Costa Mesa 2: Toe the Line

Roxanne D. Howard

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After two months apart from Jack and working in desolate, war-torn Syria, Piper is on her way home to California for Hanukkah. The tides have turned dramatically, and she is now an established journalist with Channel Four News. Th...
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After two months apart from Jack and working in desolate, war-torn Syria, Piper is on her way home to California for Hanukkah. The tides have turned dramatically, and she is now an established journalist with Channel Four News. Though she's proud of where she's at with her career, her heart aches for the painful way she left things with Jack.

Jack is determined to make things right with Piper, no matter what. When he receives a cash settlement from Business Buster, he uses his newfound wealth to whisk her away on his new yacht for a romantic getaway to Catalina Island. In no time at all, the two lovers reignite the fiery blaze between them, and their steamy passion rekindles out on the open ocean. But when a dangerous, hidden stowaway hijacks the yacht and holds them both captive, Piper and Jack find themselves at his mercy. With nowhere to run, they must work together if they want to escape alive.

This holiday season, it’s time to Toe the Line.

Hanukkah was always an emotional time of year for anyone. This year especially, after meeting Jack and getting a taste of the passion they could have together, then losing it—it had made a huge impact on her life. Still, this was the time of year for family, reconciliation, miracles, and love. Maybe there was still a chance.

She thought of Amira, a little girl who’d captured her heart. Amira liked to draw and would often give Piper crayon pictures she’d drawn of happier thoughts with green grass, blue skies, trees, and stick-figure people. Amira had found a home before Piper left. A physician at the local hospital and his wife had adopted her, which was such a relief to Piper to know she’d be safe and loved.

Piper had never quite grasped how lucky she was to have been born in the United States. Her grandma Yetta didn’t talk about the Holocaust very often. She’d always said she preferred to focus on the beautiful elements in life rather than the uglier times. But to know what life was like in a war zone now gave her a more profound respect than she’d ever had before for Yetta.

Piper’s close friends, Stefan Delgado and his husband Lance, had kept an eye on her condo for her while she’d been overseas. When the shuttle dropped her off in front of the complex, she unlocked the front door and stepped inside for the first time in two months. It threw her off guard with how well kept it appeared. With a pang, she remembered the cleaning spree she’d gone on right around the time Jack had ripped into her. Afterward, she’d gone to the studio to tell the truth on air and then had come home and blitzed the hell out of the place to quell her shattered nerves.

She walked into the kitchen area, where Stefan and Lance had left a sticky note on the fridge: Stocked you up on a few essentials. Welcome back, P!

She smiled and shook her head. “You guys.” She’d missed their zesty presence in her life. In the fridge was a gallon of cold milk, fresh fruit and vegetables, and kosher food. She retrieved a glass from the cupboard and poured some water.

Once the brunch was over tomorrow, she could relax and take some well-needed time to get her personal life sorted out. She slipped out of her shoes and changed into a soft lacy nightgown from her closet. It was the first sexy attire she’d worn since she left. She rubbed her favorite scented lotion into her hands and savored the sweet floral scent she’d missed. What would Jack say if she went to see him? It was the holiday season, after all. Even if he still resented her, perhaps they could at least mend fences?

One thing was certain, though—her heart needed to heal and move forward.

* * * *

Hakeem had mentioned in her initial interview over the phone that one perk to her job at Channel Four was the catering. As she’d missed out on it while over in Syria, she looked forward to seeing how good the food was. She and her taste buds weren’t disappointed. Whether it was served in the studio or at special off-site locations, like this holiday awards-ceremony brunch, the food was high quality. Because of the diversified staff members, there was kosher food. She didn’t always eat kosher, but she liked to honor her family’s tradition and heritage as often as she could.

Piper sat down at a table with her fellow anchors, who greeted her with hugs and praise for her time in Syria. Hakeem sat next to her and introduced his wife, Nadia, a beautiful woman with wide, dark eyes. She wore a pretty hijab. Nadia had an earthy, warm kindness about her.

No sooner had she dug into her breakfast than they surprised her by calling her up to the podium. She wiped her lips with a napkin and adjusted her necklace.

“What is this?” she asked Hakeem.

He shrugged in his sage-like way, though his dark eyes sparkled as he and Nadia watched her stand. She walked to the podium, where Richard Johnson, the Channel Four news director, stood and beamed at her. She kept her head high, as her mom always told her.

Chin up, my girl. Always chin up.

She’d put on a pair of black pants and a white wraparound blouse with a nice Empire waist for the occasion. They presented her with a beautifully crafted glass award for Outstanding Accomplishment in Journalism. Her hands didn’t shake when she took the award, but despite her confidence, tears welled up. A year ago, she would have considered this a pipe dream. Richard stood aside and indicated she should say a few words.

Piper took a deep breath and moved toward the microphone. She cleared her throat and looked up. “Thank you. I—”

The first person she saw when she looked up was Jack Spencer. He was leaning against the wall on the other side of the room wearing dark jeans, a dark-blue T-shirt, and a black sports jacket. Time froze, and so did she as she stared at him. His face beamed with pride, and it hit her right in the heart. Piper blinked, and a few tears escaped. Maybe he’d come to make amends?

She looked around at the audience of her peers, who appeared to notice the exchange. “My time in Syria taught me about what it means to be grateful for what we have here. Thank you so much for this award. I’m grateful to my fellow anchors, Hakeem Patel and Melinda Schaffer, who were my home front throughout the whole experience. This award means a lot to me, more than any of you could ever know. I hope our segments we did in Syria have stoked enough awareness about the crisis with the refugees. Not everyone will always agree about a decision, but when it involves children, I feel like we have an obligation to do our utmost to help. Thank you.”

She stepped away to applause. But instead of going back to her table, she kept right on walking. Straight toward Jack.

* * * *

Before Piper made it two feet in front of Jack, he seized her hand and led her out of the banquet hall. He half expected her to slap him, but the fact that she hadn’t so far was a good sign. Jack found a secluded hallway area and stopped. He let go of her hand and watched her.

Piper’s mouth hung open. She assessed him with her dark eyes and then put a hand on her hip.

“Jack, why are you here?”

He quirked an eyebrow “Aw, come on now, Legs. I thought it’d be pretty damn obvious. I’m here to whisk you away.”

She blinked in alarm. He knew he was pressing his luck, but the best defense was sometimes a good offense.

What! What do you mean? We haven’t even been in touch. You never responded to my e-mail.”

He frowned. “What e-mail? I sent you an e-mail.”

“No, you didn’t. I sent you an e-mail, a few days after I got to Syria. You never responded.”

“Piper, I never got it! I sent you an e-mail the same day Hakeem gave me your address. You never responded to mine.”

“Well, I never got yours, did I?” She blinked furiously.

He drew closer to her, cautious as a lion tamer. “Okay, so apparently e-mail sucks. How about we set that aside and chalk it up to miscommunication? Let’s give it another shot.”

Copyright © Roxanne D. Howard


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