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Mixed Signals
 

Mixed Signals

By: Cooper West
Published By: Dreamspinner Press
ISBN # 9781615819478

Word Count: 14955
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Available in: Epub, Microsoft Reader, Adobe Acrobat, Mobipocket (.prc)


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About the book

Frank Sheldon is trying (not very hard) to put his life back together several years after his dishonorable discharge from the military for “conduct unbecoming.” The handsome son of a wealthy businessman, he’s doing his best to avoid family obligations when he meets eccentric programmer Benjamin Kaplan. Frank is interested, but unlike most people Frank’s ever met, Benjamin isn’t swayed by his name or good looks. Or is he?

As Frank gets dragged into the drama of his sister’s political campaign, he manages to pursue Benjamin under the guise of funding Benjamin’s video game start-up. But unknown to Frank, Benjamin runs a mysterious muckraking news site, and when the now-involved Benjamin takes steps to back down his coverage of Frank’s sister’s campaign, everything starts to unravel. Frank wonders if Benjamin was just using him all along, and Benjamin assumes that Frank wants nothing to do with him. Will the mixed signals break them apart?

An excerpt from the book

MARIE, the girl at the front desk, tittered when Frank walked into the salon. She knew him and knew her chances with him were nil, but that did not stop her. It never stopped anyone.

“Mr. Sheldon! Welcome back!” She grinned ear to ear and Frank gave her one of his typical friendly smirks that everyone fell for and yet did not imply “invitation.” He learned young how to keep his distance.

“Didn’t forget me?”

“Oh, never!” She tittered again, then pouted. “But Jane got tied up in a really complicated highlights job and is running late.”

“That’s fine. Let her know I’m here. I’ll wait.” He tugged at his unruly mop of hair. “This needs mowing.”

“Oh, Mr. Sheldon!” She gave him a sappy smile and ran off to the back.

Sighing, Frank sat down. His looks could get him bumped to the head of any line, but he did not want to pressure his hairstylist by walking back there and laying on the charm. He just needed a haircut, and he was not on duty at LifeFlight until eight that night, so he could wait.

He liked the midtown salon because it did not have any pretensions about being a “day spa” or “wellness center.” It had the kind of friendly vibe that was lacking in all the upscale salons of his youth but was classy enough to hire knowledgeable and experienced stylists. Frank had been using Jane for nearly two years now, and he was a creature of habit anyway.

“Dammit.”

Frank looked over at the guy on the bench with him. He was stocky and a little unkempt in wrinkled khakis and a rumpled polo with coffee stains down the front. He was glaring at his laptop, and Frank assumed that was what had caused the cursing. The guy, who had a curly head of nearly black hair that was chopped and ragged, started punching the keyboard with extreme prejudice, so Frank held his peace. The guy screamed “geektastic” anyway, and Frank knew all too well how poorly socialized that subgenus was in general. Instead, Frank flipped through the pile of fashion magazines, hoping against hope for an old copy of GQ.

“Okay, yeah—no, that’s not working for me. Think for yourselves, people….”

Frank looked over again to find the guy was now frowning at his laptop. It was impossible to tell if he was younger or a lot younger than Frank, because he had the soft, pale physique of a lab rat, a type Frank knew intimately and biblically; “soft” was the only reason he ever slept with women, and his last boyfriend had been a cushy biotech engineer with really, really gentle hands. So he only had himself to blame for trying to strike up a conversation.

“Bad day?” he asked, keeping his body language neutral because he was not ready to admit to himself that he was hitting on a coffee-stained, hair-challenged geek in the lobby of his favorite salon. The jokes wrote themselves, he thought as he cringed inwardly.

The guy looked up at him with a surprised expression, clearly noting Frank’s presence for the first time. Frank took the blow to his ego with grace, he thought, at least until the guy spoke.

“You’re already pretty. Why are you here?”

“Uh… thanks?” Frank squinted, trying to find a better comeback, but the guy snorted and waved his free hand.

“Don’t bother trying to be witty, you might hurt yourself.”

“Hey!”

The guy sighed, closing his eyes and turning his face towards the ceiling. It gave Frank a moment to gauge his age better, and he was surprised to realize that he was probably closer to Frank’s age than he'd thought.

The guy sighed again and opened his eyes before speaking. “Sorry. So very sorry. Okay? Better now?”

“Not really.” Frank turned toward the guy, crossed his legs and arms simultaneously, and glared at him. “This how you usually make friends?”

“I don’t usually try to make friends with people like you.”

Frank bristled. “Oh? People like me? And what kind of people are those?” He knew his glare was intimidating, because no one got out of a career as an officer in the military without practicing being an asshole, but the guy shrugged.

“Beautiful people. You know, with the hair… and the clothes… and the, the… pretty.”

Frank blinked. “The pretty.”

“Yes, don’t even pretend that you don’t know what I mean. Give me some credit.”

Frank did know what he meant. Even in his mid-thirties he could make people stop in the middle of the street just to watch him walk, and he knew it. More than once Uncle James the Hollywood almost-producer had told him to go into acting; Frank preferred flying and said so, but no one in his family took him seriously. The worst thing of all was that his good looks were supposed to mean that he did not want to do things like fly or have a career. His personality had always been incidental to his looks, and the thing Frank missed most about being in the Air Force was that being so damn good-looking had been a handicap for a change.

“Yeah, okay.” Frank nodded, uncrossing his arms.

The guy stared at him. “Really?”

“Yeah?”

“Okay then.” The guy paused, studying Frank closely. “Just, you know, people like you are usually… humble about it. ‘Oh no, I’m totally average!’” the guy falsettoed with a fair imitation of the salon’s front desk girl.

Frank laughed. “Not my style.”

“Oh. Okay. That’s… new.” Then the guy’s laptop made an annoying pinging sound, making him focus back on the screen again. Frank realized that he did not really exist in the guy’s world anymore… which kind of disappointed him.

“Hey, what’s your name?”

“What? Who?” The guy looked up, confused.

“You. Name?” Frank pointed.

“Dr. Benjamin Kaplan. And no, you can’t call me ‘Benji’, it’s Benjamin. Or Dr. Kaplan. Whatever you’re, uh, comfortable with.” Benjamin looked really uncomfortable himself, his eyes sidling off to his laptop, as if it was some kind of actual escape route.

“Frank Sheldon.” He held out his right hand, which Benjamin took suspiciously.

“Nice name.”

“Sometimes,” Frank sighed, grimacing. He had a beautiful name to go along with his looks, and he hated it: Francis Devonshire Sheldon the Third (technically, after his maternal grandfather, but it was not as if anyone bothered to ask once he got to his last name). It was something that fit in well at his boarding schools but not so much with the Air Force. At least he had managed to get everyone in his units to call him Frank, something he had somehow managed to make stick now he was back to being a civilian again.

He did not think he would have minded so much if he had been born a little plain like his younger sister or a little too smart like his older brother. Nancy had gone into politics, because no one expected her to be pretty, and Jeffery had gone into academia because no one else would have him. Francis, though, was pretty—or handsome, depending on his age and how drunk his mother was—and so everyone expected the world of him because he had the name and the looks and charm.

Even the dishonorable discharge did not tar his feathers much with the progressive movers and shakers that made up his family’s peers. He was more a cause célèbre, which he milked because it seemed like the right thing to do for a good cause. He had found vicious pleasure in helping repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that got him kicked out of his career.

He realized that he was still shaking hands with Benjamin, and it was more like holding hands the longer it went on. Benjamin was not giving him the usual starry-eyed expression Frank got in situations like this; instead, Benjamin looked as if he was studying a bug under a lens. Frank gently pulled his hand back.

“Nice to meet you, Benjamin.”

“Sure.” Benjamin nodded once, then turned back to his laptop.

“Frank Sheldon!” Jane burst into the lobby like a whirlwind, pulling Frank up and dragging him to her station. “What the hell! Your hair’s a mop!”

“Thanks, Jane. Good to see you too.” Frank leaned over and gave her a polite peck on the cheek.

She batted at him. “Stop stop stop. First! We wash!”

Frank was frog-marched to the sinks in the back by one of the interns, a young guy with pink and purple streaks in his hair who flirted mainly by blushing profusely at everything Frank said. Jane shooed the boy off as soon as Frank was settled back in her chair, though.

“I see you were bonding with our resident geek.” Jane smirked and snapped her scissors.

“Not your usual clientele,” Frank countered, admitting nothing.

Jane nodded, rolling her eyes before starting on his hair. “He’s Rachel’s other brother. Carting her around since ‘the incident’.” Jane air-quoted, and Frank was both unsurprised and dismayed to realize that he knew exactly what she was talking about. Rachel was the newest stylist on staff and had managed to score a DUI on her birthday party a few months earlier. “The Incident” also totaled her car, and it was just dumb luck that no one was hurt—a fact Frank had spoken to her about at some length, including very graphic details on the life flights he usually ran from accident scenes like hers. She had avoided him ever since, but he did not care as long as she learned her lesson. He wondered if she had complained to her brother about him.

“Nice guy.”

Jane snorted. “We’re talking about the same person?”

“He’s helping his sister out. Can’t be all bad.”

“Yeah, I guess. Not like he’s got a job anyway.”

Frank knew to let it go. He knew that if he did, Jan would not keep talking about it. He knew that, but some devil was on his shoulder, and he spoke without thinking. “So what does he do?”

“Some kind of website thing. Says he makes money off it, I don’t know. But what he really does is, get this, design video games!” She laughed.

Frank grunted noncommittally, hoping he would take his own advice and stop the madness. “Yeah?” he asked, and wondered when he lost all control of his mouth.

“Hasn’t sold anything; he says once he does he’ll be a billionaire. Sure.” She laughed again. “Oh hey, you on duty? I didn’t think to ask.”

“No, not on until eight p.m. tonight. Got the night shift for a few weeks, the usual guy is out on paternity leave.”

“Okay, then. Any interesting stories?”

Frank reviewed the last few life flights he had done over the past month but shook his head. Sometimes—rarely—there was a funny or at least interesting story to tell, but lately everything had been tragic car accidents and fires. Jane grimaced sympathetically; her husband was an EMT, so she understood that sometimes not talking about it was the only way to deal, which was one reason Frank stuck with her. Too many people thought his work was heroic and interesting when it was just a job with a body count. In that sense, he thought it was not very different from being in the military.

“Sorry, let’s talk about something else,” Jane said, looking at him with understanding. They moved on to new restaurants, and Jane grilled him about his (nonexistent) dating life, and Frank volleyed the jokes in all the right places. When he finally walked out, though, Benjamin was not in the lobby anymore, and that was the first time Frank realized he had been looking forward to seeing him again.