Date Published: August 2021
Publisher: Melange Books
Brilliant, troubled driven Alice travels in time to meet men.
Last night, clothes began appearing in Alice Hightower’s closet at sunset. She might find bell bottoms from the seventies or a beaded flapper’s dress from the twenties, but they fit perfectly. She slips on the outfits and opens her balcony door to another place and time where extraordinary men fill her nights. CEO of a medical device company about to unveil a revolutionary heart bypass product, Alice escapes her challenging days to the adventures beyond her balcony door. How could her smoldering VP of sales, or her fascinating assistant compare to Tweedle Don and Tweedle Dan, twin doctors from the seventies, or the sixties rock group who scolds Alice for being late for their very important date. At forty-nine, after two divorces, relating to her male coworkers has been entirely too complicated. When industrial espionage threatens her company, Alice has to save the position that defines her, discover the truth of her fantastic travels and decide if the real men in her life might be more satisfying than those she enjoys by night.
Wanna Be a Rockstar
Alice Hightower’s childhood ended one scorching summer morning on the parking lot of an Oklahoma truck stop. She held her breath and watched the heat rise in ripples off the blacktop. The car was gone. Mama, Daddy and her big brother Sean had disappeared down the turnpike and left her behind.
She didn’t really blame them. She tried hard, but she was not a very good girl. Her corner of the bedroom did look like a tornado hit it. She never went to bed when it was time but hid where no one could find her.
Mama always said she took too long in the bathroom. This time she’d just been trying to make her white-blonde hair lay flat in the wavy gas station restroom mirror. Tears gathered on her pale lashes. She blinked in the bright sunshine, and the tears ran down her sun-pink cheeks. She stood in the middle of a black ocean of sticky asphalt holding her teddy bear in one hand and her story book in the other. The sound of the blood rushing in her ears couldn’t drown out the cicadas screaming from every tree. She was alone.
Alice dropped the teddy bear and clutched her Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland picture-bookwith both hands. At that moment, it was as if the little tumblers in her head that held the combination to childhood began to spin. When they stopped, a new combination locked into place forever. She would not trust anyone to love or take care of her again.
Alice was six years old.
* * *
Grown-up Alice at forty-nine, didn’t believe in fairytales and had no time for fantasy. Hers was a sensible world of profit and loss statements, production schedules and sales projections. There was only one explanation for what happened to her last night. She had completely lost her mind.
Right this minute her impending insanity didn’t matter. Six impossible things had to be done before this breakfast meeting ended. Her adulteration of Mr. Carrol’s words nearly made her laugh, but she stopped herself. The other five people around the conference table might wonder why Excellcardia’s CEO, their boss, laughed at nothing. Dr. Elliott had a psychiatric explanation, but this wasn’t the time to worry about that.
Alice continued addressing the assembled members of her team. “Item number four on this morning’s agenda, Kirasaki. What the hell, Brad? I thought this was a done deal. Now they’re backing out of a two-million-dollar commitment?” Alice looked over her laptop at her Vice President of Sales. Though he was the object of her current ire, she couldn’t help but admire Bradley James, all cool, blue-eyed handsome like Paul Newman in The Color of Money. Alice knew Mr. Newman from her mother’s old movies and the salad dressing bottle. Stop it, she told herself. Concentrate.
“Under control,” Bradley said. “They’re surprisingly cheap bastards and if we give them our rock bottom quote, they’ll come crawling back. Just a little dance we have to do.”
His obvious command of the situation let Alice breathe easier for an entire second. “I want something signed on my desk by day’s end and I know very well what time it is in Osaka.” Alice looked at her laptop screen for the next item on her agenda. The man sitting on Alice’s right at the long black marble conference table, had opened his mouth to speak, but now just nodded at her. Jonathan Salter, Alice’s administrative assistant, typed furiously on the silver laptop in front of him.She knew he wouldn’t miss a single pertinent detail and a perfect summary of this meeting’s discussions would be in her inbox thirty minutes after the meeting ended.
“Okay then, on to number five, the revised Mark IV schedule for BJC. Louise?”
Louise O’Neil raised two perfectly plucked and shaped dark eyebrows and said, “No way Alice. We can’t get the raw materials all on this continent in time let alone produce enough for BJC’s monster order. Maybe if we push it back two weeks.”
“I have checked on all the materials personally,” Alice said. “Everything can be here in time, and if we just add a single shift for 3 days to production, it won’t wreck the P & L. BJC needs them by the second of the month and we can do that. The sooner we get them to the patients, the better their lives will be.”
Louise narrowed her eyes. “If you say so, Alice.” Alice caught the doubt in Louise’s voice. “The Mark IV is the best pacemaker on the market. Nobody can touch its reliability and ease of implantation for the price point. You should be proud of your baby, Louise.” Alice served up a wide and appreciative smile to go with the compliment. Engineers can be such children, she thought. Louise was one of the best on the planet, so Alice could take a little extra time to pat her on the back. She glanced down at her laptop’s screen and cleared her throat. “Okay, now on to the Biocardia project. I’ve increased the security in the lab. There’s a retinal scanner on the door now and two more cameras. Please stop by security to have your eyeballs registered soonest. We can’t have any of our ground-breaking technology stolen by a competitor. Dr. Petrus is here to update everyone for the board presentation. Proceed please.”
Petrus sat staring for one minute too long, as if to focus the group’s attention on him. Then he said, “The animal trials are proceeding on schedule by some miracle. What trials I can afford on this puny budget. Barney will be ready to show off to the rich old geezers on the Board. They’d be completely nuts not to approve more funds. The Biocardia device will revolutionize bypass surgery.” The man in the rumpled lab coat nodded to emphasize his words, shaking the long silver hair that always reminded Alice of the mad scientist in Back to the Future. She knew the good doctor was only fifty-two years old. Perhaps genius stripped the color from his hair.
It was brilliant work Alice knew full well. When approved and in production the device would make Excellcardia one of the top medical device companies in the world. Hopefully, the world would never find out such a company was run by a complete lunatic. She wasn’t going to tell.
The last order of business was a report by Arthur, head of the patent and clearance department. Alice had nearly forgotten he was there at all. She would have preferred to merely read his departmental reports, but Arthur Thomas insisted on being at the Friday morning meetings. His squeaky voice and rat-like eyes suggested a long hairless pink tail might be tucked into the back of the trousers in his baggy brown suit. She reminded herself that his expertise, not his appearance, made him vital to the company. Without clearance, no new device could be brought to the market. Arthur’s inarguable value didn’t prevent his reports from being torturous. She stared at her favorite baby pink pumps under the table and tried not to think about the strange goings-on in her apartment last night.
Jonathan nudged her foot gently under the desk, a reminder to look up so no one would think she hadn’t been listening. Some assistants, she thought, were worth their weight in gold.
“Alright people, thank you and let’s end this week with a bang rather than a whimper.” Alice nodded, scooped up her laptop, and headed to her office one floor up. When the elevator doors opened onto the twenty-third floor, she paused to survey the cool black and white scene.
Onyx marble floor tiles and white leather furniture gave the reception area the proper weight. One of her first executive actions three years ago, had been to claim the entire floor for her office and decorate to her particular taste. A company the size of Excellcardia needed a whole floor for its CEO, Alice had reasoned. It wasn’t vanity but necessity. The twenty-third floor wasn’t just her office, but the center of the company’s communications. The huge-framed photographs of scarlet flowers were the only hint at the passion of Excellcardia’s CEO. She straightened a picture, unacceptably crooked by two millimeters, and double-checked the others as she walked by.
The black marble slab of Jonathan’s desk sat shining and empty. He never went home with anything left undone. A handsome male administrative assistant had always been Alice’s secret dream, and Jonathan Salter was certainly that. He wore a suit as well as any man she’d ever seen. Something about men in business attire got Alice all moist and tingly. If he wasn’t quite so good at what he did, she wouldn’t have cared—much.
Alice liked to start the coffee, read emails, and watch the parking lot fill up twenty-three floors below. She knew who arrived early and who was perpetually late.
This morning, she forgot the password to open her emails. Panic! She used the same one every day, but today she couldn’t remember it. What would Dr. Elliot say? Is memory loss a new symptom? Heart racing, she searched her mental files. “SlythyToves49, that’s it,” she said out loud and exhaled with relief. This morning, at least, the men in the white coats could pass her by.
Louise O Neil appeared in the doorway. Brow furrowed and lips a tight red-lip sticked line, she slammed the door to Alice’s office. “I’m glad to go along with the revised schedule but I do not appreciate being blindsided at the Friday meeting.”
“Damn it, Alice, I would appreciate a little more respect than that, and thank you.”
People in the company called her Jackie O. The same meticulously coiffed dark hair, lean arrow-straight frame, and perfect sense of style had something to do with the nickname; but Louise also carried herself like a Bouvier. Louise’s African-American heritage did not lessen her resemblance to one of America’s best loved first ladies one little bit. Alice doubted the late former first lady would have let her feathers be ruffled by a simple change in a manufacturing schedule. Alice needed to smooth the feathers right back down on this important peahen.
“We deliver what our clients need when they need it on my watch. Sit down and have coffee with me. It’s been a while since we talked about anything but business.” Louise poured herself a half cup of coffee from the pot on the credenza and dropped gracefully into the white leather chair in front of Alice’s black desk.
“I would appreciate a little warning next time.” Louise’s eyes were still narrowed but her lips relaxed a bit. Least you could do for a friend who didn’t even hate you when you got the top job, even though she had ten years more experience. A friend who made sure you ate something healthy once in a while after you and Robert split. A friend who—”
“I get it, Louise, and I do really appreciate all you’ve done for me. I’ll have Jonathan email you any and all changes to the production schedules immediately in the future.”
“Thank you. Now tell me about the exciting life of a single CEO.”
“Nothing exciting about my life. I go home alone every night. I’m certainly not looking for love. That crap doesn’t exist outside of romance novels and Hallmark Original movies.”
“Such a cynic,” Louise said. “I can help change your mind, you know. Say the word. Older or younger, Bill and I know lots of people. How much weight have you lost? You look great. You know cool-laser-liposuction really works for those stubborn areas. Not that you need it of course.”
Of course she’s talking about my ass.
“Do you want some of my breakfast smoothie? Organic kale, wheatgrass, and mango? I have plenty left in my office.”
“No thank you, Lou. No more of your health goo for me. Not enough preservatives. There could be God knows what flesh-eating bacteria on that kale without serious chemicals to kill it. I’m way too busy for any kind of romance and no laser’s touching this fine derriere, hot or cool. It’s only been a year since—”
“Since that man-dog cheated on you and left you for a twenty-five-year-old child?” said Louise. “It’s actually nearly two years. No one deserves a good time more than you. Who said anything about romance? Just some dinner and maybe a little dancing in the sheets with some nice guy. You can’t live and breathe this place. You need a hobby. Some kind of distraction.”
Alice burst out laughing. Could Louise somehow know about the completely insane thing that happened to her last night? Louise’s irritation was replaced by concern, even a little speck of fear.
Inappropriate affect, Alice thought. Common in people with her diagnosis, according to Dr. Elliot.
“Sorry. I do appreciate your concern.” Alice looked down to compose herself. The first edition of Lewis Carroll’s most famous work, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, sitting on her desk always brought her comfort. She ran her hand over the lovely brown leather-bound book, her favorite since childhood. As a child, she was positive it had been written just for her. When she learned the book was published over a hundred years before her birth, she’d cried for hours. Alice had finally decided Mr. Carroll must have been a special kind of magician, to write a story that would come to mean so much to her.
“Now,” Alice said, “tell me what’s going on with you.” She tried hard to look interested as Louise launched into an account of her adult children’s activities and the upcoming holiday parties, hoping the occasional nod and ‘hmm’ sufficed. How could such a brilliant woman be so good at prattling on about such trivial matters?
Jonathan opened Alice’s office door and placed the doorstop in its usual place, after a reassuring look and head nod from his boss. He made sure Alice’s door always remained open.
“It’s important,” he’d said when she first hired him. “Gives the impression you are approachable and are always ready to listen to anyone’s ideas. Adds to the team mentality, don’t you think?” His thick mahogany hair moussed straight back and black-framed glasses gave him a definite Clark Kent appeal. The suit that hung so nicely on his six-foot-two-inch frame today was moss green, Alice noted.
“Brad James is on his way up,” he said. “He says he absolutely has to talk to you before your ten o’clock. Shall I have him wait?” Jonathan shot Louise a quick glance and focused his dark eyes on Alice.
“No. I need to talk to him about his trip to Sweden. Give us two minutes.”
Louise watched him walk out. She gave Alice a sly smile and spoke softly. “Of course you don’t need me to set you up. That hotness could put a smile on any girl’s face.”
“You know damn well I would never—”
“Uh huh,” Louise lowered her voice. “He looks at you like a sick puppy. Everyone thinks he’s in love with you.”
Seriously? My co-workers need to get to work and not waste time speculating about me. How ridiculous. He’s far too young, gorgeous or not. That little hint of an English accent has to keep his bed full of hot young babes. Not that she cared. What he did on his own time didn’t matter as long as he continued to give Excellcardia his best during his workday.
Alice had to admit, occasionally she would call Jonathan into her office and ask him some trivial question she didn’t really need the answer to just to listen to the music of his voice. His formal phrasing seemed a little odd for someone so young, but it added a certain richness to his armamentarium of interesting traits, including a droll sense of humor that could defuse the most intense situation.
About the Author
As a little girl, Melissa Rea fell asleep whispering stories to herself in the dark. In elementary school, she got in trouble for embellishing when the truth just seemed too boring. She learned to control her imagination as she grew up and her stories became daydreams. Pursuing a sensible career, Melissa filled her spare time with the wondrous worlds of Bram Stoker, Mary Shelly, Robert Heinlein, Philippa Gregory, Stephen King, Dean Coontz, Jackie Collins, Jennifer Weiner, Sarah Dunant and any and all authors who caught her fancy. Still, the stories in her head persisted, now colored by the delicious words of others. One day, she could no longer keep the in her and she began to write novels. Conjuring Casanova was published in 2016 and was a Recommended Indie Book by Kirkus Review. Nights of Alice Book I, Rabbithole will be published in 2021 by Melange Publishing. Nights of Alice Book II, Pool of Tears will follow in 2022. She lives in St. Louis were she has a solo dental practice and lives with her husband and rescue cats.