[chapter six]

Disclaimer: If you've heard of them, I don't own them. Everything else is mine, so no stealing, pretty please. ;-)

**

Alana kicked off her high heels and gratefully sunk onto the bed in the center of her hotel room. Massaging the ball of her foot with one hand, she yanked the pins out of her hair with the other and let her hair tumble over her shoulders. Rolling her head from side to side, she took a deep breath and blew it out slowly.

Oprah had gone spectacularly. She'd gotten more calls than she'd ever dreamed from her agent about publicity tours. She was proud, she was elated, she was…exhausted, she acknowledged as she padded across the room and booted up her laptop computer.

Alana Bickley felt like she'd been working nonstop since the day she'd packed off for college. Studying, internships, advanced programs, cramming for tests, writing grants, researching, writing, practicums…

As Alana looked around the austere room, she realized she had everything she thought she'd ever wanted.

Recognition. Fame. Money. Acclaim.

Too bad she was completely alone and had no idea how to have a good time, or how to enjoy any of it.

As she logged into her email, Alana snorted silently to herself at the irony that the woman who literally 'wrote the book' on men didn't have one for herself.

Alana shifted in her seat and glanced through her inbox, stuffed to bursting with notes from friends, strangers, her agent, her publicist, her publisher, and …

Alana squeaked in amazement.

There, wedged between a note from her sister and an email from her publicist was…

Earnhardt Jr, Dale.

"I don’t believe it…" She breathed, clicking the mouse on his name and popping open his message.

Alana-

Hope you did good on Oprah. I still ain't sold that you know what you're talkin about though. If you got a phd, can you write prescriptions for drugs? That'd be cool.

--Dale

Alana read the message three times, silently beginning to compose a response in her head. Hitting "reply", she rested her fingers on the keyboard and began tapping out an answer.

Dale,

Oprah went well, thanks for asking.

No, I'm not able to write prescriptions. I'm a psychologist, and only psychiatrists may do that. It would be cool, but I've had enough school for now – I'm not interested in going to medical school on top of everything else.

I feel like I do know what I'm talking about, and it sounds like you've got some issues with women. It might be useful to talk about that – if not with me, then perhaps with someone else. Your tone and your attitude are aggressive (as I said) and not entirely healthy. As such, it's no wonder you're having trouble with women.

Why do you feel the need to establish that "you're the man, you decide"? Are you threatened by strong women, or simply too insecure about yourself to let a woman make joint decisions with you, debate with you, or have a say in your life – and hers?

I'd like to help, and I mean that honestly.

Sincerely,

Alana

Alana reread her words, debating her message over and over. Maybe it was too much? Maybe she was pushing too hard? Maybe she just shouldn't respond at all…

After a long pause, she added a postscript in the hopes of softening the tone of her email.

PS Do you get to drive your race car on city streets? That'd be cool.

Finally, she closed her eyes and gently pressed the 'send' button, almost afraid to see what sort of reply she would get in return.

She really did want to help Dale…he seemed so convinced that he needed to reaffirm his masculinity, but she didn't understand why he felt threatened in the first place. He was clearly a guy's guy, in a macho sport, surrounded by other macho men, and worshipped by every kind of woman he could imagine.

Where's the threat?

Alana wondered what was really happening inside the brain of Mr. Earnhardt Jr.

She hoped she'd have the chance to find out. Much as he may infuriate her, she was intriqued by him.

Plus, she'd always loved a challenge.

chapter seven