[chapter one]

Fiona Collins sat, rereading her copy on the computer while keeping one eye on the clock. Her latest press release was due in 20 minutes, but she always worked best under pressure. Her unbroken concentration was interrupted by the shrill ringing of her telephone.

"Fiona Collins, DEI Publicity." She answered, simultaneously making a correction on the screen.

"Fi, what are you doing tonight?" The voice of her best friend, Magdalena Bennett, burst through the phone line.

"If I don't come up with a tag line for my story, I'll be cleaning out my desk and applying for unemployment. You?" Fi said with a grin.

Maggie laughed. "You're a brilliant writer, Fi. One flubbed line won't get you fired. Probably. In any case, throw something down on paper. I'm having a crisis and feel the need to shop and have a drink - and you're my only hope, Obi-Wan Kenobi."

Fi laughed. "Bad day at the office?"

"These people are driving me crazy!" Maggie whispered dramatically into the phone.

"Your wish is my command." Fiona answered. "Let me throw some tag on this, and I'm on my way."

(30 minutes later)

Fiona struggled out to her car with her shoulder bag and laptop. With a huff, she opened the door of her convertible and threw everything in, then threw herself into the front seat. Putting the top down and starting the car, she sped out of the parking lot and into traffic. She had been working in this office for months, but still couldn't get used to the difference of "traffic" in North Carolina from her hometown of Boston - even though North Carolina had been her home for years. Maybe it was time to go back home for a few days - or anywhere for that matter. Fiona could use a vacation.

Granted, as a publicity agent for DEI, Fiona got to travel occasionally for articles or stories she was assigned to. As a press kit writer and occasional scheduler of "Personal Appearances" for DEI's stable of drivers, she got to travel on occasion, write lots of flattering stories, do "damage control" after one of the drivers had said something inflammatory, and schmoozed with the major sponsors. She loved the freedom of writing about lots of topics and doing lots of different things, and loved her job. Things were never boring, that's for sure - she was always writing, researching, interviewing or cramming for a deadline - just as she was today.

Still, it had been a while since she had taken a few days off, and maybe now was the time to go the beach for a few days with a good book and a bottle of suntan lotion. Steering through traffic on the way to The Connection - her appointed meeting place with Maggie - she tried to brainstorm some new press and appearance ideas…she had a meeting with Jade Gurss, her boss and mentor, in the morning. Before she knew it, Fiona scored a perfect parking spot, and after checking her lipstick, hopped from the car and headed inside.

"Hey Fi!" John, the bartender, smiled and waved as she walked in the door. Several of the regulars at the bar smiled and waved, and Fiona was reminded once again that walking into The Connection was like walking into Cheers as Norm - everyone knew her name. She and Maggie had been regulars in this bar/restaurant for years, and often met after work to catch up and have a drink.

"Fi, over here." Maggie waved from a center table, which was laden with her cell phone, file folders, and her Palm Pilot.

"I thought you were leaving work at the office." Fiona teased as she slid into a chair across from her friend.

"Stupid merger…" Maggie began. "I've been working on a business plan for a week, and getting no feedback at all from my boss. He's off playing golf on the Cape, and I'm stuck here trying to pull together a ton of information in next to no time."

"That's what you get for being a bigwig in the high-stress energy industry." Fiona teased as John set down a tall Absolut and tonic, with extra lime in front of her, and a Manhattan in front of Maggie - without being asked. "John, will you marry me?" She asked, taking a sip of her drink appreciatively.

"Name the date and place, and I'll find a tux." He grinned as he retreated to the bar.

"So…how goes the rock n roll lifestyle of the racing industry?" Maggie asked, taking a long pull from her drink.

"Not bad…but I think I'm due for a vacation. Jade is running me ragged these days, and I don't have any good ideas to pitch to him tomorrow in our meeting. Any ideas?" Fiona answered.

"How about…how to score a date with the hottie who just walked in?" Maggie asked, looking at the man who had just walked into the bar and ordered a drink.

Fiona turned around but only caught sight of his back. "I'm a taken woman…you go get him." Fi instructed. "He looks good from this angle." They both tilted their heads as the man leaned over the bar, revealing his perfect backside and sculpted back. "That is nice." Both women stared for a few moments longer, then laughed and resumed their conversation.

"Yes, how is the old ball and chain?" Maggie teased.

"Fine." Fiona said dramatically. "Working too much - I never see him except when I'm falling asleep."

"You definitely need a vacation, girl." Maggie confirmed. "You and that man of yours should take off for a while."

"Tempting. Very tempting." Fiona agreed. "Now, about this shopping we need to do…"

***


Dale Earnhardt Jr leaned over the bar to grab a few napkins before he settled into his barstool, pulling a pen out of his pocket. As he had ducked into the bar for a quick drink, he had thought of a couple of things Tony Jr had asked him to pick up on his way to the garage, and wanted to jot them down before he forgot. Sipping his mineral water, he furiously scribbled down a few notes.

Satisfied that he would be able to read his notes later, he shoved the napkins into his pocket, and breathed a deep sigh. He'd been inside an office most of the day, and it felt good to be outside, around people, even for a little while. He looked at the other people scattered around the bar, and turned around when he heard riotous laughter from a table a few feet away from him.

Two girls…no, women, were having a drink and laughing at something together. They must be career women, he thought to himself, taking in the shoulder bags, laptop computer, and Palm Pilots. He often wondered what it would be like to work in an office - going to the same desk day after day. At this moment, he was wondering who these two were…this was a game he often played…guessing what people on the street did for a living, or what their "story" was.

The woman on the right had long curly hair, hazel eyes, tanned skin and was smiling broadly. She appeared to be the older of the two, but judging from her physique, she works out quite a bit - lean and muscular. She had that air about her that you know her - or know someone who looks just like her. He guessed that she was in finance, based on her suit and fancy laptop.

The woman on the left was a contrast to her friend - short, spiky brown hair, light greenish-blue eyes, and pale, almost translucent skin. She was laughing at something her friend had just said, her eyes lighting up with her smile. He could see that she was tall, but was all curves. He guessed from her short leopard skirt and black sweater that she was in retail somewhere - selling clothes to people with too much time and money on their hands.

"Hey, Fi, Maggie, keep it down or I'll throw you out of here." John said laughingly from behind the bar. The one with the spiky hair blew the bartender a kiss, and Maggie laughed.

"I dare ya." Maggie retorted, with a wink.

John smiled as he wiped down the bar near Dale. "Those two." He muttered to himself with a smile.

"You know those girls?" Dale asked casually. The one with the short hair looked awfully familiar…

"They're regulars…have been since they moved here. Good girls, those two." John said with all the affection of a father. "Why, like what you see?" He teased.

"No…no, just curious." Dale stammered. He didn't know them, and had never believed in the concept of love at first sight. They were cute though - especially the tall one. There was just something about her…

"John, my dearest, I have to take my leave of you. Give my love to Ann." The spiky-haired girl was leaning over the bar to kiss the bartender on the cheek, and leaving him a $10 bill.

"And next time, no skimping on the liquor." The curly-haired one said with a wink. "Watering drinks for your two favorite regulars?"

"Get outta here." John said, waving his hand with a grin.

Dale watched them walk out of the bar, bags and laptops in tow. They kissed on the cheek, then went their separate ways. The lean one climbed into a sleek red Lexus, the curvy one into a black Audi TT convertible. And before he knew it, they were out of sight.

Guess he'll never find out their story.

chapter two