This is the only short story Iíve 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.
MY SECRET SERVICE VALENTINEby
Susan Elizabeth Phillips
"Mom, how can you do this to me?" Callie DeLucca moaned into the telephone.
"Itís Valentineís Day, and I didnít want you to be alone," her mother Toni responded from her office in Washington, D.C., three thousand miles away from Callieís tiny San Francisco apartment.
Callie ground her teeth. "Iím not alone! I have DeCaprio.
"DeCaprioís a gerbil!"
"Exactly! No toilet seat left up, he hates sports, and he doesnít 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, itís hard for me to believe youíre my daughter."
Callie knew what she meant. Her mother, Toni DeLucca, was one of the nationís first female FBI agents and something of a legenda legend that had grown larger during the search for Cornelia Case, the nationís missing First Lady.
Callie, on the other hand, was an animal-loving vegetarian harpist who supplemented her performance income by giving music lessons.
"You donít want to spend Valentineís Day alone, sweetheart. You know itís your favorite holiday."
Callie softened. "Yours, too, Mom." She remembered the lopsided pink cakes theyíd iced together, the handmade Valentines theyíd strung around the house. As a single mother, Toni had believed in the importance of tradition.
"Jasonís just been transferred to San Francisco, and youíre going to adore him," her mother went on. "Heís exactly your type."
"Oh, yeah...," Callie said sarcastically. "A short-haired, gun-toting, right wing Secret Service agent. In case youíve forgotten, Iím attracted to poets, artists, musiciansin short, men who donít carry a Smith and Wesson Model Ten."
"Honestly, Callie, we havenít 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."
"Iím going to kill you for this."
"Youíre a pacifist, remember? Where did I go wrong?"
"Maybe with that toy Uzi you gave me when I was two."
"Who knew itíd 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. Heís 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 wonít be ready for my surprise!
She gazed around her apartment with its funky posters and third-hand furniture stacked with brightly-colored pillows. DeCaprioís 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, Iím 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. "Iím sorry, Jason, but I donít think this is a good idea. My mother only called a few minutes ago, and I wasnít really expecting anyone, so"
He grinned. "I canít disobey orders. Iím supposed to take you out so youíre not alone on Valentineís 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 youíd be just like her. Donít get me wrong. Sheís a great woman, and the best agent I ever worked with, but itís a little hard to relax when sheís 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 Iím 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 weíd have a lot in common."
"We do?" Her voice squeaked.
He regarded her shrewdly. "Since youíve grown up around federal agents, youíre smart enough not to stereotype us."
"Who me?" She gulped. "Wouldnít 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 arenít too crazy about keeping animals caged."
"Iím not either. I was forced to liberate him from this awful pet shop owner. DiCaprioís 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?"
"Iím 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 Valentineís surprise sheíd 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 thereís a good steak house around here. Oh...and she asked me to give you this."
He leaned forward and planted a kiss on Toniís cheek. "Happy Valentineís Day."