Excerpt: 'Matters of the Heart'

"Nothing much. I was thinking about going up to the house in Cape Cod over the holiday. It's pretty there this time of year."

"How cheerful. Only you would think it's pretty. Everyone else would get suicidal there this time of year. I have a better idea." He had on his "have I got a deal for you" voice, and she laughed. She knew him well and liked him too.

"Like what? What crazy assignment are you going to try and talk me into now, Mark? Las Vegas on Christmas Eve?" They both laughed at the prospect of it. Occasionally he came up with some wild ideas, which she almost always turned down. But at least he had to try. He always promised the potential clients he would.

"No, although Vegas for the holidays sounds like fun to me." They both knew he loved to gamble and took occasional trips to Las Vegas and Atlantic City. "This is actually respectable and quite dignified. We got a call from a major publishing house today. Their star author wants a portrait sitting for his latest book cover. He hasn't delivered the book yet, but he will any minute, and the publisher needs the shot done now for their catalog and layouts for advance publicity in the trade. It's all very proper and on the up and up. The only problem is that they have a tight deadline. They should have thought of it before."

"How tight?" Hope asked, sounding noncommittal, and stretching out on the white wool couch as she listened.

"They need to do the shoot by next week, for their production schedule. That means you'd be shooting around Christmas, but he requested you, and said he won't do it with anyone else. At least the guy's got good taste. And the fee is pretty hefty. He's a big deal."

"Who's the author?" That would have an impact on her decision, and her agent hesitated before he said the name. He was an important author, had won the National Book Award, and was always at the top of the best-seller lists, but he was a bit of a wild card, and had appeared in the press frequently with assorted women. Mark didn't know how Hope would feel about shooting him, particularly if he misbehaved, and he could. There were no guarantees that he wouldn't. She usually preferred to work with serious subjects.

"Finn O'Neill," he said, without further comment, waiting to see what she'd say. He didn't want to influence her or discourage her. It was entirely up to her, and it would be perfectly reasonable if they declined since it was on short notice, and Christmas week.

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