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“Rightly so!”

“Forgive me, Maryanne. It was arrogant in the extreme of me to publish that piece. If it’ll make you feel any better, you can blast me to kingdom come in your next column. I solemnly promise I’ll never write another word about you.”

“Don’t be so humble—it doesn’t suit you,” she muttered, gnawing on her lower lip. “Besides, I won’t be able to print a rebuttal.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t plan on working for the Review any more, or at least not after tomorrow.” The idea seemed to emerge fully formed; until that moment she hadn’t known what she was going to say.

The silence following her words was fraught with tension. “What do you mean?”

“Don’t act so surprised. I’m quitting the paper.”

“What? Why?” Nolan had been standing during their whole conversation, but he suddenly found it necessary to sit. He lowered himself slowly to the sofa, his face pale. “You’re overreacting! There’s no need to do anything so drastic.”

“There’s every need. You said so yourself. You told me I’ve been cheated, that if I’m even half as good a reporter as I think I am I would’ve got this ‘plum position’ on my own. I’m just agreeing with you.”

He nodded stiffly.

“As painful as this is to admit, especially to you,” she went on, “you’re right. My family is wonderful, but they’ve never allowed me to fall on my face. Carol Riverside is the one who deserved the chance to write that column. She’s been with the paper for five years—I’d only been there five minutes. But because my name is Simpson, and because my father made a simple phone call, I was given the job. Carol was cheated. She should’ve been furious. Instead, she was kind and helpful.” Maryanne sat down next to Nolan and propped her feet on the coffee table. “And maybe worse than what happened to Carol is what happened to me as a result of being handed this job. What you wrote about me wondering if I had what it takes to make it as a journalist hit too close to home. All my life my father’s been there to tell me I can be anything I want to be and then he promptly arranges it.”

“Quitting the Review isn’t going to change that,” Nolan argued. “Come on, Maryanne, you’re taking this too seriously.”

“Nothing you say is going to change my mind,” Maryanne informed him primly. “The time has come for me to cut myself loose and sink or swim on my own.”

Her mind was galloping ahead, adjusting to the coming changes. For the first time since she’d read Nolan’s column that afternoon, she experienced the beginnings of excitement. She glanced around the apartment as another thought struck her. “Naturally I’ll have to move out of this place.”

“Are you going back to New York?”

“Heavens, no!” she declared, unaccountably thrilled at the reluctance she heard in his voice. “I love Seattle.”

“Listen to me, would you? You’re leaping into the deep end, you don’t know how to swim and the lifeguard’s off duty.”

Maryanne hardly heard Nolan, mainly because she didn’t like what he was saying. How like a man to start a bonfire and then rush to put out the flames. “The first thing I need to worry about is finding another job,” she announced. “A temporary one, of course. I’m going to continue writing, but I don’t think I’ll be able to support myself on that, not at first, anyway.”

“If you insist on this folly, you could always freelance for the Sun.”

Maryanne discounted that suggestion with a shake of her head. “I’d come off looking like a traitor.”

“I suppose you’re right.” His eyebrows drew together as he frowned.

“You know what else I’m going to do?” She shifted her position, tucking her legs beneath her. “I’ve got this trust fund that provides a big interest payment every month. That’s what I’ve been using to pay my bills. You and I both know I couldn’t afford this place on what I make at the paper. Well, I’m not going to touch those interest payments and I’ll live solely on what I earn.”

“I…wouldn’t do that right away, if I were you.”

“Why not?”

“You just said you were quitting your job.” Nolan sounded uneasy. “I can see that I’ve set off an avalanche here, and I’m beginning to feel mildly concerned.”

“Where do you live?”

“Capitol Hill. Listen, if you’re serious about moving, you need to give some thought as to what kind of neighborhood you’re getting into. Seattle’s a great town, don’t get me wrong, but like any place we have our problem areas.” He hesitated. “Annie, I don’t feel comfortable with this.”

“No one’s ever called me Annie before.” Her eyes smiled into his. “What do you pay in rent?”

With his hands buried deep in his pants pockets, he mumbled something under his breath, then mentioned a figure that was one-third of what she was currently dishing out every month.

“That’s more than reasonable.”

Maryanne saw surprise in his eyes, and smiled again. “If you’re so concerned about my finding the right neighborhood, then you pick one for me. Anyplace, I don’t care. Just remember, you’re the one who got me into this.”

“Don’t remind me.” Nolan’s frown darkened.

“I may not have appreciated what you said about me in your column,” Maryanne said slowly, “but I’m beginning to think good things might come of it.”

“I’m beginning to think I should be dragged to the nearest tree and hanged,” Nolan grumbled.

“Hi.” Maryanne slipped into the booth opposite Nolan at the greasy spoon called Mom’s Place. She smiled, feeling like a child on a grand adventure. Perhaps she was going off the deep end, as Nolan had so adamantly claimed the day before. Perhaps, but she doubted it. Everything felt so right.

Once the idea of living on her own—on income she earned herself, from a job she’d been hired for on her own merits—had taken hold in her mind, it had fast gained momentum. She could work days and write nights. That would be perfect.

“Did you do it?”

“I handed in my notice this morning,” she said, reaching for the menu. Nolan had insisted on meeting her for a late lunch and suggested this greasy spoon with its faded neon sign that flashed Home Cooking. She had the impression he ate there regularly.

“I talked to the managing editor this morning and told him I was leaving.”

“I don’t imagine he took kindly to that,” Nolan muttered, lifting a white ceramic mug half-full of coffee. He’d been wearing a frown from the moment she’d entered the diner. She had the feeling it was the same frown he’d left her apartment with the night before, but it had deepened since she’d last seen him.

“Larry wasn’t too upset, but I don’t think he appreciated my suggestion that Carol Riverside take over the column, because he said something I’d rather not repeat about how he was the one who’d do the hiring and promoting, not me, no matter what my name was.”

Nolan took a sip of coffee and grinned. “I’d bet he’d like my head if it could be arranged, and frankly I don’t blame him.”

“Don’t worry, I didn’t mention your name or the fact that your column was what led to my decision.”

Maryanne doubted Nolan even heard her. “I’m regretting that column more with each passing minute. Are you sure I can’t talk you out of this?”

“I’m sure.”

He sighed and shook his head. “How’d the job hunting go?”

The waitress came by, automatically placing a full mug of coffee in front of Maryanne. She fished a pad from the pocket of her pink apron. “Are you ready to order?”

“I’ll have a turkey sandwich on rye, no sprouts, a diet soda and a side of potato salad,” Maryanne said with a smile, handing her the menu.

“You don’t need to worry, we don’t serve sprouts here,” she said, scribbling down the order.

“I’ll have the chili, Barbara,” Nolan said. The waitress nodded and strolled away from the booth. “I was asking how your job hunting went,” Nolan reminded Maryanne.

“I found one!”

“Where? What will you be doing? And for how much?”

“You’re beginning to sound like my father.”

“I’m beginning to feel like your father. Annie, you’re a babe in the woods. You don’t have a clue what you’re getting involved in. Heaven knows I’ve tried to talk some sense into you, but you refuse to listen. And, as you so delight in reminding me, I’m the one responsible for all this.”

“Stop blaming yourself.” Maryanne leaned across the table for her water glass. “I’m grateful, I honestly am—though, trust me, I never thought I’d be saying that. But what you wrote was true. By insulting me, you’ve given me the initiative to make a name for myself without Dad’s help and—”

He closed his eyes. “Just answer the question.”

“Oh, about the job. It’s for a…service company. It looks like it’ll work out great. I didn’t think I’d have any chance of getting hired, since I don’t have much experience, but they took that into consideration. You see, it’s a new company and they can’t afford to pay much. Everyone seems friendly and helpful. The only drawback is my salary and the fact that I won’t be working a lot of hours at first. In fact, the money is a lot less than I was earning at the paper. But I expect to be able to sell a couple of articles soon. I’ll get along all right once I learn to budget.”

“How much less than the paper?”

“If I tell you, you’ll only get angry.” His scowl said he’d be even angrier if she didn’t tell him. From the way he was glaring at her, Maryanne knew she’d reached the limits of his patience. She muttered the amount and promptly lowered her gaze.

“You aren’t taking the job,” Nolan said flatly.

“Yes, I am. It’s the best I can do for now. Besides, it’s only temporary. It isn’t all that easy to find work, you know. I must’ve talked to fifteen companies today. No one seemed too impressed with my double degree in Early American History and English. I wanted to find employment where I can use my writing skills, but that didn’t happen, so I took this job.”

“Annie, you won’t be able to live on so little.”

“I realize that. I’ve got a list of community newspapers and I’m going to contact them about freelance work. I figure between the writing and my job, I’ll do okay.”

“Exactly what will you be doing?” he demanded.

“Cleaning,” she mumbled under her breath.

“What did you say?”

“I’m working for Rent-A-Maid.”

“Dear Lord,” Nolan groaned. “I hope you’re kidding.”

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