Befriending Traci Calloway Cole is the best thing Simone Phillips has ever done. Traci is the kind of woman Simone wants to be-in every way possible. She begins copying her role model. Not because she wants to be Traci. She just wants to be exactly like Traci.
Traci doesn’t worry, though. She knows Simone doesn’t mean any harm and that her mimicry is only sincere admiration. Until she discovers how far Simone’s obsession has gone.
It is then that Simone’s entire world begins unraveling, and dreadful secrets from her past are exposed with no warning. Secrets that she’ll do almost anything to protect.
Simone walked inside Marie’s Hair Salon and stopped dead in her tracks. She wasn’t positive, but she could’ve sworn that Traci Calloway Cole, the nationally known author, was sitting in the waiting area. She knew Traci lived in Mitchell, but not once had she ever seen her in person.
Simone stepped closer to the smiling twentysomething receptionist. “Hi, I have a five forty-five appointment with Renee.”
“Of course,” the young woman said, typing on her computer keyboard. “It looks like Renee has already done a consult with you by phone, so I think you’re all set. She should be with you shortly, but in the meantime, would you like coffee or tea? We also have bottled water.”
“No, I think I’m fine for now, but maybe later.”
“Sounds good. You can have a seat right over there,” the receptionist said, eyeing the waiting area.
Simone sat across from the woman she believed to be Traci Calloway Cole, and once they made eye contact, she knew it was her. Simone had seen her photo on her book jackets and on her web site, and she looked just like it: same thick, shoulder-length hair, high cheekbones, and all.
Traci smiled. “How are you?”
“I’m good, and you?”
Simone set her brown shoulder bag on the chair next to her. “I hope it’s okay for me to ask, but are you Traci Calloway Cole?”
Traci smiled again. “Yeah, that would be me I guess.”
They both laughed.
“Well, I’m Simone Phillips, and it’s very nice to meet you.”
“It’s nice to meet you as well.”
Simone didn’t want to show it, but she was ecstatic—especially since she’d written a book herself and had been hoping she would soon meet a published author in person. “I have both your books, and I really enjoyed reading them.”
“How very kind of you, and thank you. I really appreciate that.”
“You’re quite welcome. I had also planned on attending both your signings, but when your first book came out I was ill. Then when your other one was released last year, I was out of town.”
“Well, I hope you can come in September. That’s when my next book is being published.”
“I’ll be there.”
Traci set down the magazine she was holding. “So, have you been coming here for a while?”
“No, as a matter of fact, this is my first time. But I’ve heard really great things about it. What about you?”
“Marie has been my hairstylist for fifteen years. She didn’t open her salon until five years ago, but I went to her when she worked with someone else. She’s very talented, and she’s good people. One of the sweetest women I know.”
“That’s wonderful. And actually, my appointment is with Renee.”
“Renee is awesome as well, and you’ll love her, too. To be honest, I think you’d be happy with any of the stylists here. All of them take their work very seriously, and they have the best customer service.”
“That’s one of the reasons I decided to give them a try. A girl at work raved over how well they treat their clients.”
“It’s the truth. They never overbook, and you never have to wait longer than five or ten minutes when you arrive. Your appointment is your appointment and no one else’s.”
“Well, I wish I could say the same for the salon I’ve patronized for more than two years. There have been times when my stylist would schedule three other people around the same time she scheduled me, and I never got out of there until three hours after my appointment. But it was two weeks ago, when I had a six p.m. appointment and didn’t get out until after ten, that I was finally done. I knew I was never going back there.”
Traci raised her eyebrows. “Four hours? Did you get a relaxer? Color? Something that would justify being there all that time?”
“No, that’s the killing part about all of it. Yes, there were two other clients and my stylist was trying to work on all three of us, but all I got was a wash, blow dry, and curl. That’s it.”
“How awful. I just don’t get that. I realize everyone wants to earn as much as possible, but it doesn’t make much sense if you end up losing all your clients. Nowadays people have a lot of choices, and they can take their business elsewhere.”
“Exactly,” Simone said, looking around the salon. “When I first walked in, I wondered where everyone was. I mean, you and I are the only two waiting.”
“That’s because Marie and Renee are finishing up their clients right as we speak, and the other three stylists just started on theirs.”
“I love it here already. And it’s so chic-looking.”
“After what you’ve been through, I guess so,” Traci said, and they both laughed. “ But where did you go before you found your last stylist?”
“A place called Seasons.”
“I’ve heard of it, but I’ve never gone there.”
“It was nice enough, but I wasn’t really happy with the way my hair usually turned out. Or at least it never turned out the way it always had when I lived in Ohio. The girl I went to there was an expert on working with short styles,” Simone said, now regretting that she’d slipped and mentioned where she was from. It wasn’t that this information was a secret, but Ohio was a place she tried not to think about.
“You really do have a cute cut. It’s very becoming.”
“And is that where you’re from? Ohio?”
“Really? Then how did you end up here in Mitchell?” Traci said, chuckling. “Don’t get me wrong, I love my hometown and I wouldn’t live anywhere else, but most people who move here come for a reason.”
Simone laughed along with her. “I’m sure, because it’s not like it’s a major city.”
“Far from it. A hundred fifty thousand people isn’t tiny, but it’s still small.”
“The insurance company I work for closed that location, and in order for me to keep my position and seniority, I had to take an opening here.”
Simone still hated that she’d had to relocate so abruptly, but in truth, it couldn’t have come at a better time. So much had happened, most of which she tried to block from her mind on a daily basis. Life in Ohio had turned out terribly, and she would never forgive her former fiancé, who’d purposely betrayed her. He’d turned on her and told things he shouldn’t have to the wrong people. But that was a whole other story, and thankfully, it was all behind her.
Simone and Traci chatted a couple of minutes longer until Marie walked toward them.
“Ready?” the tall, shapely woman said to Traci.
“Yep, and by the way, this is Simone. This is her first time coming here, and she has an appointment with Renee.”
“That’s great. Welcome, and please let us know if you need anything or if there’s something we can do better for you.”
“I will, and thank you.”
Traci grabbed her Gucci shoulder bag and stood up. “It was very nice meeting you, Simone. I really enjoyed talking to you.”
“Likewise, and much continued success with your books.”
When Traci and Marie walked away, Simone could barely contain herself. Traci was so nice, outgoing, and down-to-earth. She was also beautiful, and Simone loved the dark denim skinny jeans and oversized fuchsia cashmere sweater she had on. It was exactly the kind of outfit she’d love to have herself, and the black heeled boots Traci wore were to die for.
Now Simone wished she’d had the courage to tell Traci about the romance novel she’d written. She’d desperately wanted to, but she hadn’t wanted Traci to think that this was the only
reason she’d introduced herself. Sometimes that sort of thing could be a turnoff, when all a person wanted was to relax, have a cordial conversation, and not talk about work. Simone certainly understood that, and she respected people’s time.
Simone picked up a copy of Essence magazine from the glass table in front of her, but when she did, she saw a woman walking toward the receptionist to make payment and another heading in her direction.
“You must be Simone?” the petite middle-aged woman said.
“I am. Are you Renee?”
“Yes, and it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
They shook hands, and Simone said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you also.”
Renee turned to the side. “I’m all ready for you.”
Simone followed Renee, and as she passed Traci, sitting in one of Marie’s chairs, Traci smiled at her and said, “Enjoy.”
“I will,” Simone replied, and it was then that she made up her mind to contact Traci for advice on writing and how to get published. She was also going to make some changes in her wardrobe; see if she could find those jeans and that sweater Traci was wearing. She’d even love to have Traci’s boots, but with it already being the first week in March, pickings for boots were likely pretty slim. Although, when it came to the Gucci purse Traci was carrying, Simone knew she could purchase that as soon as possible—just as soon as she drove over to Chicago to the Gucci store on Michigan Avenue. She would do so the second she got off work tomorrow.
Traci drove her white double-sunroof Mercedes into the subdivision, heading toward the street she and Tim lived on. As she turned into the driveway and pressed the button in her car to open the garage, she gazed at their five-thousand-square-foot brick home. Traci thanked God for all that He’d blessed her and her husband with, because things had certainly been very different for her eighteen years ago. Right after college, she’d married her high school sweetheart—if that was what a person could call it—and the whole scenario had been a nightmare. She’d known early on that he’d become a bit too possessive and controlling, but at twenty-two, she hadn’t taken these obvious warning signs very seriously. She’d decided that many of his actions “weren’t that bad,” and that with time, he’d get used to the fact that she had goals, dreams, and ambitions—that he would eventually understand that these goals, dreams, and ambitions meant they could both have a better life.
But for whatever reason, he’d never made any changes, and instead of getting better, things had gotten worse—starting with their wedding night, when he’d turned his back to her in bed and never touched her, all because he’d insisted that she’d spent their wedding day staring at one of his groomsmen. This, of course, couldn’t have been further from the truth, and it had literally been the beginning of the end. They’d dated for five years, but it had only taken three months of marriage for Traci’s ex-husband to put his hands on her and convincingly threaten her life. However, it was when he’d taken a pillow one night and pressed it over her face—because she wouldn’t “shut up” the way he’d told her—that she’d realized enough was enough. Her realization had been long overdue, but somehow, seeing her life flash before her eyes had been
the ultimate wake-up call, and she’d left him fast and in a hurry. But nonetheless, he’d continued to harass her, even after she’d gotten a judge to sign a restraining order, and it had been only by the grace of God that when their divorce had become final, he’d left her alone for good.
Today, though, life was better than ever, and it was all because fifteen years ago she’d met an amazing man named Timothy Cole, who she’d immediately known was her soul mate for life. Tim, as she’d always called him, had felt the same way, and they’d married six months after their first date. Of course, everyone had thought they were crazy, but the two of them had felt good about each other, and today, their love was even stronger than it was back then.
Traci pulled into the garage, turned off her ignition, and lifted her phone from the passenger seat. She saw notification of a Facebook inbox message and opened it. She smiled when she realized it was from Simone, the woman she’d just met this evening at the hair salon.
I first want to say how it really was a pleasure to meet you, and that I hope it’s okay that I’m contacting you. I’m sure you get notes all the time from aspiring writers, which is why I was so hesitant about sending you a message, but I decided that I was simply going to take a chance. Especially since you were so kind and approachable, and when you left the salon, Marie and Renee were saying how you’ve always been that way. That you’re the same person you were before you ever had a book published.
Anyway, the reason I’m contacting you is because I’ve written a romance novel entitled LOVE NEVER FAILS. I just finished it last month, and the story centers on a man and a woman who fall in love, but then they
lose touch with each other when the man is sent overseas with the military for three years. He loves her with all his heart, but sadly, he insists that he doesn’t want her feeling obligated to wait on him, and he ends their relationship. However, when he returns injured, their paths cross again, except now the woman is married to an unloving man she can barely stand, even though she does still love her former boyfriend.
What I’m hoping is that you can find it in your heart to give me some advice on finding a literary agent and/or publisher. I have read a couple of writing self-help books, but I also know that some of the best advice a person can receive is the kind that comes from someone who is already doing what you want to do careerwise. And don’t get me wrong, I know I’m asking a lot, particularly since I know you must have a very busy schedule and because you don’t really know me, so if you don’t have time, I will totally understand. It’s just that, ever since high school, my top goal in life has been to become a published writer.
Oh, and if you do find that you have time to offer some advice and it would be quicker for you to do it by phone, that would be great also. I’ll add my cell number below, and once again, it really was an honor to meet you. It made my day.
Thank you, and I hope to talk with you soon. Simone
Traci didn’t see where Simone had left her phone number, but then she saw another inbox message pop in, with Simone apologizing for forgetting to include it. She’d made sure to add it this time around, and Traci was glad because she already liked Simone, not to mention she tried her best to help as many new writers as possible. So once she and Tim had dinner, she was going to call Simone to chat with her about her book.
# # #
When Traci cleared her and Tim’s dishes from the island, she took them over to the sink and rinsed them off. But as soon as she prepared to load them in the dishwasher, Tim walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her.
Then he kissed her on her neck. “You know what I want, right?”
Traci laughed. “Tim, will you stop it. Because if you don’t, I’ll leak water all over the floor.”
“I think you should take care of those dishes later,” he said, kissing her neck again. “Don’t you?”
“Well, actually, I told a new writer that I would call her this evening.”
“Wow,” Tim said, now kissing the other side of her neck. “I guess I know how I rate around here, don’t I?”
Traci turned and looked at him, playfully rolling her eyes. “You know that’s not true. It’s just that I know what it feels like, wanting to be published and not being able to find one published writer who will answer even a single question. But I promise you, baby, I won’t be on very long.”
Tim kissed her cheek and took a couple of steps back. “You know I’m just kidding, anyway. I love that you want to help other writers, so you can be on with her for as long as you need to. But just know, though, that I’ll be ready and waiting as soon as you finish.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you will,” she said, laughing, and TimTim did, too.
He turned and walked away, jokingly ignoring her. “See you in the bedroom.”
Traci watched him disappear down the corridor toward their master suite, which was also on the first floor. He was ten years her senior, but he was as handsome as ever. He was also fun and full of energy, sometimes even more so than she was. The man acted as though he were never tired, not even after a full day’s work, but this was yet one more thing Traci loved about her husband. There was never a dull moment, and she was grateful for that—she was grateful for him.
After finishing up in the kitchen, Traci went upstairs to her home office, which she’d converted from a guest bedroom, and sat at her desk. She signed on to Facebook, wrote down Simone’s phone number, and dialed it.
She answered on the first ring. “Hello?”
“Hey, this is Traci. Did I catch you at a bad time?”
“No, not at all, and thank you so, so much for calling me. I can’t believe you had time to talk right away tonight.”
“You’re quite welcome. Also, how did your hair turn out? Did you like Renee and the way she styled it?”
“I love it. She did such a great job, and I’ll definitely be going back to her.”
“Wonderful. I knew you’d be happy.”
“Calling to make an appointment was the best thing I could’ve done.”
“So,” Traci said, “you mentioned in your message that you’ve wanted to write since high school.”
“I have. I took a creative writing class, and from the first day, I knew I wanted to write fiction. In the beginning, I was just thinking short stories, but it wasn’t long before my dream was to write a novel. Actually, a romance novel. So what about you?”
“I knew when I was in high school, too, that I wanted to have a career in writing, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write books or magazine articles. I also loved my journalism classes, so there was a time when I wanted to be a news anchor. But by the time I finished college, I knew that my purpose in life was to write novels. Especially mainstream women’s fiction.”
“Wow, I can’t believe we have the whole high school thing in common,” Simone said.
Traci leaned back in her chair. “Yeah, I know, but look how long it took me to get published. I turned forty in January, and my first book wasn’t published until two years ago.”
“Well, it’s taken me even longer, but oh my goodness…did you say forty? I turned forty last week.”
“Yes, so I guess we have that in common, too.”
“I guess so. Did you do anything special for your birthday?”
“No, not really. Did you?”
“My sister put together a girls’ trip with some friends of ours, and we celebrated in Florida.”
“I’ll bet that was nice.”
“It was. So hey, how far along are you with your book? I know you said you’d finished writing it, but have you already gotten it edited and proofed?”
“No, I haven’t done anything. But I would definitely like to hire a freelance editor.”
“I can give you some names of content editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders, because before it’s all done, you’ll need all three.”
“After that, you should start writing query letters to send out to agents. You can try submitting directly to editors at publishing houses, but if you can sign with a reputable agent, your chances of getting published will be that much better.”
“That’s what I’ve heard, and I appreciate anything you can do to help me.”
“My agent doesn’t represent romance, but I can certainly ask her for the names of agents who do.”
“How kind of you. You would actually do that?”
“Of course. I mean, I know I can’t promise anything, but at least I can get the names of the right people.”
“I will never be able to thank you enough, Traci.”
“I’m glad to do it.”
“I just don’t know what to say. Because I’m sure you must be very busy.”
“I am, and sometimes that stops me from helping as many people as I would like. But you seem like a really nice person who has such a strong passion for writing. And I love that.”
“I do. I love writing more than anything. And if I didn’t have a full-time job, I would write day and night.”
“I remember when I felt the same way. Especially back in my twenties, but then when I kept getting rejected, I basically gave up. I mean, I still wrote, but I didn’t submit anything again for almost ten years.”
“Well, I’m glad you finally decided to give it another try, because I love your stories. And I love your writing style.”
“Thank you for saying that. Especially since I can think of a few writers who believe I never should’ve been published,” Traci said, laughing. “That really used to bother me, but not anymore. Now all I care about is what my readers think, and I ignore mean-spirited authors. Some actually believe it’s their job to criticize every author’s work—except their own, that is.”
“That’s really too bad. It’s so unfortunate that folks just can’t be happy for their colleagues.”
Traci nodded as though Simone were in the room with her. “Sadly, this happens in every industry. More so with women. But don’t get me wrong, not all writers are like that. Some are very kind, and they root for me as much as I root for them. But for the most part, I pretty much stay to myself. I had to start doing that versus listening to negative, unsupportive people who only want to bring others down.”
“I don’t blame you, and you’re right about it happening in every industry, because the same thing goes on where I work. I’ve worked with insurance claims for years, but until I came to Mitchell I’d never experienced so much competitiveness. And cattiness. It’s fine, though, because I’ve gotten used to it.”
“Good for you.”
“Well, hey,” Simone said. “I really appreciate your calling me, but I don’t want to take up any more of your time.”
“I’m glad we got to talk this evening, and let’s connect again in a few days.”
“Sounds good. I can also email you two or three chapters if you want to read them. You know, just to make sure my work is even good enough to be hiring an editor.”
“Sure, that’s fine,” Traci said, but she sort of wished Simone hadn’t asked her to do that. Not because she didn’t want to read her work, but because writing was so subjective and what Traci might consider a page-turner, someone else might think was the worst book they’d read. Similarly, a novel that Traci didn’t care for at all might end up selling millions of copies. So she just didn’t feel as though it was her place to say, which was the reason she much preferred only giving advice on how to find an agent or how to get published. But she could tell Simone truly did want her to read her work, and after all, it was only three chapters.
“Traci, thank you again. Thank you for everything.”
“You’re quite welcome. Have a good night.”
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