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David Baldacci's The Christmas Train - Excerpt

Tom and Lelia had hit it off on an overnight flight from Southeast Asia to the States. At first he thought it might have been all the liquor they drank, but when that buzz burned off a couple hours out of LA, she was still beautiful and interesting— if a little ditzy and eccentric—and she still seemed attracted to him. He stayed over in California and they got to know each other even better. She visited him on the East Coast, and they’d been a comfortable if informal bi-coastal item ever since.

It might seem strange that a successful Hollywood lady would go for a nomadic gent who ran through passports like water, could spout off funny if lewd phrases in thirty languages, and never would be financially secure. Yet Lelia had tired of the men in her circle. As she diplomatically explained it once, they were complete and total lying scum and unreliable to boot. Tom was a newsman, she said, so at least he occasionally dealt with the truth. She also loved his rugged good looks. He took that to mean the deep lines etched on his face from reporting in windswept desert climates with bullets flying. In fact his face was more often than not down in the sand in observance of local safety regulations.

She listened with rapt attention to Tom’s tales of covering major stories around the globe. For his part, he observed with admiration the professional way Lelia went about her loony-voice career. And they didn’t have to live together year-round— a decided advantage, Tom believed, over the complex hurdles facing couples who actually cohabitated.

He’d been briefly married but had never had kids. Today his ex-wife wouldn’t accept a collect call from him if he were hemorrhaging to death on the street. He was forty-one and had just lost his mother to a stroke; his father had been dead for several years. Being an only child, he was truly alone now, and that had made him introspective. Half his time on earth was gone, and all he had to show for it was a failed marriage, no offspring, an informal alliance with a California voiceover queen, a truckload of newsprint, and some awards. By any reasonable measure, it was a miserable excuse for an existence.

He’d had an opportunity for a wonderful life with another woman but the relationship had, inexplicably, fallen apart. He now fully understood that not marrying Eleanor Carter would forever stand as the major mistake of his life. Yet, ever the man of action, and wanderlust upon him once more, Tom was taking the train to LA for Christmas.