“Fiction. Civil War novel.”

Jasper raised his eyebrows, encouraging him to continue.

“I don’t want to bore you,” Drex said.

“I’m not bored.”

“Well,” Drex said, taking a deep breath, “the protagonist takes a sort of Forrest Gump journey through the conflict, from Bull Run to Appomattox. He grapples with divided loyalties, his moral compass, mortal fear during battle. That kind of thing.”

“Sounds interesting.”

Drex smiled as though he realized that was a platitude, but appreciated it all the same. “My agent likes the story, and said my research was factually sound. But he felt the narrative lacked color. It needed more heart, he said. Soul.”

“So you came down here to get color, heart, and soul.”

“I hope to soak up some while working on the second draft. And,” he said, stretching out both his legs and the word, “I needed to get away from the distractions of the everyday grind.”

“Like a wife?”

“Not anymore.”


“Thank God.”

“You sound bitter. What happened?”

“She accused me of cheating.”

“Did you?”

Drex looked at him and cocked an eyebrow, but didn’t answer. Instead he sipped his bourbon. It was a smooth, expensive one. “The divorce cost me dear and taught me a hard lesson.”

“You’ll never cheat again.”

“I’ll never marry again.”

“Ah, never say never,” Jasper said, shaking his index finger at him. “After the loss of my first wife, I grieved for her and stayed single for a long time. Thirty years, in fact.”

“Man, that’s loyalty. How’d she die?”

Looking Drex straight in the eye, he said, “In pain.” He held the stare for a beat, then finished his bourbon in one shot, stood, and headed for the kitchen. “How do you like your steak?”

The medium rare rib eye had been seasoned and grilled to perfection. Jasper apologized for serving the meal in the casual dining room, rather than the more formal one, but the table was set a lot fancier than Drex was used to, and he confessed as much.

While they ate, Drex probed his host for more personal information, but in a manner he hoped would seem natural. “This house is really something.”

“Thank you.”

“You hire a professional decorator?”

“Only to consult. Talia knew what she wanted.”

“Talia? That’s your wife’s name? Pretty.” He glanced around. “She has good taste.”

“She has great taste.”

“Expensive taste?”

Jasper only smiled at that, but didn’t respond.

Drex took a sip of the Cabernet he’d brought, blotted his mouth, and then picked up his utensils and cut into his steak again. “You seem to do all right,” he said, applying his knife to the meat. “What’s your line of work?”