Erin fidgeted in the pin-striped chair. The "two-minute" wait promised by the receptionist stretched into ten.
She glanced at the magazines spread on the side table. Some were scholarly, some technical, none very interesting. Shuffling through the pile, she found a new copy of "Them" magazine, a slick tabloid specializing in the latest scandals and love interests of the stars.
The cover featured its typical fare of politicians, actors and beautiful people. In one photograph, a man and woman ducked their heads to avoid the paparazzi as they walked on a pier in a tropical locale. He wore sunglasses, a pair of baggy shorts and sandals. Hmmm, nice abs, she thought.
The woman looked familiar. An actress, maybe? She wore a pink bikini and a black sarong knotted at her slim, tanned hip. Erin glanced out the large window at Washington's overcast skyline and shivered. Smog and low clouds obscured the Capitol dome. Spring and the Cherry Blossom Festival couldn't come soon enough.
She flipped through the magazine. Advertisements dominated the first ten pages, and then she came to the cover feature: The island couple. Most of the photos showed only the hunk. In one, he stood at the wheel of speed boat, shirtless, sunglasses on again, his dark wavy hair whipping in the wind. In another, he strummed a guitar at a beach bonfire.
"Like what you see?"
Erin dropped the magazine and stood.
"Patricia. How are you?"
"Fine. Have a seat, Erin."
Patricia McDowell slid behind her massive desk. An imperious veteran of the publishing trenches for more than thirty years, Patricia operated a company that churned out quality non-fiction. Its books dominated the top of the New York Times bestselling list. Despite her diamond-hard veneer and keen business sense, she served as the patron saint of famous artists, musicians and historians who needed help writing books.
Erin interned at McDowell Publishing while earning her master's degree. As an editorial assistant, Erin helped senior staff move manuscripts through the system, from the authors to the production department.
Patricia valued her efficiency, which paled in comparison to her charm and persistence. She discovered Erin succeeded, more often through guile and wile, when experienced editors failed.
Erin's easy-going personality put many shy and introverted scholars at ease as she helped them complete their books on schedule.
Patricia couldn't care less if the girl recognized a split infinitive or a dangling participle. She employed plenty of grammarians. She wanted results and Erin delivered.
"Nice-looking man, isn't he?" Patricia lifted her chin towards the discarded tabloid.
"George Clooney? He's still yummy."
"No. The man on the cover."
"I didn't notice," Erin said. She picked up the magazine, thumbing through the pages until she found the photo spread again.
"He's okay, I guess. Who wouldn't be with that kind of money? How much do you think that speedboat cost?"
"I'm not sure, but the sailboat cost at least half a million. I know. I bought it for him."
"What? You're kidding me. You know this guy?" The magazine slipped through her fingers.
"That, my dear, is your next assignment. The boat was an advance on his forthcoming book."
Patricia smiled at Erin's disbelief. "Yes, he's that important, but he's a bit lackadaisical. He's missed several deadlines and his first chapter was due last month." Patricia leaned back into her leather chair and arched a silver eyebrow. "I cannot tolerate that. I need you on the project immediately."
"Is he local?" Erin picked up the magazine, flipped to the feature article and this time looked closer at the photographs.
"No. You'll have to travel for this one," Patricia said. Noting Erin's frown, she added, "He lives in North Carolina. Just a few hours away."
Erin chewed her lip. She preferred to work with writers living near the Washington Beltway. Her vitae consisted of edited books by professors, not playboys. She lived in Dupont Circle, near the fashionable northwest but not as costly. Still, living in the capital was expensive and she could not afford to turn down a job.
"Can you leave right away?"
Erin fumbled through her jacket