Short Story

This is the only short story I’ve ever written. It was originally published in Waldenbooks magazine in conjunction with the release of FIRST LADY. Fans of that book will remember Toni DeLucca and Jason Williams, the agents tracking First Lady Cornelia Case. I hope you enjoy this chance to get reacquainted.


Susan Elizabeth Phillips

“Mom, how can you do this to me?” Callie DeLucca moaned into the telephone.

“It’s Valentine’s Day, and I didn’t want you to be alone,” her mother Toni responded from her office in Washington, D.C., three thousand miles away from Callie’s tiny San Francisco apartment.

Callie ground her teeth. “I’m not alone! I have DeCaprio.

“DeCaprio’s a gerbil!”

“Exactly! No toilet seat left up, he hates sports, and he doesn’t eat meat. What more could a woman want?”

A sigh from the other end of the telephone line. “Honestly, Callie, with your attitude toward men, it’s hard for me to believe you’re my daughter.”

Callie knew what she meant. Her mother, Toni DeLucca, was one of the nation’s first female FBI agents and something of a legend—a legend that had grown larger during the search for Cornelia Case, the nation’s missing First Lady.

Callie, on the other hand, was an animal-loving vegetarian harpist who supplemented her performance income by giving music lessons.

“You don’t want to spend Valentine’s Day alone, sweetheart. You know it’s your favorite holiday.”

Callie softened. “Yours, too, Mom.” She remembered the lopsided pink cakes they’d iced together, the handmade Valentines they’d strung around the house. As a single mother, Toni had believed in the importance of tradition.

“Jason’s just been transferred to San Francisco, and you’re going to adore him,” her mother went on. “He’s exactly your type.”

“Oh, yeah…,” Callie said sarcastically. “A short-haired, gun-toting, right wing Secret Service agent. In case you’ve forgotten, I’m attracted to poets, artists, musicians—in short, men who don’t carry a Smith and Wesson Model Ten.”

“Honestly, Callie, we haven’t carried the Model Ten in years.”

Callie rolled her eyes. “I thought we agreed that you were going to stay out of my love life.”

You agreed. I never said a word.”

“I’m going to kill you for this.”

“You’re a pacifist, remember? Where did I go wrong?”

“Maybe with that toy Uzi you gave me when I was two.”

“Who knew it’d turn you into a nut case?”

Callie laughed. Her mother was annoying, but she loved her. And Callie had a surprise of her own to share, but Toni spoke up first.

“Be nice to Jason when he shows up. He’s sensitive.”

“Yeah, right. It comes from all those lonely hours on the firing range.”

“I have to go, dear,” her mother said cheerfully. “A brush-up class on identity theft.”

“Wait a—” But Toni had already hung up.

Serves you right, Mom, Callie thought as she slammed down the phone. Now you won’t be ready for my surprise!

She gazed around her apartment with its funky posters and third-hand furniture stacked with brightly-colored pillows. DeCaprio’s cage sat in a forest of house plants to keep him from getting too lonesome for the outdoors.

A knock sounded. Callie groaned, then automatically ran her hands through her curly brown hair, only to stop herself. There was no need to primp for Mr. Secret Service Man since she intended to send him on his way immediately.

As she opened the door, she saw her worst nightmare standing on the other side. Buttoned-up, close-cropped, steely-eyed. And great looking…

“Hi, I’m Jason.”

“Uh, Callie…” She tore her gaze away from a pair of terrific blue eyes and took in his sports coat, oxford shirt, and tassel loafers. He looked like a Ken doll! And she was Hippy Barbie with silver earrings, jeans, and an India cotton top.

She managed an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, Jason, but I don’t think this is a good idea. My mother only called a few minutes ago, and I wasn’t really expecting anyone, so—”

He grinned. “I can’t disobey orders. I’m supposed to take you out so you’re not alone on Valentine’s Day.”

Callie bristled, but before she could tell Secret Service Man what he could do with his charity, he shuddered.

“Your mother terrifies me.” Another of those disarming grins. It left her a little breathless, which must have been how he managed to slip past her into the apartment. “I was afraid you’d be just like her. Don’t get me wrong. She’s a great woman, and the best agent I ever worked with, but it’s a little hard to relax when she’s around.”

Callie knew what he meant.

He studied her apartment. “Great place.”

When had she become such a sucker for broad shoulders? And amazing smiles? Whoa… “Before I waste your time, Jason, you should know that I’m a harpist, a vegetarian, an animal-rights advocate, and a pacifist.”

“No kidding?” His blue eyes shone with something that looked like admiration. “That must be why Toni decided to fix us up. She knew we’d have a lot in common.”

“We do?” Her voice squeaked.

He regarded her shrewdly. “Since you’ve grown up around federal agents, you’re smart enough not to stereotype us.”

“Who me?” She gulped. “Wouldn’t think of it.”

The corner of his mouth kicked up, and she knew he had her number. Then his smile faded as he spotted DiCaprio. “Most animal rights people aren’t too crazy about keeping animals caged.”

“I’m not either. I was forced to liberate him from this awful pet shop owner. DiCaprio’s lame.”

“I had to do that once. Except I ended up with Corky, a half-blind golden retriever.”

A warm, Valentine glow began to spread inside Callie. “Can I get you a beer?”

“I’m not much of a drinker. Do you have any herbal tea?”

This time Callie was the one with the grin.

She and Jason were so busy falling in love that evening that she forgot all about the Valentine’s surprise she’d sent her mother. As a result, Toni DeLucca was unprepared for the shaggy-haired, craggy-faced, fifty-four year-old sculptor in jeans and flannel who showed up on her doorstep.

The corners of his eyes crinkled as he smiled down at her. “I lived in the same building as your daughter before I moved here from San Francisco. Nice girl, but a little kooky. She said you might be able to show me where there’s a good steak house around here. Oh…and she asked me to give you this.”

He leaned forward and planted a kiss on Toni’s cheek. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”