Cardboard Hero
Shelby Morgen
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2017 Shelby Morgen
An Authorized Excerpt

This e-book file contains sexually explicit scenes and adult language which some may find offensive and which is not appropriate for a young audience. Changeling Press E-Books are for sale to adults, only, as defined by the laws of the country in which you made your purchase. Please store your files wisely, where they cannot be accessed by under-aged readers.

"It's freezing in here!"

With a sob of frustration, Tory shoved away from the desk, slamming the keyboard tray shut as she stood up. Her chair rolled backwards on the slick vinyl mat. As she fled to the kitchen, the computer screen went blank, another reminder that she hadn't written a word in over an hour. The sludge in the bottom of the coffee pot had congealed into a foul-smelling gelatinous mass. It hadn't quite burnt. The timer must have cut the thing off just in time. She glanced at the kitchen clock. After 1:00 am. Again.

Tory flung the pot in the general direction of the kitchen sink. She missed, of course. She had lousy aim, and she knew it, so she didn't bother to try very hard. Luckily the pot didn't break. It wasn't glass. The glass carafe had long since been replaced with a stainless steel one. The worst effect of her temper was a splattering of black sludge all over the floor and on the front of the counter.

If she still had a housekeeper there would have been nothing more to the whole incident. Hell, if she still had a housekeeper, she'd have had coffee in the damn pot, not something that looked like a new special effect for a sci-fi movie. As it was, she'd have to scrub up the mess herself.

"I can't do this any more!" She screamed it loud enough that even Henry, wherever he was, should have heard her. "I hate you for doing this to me, you rotten son-of-a-bitch! Where the hell are you, anyway?"

"If you hate him, why do you care where he is or who he's with?"

"Who's there?" Tory let the dishrag drop back into the sink. She wasn't going to panic. She wasn't. She turned to face the voice. Or where she thought it had come from. Slowly, very slowly, without the least trace of panic, she swept the room with her gaze, searching for the source of the voice. No one. There was no one here.

Of course there was no one here. She lived alone now. Even the damn cat had deserted her. On the other hand, if the cat hadn't deserted her, but was, instead, starting to talk to her in a man's voice, she had more problems than she was prepared to face at the moment.

She opted for a more rational answer. Armed with a huge flashlight which might be useful as a weapon if necessary, she searched the small condo, looking in the hall closet, looking beneath the bed --

Damn. There were things under there. She vaguely remembered her mother calling them dust bunnies. Well, some of the rabbits under the bed looked like they might be gaining sentience. Were you supposed to vacuum under the bed, too? How would you do that? Take the bed frame apart maybe? Well, she sure as hell wasn't going to move the damn bed. It was mahogany -- one of the few antiques she had left -- and nothing short of a moving crew could lift the thing.

She searched the rest of the condo. Closets. Bathrooms. Even in the shower. Back to her office. Nothing. No one.

That left only one conclusion. She was losing her mind. Great timing. She seemed to have lost everything else -- her housekeeper, the car… her husband.

Returning to the kitchen, she picked up the dented coffee carafe and set another pot to brewing. She needed caffeine. That was what was wrong. That was all that was wrong. Caffeine. Resolute, she marched back to the keyboard, determination stiffening her tired shoulders.

"Why do you bother? You hate this story. You know you do."

"It's my job," she snapped before she could consider the source of the voice. "And I really need the money."

"How can you write romance when you don't believe in love?"

"I believe in love!" Tory shrieked. "Just because that sorry-ass piece-of-shit of a husband of mine ran off with some blonde bimbo doesn't mean I don't believe in love."

"You've given up on love, and so have the people in your book. That's the real reason you can't finish this manuscript. You don't want to. You don't care about these people. They aren't real to you any more."

Tory looked for something to throw and latched onto her empty coffee cup, but then she realized she had nothing to throw the cup at. "Shut up, shut up, shut up! I am not talking to some voice in my head."

"Why not? You always used to talk to us. I thought we were real to you."

Us? Who had she ever… This was one of her characters? Tory squirmed slightly, trying to bring her world into focus. "I suppose I did talk to my characters, once upon a time. But they didn't talk back."

"Has it been so long you've forgotten? You used to talk to me. We had long conversations, you and I. Back when you were writing The Boys of Summer, we talked all the time." His voice sounded desperately sad. "I thought, back then, that I mattered to you."

The Boys of Summer books. Tory sat back with a sigh. She'd been younger then, and still amazed that someone would pay her to do what she loved most. There'd been magic in those books. Short, sweet little romances all, with barely more than the touch of two lips and the feel of a hand resting on a shoulder.

She placed him, of course. She'd never really forgotten him but now she brought him back sharply into focus. Why should she feel suddenly guilty that she'd lost touch with this character? He was her creation, her first love, her…

He was a character. A fictional character from a fictional book. Maybe she needed to see a doctor. "The market's changed. I couldn't give the Summer books away today. No one wants to buy books with no sex in them."

"Women loved the Summer series. They had passion, those books. You loved writing them. Back then you stayed up half the night writing because you wanted to. And you still found time to talk to me."

The readers loved you, Tory thought. As she had. Once upon a time.

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