By Bonnie Trachtenberg
Smart, attractive, and ambitious, thirty-seven-year-old Dara Harrison is, nonetheless, still single—and on sabbatical from dating. Ironically Los Angeles’ most renowned relationship advice columnist, Dara has become a Southland sensation with her “tell-it-like-it-is” approach to the mating game. Parlaying her success into a new business, Dara launches a revolutionary dating service geared for the perennially single and romantically challenged. Its no-holds-barred theme soon makes the company a roaring success, even catapulting Dara onto the national talk show scene—until, of course, it all backfires.
With her company under threat and a publicity stunt gone haywire, Dara is forced to join the ranks of her lonely heart clientele, and suddenly realizes that saving the business she cherishes, means facing her lifelong fears—and maybe even falling in love again. Witty, poignant, and immensely engaging, this romantic comedy from the bestselling author of Wedlocked: A Novel features sparkling dialogue, colorful characters, and a story that pulls you in and never lets you go.
Leaning back in her office chair, still feeling rejuvenated from her workout, Dara spoke on the phone, while glancing at what she’d just written on her computer screen:
Ten Questions to Ask a Man on Your First Date
1. Are you married?
2. Do you have a steady girlfriend?
3. Do you live with any females (including your mother)?
4. Are there any women with whom you are sleeping and would call a “close friend”?
5. Are there any female relationships in your life that you would classify as “complicated”?
6. Do you have any reason to hate your mother?
7. How many children are you supporting?
8. How many children might come looking for you in the future?
9. Are you wanted in any of the fifty states or abroad?
10. Is there any reason your fingerprints might be on file with the FBI?
“I’d be delighted to speak at the seminar, Ms. Randolph,” Dara said, dragging her attention back to the phone. “How much time is allotted for each speaker? Great, I’ll make sure to prepare enough material. You know, you should really put an ad in our paper if you want to increase your attendance.” She laughed charmingly. “Of course you can use my name. I’d be flattered.”
Dara noticed Reggie standing over her shoulder and motioned that she was almost done. “Okay, terrific. Bye now.”
Dara sat up and looked at him with excitement.
“I just got my first full seminar,” she sang.
“I’m impressed,” he told her.
“Now, what can I do for you, my darling Reginald?”
“For me? Nothing,” he said, then lowered his voice to an ominous whisper, “but The Beast wants to see you.”
Dara’s high spirits began to deflate. “Oh, what now?” she asked with exasperation.
Over the last month, since Bob “The Beast” Bastley had taken over the job of editor-in-chief, she’d been chewed out for several new company violations, most notably: contaminating the refrigerator with outdated half and half; eating a grilled cheese sandwich at her desk instead of in the newly christened Corporate Dining Area (a makeshift four-by-four kitchen); and using Valuable Company Time to schedule a dentist appointment.
“I don’t know,” said Reggie. “Did you flush something other than toilet paper down the toilet?”
“I’m going to flush his K-Mart tie down the toilet,” she whispered angrily, “after I strangle him with it.”
“Now, now,” Reggie whispered back, “he’s only trying to ‘ensure a safe and hospitable work environment for everyone.’ Remember?”
Reggie flashed his stunningly white teeth.
“Hospitable, my a**,” she retorted, rolling her chair back on the plastic carpet saver and heading toward the editor’s office.
Dara took a cleansing breath and knocked on the half open door. The Beast glanced up from his computer with barely disguised annoyance, his diminutive figure eclipsed by his oversized desk. He had brown wavy hair combed neatly to one side, wore an ill-fitting bargain basement suit, and looked to be in his late twenties. She wondered how someone so young could secure an editor-in-chief position at a reputable entertainment newspaper. Smitty, the previous editor, had been with the paper for twenty years until his retirement, an announcement that had brought tears to Dara’s eyes. She knew that work relationships like theirs came few and far between.
“You wanted to see me?” she asked.
“Yes. Please close the door and have a seat.”
Something in his formal tone told her this had nothing to do with outdated dairy products. She waited for him to open his mouth and breathe some fire her way, but instead, he opened a folder on his desk and shuffled through the stack of papers inside. It didn’t take long for Dara to realize the folder contained a collection of her columns. He pursed his flaky lips and narrowed his eyes as he looked at her.
“I’ve read over your columns, Dara, and I’m very concerned.”
“Really? Why would they concern you?”
“I’ve never seen an advice columnist let loose on her readers the way you do. You’ve been writing this column for, what, almost eight years?”
Dara nodded slowly.
“I understand that a column will progress along with the columnist over a period of time. It’s only natural—but in your case…”
“Well, I find the progression quite disturbing.”
“Disturbing?” she echoed with surprise.
“Well,” he said, “early on, your column was more like a pep talk, more hopeful. That’s good. That’s what people want to hear, but lately…”
The Beast tapped his bony fingers on his desk while sighing.
“You can get to the point, Bob,” she said with some irreverence. The change in tone brought out the editor she was starting to know and hate.
“Telling people they’re better off on their own is not the best romantic advice.”
“It is if they’re dating a creep.”
“Last month you suggested that a forty-eight-year-old woman—” he shuffled through the file so he could quote her accurately, “‘would be better off with goldfish for company than the pathetic stream of misfits polluting her dating waters.’”
“Well, it’s true,” Dara replied.
He pulled out another page. “And in March, you told Stymied in Santa Monica that, and I quote again, ‘Couples therapy would be a waste of time considering your fiancé’s obvious obsession with killing small, defenseless animals.’”
Bob looked sternly at Dara. “So he’s a hunter,” he said with annoyance. “Lots of people are hunters. That doesn’t disqualify such a person from couples therapy—or good relationships.”
“It does when the person does it every weekend instead of paying some modicum of attention to his fiancée. My God, they’re not even married yet, and he’s totally ignoring her, not to mention murdering innocent wildlife.”
“Well,” Bob added as he pulled Exhibit C from the pile, “at least you’re an equal opportunity offender. You told this man that his girlfriend was ‘clearly a narcissist who will play nice until she sinks her claws deep enough into your skin to hold you down and eat you alive.’ Then you quoted lyrics from a Hall and Oates song, ‘Maneater.’”
“Yes,” Dara commented coolly, “I’ve seen it happen many times with women like that.”
“You told him to ‘get over his hard-on for b*tches unless he wants a life of pain and misery.’”
She nodded with assuredness. “Sound advice.”
The Beast huffed at her and began to raise his voice, “First of all, you can’t diagnose someone with a personality disorder when you’ve never even met her.”
“Oh, come on, it’s so obvious though—” she started.
“And, second, if he breaks up with her after reading this, we could have a lawsuit on our hands!”
“We have a disclaimer, remember? This is only for entertainment purposes, blah, blah, blah—”
“That doesn’t mean someone won’t start trouble anyway! We live in a very litigious state.” The Beast tried to calm himself with a deep breath. “Dara, your column is way too… depressing.”
“Depressing?” she repeated with indignation. “Then why is it more popular than ever? I’ll tell you why,” she added before he could interrupt. “Because people know it’s the truth. I’m not dolling up my advice with bull and phony platitudes. I tell it like it is, and my readers appreciate it. There’s a hunger for practicality and realism out there. Many of my readers are older and wiser and more cynical because of it. They’d see right through a fairy tale answer.”
“And what about the hopeful younger readers?” he asked.
She folded her arms across her chest. “They’d do well to get their heads out of the clouds and learn the lessons early so they don’t have to become cynical older readers,” she proclaimed.
“Dara, it’s not the readers who are cynical, it’s you. And as editor of this paper, it’s up to me to decide its tone.”
He looked intently at her, but she didn’t shrink from the gaze.
“No offense, but if your advice works so well, I imagine it would have worked for you by now. That ring isn’t fooling anyone around here.”
The remark hit her like a kick in the stomach. She swallowed and felt her cheeks burn. “Excuse me, Bob,” she said venomously, “but what does or does not happen in my private life is none of your business and does not affect my job in any way.”
“You’re right. It is none of my business, but you have to admit this fact might give some people…pause,” he said leaning back in his chair. “Anyway, getting back to the subject at hand, I don’t like cynicism. I’ve decided to go with another, more cheerful columnist. I’m sorry.”
At first his words didn’t compute.
“Excuse me?” she managed with a slight laugh. The thought that she was being fired was so unbelievable that her brain couldn’t comprehend it.
“I’ve arranged for a severance package for you. HR will lay out the details.”
The no-nonsense tone coming from a man who could have been her annoying little brother made the reality even more difficult to accept. She leaned forward.
“Do you have any idea how popular my column is? How many thank you letters I get? That I have actual fans?!”
When The Beast shook his head and said nothing, Dara couldn’t seem to choke out any more words.
“You have until tomorrow to clear out your things—and that includes anything you might be…storing in the company refrigerator.”
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