Spicing Up TroubleBenjamin Nance Cobb is on his way to the newspaper to discuss his photograph on the front page and wrestle with his feelings for Alexia Hale.

I never believed in love at first sight until it happened to me. After I found Alexia’s business card on the floor of my studio’s dressing room, outing her as a food editor aka reporter at the Chicago News, I was stunned. I hadn’t been played since grade school.

How did Alexia Hale permeate every fiber of my being in a few hours?

Now, my life and art were meaningless without her. I didn’t tolerate spies in my studio and had to go after the editor who sent her, but forever grateful he did.

Or did she sneak in under the radar on her own accord to make points? Why would anyone care where I went or what I did? I didn’t find myself that interesting.

My paintings were in demand, but each had a part of my soul connected to it, so I stopped selling. It cost too much to have so much of myself scattered around the globe. It was great to be celebrated, but I could do without the fame and the paparazzi.

The intrusive press came in many forms, even a beautiful woman who brought my art back to life and knew my mother’s books better than me. I was never going to trust a modeling agency again and won’t need one either. Alexia was the only subject for me now. Her hair was the color of butter, dipped in gold, and then highlighted with daffodils. Her face set in symmetry, meaning her profile would be flawless. But what struck me dumb were her eyes. Blue like dazzling sapphires, yet the shades of light illuminated them as robins’ eggs or the pristine ocean on a sunny day. It wasn’t lust, more of a reverence, something I had seen, but never experienced. Muses appeared to artists when they least expected them or really needed them. She fell into both categories for me. Ethereal, seductive, and demure, hers was the ultimate female image to possess on paper.

I can’t deny my attraction to Alexia or the kiss. Both seemed real, either she was a wonderful actress or she got pulled into the same vortex and liked me too. She didn’t interview me and no quotes were posted. Yesterday, when I confronted her in the newspaper’s kitchen, she apologized and was genuinely embarrassed by the whole thing. I hoped to catch sight of her again. Maybe get another apology and invite her to lunch and discuss her modeling for me again.

What was her angle?

I’d seen her from every nude angle and approved.

I parked my car, walked across the street, and met my attorney, Bill Hanes, in the lobby of the Chicago News building.

“I’ll handle the editor, Wallace Abram. Are you including Alexia Hale, the reporter, in the lawsuit?” he asked as we stepped into the elevator.

“No, she’s a pawn and didn’t print a word. If she had included any quotes or descriptions as background for the picture, they would be on the front page. Plus she’s a food reviewer not a gotcha reporter.”

“And?” He smiled.

“None of your business.”

The elevator doors slid open and we stepped out. The female assistant stopped typing as the color drained from her face.

Good to have a vicious reputation for privacy and a pit bull attorney.

The door opened behind her and a haggard man stared at us. After he exhaled, he stepped aside and waved us in.

“Mr. Abram, I presume,” Bill said as the man nodded and closed the door.

“Yes, I know you have concerns…” Abram didn’t get to finish as Bill started a tirade about individual privacy versus freedom of the press.

I sat as the door swung open and Alexia began to yell at Abram, her back to me.

“You’ve destroyed my credibility here by announcing a fake engagement on the front page. How dare you use me for your crass exploitation of Ben, I mean, Mr. Cobb. He wants to be left alone to pursue his art and it’s none of anyone’s business. How would you like it if photographers were sent to hunt you? I’m ashamed to work here and resign.”

Feisty, combative, and defending my honor? Alexia, where had you been all my life?

“Miss Hale, you’ve been…” Abram started to say.

“Alexia, you don’t have to leave,” I said.

I startled her as she turned toward me. I pulled out a chair for her to join me at a conference table.

“Miss Hale’s position with the newspaper was terminated last night due to continuing budget cuts,” Abram offered as he rubbed his forehead.

“Do you have plans for lunch?” I asked Alexia.

“No, I have to go downstairs to make sure my sister hasn’t punched anyone and save my oldest sister some pumpkin pie and monster frosting. Please excuse me,” she said as she fled the room.

This I had to see.

You can read more about Benjamin in Spicing Up Trouble, published by Gemma Halliday Publishing.

GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment by 12 a.m. eastern on July 10 for the chance to win an e-book copy of Spicing Up Trouble. The giveaway is open to everyone. Winner will be notified within 48 hours after giveaway closes and you will have three days to respond after being contacted or another winner will be selected.

Meet the author
Long before DVDs, Mary Jo saw Gone with the Wind in the theater. She was ten. The story never left her. She read the book three times. She saw the movie every time it was re-released. GWTW will be seventy-five years old this year and is her favorite movie. She would only make a minor change: Leave Ashley to Melanie and hold on tight to Rhett. Her writing sprung from reading, watching, and always wanting to edit. Mary Jo was born in Chicago and has never strayed far from home. She majored in Accounting and received her MBA in Finance. She worked in the investment and banking businesses. Mary Jo is a member of the Romance Writers of America, Chicago North RWA, and Windy City RWA.

Visit Mary Jo at www.maryjoburke.com

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