Author: Kevin V. Symmons
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary Women’s Fiction
Jessica Long has the voice of an angel. But Jesse's cold beauty masks a brutal past filled with privation and cruelty. As the talented soprano approaches her final year at New England Conservatory, she is faced with a choice: stay with her striking young lover or accept the offer of a successful Broadway producer. She chooses the latter only to discover that fame can exact a cruel price. After years of yearning, the lovers meet again - at Jesse's ragged homestead on the Maine Coast.
Matt will reveal the benefactor who's followed and protected Jesse as the lovers face a confrontation with the jealous pursuer who's tried to destroy her. One final choice awaits that may cost Jesse both Matt and her life. The Broadway impresario, a mysterious crime lord, and Matt's stunning literary agent head a cast of absorbing secondary characters. Filled with unexpected plot twists, Solo is a classic, leading the reader over a bittersweet tapestry spanning fifteen years.
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It was sweltering. Sunday afternoon. But Sundays had no special meaning for Jesse. Just another crowded space on her calendar. Moving deliberately through the moist air that hovered over Boylston Street, the heat rising from the sidewalk penetrated the worn souls of her loafers. Perspiration grew thick on her skin, darkening her thin cotton blouse.
A massive steel skeleton stood nearby. Having grown to a height of thirty stories, it guarded Copley Square’s busy expanse. Half-way up the I-beams that comprised its brick-red frame an electronic sign flashed ‘93 degrees.’
Many residents hid, sheltered inside, letting their fans or air conditioners battle the early heat-wave while they lolled away this June afternoon watching the Red Sox or movie reruns. The more adventurous, young or athletic populated the banks of the Charles River or sought the cool breezes of South Boston’s Carson Beach.
Jesse found the summer heat in Boston unwelcome and unexpected. She could never remember any semblance of a spring, just a cool damp season that one day surrendered as the unrelenting damp heat emerged like a chrysalis. Thanks to the onshore breeze from Casco Bay, it was never this hot in Portland. But Portland held more demons than she could exorcise in one lifetime. Jesse was glad to be rid of it.
She swallowed deeply, clenching her fists. This job could mean the difference between continuing her career or returning to the bleak life she’d left in Maine. Now that her mother and daughter Alexis had appeared, she had to find more work to support them while she finished her training at the Conservatory.
She studied the brightly decorated windows of the cafes and boutiques, ignoring the glances of the men she passed. Young couples, stylishly dressed in their lightweight summer clothes moved aside as she moved on her mission toward the address on the slip of paper Mario had given her.
Arriving at her destination, Jesse peered through the murky glass. She scanned the adjacent shops, hesitating. Whatever it was, Martel’s Coffee Shop and Bakery played counterpoint to Boylston Street’s more fashionable establishments.
Her dim reflection showed a tall, slender young woman who favored her father. Or so they’d told her. She’d worn her best cotton slacks and a dark blouse. Jeans or shorts would send the wrong message, and Jesse couldn’t afford a bad first impression. Her thick black hair hung loose, framing her face. She took a deep breath to help her relax. Checking her image in the dirty glass, she wiped the perspiration from her forehead and neck, drying her palms on her pants.
Taking another deep breath, she opened the door. Prayer was not on Jesse’s agenda, but it crossed her mind. She knew the city was flooded with pretty co-eds and single mothers willing to work for almost nothing. Mario’s influence might be worth something, but she was taking no chances. She wasn’t given to fits of superstition, but she closed her eyes tightly and crossed her fingers. Anything that might give her an edge was worth a try.
“Please, Mr. Martel,” she whispered, looking around self-consciously. “I need this job.”
The door’s glass was so grimy she couldn’t see inside. Could Mario have been wrong? Was this place really open for business?
Inside the air was cooler, but not much. If Martel’s was air conditioned, someone should apply for a refund. The inside was dark—too dark. She froze as she searched the shadows, trying to understand why anyone would use such a gloomy color. Her throat tightened. She squeezed the doorknob as she thought about leaving. A few fluorescents lit the front, but the rear was hidden in shadow.
“It was my mother,” said a man’s voice from the shadows. Despite the quiet, almost soothing quality of the voice, Jesse jumped.
“I beg your pardon,” she said, scanning the darkness. “Did you say ‘It was my mother’?”
“Yes,” said the man with the soft voice, still out of sight. “You’re Jesse?”
“How did you...?”
“Mario called to say you’d be coming by. He described you. He didn’t exaggerate.”
Jesse felt her face flush.
“My mother had a condition called photophobia, a sensitivity to light,” the man explained. “Since she spent her life here, she wanted it to be dark,” he continued. “I’m too busy to repaint it. People ask about it. I took a guess when I saw you looking around.” As he finished speaking, the man moved down the counter. He was small and thin, almost frail, but his face was kind, his smile warm. He approached, offering his hand.
“It’s nice to meet you. I’m Gerry Martel. It’s Gerry with a ‘G’.”
Looking around, Jesse saw a thin counter running the length of the restaurant and disappearing into the dark. Like everything else, it was old and worn—red Formica, aged to a soft pink, hinting at warmth. She saw cake trays, napkin holders, and other hardware.
“Would you like to know where I’ve worked?” Jesse wanted to get on with the interview. She was a lyric soprano, not a psychologist.
“Mario said you’d been a waitress. He also said you were a good kid and needed the work.” He paused. “Have you worked in a place like this?”
Jesse looked around, questioning.
“Our main business is in the morning. We get hundreds of customers in here between six and ten. Some office types, but right now a lot of construction guys,” he explained. “They’re okay, but they can be tough, especially on someone who…who looks like you.” He gestured in her direction. Jesse answered the challenge. Desperation was a great motivator.
“I’ll tell you what. Give me a week. I’m good. Really good.” Jesse’s adrenaline surged. “I’ll work for tips. If you’re not satisfied, just tell me. But if I can do the work, pay me four bucks an hour, plus my share of the tips.”
Gerry held up his hand.
“Calm down,” he said softly. “Mario recommended you. That’s good enough for me. But four bucks an hour, that’s a lot. I don’t know. It wouldn’t be fair to the other girls.”
“Watch me and see. You can’t lose. Either I work for nothing, or you’ll see I’m worth the money. Come on. What do you say?”
“Okay.” He gave in. “You’re right. I can’t lose.” Gerry put his hand to his chin. “I’ll bet you’re a lot tougher than you look.”
“I can handle anything this place can throw at me.” She smiled.
He returned her smile and nodded, holding out his hand. She shook it. “I think we’ve got a deal.”
“We have,” she agreed as he held her hand for a moment. “I’ll be here Monday morning. Is 5:30 okay?”
He nodded again.
“Oh, there’s one more thing. It’s about the air.”
Gerry looked puzzled. Jesse rephrased her question.
“Sorry,” she shook her head. “Does it get very smoky in here?”
He continued looking at her curiously.
“Not really. Our air conditioning keeps it pretty clean. And we don’t let anyone smoke in here.” He seemed poised to ask another question, but she looked at her watch and turned.
“Great.” She sighed, heading toward the door. She had what she wanted. Jesse had no time for idle conversation.
Gerry nodded. As she glanced back, she caught him watching. She walked out the door and back onto Boylston Street. She knew what he was thinking—the same thing they all thought. She hated it and them for thinking it.
She exhaled. “Thank you, Gerry with a G!” she said aloud, catching the attention of a passing jogger. He turned to stare at Jesse, sucking in his generous gut.
She headed for the MBTA station to catch the train to Symphony. She had work to do at the Conservatory.
She turned, glaring back at the jogger who was watching her. “What are you looking at?” she yelled as she ran to catch the subway.