“You’re getting me back tomorrow, you know.”

It should scare me, the husky voice that comes from nowhere, but it doesn’t even make me jump anymore. I’m wondering if that’s a good sign or a sign that I’ve gone over that edge where authors go when they begin to talk to their characters. Out loud.

I’m sitting outside trying to enjoy one of the very few cigarettes I ration for myself in any given day, trying not to think about writing or plotting or anything besides relaxing.

Apparently, that’s not going to happen tonight. I turn slightly to the left and he’s sitting there, right on the table. His shirt is still missing despite the fact that it’s freezing out here, and those ever present handcuffs are still there. I wonder which one he’s escaped from momentarily, Sasha or Cece.

“Because the WORD challenge is over tomorrow,” Jake continues. “And you’re not getting a winner’s button or anything and Nick’s story isn’t going anywhere.”

Must he point out the obvious? I did get some new pages written and a edited an awful lot and I’m trying the whole new plotting method that takes up time and sticky notes.

To a SEAL who deals in action, not excuses, I know none of my arguments will fly with him, so I don’t bother trying to explain my WORD challenge semi-failure.

“At least Nick’s story is much better than it was a month ago,” I say. “Katie likes it, and once I get a handle on the past lives stuff…”

“You’re not still trying that angle, are you? Just because you keep getting emails from Astrology.com that talk about karma and past lives does not make it some kind of sign that Nick’s destined to have a past life in his story.”

“Sure it is.” I stop, turn to him. “You’ve been reading my emails?”

He grins and shrugs, and shakes a cigarette out of my pack. “I can read more than your emails, honey.”

“You’re not flirting with me, are you? My husband’s right inside.” Probably wondering who the hell I’m talking to out here. And then it dawns on me that maybe his mind reading skill could work to my advantage. “Hey, do you happen to know what Sylvia’s surprise is?”

And Jake’s still just grinning, which tells me he knows everything but isn’t telling. He’s irritatingly patient and demanding at the same time, and I wonder if it’s my fault he’s got such a special skill.

“You’re impossible. Impatient. Egotistical,” I tell him.

“And moody. Don’t forget moody,” he adds. “You’re pretty moody yourself, so this shouldn’t be a problem for you to work with.”

“And a royal pain in the…”

He arches an eyebrow and frowns. “I’m giving you great stuff here.” He points to himself. “The shitty childhood, the angst, the loner. It’s like a romance hero in a bottle, for cryin’ out loud. Add in the military stuff and you’ve got the perfect setting.”

“You’re going to have to suffer, you know? I’m not going to wrap things up so easily for you. Just because you had a bad childhood doesn’t mean this love stuff isn’t going to rip you apart. Is that really what you want?”

“You’re the writer. If you say I need conflict, I need conflict. I’m a SEAL, remember. I think I can take what you’re going to dish out.” He’s daring me now, almost taunting me, and I wonder if he knows exactly what he’s asking for. “Send in the wolves, just like Larissa said.”

I try and buy myself a little peace. “I wrote the boxing scene out, okay? Does that satisfy you for now?”

“A little. But all I got to do was kiss that doctor. And you know that…”

“I know.” I hold up a hand. “You need to get laid.”

“Among other things. I’m ready for anything,” he says. “But I’m not going to hang around forever, you know. I’ve got places to go.”

“Oh yeah? Like where?”

“Sasha thinks she knows what to do with me,” he says with a sly smile. For the first time, I notice he’s also holding something that looks suspiciously like a piece of melon. Then he flicks the cigarette away and ambles off into the darkness as silently as he came.

At least I don’t have to deal with him tomorrow. Like Scarlett, I’ll think about him tomorrow.

Steph T.