Mikaela Marchand is living the polished life she always planned for: a successful New York lawyer, with a promotion in her sights and a devoted boyfriend by her side. She’s come a long way from the meek teen she was growing up in small town Georgia, but the memory of her adolescence isn’t far—in fact, it’s splashed across a massive billboard in Times Square. An old photograph of Mikaela and her former best friend, Julie, has landed on the cover of a high-profile fashion magazine advertised all over the city. And when Julie files a lawsuit, Mikaela is caught in the middle as defense lawyer for the magazine.
Not only will she have to face Julie for the first time in years, Mikaela’s forced to work closely with the photographer in question: the former love of her life—and Julie’s ex-husband—Cameron Murphy. Mikaela needs to win the case to get her promotion—and as a junior partner, she has no margin for error. But unresolved feelings still exist between Cam and Mikaela, and jealousy always made Julie play dirty…
Mikaela took a deep, cleansing breath and rolled her shoulders back.
Breathe, she chided herself. She hadn’t even darkened the doorstep yet; a heart attack in advance of that seemed premature.
One of the doors to the gallery stood open in invitation, but it was the frigid air escaping from inside that was actually more enticing. It was unseasonably hot. A freak heat wave had made it a blazing, makeup-melting, fire-hydrant-opening, egg-sizzling-out-on-the-sidewalk day in New York City, in only early May. Still, Mikaela wouldn’t reward herself with the tempting relief offered inside. Instead, she just stood on the bottom step for yet another moment, lingering as the various city dwellers went about their business. Another typical Saturday afternoon along a cobblestoned street in Soho.
Despite its swank location, this art gallery was more nondescript than any of the other storefronts that lined the street, rather anonymously tucked in between several ultra-high-end fashion boutiques. Its entrance, an open doorway like an ominous black hole, sat among a sea of gleaming white and vibrantly colored doors. In the single large plate-glass window hung a poster advertising a photographer’s retrospective and the gallery’s address. Adorning the poster was a small reproduction of a picture that even now bedeviled Mikaela from no less than a magazine cover, a thirty-foot sign in Times Square and numerous subway station advertisements across the City. But now, looking at the size of the relatively unremarkable gallery, she guessed most of the exhibit’s undoubtedly extravagant budget must have gone to the rent on this place and the marketing for that poster alone.
The gallery itself was lo-fi, unassuming and minuscule, judging from her spot well outside of it. Mikaela pushed her sunglasses up off her face and peered through the dim doorway, head angling this way and that like an owl. Her feet remained rooted in place, fear-induced moisture popping out on her brow and nose, sweating through her carefully applied war paint. The problem was the sun made it hard to make out what further surprises might lie in wait for her on the other side of the door.
“It’s okay,” a voice said, startling Mikaela from behind.
Mikaela spun around. A young woman with a bright smile and a nearly white-blonde ponytail stood on the sidewalk below. She squinted without the benefit of her sunglasses, which hung neatly tucked in between her breasts on her floral ditsy-print sundress. One open blue eye appraised Mikaela, top to bottom.
“We’re open. They’re just putting the final finishing touches on everything but it’s all in there.” She took a step up onto the old wooden stairs then paused, waiting to see if Mikaela would choose to enter.
Rather, Mikaela stepped aside to let her pass with two large iced coffees in her hands.
Indecision still gnawed at her nerves.
“Is the photographer in?” Mikaela gave a courteous smile as the young woman continued past.
“Yup, should be. This is for him.” She raised one of the coffee cups. “He tries to come in for at least a couple of hours every day—he’ll probably be coming in more often leading up to the opening.”
Mikaela nodded as they changed places, backing down the steps as the young woman ascended. They continued to regard each other: the young woman with mild curiosity, Mikaela with acute wariness.
The young woman paused again at the top, just in the threshold. “Do you want me to get him?” She turned to the photo in the window then back to Mikaela. The beginnings of a smile curving the corners of her mouth. “Or tell him you stopped by? Miss…?”
For a split second, Mikaela saw the omnipresent photo in the window the way any stranger might.
Two girls on a swimmer’s platform on a summer day.
“Oh no, that’s not necessary.” Mikaela stood on the cobblestones again, heart thumping, resolve faltering. Not only the full glare of the sun but also her own discomfort burned her up, urging her retreat. She shielded her face with a palm, partially from shame, and hurried down the street.
She was half a long block away the first time she heard her name. She hadn’t heard his voice in over fifteen years, but she recognized it, quickening her steps.
“Mikaela!” he bellowed again over the ambient noises of the street.
It was still distant but closer.
Mikaela hazarded a quick glance over her shoulder. A figure made his way toward her, dodging pedestrians as he moved. Mikaela stepped into the street, raising her arm, waving her hand.
A passing yellow cab pulled over. She yanked open the door.
“Please drive,” she commanded. “I’ll tell you where to go in a second. Just pull off, okay?”
The cabbie eyed her through the rearview mirror then glanced farther down the street before understanding her hurry and doing as she requested.
A full minute later, he spoke, turning off the small bumpy street and merging into traffic on the smoother avenue. “Where to, miss?”
“Downtown Brooklyn, please.” Mikaela sighed. She swallowed through the lump forming in her throat trying to sort why his voice had upset her.
She had always imagined she would instinctively know if Cameron was in her city. Or that maybe they could walk past each other, simply another two strangers in a city of eight million. But today proved, for her, that wasn’t possible.
He is Cameron Murphy and I am Mikaela Marchand and as long as we remain who we are, that will always be a patently ridiculous idea.
Mikaela pressed the button lowering the window nearest her, sinking into her seat. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath of the thick, pungent city air that blew into her face as her cab sped down the windy expressway along Manhattan’s East River.
A female sheriff’s deputy handed Mikaela a moist towelette. Mikaela took it and wiped the black ink off her fingers.
“We’ve called your parents, who said they’d be here soon, but we haven’t finished processing you yet.” The deputy raised an arm and waved over an extremely tall young man in a dress shirt and khakis. “As soon as we’re done with this, someone’ll take you to stand in front of the judge and then your folks can spring you.”
Mikaela nodded, meticulously removing every drop of ink from her fingertips.
“Stay here. Cam’ll finish up with you,” she instructed gruffly before switching places with the young man and walking away.
Mikaela and the photographer stood staring at one another for a moment before he leaned forward and whispered, “Judge came in special to arraign y’all. Your parents must be pretty important, huh?”
“Not mine, hers.” Mikaela nodded down the hall in the direction of her best friend, Julie. Julie leaned against the high-top intake counter chatting with the desk sergeant and another deputy. “Her daddy’s a judge too, but Georgia Supreme.”
“Oh, so a real muckety-muck then?” He reached into a tub on a nearby desk and handed her several more wipes.
“I suppose.” Mikaela eyed the stack of wet wipes in her hands.
The young man mimed wiping his own face in a circular motion.
“I gotta take your mug shot,” he explained.
“You? Aren’t you a little young to be a deputy?”
“I’m not… A deputy, I mean. Just takin’ the pictures. Grade two, office support. But I can’t photograph purple-faced perps.”
“Oh.” Mikaela obediently scrubbed at her face, yet every towelette came back with more purple paint. After the fifth one, she stopped.
“Can I please just wash my face in the bathroom?”
The photographer shrugged and directed her down the hall.
Inside the restroom, Mikaela made for the sink and the large mirror above it. She had a hard time, right then, remembering why she had been so obsessed with this “senior prank” for so many years. Although Mikaela could admit, up until she’d had breakfast that morning, she’d still been so excited. Even as she and Julie applied their purple-and-gold face paint, and Mikaela’s little sister, Vanessa, affixed two glittery wigs of opposing colors onto their heads, they’d all giggled with an almost frothy enthusiasm.
“Trust me—no one will ever forget this!” Julie had promised, pulling Mikaela up the vaguely damp football tunnel to the thundering beat of the Harmon Spartans’ fight song—and also Mikaela’s heart.
“Yeah, ’cause we’ll be laughingstocks.”
“We’ll be legends!”
Arm in arm, they’d marched toward the light as the shaggy foil tips of the itchy wig tickled Mikaela’s face.
And as usually happened, Mikaela could feel Julie’s seemingly limitless enthusiasm for high jinks begin to permeate the layers of her own innate reserve.
But now, standing under the harsh fluorescents of the police station bathroom, Mikaela just ripped off the moronic gold tinsel wig and ruffled her short brown hair trapped beneath it. It sprung wild, thick and curly from her scalp, freed from the loose plaits she’d had it in earlier. She took a deep breath and regarded herself, still covered in purple greasepaint. Was it worth it?
She knew that was going to be her father’s first question for her and she didn’t have an answer. Julie had been right—no one in this town would ever look at her the same again. Especially not after the two consecutive cartwheels and back handsprings she’d done on the fifty-yard line while school security chased Julie around the end zone during halftime at their high school’s final football game of the season. At the time, more than half of the stands roared in appreciation. Mikaela stifled a little smirk remembering it.
Of course, that was probably because most of the Tri-County area now knew her better than her own gynecologist did.
But the truth was, for those two hundred and eleven seconds, it had been utterly wonderful. Mikaela let loose and was completely herself, joyful and free and brimming with the most intense hopefulness and excitement about what lay ahead after graduation. Not only for herself but every single young person there. In fact, it had been three and half of the finest minutes of her life.
That is until sheriff’s deputies tackled her to the ground and dragged her off the field in handcuffs. Now, Mikaela stood in the mirror wearing only an extra-large Spartans T-shirt, her pink Keds, the remnants of particularly noxious paint on her face and a slightly lopsided Afro. She was a mess.
“Pull it together,” Mikaela said to the grotesque, mocking face in the mirror.
She pressed the dispenser until there was a mound of soap in her palm. Then, using paper towels to scrub, she washed most of the face paint off in three cycles. Her face was tender from the effort by the time she emerged from the ladies’ room.
“I was just about to come in there lookin’ for you,” the young man said as she stepped out. He stood in front of the door, facing it like a sentry.
“Sorry, it was a lot of paint.”
“Yeah, no kidding. I had no idea what you looked like under all that stuff.” He guided her back toward the intake area.
She glared up at him with lingering suspicion. “And what, were you taking bets?”
Mikaela had always been sensitive about her looks. A month from eighteen, she was still knobby kneed and gangly, with barely a B-cup. The only sizable things on her remained her hips and an ass that kept her from being one long, unbroken straight line from the back of her head to the back of her heels.
“Takin’ bets on what? That you weren’t a Purple People Eater?” He chuckled. “No, I just wondered. Step over there.” He pointed to a plain wall notched with height markings, in front of which stood a camera tripod. “Take this.” He handed her a placard to hold.
“I didn’t know you guys really did this.” She examined the slate with her name, the date and booking ID on it.
Mikaela was not this person. Not a person who got arrested. She was not prepared to forever be identified as one.
“You misspelled my name. Tell me, is it like a parking ticket? You mess it up, and I get to go free?”
“I wish.” He smirked. “You’re funny. What’s misspelled?” He walked up to her looking over her shoulder for the error.
Mikaela could tell what soap he liked to use and the fact that he’d brushed his teeth or eaten something cinnamony recently. She considered that as his eyes met hers briefly. This close, there were flecks of green in the blue of his irises.
“Um, it—it’s actually k with an a before e in my first name. M-i-k-a-e-l-a.”
“Well, Mikaela with a k-a-e, I’m Cameron.” He underlined a small name tag on his crisp white shirt with a flourish of his hand before reaching for the placard.
Their fingers brushed as he took it from her, whisking it back to the booking desk as she stood waiting. She chewed on her nails, staring for a moment at the bulletin board on the far wall. A collection of real-life FBI wanted posters lined it. She paid particular attention to the mug shots and shook her head at the realization that she was about to have one of those too.
A wolf whistle pulled Mikaela’s attention to Julie, standing down the hall. She laughed, galloping around the hall on an imaginary horse until one of the officers made her stop.
Cameron came back from around the desk to hand Mikaela the placard.
“Let’s try that again,” he said.
Julie made a face, mouthing the words “He’s hot” and fanning herself while his back was turned.
Mikaela attempted to hold in a snicker. Cameron looked over his shoulder but saw nothing. “What?” He smiled, trying to read her expression.
Mikaela’s stomach tensed, the kaleidoscope of butterflies that resided in there all suddenly banking hard left as his eyes searched her face for a clue. She shook her head, looking down for somewhere to put her eyes. Her fingers ran over the placard’s velvety felt board and sharp white plastic letters.
“Are you ready?” Cameron asked.
“Seems the real question is—” she cocked her head “—are you?” The second the words were out of her mouth she wondered where they’d come from.
His eyes widened and he chuckled again.
Embarrassed, Mikaela nodded, averting her eyes and stepping back to the wall.
Excerpt from Long Past Summer by Noué Kirwan.
Copyright © 2022 by Noué Kirwan.
Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
All rights reserved.