Home > California Girls(3)

California Girls(3)
Author: Susan Mallery

“I know.” Treasure winked. “I’m not a sweet person. I’m not mean, but when I want to talk about something, or have something, I make it happen. So what was your favorite sexual experience, Finola?”

The question hit her like a slap. Finola managed to hang on to her composure enough to chuckle and say, “Treasure, I’m old enough to be your aunt. No one wants to hear about that from me. You’re going on tour in a couple of months. What does it take to get ready for a show as big as yours?”

“I need to be rested and happy. You know what that’s like. To be with the right person. It’s such a good place to be.”

Tell us about the man in your life.

Finola stared at the teleprompter and knew God had moved on to helping someone else. She couldn’t do it, she thought grimly. She couldn’t keep talking, couldn’t keep it together. She was going to fall apart on live television and then the whole world would know everything. She would be a laughingstock, she would be pitied, she would go viral in the worst way possible and at the end of the day, her husband would still have cheated on her with Treasure.

“All this talk about your album makes me want to hear you sing,” she said, not caring she was two minutes early for the transition.


Melody’s voice was questioning in her ear, but Finola only motioned to the other side of the set where they’d set up a microphone in front of a screen. Treasure’s music video would play behind the singer.

“Okay,” Melody murmured. “We’ll go early.”

The spotlight came on and the music cued.

Treasure hesitated just long enough for Finola’s stomach to cramp. Go, she thought desperately. Just go sing your damn song and get out of here.

Treasure stood and walked toward the microphone. Finola knew she had four minutes for the song, then two minutes more for the commercial break. Six minutes to figure out how on earth she was going to get through the rest of the show.

She waited until Treasure started to sing before standing up and quietly slipping off the set. Rochelle met her in the corridor.

“Are you all right?” her assistant asked, looking worried.

Finola pressed both hands to her cheeks, trying to physically hold herself together.

“I think I have food poisoning,” she lied. “My stomach is writhing.” It was the only explanation she could think of and had the added benefit of explaining why she was off.

“Is that what’s going on?” Melody asked in her ear. “I wondered. Honey, I’m so sorry. Can we get you anything?”

“Just some cold water,” she said. “I’ll hang on through the show and then I’ll be fine.”

Another lie. The bigger of the two but at this point, honestly, who cared?

Rochelle looked sympathetic. “I’ll go get it right now. And some ginger ale. I think we have it in one of the vending machines. Let me check. I hope you feel better soon. You and Nigel are flying to Hawaii tomorrow. You wouldn’t want to miss your flight.”

Finola lowered her hands to her sides without saying anything. Fortunately Rochelle didn’t seem to expect her to answer. Instead she hurried off to get ice water and ginger ale. Not that either would help, Finola thought, doing her best not to give in to tears. Nothing could help. Nigel had cheated and destroyed their marriage and possibly their lives.

She pressed her hands against her stomach as acid churned and she fought against the need to vomit. While that would make the food poisoning fib more believable, she would prefer to avoid it as long as possible. She had—she glanced at the countdown clock—forty-three minutes left. Just forty-three minutes. Then she would be alone and have the time to figure out when, exactly, she’d lost everything.

Chapter Two

Oh good, you’re still here, were not words Zennie Schmitt wanted to hear eight minutes before the end of her shift. She’d been on her feet for ten hours already. The relatively light day had included two angioplasties that had gone surprisingly well, considering the age and physical condition of the patients. She’d been on her way to the locker room to grab her things when she’d heard herself being paged over the intercom.

Dr. Chen had expressed his relief that she was still in the hospital. “I have an emergency bypass surgery. Are you up for it?”

Zennie understood the question. She’d already put in a full day. She was tired and if she didn’t think she had the stamina to assist Dr. Chen through a coronary artery bypass operation, then she was expected to tell him. She was more than a perioperative nurse—aka scrub nurse—she was part of an elite nursing team that worked in one of the country’s most prestigious and busy cardiac care hospitals. They saw some of the sickest patients in the world and when someone was on their table, it was often a life-or-death situation. Giving less than 1000 percent wasn’t permissible.

Zennie took a second to close her eyes and breathe. Yes, she was tired, but not exhausted. With luck they would only have to replace one artery, but odds were more were involved, stretching a three-to-four-hour surgery into something much longer. Still, she and Dr. Chen worked well together and she enjoyed being a team player.

“I’ll swing by the café, then be right there,” she said.


Dr. Chen hung up without saying anything like Hey, that’s great or the somewhat expected but rarely heard thank you. He was a gifted, brilliant surgeon who practically worked magic, reviving hearts others thought past saving, but when it came to his people skills...not so much with the glibness. As Zennie hurried to the café, she wondered if they’d ever had a single conversation that wasn’t about a patient.

She bypassed the coffee and went straight to the espresso machine. She knew exactly how long a double shot would take to ramp up her alertness. She would crash toward the end of surgery, but by then adrenaline would be pumping, so she would be fine. Tomorrow she would be extra nurturing with her diet to make up for the abuse her body would take in the night.

Eight hours and forty minutes, not to mention one double bypass later, Zennie finally made it to her car. She was beyond tired and she ached all over. The bright lights of the parking garage were at odds with the quiet and darkness beyond. It was well after midnight, and the good news was she wouldn’t have to worry about traffic on the drive home. In fact the normally twenty-five-minute trip took all of twelve minutes. She stumbled into her bedroom just after one.

She stripped off her scrubs, then washed her face and brushed her teeth. Before sinking into the welcome softness of her bed, she grabbed her phone and checked for messages.

She had a reminder for her 5:00 a.m. running date. No way that was happening, she thought with a yawn. Not that anyone would be surprised. She was always a firm maybe on Fridays, but a for-sure yes on the weekend, barring her being on call. She also had a ten-thirty appointment with her baby sister, Ali, to get fitted for her bridesmaid dress.

Zennie did her best not to groan as she thought about the upcoming nuptials. Not that she didn’t love her sister, but weddings were a pain and to be honest, Zennie wasn’t a huge Glen fan. He just didn’t seem to ever look at Ali with undisguised love and affection. Nigel, her sister Finola’s husband, was totally different. When he looked at his wife, you could feel the heat.

Speaking of heat... Zennie shoved her heating pad under her back. Her muscles were tight from hours spent in surgery.

There was a text from her dad showing his sailboat anchored in a gorgeous Caribbean bay. Wish you were here.

She smiled. Wish I was there, too. Miss you, Dad.

She knew she wouldn’t hear from him for a few hours. Between the time difference and her father and stepmother living on “island time,” texts could take a while to be answered. Still, the thought of a couple of weeks on a sailboat somewhere like the picture was nice.

Her last text was from her mother. Zennie held in a laugh at her mom’s offer to set her up on a blind date with “a handsome young man that you will absolutely adore,” before ending the text with, I’m not getting any younger and I expect grandchildren before I die.

Zennie was still chuckling when she fell asleep.

* * *

Morning came early, despite the lack of an alarm. Zennie showered, drank a protein-packed smoothie, then did about a half hour of stretching before heading off to meet Ali.

The bridal shop in Sherman Oaks was by appointment only and very elegant. Zennie thought maybe wearing yoga pants and a T-shirt had been a mistake, then told herself it didn’t matter. She would be undressing anyway.

Ali was already there, practically dancing with excitement as Zennie entered the store.

“Hi. The dresses are here and they’re so beautiful. You’re going to look great. Probably better than me. Finola will, for sure. It’s hard having beautiful sisters.”

Zennie hugged her. “You’re going to be the bride. The bride is always the prettiest one.”

Ali rolled her eyes, even as she grinned. “Yeah, yeah, we’ll see. I tried on my dress last week. It’s good I didn’t get the smaller size. I seem to be the only bride in history who didn’t bother sticking to her diet.”

Zennie didn’t know what to say to that. When Ali had first gotten engaged, she’d come to Zennie and asked for a diet and exercise program. Zennie had done her best, but Ali had never been one for either. She’d carried an extra twenty pounds since puberty and claimed spending a day working in a warehouse was enough exercise for anyone. Zennie had tried to point out that being on her feet wasn’t the same as exercise, but Ali would never be a believer. Still, she had a wholesome, girl-next-door kind of beauty, with brown hair and brown eyes. She was the shortest of the sisters, and the curviest. Finola was the tall blonde beauty who kept herself TV-thin by eating sparingly and avoiding carbs. Zennie had tried to convince her of the importance of variety in her diet, but Finola had refused to listen.

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