He lowered his head at her words. Oh, how they stung his pride! But instead of telling her what he really wanted to say -- 'Don't do this to me. Let's talk this out, don't throw us away!' -- what he heard come out of his mouth was the last thing he wanted to say.
"Fine. The Clipper flies out in the morning. I'll be on it." Then as if from a distance, he watched himself hang up the phone.
*Five kinds of fool, Spencer,* he told himself as he pulled the cap off of his warm beer and moved to the balcony, looking sightlessly out at the Pacific sunset. The glorious colors could have been shades of grey for all he noticed them.
*You are five kinds of fool,* he repeated. *The best thing that's come to you in forever, and what do you do? You and your stupid pride.* He shook his head and
Startled, Ezra jerked, the laptop falling into the floor. "What?" he barked in reply, grabbing for the abused machine.
He was too slow -- it was scooped up and moved to the coffee table. Chris then turned back to him. "I have been calling you for the last five minutes! What, you had to bring work on vacation with you?"
"Hey, what's this?" Buck boomed, picking up the laptop and scrolling up.
"That's mine, Mister Wilmington! Personal property! I'll thank you to hand it back to me!"
"Just a sec, Ez....hey, look at this!" the big man boomed jovially. "He's reading a Gayle Storme novel!"
"He's what?" JD laughed as he came in, looking over Buck's shoulder. "Hey, Ez, Buck reads her books all the time!"
Vin chuckled from the kitchen, where he was helping Nathan cook. "Buck reads romance novels?"
"They're called 'Bodice-Rippers', Slick!" Buck shot back. "And they're historical novels as well as romances, I'll have you know!"
"Besides," JD called, "shouldn't you two be finishing up giving us all ptomaine poisonin' or something?"
Nathan growled, "We are not cooking up ptomaine, salmonella, botulism or anything else!"
"Let me guess," Chris called back with a chuckle. "You found my frozen fajita makings!"
"Busted," Vin laughed.
"And leave Buck and Ezra alone," Nathan went on. "I read Gayle Storme from time to time, myself."
"So do I," Josiah said, closing the door as he walked in from the patio. "The wealth of historical accuracy in her books is staggering! You feel like you're really there."
Buck nodded. "And besides, all of her 'scenes' are tastefully done!"
Ezra's jaw was hanging wide open. "You have got to be kiddin' me!" he drawled, shock making his refined speech go right out the window. "You three read these books?"
"Four," Chris said as he sat down. At their looks, he chuckled.
Buck began to laugh. "Sarah collected 'em, didn't she?"
Chris shrugged. "Gayle Storme had only written four when Sarah died. I kept adding to the collection, wondering what she'd think of each one. After awhile, I started readin' them too."
Josiah frowned. "Hold on, that's on Ezra's laptop?" At Buck's nod, his frown deepened. "I thought she didn't do e-books."
"She doesn't," Nathan confirmed. "Issued a press statement a couple'a years ago saying that e-books weren't real books, and she would always publish hers on old fashioned paper."
Buck was frowning now, looking at the title. "Hold on," he said slowly. "Tempest Island?" He clicked down a line or two. "July 4, 1941.... Gayle Storme hasn't written any World War II era books!"
All eyes swung to Ezra, who looked down at his hands.
Buck looked back at the screen and moved up to click the 'X', hoping he'd find some answers there. "'Okay to save changes?'" he read, astonished. "Holy shit, guys, this isn't an already-written book! Ez's writing this sucker!"
Ezra kept looking at his hands, wishing desperately for a hole to open up and swallow him.
Josiah moved to sit by him. "You're Gayle Storme, aren't you?" At Ezra's convulsive eye-closing, he nodded and asked, "How long?"
"Since I wrote Samurai Tide." Ezra couldn't seem to make his voice go louder than a whisper.
Buck nearly dropped the laptop, he was so startled. "You mean to tell us you've been her all along?!"
"Well," Nathan said with a wry smile. "Now we know how he affords everything he does. Never did believe that line about Maude's money."
Ezra shot him an acid glare, which he replied to with a grin.
"Hell, Ez," Buck said softly, putting the laptop back on the table, "the proceeds from these books alone can keep you in clover for decades! Why keep with the ATF?"
"I make a difference, doing what I do with the Team," Ezra responded softly, without an instant's hesitation. "Writing these is an income source, but it's a job peddling entertainment. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's a hobby. My passion is doing what I do here, with you beside me."
Six heads bobbed in slow, understanding nods.
"And besides." And there was the slightly wicked, gilded grin. "Nobody would believe a man writes this kind of book."
And Chris's house filled with raucous laughter.
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