Finding Comfort in the Chaos

messy home

There’s a famous quote that says “your home is your sanctuary.”  I’d like to think that’s the case, but often times my home is far from the peaceful connotation that brings to mind. There are days when it feels like pure chaos. Toys strewn all over the floor, Legos clutter every conceivable surface in my son’s room, and piles of mail that don’t yet have a home fill many counters in my kitchen. I try to keep up with it. I clean up only to have the same mess the next day. Or mere hours later once my kids come home. Sometimes it exasperates me and when I complain to my husband he always says, “It’s called having kids.” I get it. We by no means live in a museum―nor would I want to. But I’m one of those people who can’t function when there’s a mess. I want my sanctuary.

 

Most days I feel at peace about the mess. But there are times when we’re in a rush and it looks like a war zone. One such occasion was on Halloween. I helped out with the class party at school. When we came home we dropped everything and it was a mad dash to get to the neighbors for trick-or-treating. Coats, backpacks, and shoes littered the hallway. Unopened mail and extra snacks were left on the counter. But I didn’t want the kids to miss out on the fun so I could clean. We met up with some friends and I was happy to put the mess behind me. We ended up splitting off in different groups and my husband was with my son and I was with my daughter. He called me at one point to check in and casually mentioned everyone was at our house for a water and bathroom break. Say what? I told him the house was a mess and I was mortified. He played it off and said no one cares. Well I cared.

 

I was not expecting company. Clearly. But I got over it because what else could I do? I tried to tell myself I don’t judge other people when I go to their homes. Though more often than not their homes are spotless because they had planned on entertaining. When I’ve commented about it people joke their homes don’t always look like this. I found it hard to believe because there wasn’t anything out of place. Not even one piece of mail. I wondered what I was doing wrong. And how did they keep up with the school papers, art projects, etc.?

 

Then I came across an article today that resonated with me. It was about a woman looking to declutter. She read Marie Kondo’s book about the Japanese art of decluttering your home. I thought, “I need that!” But as she was going through the decluttering process, she realized she was throwing away valuable memories. The method, which was meant to bring joy, was actually bringing her heartache. I get it. It seems there’s a fine balance. Too much stuff causes stress, but some of these items have an emotional value that can’t be replaced. My fridge is filled with work the kids bring home. Eventually I throw things away and they get replaced by something new. But the fact is there are memories being made, and sometimes the process is messy, just like life. So if our home reflects our lives, it’s not always neat and tidy. While my house can be a hectic and chaotic place at times, I’m trying to find the comfort in the chaos. My house is far from perfect, but I realized it’s filled with the two most valuable things: love and family. If I were to build my ideal sanctuary, that’s all that I’d need.

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Believe Women

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I was intrigued when I came across a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal on Friday. It was a full-bleed yellow background that simply said, “Believe Women.” The only signoff was the bumble logo. This resonated with me and echoed a sentiment that I’ve been voicing since the start of the Kavanaugh trial. Intrigued, I went online to learn more and discovered Bumble is a female-focused dating app who published the ad in support of victims of sexual assault. The timing was key: a day after Christine Blasey Ford testified against Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh.

 

My husband and I have been talking about the hearing. Regardless of which side you sit on, I told him it’s only fair to seek the truth and I applaud Flake’s request to postpone the confirmation until the FBI can further investigate. And I applaud the two women who had the power to share their story, whose voices were heard and brought about change. While women want to be seen as equal to men, the fact is it’s still an uphill battle. And while as a gender we are strong, in most cases men are physically stronger. If a man is determined to overpower a woman, chances are he will succeed.

The best tool we have at our disposal to fight back is our voice.

It infuriates me that Ford is receiving death threats. She had the courage to speak out, one of the most difficult yet bravest acts because victims are often the ones who are put on trial. With the rise of the Me Too movement, many injustices that have been buried for years are coming to light. I know many people, men in particular, wonder: why now? Why stay silent all these years? Because women were afraid. But the time is up. The time for women to speak out is now. With the solidarity of a sisterhood behind them, women are finding their voices. I hope the ad will shed light on the fact that these women who come forward are strong. And they are to be believed unless proven otherwise. Every claim and case deserves to be taken seriously.

 

Today is blackout day on Facebook, meaning women are replacing their profile picture with a black box. It’s a sisterhood-driven social media movement to show what the world might be like without women. The goal is to bring awareness about domestic abuse and sexual assault against women. There are two sides to this movement: those in favor and those against it. One woman who was opposed said she would not remove herself from Facebook because “it’s what the patriarchy has been trying to do to us for centuries.” I see her point. But I guess I don’t look at it as silencing myself. I see it as making a statement. There’s also women who feel it’s useless because there’s no call to action. I think it sends a message. If thousands of women make this symbolic gesture it’s the start of a conversation. So I stand with the virtual chain of women who are making a point by removing ourselves, even if only temporarily. We want our voices to be heard. It’s time to Believe Women.

 

Why I Decided to Make My Book Free

Out in the Open_web

It’s been four years since I launched my first novel, Out in the Open. I went into the process as an author and came out a publisher. I hadn’t intended for things to work that way, but that’s inevitably where the path led. It was a long journey and I learned a lot along the way, lessons I wish I knew when I started. But of course, hindsight is 20-20. Since then I’ve published two more books and I’m in the process of finalizing the manuscript for my fourth.

 

I love writing.  I don’t love selling. I don’t love website designing or manuscript formatting. But I’ve learned to do them all.

One thing I still haven’t learned: how to break through the clutter among the millions of other books.

Which brings me to the subject of this post: Why I Decided to Make my Book Free. I’ve been doing a lot of research on marketing and promotion. Many experts say you should have a book available for free. This not only helps to drive traffic and create awareness about you as an author, but it gives readers a risk-free reason to give your book a try. And then hopefully they will like it and be willing to invest in your other books. It makes sense, but to be honest when I first came across this suggestion I immediately dismissed it. I’ve spend countless hours writing and publishing my novel. So to just give it away – no thank you.

 

The next piece of advice that seemed to repeatedly surface was about growing your email list. This is one of those painful lessons I wish I learned in the beginning. I knew I needed to start a website and blog, but I figured I didn’t need to collect emails if I had a web presence and social media account. But it really is an important tool and one of the few that authors can maintain on their own without relying on outside algorithms to determine who sees their content. And guess what you need if you want to entice people to sign up for your mailing list? Free stuff.

 

So now I’m really getting the point that people want freebies. And I get it. Who doesn’t love free stuff? But I wondered what could I offer that would be enticing? Suggestions included novellas, deleted scenes, bonus chapters and the like. I toyed with creating a free novella. But then I dismissed it because I’d still need to invest in editing, a cover, and not to mention the time I’d have to put in to write it. So the bonus chapter idea was appealing. When I wrote Out in the Open, it was written in first person from my protagonist, Lexi’s, POV. But I was always cognizant of what her love interest, Jake, was thinking throughout the book. And there were some insights that I never had a chance to share with my readers about his thoughts and some connections with events that happened in the book. So it seemed natural if I wrote bonus chapters related to that book I should offer it as my freebie. But I still wasn’t convinced.

 

I follow a fellow author, Nick Stephenson, who gives wonderful advice (for free, I might add). One of his blog posts said you can’t expect to generate sales simply by launching a new book. There’s a myth out that that if you build it they will come. Maybe if you’re a NYT bestseller. He gave the analogy of pitching to an empty theater. If you don’t have an audience, then when you launch a book you are essentially talking to yourself. Fine, and maybe your friends and family. I’d like to say my theater isn’t empty. But there are still plenty of seats available. So until I get to the point where I’m as hot as Hamilton, his point resonated with me.

 

So I’m giving it a shot. Out in the Open is now available for free on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, etc. After you read it be sure to download the free bonus chapters to hear Jake’s side of the story. I’m interested to see how this goes. My dream is that one day I will have a theater full of people eagerly awaiting my next performance. And perhaps get to the point where people will want to scalp tickets! Until then, I hope they enjoy the freebies. And for all you Hamilton fans, I’m willing to wait for it. 🙂

 

Book Launch Day! And Why I’m Not Afraid to Fail

failure

It’s hard to believe the day is finally here: the official launch of my third book, In Search of Mr. Anonymous. It’s been a year in the making, and quite a journey for me. You’d think it would get easier the third time around, but this has proved to be the most challenging yet because there were some unexpected bumps along the way. Not with the plotline―writing is always the easy part for me. I’ve had this story idea mapped out in my head for a long time. It’s my favorite among the books I’ve written thus far. I just hope I did it justice because sometimes the way I imagine something isn’t necessarily what comes across on paper. While I still consider it fun and flirty, the tone is more serious than the first two and I tackle some heavier topics. But I tried not to stray from my formula, which is a bit of heat and a whole lot of heart. More on that in a minute.

So you may be wondering where the challenge lies. I’m a self-published author and thought I had a pretty good formula when it came to the publishing part. But once my manuscript was ready, I discovered the company I previously used to handle the editing and interior page design no longer offered those services. That led to lots of research and endless manuscript formatting. I’m talking hours of adding code to my manuscript so things like text message exchanges and fleurons show up correctly. I’ll admit it’s not my forte and I’d much rather stick to writing. I’m also branching out to new channels, so there was a learning curve there as well.

All of that hard work will pay off once it’s in the hands of readers. But that’s also the most terrifying part for me because they will be judging my work, which I know is part of the process.

Writing is like putting a piece of yourself out there for all the world to see.

And the truth is I’m more of an introvert. Some of my friends may disagree, but really I’m most comfortable not being in the spotlight. And now I’ll be under the bright lights and the scrutiny begins. So you may wonder why I do it. I often wonder the same thing. The answer is because I love it. I’m not doing it to become a best-selling author, though that would be nice! Really I just want to entertain people and bring a bit of happiness to their lives. There’s nothing like reading a positive review from someone and knowing they were touched by something I wrote. It makes me feel fulfilled that I gave them a piece of happiness in a world where we need more of it. On the flipside, there’s nothing more defeating than reading a negative review. Everyone says not to read your own reviews and I try not to, but let’s face it, how can you not be curious about how people feel about your work? I know you can’t please everyone, so I try to focus on the positive and not get discouraged. But it’s tough sometimes.

Now onto something more fun. I mentioned earlier my formula is a bit of heat and a whole lot of heart. That brings us to the topic of sex. Yes, I write about it, and there’s a lot more of it in this book than my others. Does it make me uncomfortable knowing people will be reading it? Yes and no. I hope that readers will be invested in my characters and realize this is about them and their desires and motivations, not mine. I think it’s easier with strangers than people I know. But I feel like I just need to own it because it’s important to include. I’m not setting out to write erotica, and in reality the sex scenes comprise maybe 5-10% of the book overall. But in a Romance sex is an important part of feeling the chemistry between the characters. Blame it on EL James, but she brought it into the mainstream. And I feel like there’s almost an expectation that people want to see what goes on behind closed doors. So I like to give a little taste. Especially in this book because the premise is a one-night stand where my protagonist falls hard for a stranger, so I felt it was important to establish their connection, both physically and emotionally. Still, it’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that people are reading these scenes. Not so much my friends, but when my sixty-something cousin says she plans to read it, I’d rather she didn’t. Seriously. And for the record I have a vivacious imagination. While I use some personal experiences to shape my characters, they are all unique with their own motivations and challenges. So I tap into those qualities when writing my scenes, not just my own. Just wanted to clear the air on that topic because I’ve been asked.

Last but not least comes promotion. I’m a marketer and have over fifteen years of experience in the field. But ironically it’s the part I hate most about the process. The reason being is that I’m not marketing a product, but I’m essentially marketing myself. As I said earlier, I’m more of an introvert and I hate sales. So to have to promote my book is somewhat torturous for me. I love what I do and hope that word of mouth will take over, but that’s not gonna cut it to reach the masses. So here I am talking about it with you all 🙂 Anyway, whatever will be will be. Like my protagonist Lucy, I’m a big believer in fate. At the end of the day I’ve put out a book I love and that I’m proud of. I always tell my kids just do your best. Even if you don’t do well, as long as you tried your hardest that’s what counts. That’s why I draw inspiration from the image I chose: “Don’t be afraid to fail. Be afraid not to try.”

I wasn’t afraid to try. And for that I haven’t failed, no matter the outcome.

 

If you’d like a sneak peek of my book check out my previous blog posts for a look at some sample chapters. And if you want to buy an e-book the links are below. Paperback is due out next week! Thanks for joining me on my journey.

Sneak Peak: In Search of Mr. Anonymous

In Search of Mr. Anonymous: Chapter 1

In Search of Mr. Anonymous: Chapter 2

In Search of Mr. Anonymous: Chapter 3

In Search of Mr. Anonymous: Chapter 4

In Search of Mr. Anonymous: Chapter 5

Buy your copy now by clicking on the icons below. My pre-sale e-book price is $2.99 and will go up to $3.99 on 4/30. So buy now and save!

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In Search of Mr. Anonymous: Chapter 5

MrAnonymous_Amazon

This is the last chapter I will be posting for In Search of Mr. Anonymous. Thanks to those of you who’ve followed along and I hope you’ve enjoyed the sneak peek. It’s hard to believe my e-book is launching tomorrow with the paperback shortly to follow. I’m nervous and excited – more thoughts to come on that. In the meantime, enjoy the read! Note: this chapter contains adult language/content.

 

Chapter 5

 

We step out onto the sidewalk and I rummage in my pockets for my gloves.

“Are you OK walking a few blocks?” he asks.

“Sure. I don’t mind the cold.”

“Are you sure? We can Uber it.”

“Yes, I’m sure. Winter’s my favorite season.”

“Why’s that?”

“I love the snow. People around here think it’s a pain, but I think it’s beautiful. Especially right after it’s fallen and a perfect blanket covers everything, untouched by anyone.”

“I’ve never been so lucky to see that in the city.”

“It’s usually late at night or super early. When most people aren’t up. Or they just haven’t gone outside yet.”

“So are you a night owl or early riser?”

“Neither. Sometimes I work odd hours. Oh, and I love watching puffs of breath crystalize before your eyes. And the bite of cold air against my skin. It makes me feel alive.”

He nods like what I said makes perfect sense. Suddenly, I slip on a patch of ice. I try to catch my footing but he’s right in front of me to shield my fall. He grabs ahold of my shoulders to steady me with a grip that’s strong yet reassuring. I look up at him and when our eyes meet I feel this electric pull that makes my heart go into overdrive. His heated gaze falls to my lips and I attempt to still the butterflies that are swarming inside me. I know he wants to kiss me, but I’m not ready yet. I want the first time to be special―not while we’re standing on a very public sidewalk with strangers passing by. He leans in but I quickly pull away and mumble “thanks” instead.

“What about you?” I ask as though that moment didn’t just happen. “What’s your favorite?”

I can tell he’s disappointed but he plays it off. “Fall. I love the change of the season. The vibrant colors. The crunch of the leaves. And apples. I’m a big fan of apples. Never leave home without one.”

I assume he’s kidding. But then he pulls one out of his gym bag, shines it on his coat, and hands it to me. I eye it critically.

“It’s just an apple.”

“Haven’t you ever seen Snow White?” I ask.

“I can’t say that I have. But I know the story. And for the record, I typically don’t need to poison my dates to get them to sleep with me. Lucky for me they go along willingly.” He gives me a pointed look.

I shrug. “I was just kidding about the Snow White thing. But you should save it for later,” I say, handing the apple back to him. Instead of sliding it into his bag, he takes a bite.

“You know, apples are rich in symbolism,” he tells me. “Temptation and all that.”

“Knowledge too.”

“Knowledge is power. So maybe you’ll tell me your name?”

“Maybe. But isn’t a night between strangers more interesting?”

He stops me. “Regardless of what happens, this night is already one of the best I’ve had in a long time.”

I smile at him shyly. “Me too.” He takes another bite, this one slow and deliberate.

We walk the remaining distance in silence aside from an occasional crunch and footsteps of people passing by. I’m just too nervous to make small talk. In my wildest dreams I never could have imagined that I’d be having sex with Coffee Guy. Let alone getting turned on by watching him eat. I don’t know if it’s because of what the apple represents, or if I just like looking at his mouth and imagining all the things he’ll do with it later. Perhaps it’s a bit of both. He tosses the core in a trash bin and takes my hand.

“We’re here,” he says, stopping at a nondescript building. Instead of going through the front door he leads me through an alley to a side entrance. It has a small neon sign above the door that says CUSP. I follow him inside and it’s not what I was expecting. We’re in a swanky, dimly lit club. The walls are draped with rich, paneled fabrics with the exception of the bar area, which is painted black and adorned with framed records and photos of musicians. At the front is a stage, a lone music stand its only companion. The rows of red velvet banquettes create a sense of privacy and give the club an intimate feel. I soak in the details from the elaborate designs on the tin ceiling tiles to the ornamental carvings on the columns that flank the stage.

“What is this place?” I ask him.

“It’s a jazz club.”

“You like jazz?”

He nods. “Let’s get a drink and I’ll tell you about it.”

We slide into a banquette and I’m grateful to have somewhere to set my bag down. Coffee Guy asks me why it’s so heavy and I show him my day planner.

“You seriously carry this thing around?”

“Everywhere. I need easy access to my schedule.”

“You know, there’s an app for that.”

I laugh. “I know. But I’m a visual person and I like being able to see all my appointments on one page for the full month.”

“Are you a technophobe or something?”

“I’m not. I swear. It’s just a work thing. But remember we’re not talking about that.”

“OK. Let’s look at the drink menu instead.”

We peruse the list and he asks me if I’m hungry.

“Not terribly because I had some appetizers earlier. But unlike you I didn’t snack on the way over, so I’m not opposed to ordering something light.” He smiles at me and I feel a nervous energy deep in the pit of my stomach.

“You choose, Ms. Coffee. Appetizer or dessert?”

“Appetizer. How about the toasted mac ‘n cheese balls?”

“Interesting choice. I would’ve pegged you for a dessert girl.”

“Oh, I am. But I have no willpower. I’m a compulsive person and I find it hard to stop when something good is in front of me. So I avoid the temptation.”

“Interesting strategy. That seems to be a theme this evening.”

Before he can press me on it I’m saved by the arrival of the waitress. She asks what we want to drink and I notice how she fixates on Coffee Guy. She’s probably wondering what a guy like him is doing with someone like me. A martini seems fitting so I order one along with the appetizer. I can feel him watching me during this exchange and thankfully I don’t get flustered.

“What?” I ask him.

“I have one request.”

“What’s that?”

“That we vow to always tell the truth. No pretenses.”

“Naked truths. Got it.”

“I like the sound of that.”

I swat his arm. “You’re such a guy. Always thinking about sex.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way. No man will tell you different or he’s lying.”

“Why is that?”

“Because sex is fucking amazing. I’m not sure I need to say more.”

“Oh.”

“Oh? Tell me you’ve had amazing sex.”

The truth is I haven’t. I shrug, embarrassed to admit it.

“Seriously? Wow. You’re lucky you picked me then. That’s about to change tonight.” He looks at his watch. “It’s just after ten. We can spend the next few hours talking and getting you comfortable with this arrangement. And once the clock strikes midnight, it’s all about sealing the deal.”

I nod even though I’m not sure I’ve agreed to his proposal.

He looks me over, letting his eyes travel slowly from my face to the hem of my dress, lingering on my legs.

“Usually when you give someone the once over you try to be discreet.”

“If you haven’t noticed, discreet isn’t my style. I just wanted a taste of what’s to come. Pun intended.” I blush. “You know what, Ms. Coffee?”

“What?”

“I think there’s a lot of passion inside you that’s just waiting to be unleashed. I can tell by the way you challenge me. I like it,” he leans in and whispers in my ear, sending shivers down my spine.

The waitress arrives with our drinks and I take a long swallow. I didn’t notice she set a glass of water next to me and I accidentally spill it―all over Coffee Guy’s lap.

“I’m so sorry.” I attempt to blot it with a napkin, mortified at my clumsiness.

“Now look who’s getting frisky,” he says with a smile.

I know he’s only teasing, which makes the heat that’s rising to my cheeks all the more embarrassing.

“Sorry,” I remove my hands from his lap.

“Don’t be sorry. It’s a good thing it’s a cold drink. I think I have spare clothes in my bag. I’ll be right back.” He heads to the men’s room to change and I take the few minutes to collect myself. He comes back wearing a comfy-looking black waffle shirt.

“I see you found something to wear,” I say.

“A shirt, yes. New pants, no. I do have a pair of gym shorts, but I didn’t think they would be appropriate attire.”

“Sorry,” I say again.

“Why do you keep apologizing?”

“I don’t know.” I think he’s getting the gist I’m unsure about this whole situation. And that he makes me nervous.

“Time for the first naked truth.”

I take a deep breath. “Lay it on me.”

“Why did you agree to do this bet with me?”

“Because of your ringtone.” He looks confused. “It’s ‘Viva la Vida,’ which means ‘live life.’ I took it as a sign.”

“I don’t believe in signs.”

“Well you’re lucky that I do,” I inform him.

“This is true. So are you one of those people who reads their horoscope every morning? Just how superstitious are we talking?”

“I don’t read my horoscope or avoid walking under ladders, and if I owned a cat it would be black. It’s my favorite color, by the way. But I do believe in asking the universe for guidance when I’m faced with a big decision. Or sometimes the signs are there, whether you’ve asked or not.”

“I’m still stuck on your reference to universe.”

I shrug. “I’m not a very religious person. But I love astronomy. Haven’t you ever heard the expression ‘It’s written in the stars?’”

“Yes.”

“So, there’s your answer.”

He takes a swig of his beer and eyes me over his glass. “How did you get into astronomy?”

“It’s more of a hobby. When I was young I had this ritual of looking out the window before bed. It started because I was searching for the wishing star. One night when I couldn’t find it, my dad pointed out a cluster of stars that looked like a bird. I found it fascinating that the stars could make pictures, so I insisted my dad tell me stories about how they came to be. As I got older, my dad pointed out the constellations and told me that I was right, there were indeed pictures in the sky. For my ninth birthday he bought me a telescope.”

“Do you still have it?”

“It’s at my parents’ house in Virginia. It didn’t make the move with me. But whenever I go home to visit it’s there in my room, waiting for me. I love seeing the stars up close. They’re so luminous and beautiful. Don’t you think it’s amazing some stars formed billions of years ago and we can still see them today? It’s like we can see a window to the past.”

“I’ve never really thought about it. But I can tell you’ve got a passion for it.”

“I do. It’s something I’ve never talked about with anyone besides my dad. Sorry, I guess I got on a roll.” I’m embarrassed I got carried away. I usually don’t share this much.

“Don’t be sorry. It’s interesting.”

“So now you know about one of my passions. Your turn. You were going to tell me about your love of jazz.”

Just then the waitress arrives with our appetizer. I take a bite and it’s so delicious I let out a satisfied groan. Coffee Guy is watching me with an amused expression.

“It’s so good. You’ve gotta try it.”

“Oh, I will. And that noise you just made, next time it will be because of me.”

My eyes widen as a slow heat travels straight to my core. I attempt to speak but the words won’t come.

He pops a ball in his mouth and doesn’t seem phased by the fact that I’m rendered speechless.

“You’re cute when you blush,” he says.

Damn my ivory complexion. It gives me away every time.

“So, jazz,” he starts. I’m glad to be back on neutral territory. “Are you a fan?”

“I wouldn’t call myself a fan. I like jazz music but to be honest I don’t know much about it. How did you get into it?”

“My grandfather. I grew up listening to the greats like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Louis Armstrong. I was immediately taken with it. There’s a richness to the music that’s hard to describe. I guess I would say it’s smooth and soulful. And it’s something you experience rather than just hear.”

“What do you mean?” I prop my chin on my hand, waiting for him to continue.

“I feel the notes here,” he says, placing his hand on my heart, “rather than just hearing them. Your heart’s beating pretty fast.”

I nod, unable to form words. I’m sure he knows he’s the reason.

“Anyway, I also love that jazz musicians strive to have their own personal sound. Like they want to put their unique stamp on it. I know this because my grandfather took me to a jazz club one night. I wasn’t technically allowed to be there, but he was a regular and no one said anything. Watching them live, it was awe-inspiring. It’s like you could feel their emotion from the notes they played. The instruments became their voices, and I felt like they were talking to me. I fell in love with jazz that night.”

I realize that I’m finally catching a glimpse of the real man behind the façade. His guard is down and I like what I see behind the cocky exterior.

“That’s why I took you here. I know it’s a big step for you, agreeing to sleep with me. Most women would be lining up, by the way.”

I lightly elbow him in the ribs. “You were doing so well.”

“In all seriousness, you’re not like other girls. And I like that about you. I also recognize that you’re willing to share something very intimate with me. So I wanted to do the same. I’ve never brought anyone here before. It’s my place of refuge when I’m stressed or need to find solitude. You’re the first person I’m sharing it with.”

Wow. I’m touched by his words. On impulse I lean in and give him a lingering kiss on the cheek. He’s surprised by the gesture, and frankly so am I. He touches his face where my lips were moments ago and for once seems at a loss for words.

“Thank you,” I say as I place my hand on his. “It means a lot you’re willing to share that part of yourself with me.”

“You’re doing the same. It’s only fair that I try to even the stakes. But for the record, I wanted to share this experience with you. I decided to bring you here even before you agreed to the bet.”

“Oh.” I don’t know what else to say. But I do know his words seem to cement the promise that lies between us.

“Dance with me,” he says.

“There’s no music.”

“We don’t need music.”

“Umm, in my experience you do. But I’m not a big fan of dancing.”

“Maybe you just haven’t had the right partner.”

“Maybe. So tell me about this club.”

He moves my hand to his lap and laces his fingers through mine.

“It’s different than most traditional Chicago jazz clubs. Cusp focuses on finding up-and-coming talent. There’s not a set schedule aside from the eleven thirty show. I discovered Buddy Vaughn on open mic night and he’s become a club favorite.”

“Do you come often?”

“It’s kind of sporadic. But lately I’ve been going to the open mic nights. I like the draw of discovering new sounds. And these guys are hungry to make a name for themselves, so they work that much harder. And the collaboration among a group who’s never played together before is pretty awesome to witness. The thing about jazz is that it’s spontaneously composed. The same song will likely never be performed the same way. Often it’s more about the way a song is played than what song is played. The musician takes his cues from the group and performs based on the feeling they have at the time.”

“Kind of like improv.”

“Exactly. They do have a pre-determined tune though so it’s part planned and part spontaneous. They create their interpretation in the moment. And now you’ll get to see for yourself.”

The lights dim and Buddy Vaughn takes the stage. I close my eyes and focus on the sound of his saxophone, its rhythm slow and soothing. As the notes wash over me, I feel a sense of calm that usually only comes after an hour of yoga. The song ends and he breaks out in a jazzier tune. And in my own moment of spontaneity, I take Coffee Guy’s hand and lead him onto the dance floor.

 

That’s a wrap!

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In Search of Mr. Anonymous: Chapter 1

In Search of Mr. Anonymous: Chapter 2

In Search of Mr. Anonymous: Chapter 3

In Search of Mr. Anonymous: Chapter 4

 

In Search of Mr. Anonymous: Chapter 4

MrAnonymous_Amazon

It’s book launch week! In celebration I’m sharing a sneak peek of my new book. If you’ve been following along Lucy lost a bet and agreed to have a one-night stand with the man of her friend Trish’s choosing. We are at the chapter where Lucy finds out who Trish picks. Things start heating up from here! Read on for a look at Chapter 4 of In Search of Mr. Anonymous. 

Chapter 4

 

We walk to the end of the block to a place called “The Tin.” I follow Trish inside and she insists on doing a lap before we decide to stay.

“This’ll do,” she says. “Much better crowd.”

After standing around for twenty minutes two seats open up at the bar. It’s a large stainless steel rectangle with stools flanking the perimeter. “See? Good omen,” she tells me. We order a round of drinks and I take inventory of the room. It’s a rowdier group and judging by the loud laughter across the way, I’m guessing many have been here since happy hour. I take a sip of my drink and almost choke when I realize the source of the noise. Or rather, the person next to him. Coffee Guy. He’s as gorgeous as ever and my stomach tightens in nervous knots just looking at him. He’s smiling at his friend’s joke and he looks happy and relaxed. Then he notices me and his smile disappears. He stares at me long and hard, just as Trish says, “I found him.”

“Hmm?” I say, distracted.

“Your one-night stand. The guy over there, across the bar.”

I realize she’s looking right at Coffee Guy. Oh no, no, no.

He watches as we carry on talking about him. I can tell he knows. Or it could be Trish’s not so subtle finger pointing at him.

“He’s coming over,” she says.

Oh my God. I tell myself to breathe.

“Ms. Coffee,” he says as he sidles up next to me.

I laugh. “Coffee Guy.”

“Trish,” says Trish. “You two know one another?”

“Kind of. We used to run into each other at Starbucks,” I explain.

“Until you deserted me,” he says.

“I did no such thing. I moved.”

“That’s too bad. Seeing you was the highlight of my morning.”

I’m so flustered by his comment I don’t know what to say. I’ve never been one for witty comebacks. Trish elbows me. He pretends not to notice.

“So, is there something I should know about? Do I have something on my face? Some horrible stain on my shirt?” he says as he pretends to inspect it. I guess it’s his polite way of asking why we both were staring at him.

“You’re the one,” she says.

I actually do choke on my drink.

“You see,” Trish continues, “we had a bet. The stakes were that if I won I got to choose someone for my friend here to sleep with. I’m glad to say that I came out victorious. And I choose you.”

If he’s surprised by her revelation he doesn’t let on. “I’m always up for a challenge. And does your friend agree to this arrangement?”

They both turn and look at me.

“I―I.” I take a deep breath. “I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about me. It’s not something that I do.”

“But you did make a bet. So by agreeing to the terms, don’t you agree that it’s something you should do? You know, to hold to your end of the bargain?” He waits for my response, watching me with those dark eyes of his. I think I catch a glimpse of amusement.

“I know for most girls it’s probably not a big deal. But to me it is. I’m just not comfortable sleeping with a virtual stranger. That’s why it was part of the wager. And to be honest I never thought I’d lose.”

“I’ll be right back,” Trish says. “Ladies room,” she whispers in my ear.

As she walks away I can sense Coffee Guy sizing me up. “I’ll tell you what. Spend the night with me. And by that I mean just getting to know one another. If you decide you’re not comfortable after that the deal’s off.”

I meet his gaze and in that moment I want nothing more. But I still hesitate.

“Come on,” he urges. “What do you have to lose?”

Nothing. Everything.

“OK,” I whisper.

He smiles a triumphant smile.

“But I have terms,” I tell him.

“Let’s hear them.”

“No names. No personal details. No strings attached. Let’s keep things anonymous.”

“Hot no-strings attached sex with a mysterious woman. Where have you been all my life?”

I laugh and instantly feel more at ease. Especially since we’re not sharing anything about ourselves. Sex often blurs the lines with intimacy, and I’d rather go in knowing this is purely physical. Trish returns and Coffee Guy tells her I accepted the bet and the terms of our bargain.

“I love it! Have fun. And call me,” she says, giving me a meaningful look. “Show my friend a good time.”

“I intend to,” he says as he wraps his arm around my waist, his fingertips resting lightly on my hip.

I instantly feel my body temperature rise. Even though it’s a casual gesture, it feels intimate. I turn to face him and he drops his hand, leaving a trace of warmth in its wake. There’s an awkward pause now that Trish is gone. I wrack my brain for something clever to say, but I’m having a hard time forming a coherent thought. Fortunately Coffee Guy breaks the silence.

“I need a point of clarity,” he says. “What’s considered too personal?”

“Let’s just avoid talking about work or anything that would make it easy for you to look me up.”

“Got it. You’re worried I’ll stalk you.”

I laugh.

“But in all seriousness, why don’t you want me to find you?”

“I don’t know. Maybe because we’re strangers. I don’t know a thing about you except that you don’t drink coffee. And you don’t know anything about me.” This is somewhat true and I hope he buys my excuse. I don’t add the real reason: that the way he makes me feel scares the hell out of me.

“I know you better than you think.”

“Try me.”

He sets my drink on the bar and takes my hand. I feel nervous again, off-balance by his touch. With my free hand I fidget with the straw in my glass, swirling the fizzy, clear liquid. He cups my chin to meet his gaze. “You’re beautiful. Anyone can see that by looking at you. But you think girls resent you for it. Many probably do. Maybe you were teased so they could feel better about themselves. So you built up a protective wall. You come off as cold and aloof, but deep down you’re just shy. You likely don’t have a lot of close friends, not because people don’t care to get to know you, but because you only let in a worthy few. I think you’re compassionate and kind-hearted, but many don’t get to see that. They only see the icy exterior you project. I hope I’m one of the lucky few,” he says as he lets go of my hand.

I stare at him, open-mouthed. It’s as if he’s one of the few people who understands me. But of course I don’t tell him that. “Are you a mentalist or something?”

This makes him smile. He flashes me his perfect, white teeth. I’m thrown off balance once again.

“No. I’m just good at reading people. It’s not that hard. Now you do me.” He arches his brow as he says it.

I ignore his innuendo. “No way. I can’t.”

“OK. It’s obvious you’re a pretty girl. No explanation needed there. The first few times I saw you at Starbucks you turned away if we had any sort of eye contact. It was like you couldn’t stand the sight of me. But I watched you, the way you interacted with other patrons and the baristas. And I realized you weren’t a bitch, just shy. So I was very subtle in my flirtation. At first I thought you didn’t want anything to do with me, but sometimes you’d smile at me or at least acknowledge my existence. I never saw you in there with anyone else. No text message exchanges that made you laugh. You always maintained a professional air. As for compassionate, I saw how you’d order an extra coffee for Joe.”

“How do you know Joe?”

“When you stopped coming I bought his coffee. Got to know him a bit.”

I love that he did that. But instead of telling him all I do is nod.

“So you see, it’s not too hard. Give it a try.”

I look him over, from his perfectly tousled hair, to his V-neck gray cashmere sweater with a bold plaid dress shirt underneath. He manages to keep it casual by rolling the cuffs of his sleeves and pairing the look with designer jeans. Again, I notice how the length is on the longer side.

“You have a casual dress code on Fridays. Probably work in the tech field or something trendy. I’m guessing you’re in a leadership position. You like fashion and either have great taste or someone who buys your clothes for you. You’re confident in your own skin and don’t put up with other people’s crap. I’m guessing you’re single and like to play the field, but aren’t against being in a relationship if you find the right person. You like to observe people and notice things that you use to your advantage. You’re a man of opportunity. And I’m guessing you’ve seized it often and have done well. How’d I do?”

He studies me intently with those dark eyes of his, eyes the same color as the night sky. “Not bad. Now tell me how you drew your conclusions.”

“Clothes, easy. You always look sharp.”

“I do have a personal shopper.”

“I knew it!”

“As for confident, not many guys would come up to two girls and call them out for talking about him. And I could tell by the way you carry yourself. You have this casual ease about you. As for your relationship status, you wouldn’t have agreed to the bet if you had a girlfriend.”

“True. Very observant, Ms. Coffee. But that doesn’t answer why you think I’m not opposed to being in a relationship.”

I don’t know how to answer him. I kind of threw it in there to see how he’d react. I was hoping he wasn’t a total player, but how do you come right out and ask something like that? And I guess I wanted him to confirm or deny it. I’m assuming he knows this and is putting me on the spot. Another observation: he’s a smart one. A blush creeps up my neck under his intense stare.

“Just an assumption. Am I right?” My voice comes out more confident than I feel.

“That remains to be seen.” He sees my confused expression and continues. “I’m not opposed to being in a relationship with the right woman. I just haven’t met her…yet.”

Oh.

“So let’s see how things go tonight.” He puts his hand on my arm. “I’m really looking forward to it.” He keeps talking but all I can focus on is the feeling of his hand on my arm, anchoring me in place. I flinch and pull away, pretending I need to get something in my bag.

He’s onto me.

“It seems you have some reservations, Ms. Coffee.” He leaves it at that, waiting for me to respond.

I don’t know what to tell him. Part of me wants nothing more than to bring him home and have mad, passionate sex. But the other half wants to run away and hide far from his reach. Intimacy scares me, but the fact that I’m debating means I’m open to the idea, which also scares me. It’s hard to be at odds with yourself when a handsome stranger hangs in the balance.

“Just say the word and I’ll walk away.” I can tell he means it.

“I don’t want that,” I whisper.

“What do you want?” He leans in, invading my personal space. Being this close to him is dizzying, so I take a deep breath to clear my head. Instead I inhale his scent. It’s pure male. Tempting. He’s watching me closely for a reaction. If only he knew how good I am at hiding my emotions.

“I don’t know what I want.” It’s the truth. “I really don’t know anything about you.”

“My favorite color is blue, like the ocean. I eat mainly lean protein. If I’m going to splurge it would be on a big, juicy burger with grilled onions. My drink of choice is Bells Two-Hearted Ale. I can speak fluent Spanish because I studied abroad in Madrid. I don’t own any pets―I’d love to but I don’t do well taking care of living things. I’ve been called brilliant, arrogant, and ambitious. All of the above are true. I’m also compassionate, and I think you’ll find that I’m very giving. This is the tip of the iceberg. But if you spend the night with me I promise you’ll learn a lot more.”

He backs away, putting more distance between us. I swear the air between us just got cooler. But I feel like I can breathe again. He studies me while absently running his hand over his jaw. Or maybe it’s intentional so I look at his mouth. He does have very nice lips, which are forming into a smirk. Embarrassed, I lift my gaze so our eyes meet. His eyes bore into mine, dark as a starless night. Watching. Evaluating. I feel as if I’m his prey and he can swallow me whole if he chooses. As if he’s reading my mind, he licks his lips, leaving beads of moisture in their wake. My pale blue eyes drift again to his mouth, but I quickly recover and resume eye contact. Light versus dark, we are in stark contrast.

I used to love watching Star Wars with my dad growing up. He bought us lightsabers for Christmas and we’d have these duels. He was always Darth Vader and I was Luke Skywalker. Sometimes I wanted to be on the dark side, though it was something I never admitted. Since then I’ve always been known to do the right thing. I chose the light side. But just this once, I’m tempted to cross the line. Experience the dark side of things. With him.

Coffee Guy is still assessing me. Normally I’d get creeped out by a guy staring at me for this long. It’s probably only been a minute, but it feels like an eternity. For some reason I feel comfortable with him. I can tell he’s an intense person and he seems to be thinking about how to win me over. I’m intense too though it’s more internalized. And I think his staring me down is probably some negotiation tactic. Most people are uncomfortable with silence. So they talk to avoid it, like silence is the enemy. Not me. I think you can communicate a lot without saying a word.

“I’ll tell you what,” he says, interrupting my thoughts. “Let’s hang out and get to know each other better. As I said before, if you like me you go through with the bet. And if you don’t the deal’s off, no hard feelings. You can tell your friend whatever you want. That I gave you the best sex of your life. Which would be true, by the way. And if I ever run into her again I’ll vouch for you. Oh, and one more thing. Like you said, I go after what I want. And what I want right now is you.”

Breathe. Just breathe.

As I ponder this the song “Viva la Vida” fills the air. I realize it’s his ringtone and I take it as a sign. He glances at his phone and ignores the call, seeming embarrassed.

“My brother changed my ringtone as a joke. He knows it’s one of my favorite songs.”

I study him a moment and decide to make the leap.

“Yes.” My voice comes out breathy and unlike my own. “I’ll do it.”

He flashes me a smile that lights up his face. He seems genuinely happy with my decision. I’m sure this is a game to him. And he strikes me as the type who likes to win. He takes my hand and pulls me up. Panic rises in my chest.

“Don’t worry,” he assures me. “We’re just going somewhere we can get to know each other better.”

I nod and let him lead me out of the bar. How did he know? I didn’t say a single word. I think back to earlier when he said he knows me more than I think. Perhaps he’s right. And while I typically shy away from revealing too much about myself, with him I’m open to the idea.

 

Intrigued? (I hope so!) Reserve your copy now by clicking on the icons below and save! Pre-sale e-book price is $2.99. After the launch the price will go up to $3.99.

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Did you miss my last post? Be sure to check out the prior chapters at the links below.

Sneak Peak: In Search of Mr. Anonymous

In Search of Mr. Anonymous: Chapter 1

In Search of Mr. Anonymous: Chapter 2

In Search of Mr. Anonymous: Chapter 3

 

 

In Search of Mr. Anonymous: Chapter 3

MrAnonymous_Amazon

The sneak peek continues. Check out Chapter 3 of In Search of Mr. Anonymous! Also, if you want access to exclusive info & offers subscribe to my mailing list on the “Contact” page. I promise not to bombard you with emails and will not share your info.

 

Chapter 3

Lucy

 

The Aviary is crowded with a mix of professionals, hipsters, and couples who I’m guessing are celebrating a special occasion. Trish and I are in a cocktail lounge area that’s partitioned from the bar by a dramatic floor to ceiling birdcage, where the bartenders are mixing what I can only describe as concoctions. The set-up is reminiscent of a science lab, complete with billowing plumes of white smoke. Trish and I marvel at the gorgeous and inventive cocktails where presentation is paramount. My favorite is a tropical looking, deep purple drink in an elegant teapot shaped glass.

“You picked the perfect place,” I tell Trish. “Though I don’t want to know how much my drink costs.”

“Of course I did. I knew you’d appreciate the attention to detail. And don’t worry, this one’s on Blooms. At some point let’s talk business and I’ll write it off as an expense. Consider it a thank you for all the business you’ve sent our way.”

“Claude has deeper pockets than I thought. I’ll remember that the next time I ask you for a quote,” I joke. “But seriously, how were you able to get us in on such short notice?”

Trish looks at me like I’m crazy. “Hello? I have connections.”

I laugh and take a sip of my drink. It’s smooth with a hint of spice, leaving a trail of warmth in its wake. Trish fills me in on what’s been going on with her and I do the same. Though outside of work there isn’t much to tell.

“So, I want to hear all about the pitch. But first, how are things with Charlotte? Did she go all psycho on you?” She takes my wrist and lifts up my arm, inspecting it.

“What are you doing?”

“Checking for claw marks.”

“You’re terrible,” I tell her as I readjust my sleeve.

“But not as terrible as Charlotte.”

Trish cannot stand working with Charlotte. I get it. While she’s a royal pain in the ass, I don’t have to deal with her that often. We’re coworkers but for the most part there is a separation between bridal and corporate. Trish, on the other hand, is on the receiving end.

When we started working together, Trish and I bonded over our shared appreciation of all things Charlotte. Frankly I think it’s why she and I became friends. Charlotte is a southern belle and puts on this sweet air when you meet her, but look out. Like a snake waiting to strike its prey, she is venomous if you cross her. Or don’t do something exactly as she asked. Or better yet, told. I have no clue how her husband deals with her.

“She’s been quiet, which kind of scares me. Most of the day she’s locked away in her office. Probably plotting revenge against us all.”

“Or just you,” Trish quips.

“I’d throw my drink at you if it weren’t so delicious. Anyway, sorry I haven’t had a chance to return your calls. Things have been insane at the office and I knew I’d see you tonight.”

“I figured. Tell me everything.”

***

I think back to that day just over a week ago. The countless hours spent preparing, the heated exchanges between Charlotte and, well, everyone, and the nervous energy in the hours before Veronica and Rob arrived. Fortunately for me I stayed out of most of the drama. I attended some of the initial brainstorming sessions because Don wanted, and I quote, ‘to squeeze out every ounce of creativity I can muster.’ But after that I kept my head down and focused on my own events. It was Don’s idea to pull me into the meeting. As you can imagine, Charlotte was less than thrilled. I believe I was the subject of one of those heated exchanges. In the end, Charlotte relented and said I could attend. Not that Don gave her much of a choice. It was the best decision he’s ever made. He told me so himself.

When Rob and Veronica arrived Don greeted them personally. With Charlotte in tow, he gave them a tour of our office space and then led them to the conference room, where the team was waiting. He introduced them to Genevieve, our lead graphic designer, Charles, our fabricator, and Calvin, our head of IT/lighting. “And this is Lucy,” he said, gesturing to me. “She’s one of our senior planners and will be taking over Charlotte’s projects when she’s out on maternity leave.”

“Nice to meet you,” Veronica murmured.

I smiled and shook her proffered hand. I was struck by how tall she was, even in flats. I’m five foot seven and she had a good inch on me. She and Rob made a gorgeous couple. They looked coordinated and photoshoot-ready, he in his light blue button-down, and she in a cap-sleeve vintage blue dress paired with neutral sandals. She brushed a strand of her long, dark hair over her shoulder, and that’s when I noticed her ring. I tried not to gawk, but it was gorgeous. A solitaire round stone that had to be at least three carats set high in an antique setting. I’ve seen my share of rings, but hers was a standout.

“Please, sit down,” Don said, pulling out her chair. Rob stood until she was seated and then placed his arm around her shoulder. Don proceeded to uncork a bottle of Cristal and offered each of them a glass. He then made a toast and thanked them for giving Dreams the opportunity to plan their dream day. I assume the pun was intended.

“Before you begin your presentation I want to thank you as well,” said Veronica. “I know we didn’t give you an ideal amount of time to pull something together. I apologize for that as I recognize there is a lot that goes into an event of this magnitude. I’m grateful to each of you for putting in the effort and hope you didn’t have to make too many sacrifices on our behalf.”

“Nonsense,” said Don. “We are honored to have the chance to make this day memorable for you both. It’s what we do.” Everyone nodded their assent.

“I noticed. Both Rob and I were impressed by the personal touch that’s evident in each of your events. We’re excited to see what ideas you have for us.” She made eye contact with each person at the table as she spoke. I must say, Veronica impressed me. She was genuine, poised, and has a social grace about her. She struck me as the type who would know just the right thing to say in any situation. I have no such talent and envied her a little.

With the pleasantries out of the way, Don turned the floor over to Charlotte. Teetering on her too high heels, she looked quite a sight, even for Charlotte. Her blond hair was loosely pulled back in a chignon with perfectly placed tendrils framing her face. She wore a black sheath dress with an elegant pearl neckline, which I assume was intentional to draw the eye up and mask her pregnant belly. Charlotte presented our vintage lace mood board first. When we were brainstorming she kept emphasizing how Veronica wanted a shabby chic feel. We all really felt that we nailed it. She went through the color scheme and proposed floral arrangements, to which Veronica gave a polite nod. My gut told me she wasn’t connecting with our approach. Don sensed it too and asked Veronica what she thought so far. “It’s really beautiful. You captured the essence of what we discussed: classic, sophisticated, and elegant.”

“But,” prodded Don.

“I can picture it all. Just not for our wedding. I feel that I led you astray. It’s what I thought I wanted. But now that I’m seeing it, something’s missing. I guess I’m still hung up on the fact that it’s not outdoors.”

“I thought you agreed upfront that wasn’t practical. You do realize it would be hard to pull off on New Year’s Eve in Chicago, right?” Charlotte asked.

“I’m not sure I agree. Tell me again why it’s not doable.”

Charlotte launched into a tirade about how it wasn’t practical. She ticked off the reasons on her fingers as she spoke. How it would be hard to regulate the temperature in the tent, flowers would wilt, ice sculptures would melt, the frozen ground would be an issue. I tuned out after that, lost in my own thoughts. I reached for my iPad and did an image search, my fingers dancing over the keys, trying to keep pace. I found some photos for inspiration and then waited for an opening in the conversation. There wasn’t one. So I took a leap of faith and cut Charlotte off mid-sentence.

“What if we could make it feel like an outdoor wedding?” I asked.

Veronica turned to me with interest. Charlotte glowered at me with a look of pure venom.

“I’ve been thinking about how we could bring the outdoors in. Picture large oak trees covered with strands of hanging fairy lights. They could either hang down or be strung together to create a tiered chandelier. The trees would flank the aisles leading to a large trellis that would serve as a canopy during the ceremony. We can play with the lighting to make it feel like night, and you can get married under the stars.” I propped my iPad on the table and showed her some photos for inspiration. “The look I’m going for is whimsical meets rustic. I know you wanted a shabby chic feel, so perhaps we bring in farmhouse tables for dinner covered in lace tablecloths.”

***

“Luce, I love it!” says Trish, bringing me back to the present day. “What was Veronica’s reaction?”

I pause as a waiter sets a new drink down in front of me. This one is clear with blood red ice cubes artfully stacked upon one another. The night is still young so I need to slow down. When I go out I have one to two drinks max. And never when I’m working. Ever.

“Her face lit up and it was the first time during the meeting that she was engaged,” I continue. “She started brainstorming with me, suggesting we could carve her and Rob’s initials in one of the trees.”

“Cute. What are you thinking for flowers?”

“I suggested we create a beautiful arrangement out of branches and candles as the centerpieces. Then, instead of having a traditional fabric backdrop for the band, we can build a floor-to-ceiling floral wall using a lattice fence. I’m thinking light pinks and whites, possibly peonies, and hundreds of them. It will be rustic, romantic, and beautiful.”

“Where ever did you come up with this idea?”

I shrug.

She narrows her eyes at me. “Please don’t tell me it’s something you’ve always dreamed of.”

“No, I promise.” Trish knows New Year’s is my favorite holiday. I love how with the flip of a page, it’s a clean start. Everything is fresh and new, a chance to put the past behind you. I’m normally not an optimist, but it’s the one time of year that it feels like anything is possible. I don’t add that my dream is to have a New Year’s Eve wedding. But why bother? The chances of me getting married anytime soon―or ever for that matter―are slim.

Trish doesn’t press the issue further. “What’s she like, Veronica?”

“She’s stunning. Pretty, polished, and polite.”

“The three P’s.”

“Four if you add personable. She was down-to-earth and easy to talk to. And I loved that she included Rob in the conversation. She kept turning to him and asking for his opinion.”

“And what about him? He’s gorgeous but always a bit stoic looking.”

“He’s so taken with her. He calls her Ronnie. I think he puts on an air of aloofness for show, but he’s very amicable in person.”

“I can’t believe you get to work with them. The politician’s daughter and a self-made millionaire.”

“Let’s hope. I’m putting together the budget now.”

“I can’t imagine that will be an issue.”

I laugh. “I’ll send you an email with details for a floral quote.”

Her eyes grow wide. “Luce, don’t feel you have to.”

“I know. But I want to, and not because we’re friends, but because I trust you and know you do great work.”

“Thanks,” Trish says, placing her hands on mine. “For having faith in me.”

“I wish I had more faith in myself.”

She removes her hands knowing I’m not the touchy-feely type. “Lucy Chalmers, you are the most organized, efficient, and creative problem-solver I’ve ever met. And I’ve worked with a lot of people.”

“Thanks. I guess I’m just freaked out. My first wedding and it’s the most important event Dreams has and likely will ever put on. No pressure.”

“If anyone can handle it, it’s you,” says Trish. “Now, back to why we’re here.”

I groan. I was hoping she forgot about our bet.

Trish scans the room and stands up. “There’s no one here who meets my standards. A bit too high-brow.”

“That’s a bad thing?”

“No. This crowd seems too tame. I’m looking for someone who will bring out your wild side. I saw a bar down the street. Let’s go check it out.”

I’d love to tell her I don’t have a wild side. But I know it’s no use. Once Trish sets her mind to something, there’s no changing it. As we weave our way through a throng of people something shiny catches my eye. I bend down and discover a bright, copper penny, heads up.

“See?” says Trish. “A good sign.”

Trish knows me well. I’ve always been superstitious. I tuck it in my purse and hope that good fortune is indeed headed my way.

 

Intrigued? (I hope so!) Reserve your copy now by clicking on the icons below and save! Pre-sale e-book price is $2.99. After the launch the price will go up to $3.99.

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Did you miss my last post? Be sure to check out the prior chapters at the links below.

Sneak Peak: In Search of Mr. Anonymous

In Search of Mr. Anonymous: Chapter 1

In Search of Mr. Anonymous: Chapter 2

In Search of Mr. Anonymous: Chapter 2

MrAnonymous_Amazon

The sneak preview of In Search of Mr. Anonymous continues. Read on for a look at Chapter 2. Links to all prior chapters are at the end of this post.

 

Chapter 2

Melanie

 

I shrug out of my coat and kick off my boots, leaving a trail of clothes as I head to my room. I put on a pair of PJs before cleaning up my mess. Getting changed is always the first thing I do when I come home. That and pulling my hair back into a ponytail. Sometimes I feel like the person I present to the world is just for show, but once I’m home I turn back into Cinderella. Maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but I wish I didn’t have to put so much effort into getting dressed up to go out.

I flop down on my couch with a sigh. Another date that’s a bust. And I thought this one held promise. We exchanged messages a handful of times and had a flirty banter going. But it was clear after a few minutes our chemistry didn’t translate past the screen.

I hope Lucy’s having better luck. I check my phone to see if she’s texted me. Nothing yet about her big night: her one-night stand. Lucy Chalmers is my best friend. We met at sleepaway camp when we were ten years old. I had done the Rookie session the summer before, so I knew some of the girls already. I liked them, but there was drama. Who was going to bunk with who, who would sit next to each other during campfire, that sort of thing. One of the reasons I went away to camp was to avoid the drama. There was enough of that back at school. But it felt like I walked right into it.

When I met Lucy I could tell she was different. Quiet but insightful. We latched onto one another and didn’t look back. She’s like a sister to me. While she’s an only child, I actually have two sisters already, both younger. But there’s a big age gap among us. Rachel, the older of the two, is five years younger than me. And there’s a seven-year age gap between me and Riley, the baby of the family. My mom and dad were content with just me for a while. When they finally decided they were ready for another they had trouble getting pregnant. Hence, the age gap. When I was in my last year of elementary school Rachel was just entering Kindergarten. I took on more of a mothering role instead of a confidante. And I was in Junior High when Riley was born. Let’s just say she was a good form of birth control. Anyway, I’m closer with my sisters now. But it’s like we live in totally different worlds.

I’m lucky to have another sister in Lucy. I check my phone again but still no word. I shoot her a text to see what’s up. Lucy doesn’t sleep around, so it’s crazy to me that she agreed to this bet. It’s mind blowing, actually. I’m dying to know what’s happening. Unlike Lucy, I have no problem sleeping with someone I’m not in a relationship with. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with being selective. But I’m thirty-three and not getting any younger. So I like to keep myself active to avoid my lady parts going into hibernation. Seriously. It could happen.

Ever since high school I haven’t had the best of luck with men. Back then I was a bit of a stalker. I think it’s because my crushes sent me mixed messages. Naturally I had to investigate to figure out what was going on. I had a big thing for Chase Emerson. I used to drive by his house on my way home from school, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. I’d call him and hang up just to hear his voice. Those were pre-caller ID days. Anyway, he kind of strung me along. So I may have stalked him a bit. But in my defense he led me to believe there was something between us. I think he liked the attention. He’d do things like invite me over then often cancel at the last minute. He was super apologetic about it and always had a valid excuse. He brought me flowers on my birthday―calla lilies, my favorite. He shoveled our walk when my dad’s back went out. Sweet gestures he’d do in private. It wasn’t so far-fetched that I’d be encouraged or think maybe he returned my feelings. But at school he maintained his distance when his friends were around. Then I got a head nod or a “hey” or “’s up.” Except when he wanted to borrow my notes or “check” his homework against mine. Like an idiot, I let him do those things―take advantage of me. But it didn’t feel that way at the time. I just basked in any attention he was willing to give. Pathetic, I know.

I finally worked up the nerve to ask him to Turnabout. He said maybe―he wasn’t sure if he wanted to go to the dance. When in reality he had me on the backburner in case someone better came along. He eventually said yes. I was ecstatic. I bought the perfect dress, shoes, and booked my hair and nail appointments. The week before he canceled. He said something came up, when in reality he meant someone. He went to the dance with Katie Richmond. Not one to be deterred, I went with my girlfriends. I got to watch him make out with Katie. Let’s just say it made for a memorable night. I felt like the fool he played me for, but I vowed to learn from my mistake. That put an end to my “Chasing Chase” period.

I dated a guy junior year who cheated on me. Of course I was the last to know. But I held out hope for love. I don’t think it would be fair to write off all men for the mistakes of a few. So I looked forward to college and meeting more mature men. I discovered maturity and college boys don’t go hand-in-hand. I went out with lots of frat guys―nothing serious―until Gavin. He changed my outlook. He was a poet, like Lucy, and wrote the most beautiful poems that left me in awe. I think I’ve always been drawn to people who are writers. He was deep and profound and unlike any man I’d met before. I should’ve known. As it turns out I wasn’t the one he was in love with. Once again, I was just a stepping stone. And once again, I ended up with a broken heart.

I’ve dated guys since but it’s been a long time since I’ve fallen in love. Maybe it’s because my guard is up. I’m trying to stay open to the possibility and not let my past mistakes color my outlook. I want to fall―hopelessly and completely. But I won’t be that naïve girl anymore. If that means keeping someone like Brett around so be it. Brett and I have a no-strings attached arrangement and hook up every once in a while. We have zero feelings for one another, so that takes out the complication of emotions getting involved. It’s my turn to have someone waiting on the backburner. Maybe knowing I have him even though it’s only physical makes me feel less alone. Or gives me the security to venture outside of my comfort zone because he’s my fallback. He and Lucy. He meets my physical needs and she meets my emotional ones. Together, they are the perfect combo. Maybe I don’t need more.

But tonight, I do.

I’m restless because the night ended sooner than expected. So I text Brett to see if he’ll come over. He usually responds back right away. But it’s a good twenty minutes before I hear from him. When I do he says he’ll by over by eleven. Great. And my legs are already shaved, so that’s a bonus. I freshen up then change back out of my PJs, which is silly considering my clothes will be coming off again soon. But still, I want to look presentable.

My phone buzzes and it’s my doorman letting me know that Brett’s in the lobby. “Send him up,” I tell him. I open the door and he walks in and plants a scorching kiss on my lips before heading straight for my bedroom. I haven’t seen him in a few months but we have no problem getting reacquainted.

 

Intrigued? (I hope so!) Reserve your copy now by clicking on the icons below and save! Pre-sale e-book price is $2.99. After the launch the price will go up to $3.99.

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Did you miss my last post? Be sure to check out the Prologue & Chapter 1 at the links below.

Sneak Peak: In Search of Mr. Anonymous

In Search of Mr. Anonymous: Chapter 1

 

 

In Search of Mr. Anonymous: Chapter 1

MrAnonymous_Amazon

In case you missed my last post, I have a third book on the horizon: In Search of Mr. Anonymous. It’s a steamy romance due out on 4/27, and in the days leading up to the launch I will be sharing a sneak peek here. Read on for the first chapter.

 

Chapter 1

 

I drum my fingers on my desk, once again glancing at the clock. At four o’clock sharp, my phone rings. I take a deep breath and answer on the second ring.

“Lucy Chalmers.”

“Lucy! Hi, it’s Mackenzie Shaw from Bride Today.”

“Hi, how are you?”

“The question is, how are you? Tell me, how does it feel to land the most coveted wedding in Chicago?”

“It feels surreal.”

“I’ll bet. Can you give me any details about the big day?”

“It will be a New Year’s Eve wedding. The venue is undetermined but you can bet it will be somewhere unique and that has meaning to the bride. She’s having her gown custom made by Monique Lhuillier. You can expect it to be ethereal, elegant, and timeless. Like the bride herself.”

“Speaking of, how has it been working with Veronica?”

“She’s an excellent client. She has a vision but is open to ideas. She makes decisions when they need to be made and sticks to them. But what I admire most about her is that she involves Rob in every step of the process. It’s not just about her day. It’s about making their day special.”

“Does Rob want to be involved in the process?”

I laugh. “He does. For the most part he agrees with her choices, but he does have an opinion. I like a man with an opinion.”

“Do you? So, does the most eligible wedding planner have a significant other?”

“Not at the moment. I’m focused on my career.”

“Do you think you’ll continue on the wedding track? My sources tell me you specialize in corporate events.”

“Yes, I do. But Dreams DLC manages both corporate and bridal. So it’s not unusual for our event planners to cross over.”

“And how did Charlotte take the news? I understand Veronica specifically asked to work with you.”

“It was a team effort. I stepped in only because Charlotte was going to be on maternity leave during the heavy planning stages. Veronica asked that I be involved from a continuity standpoint.” It’s a small white lie, but hopefully she’ll buy it. And how does she know so much about my company’s internal politics? I wouldn’t put it past Charlotte to be giving her inside information. But then again, it doesn’t paint her in the best light.

“You’ve been with Dreams for three years now. What made you decide to leave Stanton?”

Reading between the lines, she wants to know why I would leave one of the top event planning firms for a small mom and pop shop. “Don reached out and at first I told him I wasn’t interested. Dreams wasn’t even on my radar. But he was persistent and told me I’d have a bigger opportunity here. He was right.”

That’s partly true but I’m embarrassed to tell her the real reason. I thought it was fate because the moniker has the same initials as my family: Dennis, Lucy and Corrine. DLC actually stands for Don Campioni, the owner, and his wife Lucca. But I took it as a sign. I knew going to a smaller firm meant less support staff and a lower salary, but I liked that it was a family-owned business. Don has five daughters―too many initials to use in the logo, he joked when we first met—and they all hold various positions at the company. I’m an only child, and I always wished I had come from a big family. Don has his employees over for a homemade Italian feast once a month. He invited me to join them while I was debating his offer. I loved the way he and Lucca fussed over everyone as though they were family. And it didn’t hurt that Lucca’s meatballs were the best I’ve ever had. I often tease Don that’s what sealed the deal.

Mackenzie asks me to send her over some engagement photos of the happy couple. We chat for another ten minutes about Veronica and Rob’s choice of musicians, color scheme, and the who’s who of the guest list. Many of these details haven’t been decided yet, but I was well prepared for the interview and answer her questions just as I practiced.

“One last question. I’d love a quote sharing the wisdom you’ve gained after years of planning these sorts of events. What’s the secret to a happy and lasting union?”

OK. She threw me for a loop. That is one question I wasn’t anticipating. And based on my own personal track record, I’ll be damned if I know.

“Hmm. That’s a great question. Let me think for a minute.”

“Take your time.”

I haven’t planned that many weddings. Really just a handful that were in some way connected to me or my friends. There’s no way in hell Charlotte would have agreed otherwise. But I mentally flip through those couples and what seemed to stand out to me.

“I would have to say the secret to a happy and lasting union is a couple who’s invested in their future. They realize that their wedding day is a celebration of their love. But it’s just that―a day. Their wedding is the foundation of the lifetime they are building from that day forward. A lifetime in which to build treasured moments and memories.”

“That’s great, thanks,” Mackenzie says. She pauses and I hear the click of her keys as she finishes capturing my quote.

After we hang up I begin to second-guess what I said. That quote does nothing to shed what I do in a positive light. In fact, it downright trivializes the importance of a wedding. Why would I say it’s only one day? Don’s going to kill me. I want to take it back, but I can’t very well call Mackenzie and tell her I changed my mind. I’d look indecisive and unprofessional. I try to push away the thought. The issue isn’t going to print for another few weeks.

Instead I focus on choosing the perfect engagement photos for the issue. I email Mackenzie the pics I select and cross it off my “to do” list. I skim the day’s tasks to make sure there is nothing left outstanding. Of course, there isn’t. I answer my remaining unopened emails and make a few calls to confirm last-minute arrangements for an event I’m running next week. Satisfied that everything is in order, I open my planner to a new page, move the ribbon to mark my spot, then turn off my laptop.

It’s a quarter to six―I spent longer than I intended at the office. I decide it will be faster to freshen up here before heading home to drop off my car. I pull out the cosmetics bag I keep in my top drawer and head to the bathroom. I don’t wear a lot of makeup, but I apply a fresh coat of mascara, add a light pink blush to give my ivory complexion some color, and run a brush through my dark, shoulder-length hair. When I return to my desk I kick off my ballet flats, which are a necessity for running around the office, and replace them with a pair of knee-length boots that are stashed under my desk. I tuck my butterfly pendant under my collar and add a silver statement necklace that’s more suitable for a night out. It’s dotted with blue beryl stones that make my eye color look more blue than green. I swear my eyes are always changing on me―it’s like they can’t decide what color they want to be. I keep an array of clothes, shoes, and jewelry in my office so I’m prepared for any occasion. My coworkers tease me about having a second wardrobe at the office, but guess who they go to when they’re in need of a last minute accessory.

I glance at my watch and it’s a few minutes to six. I do a quick calculation and figure I should be able to get home, drop off my car, and cab it to The Aviary, a cocktail lounge known for its innovative drinks, within the half hour. I grab my purse and text Trish I’ll meet her at six thirty. Not that I need to confirm; she knows I’m always punctual.

Trish is the florist I use for many of my company’s events and one of my closest friends. We’re meeting for a celebratory drink, just the two of us. The news about the Clayton-Ashford wedding victory hit last week. It’s been total mayhem ever since. Dreams threw a huge bash to celebrate and I’ve been running on adrenaline. I’d love nothing more than to spend the night in catching up on episodes of Top Chef. Not that I can cook, but I enjoy watching others do it and hope their talent will vicariously rub off on me. Trish wouldn’t hear of it. She insisted that I live up to my end of our bargain―tonight. Trish and I made a rather unorthodox bet. If we won the Clayton-Ashford account, I’d have to agree to a one-night stand with the man of her choosing. And if we lost she’d have to stay celibate for a month. Her idea, not mine. I agreed only because the win was a long-shot. We were the underdogs, competing against three other top-notch firms in the city. Dreams DLC is a small, boutique event planning company. But Veronica Clayton loved my ideas. To be fair she planted the seeds, and I ran with it. This is a huge win for the company―and for me.

I’m still reeling from the news and adjusting to the mayhem that’s followed. I even got a congratulatory call from my old boss at Stanton even though we didn’t part on the best of terms. Stanton was a great place to jumpstart my career because I learned from some of the best in the industry. But I never would’ve had the opportunity to plan the wedding of a lifetime. If I had stayed there it’s likely I’d still be an assistant. I’m so glad I went with my gut and took the risk. That wasn’t always the case, but I’ve learned to trust my instincts. Like the time I decided to move to Chicago after college graduation without a job offer. It was a big step for me to leave everything behind and face an uncertain future. I didn’t have any family in the area and the only person I knew was Melanie. But Virginia didn’t offer the same kind of job market, so I took a risk. Lucky for me it paid out in spades. Sometimes I do miss home, but I love the culture here. Dreams has become my extended family.

So back to the bet. It probably doesn’t sound like a big deal. But I don’t do one-night stands. I don’t do relationships, period. I’ve tried, but I’ve never found anyone that I’ve clicked with. I’m thirty-three and single, and most days I feel like I’m one of the few single girls left in this city. That may sound crazy, but I’m surrounded by people falling in love. I’ve never been one of the lucky ones. I’m so glad Mackenzie didn’t ask me for a quote about true love. I wouldn’t have the faintest idea of what to say that didn’t sound like a cliché. As for sex, I haven’t slept with anyone in a long time. Trish gets on my case about letting loose and she seriously recites the health benefits of sex. I just don’t find it enjoyable being with a virtual stranger or someone I’m not interested in. And work doesn’t leave me with a lot of free time. I prefer it that way. Trish is the opposite, constantly looking for her next conquest. At least until she met Dax, her current boyfriend. And from what she tells me things are definitely not lacking in the bedroom. Hence, the stakes of our bet.

I don’t think I’m terribly picky. I may not have the most outgoing personality, but since graduating high school I’ve come out of my shell. I give Melanie a lot of the credit. She brings out the best in me. We kept in touch since that summer we went to camp together. On a whim, I decided to apply to Wash U because I knew it was her top choice. We both got in and were roommates since our freshman year. I moved to her hometown of Chicago once we graduated and rented a room from the condo her parents bought her up until a few months ago. I was getting a great deal on rent, but now that I’ve saved up it made more sense to live somewhere that had a ten minute commute instead of forty-five, thirty on a good day. My building is in the West Loop just blocks from Dreams. And while I love it, I do miss her company. Both Mel and I haven’t had the best luck with men. She often gets her heart broken, and I’ve just never been that interested in any of the men I’ve met. They’re nice enough, but I’ve never felt that spark. Well, except with one. Coffee Guy.

The first time I saw him I had an immediate physical reaction. My face grew hot, my pulse raced, and I felt a nervous sensation in the pit of my stomach. That had never happened to me before. I was standing in line at the local Starbucks to get my usual tall skim coffee, and there he was, about five people ahead of me. The first thing I noticed was his hair. It was dark and fell in luscious waves, with a slight curl at the nape of his neck. He was tall, probably about six two, and wore his clothes well. And by that I mean he had a sharp, tailored look about him, from his pressed pin-stripe button-down to his charcoal gray pants that were just the right length for his shoes. I have a thing about guys who wear pants that are too short. If your socks show, let it grow. That should be a motto for tailors. He turned around after he ordered and our eyes met. His were so dark they appeared almost black. He looked at me with an intensity I hadn’t experienced before. We stood there, staring at each other, for what was probably only a matter of seconds. But it felt like a couple of minutes. My eyes searched his face and landed on his mouth. I wondered what it would be like to kiss his perfectly-shaped lips. As if he’d read my mind, he gave me a knowing smile and I immediately turned away. I’m such an idiot! Leave it to me to drool over a guy as he looks on. As I’ve said, I don’t have a lot of experience with men and flirting is not my forte. I attempted to subtly check him out as I waited for my coffee. He had a casual elegance about him, with one hand in his pocket and the other checking his phone.

I looked forward to seeing him every morning. I always came in at the same time, and he was always a few people ahead of me. We often had weird exchanges like that―so much being communicated without saying a word. Unless it was all in my head. Once he even paid for my cup. “For Elsie,” I overheard him telling the cashier. For some reason the baristas think my name is Elsie. I don’t like when they yell out your name once the order is ready. I don’t know why, I just find it embarrassing. So I used my initials, “L.C.” I don’t think anyone does that, so the barista assumed my name was Elsie. From then on they wrote “Elsie” on my cup, so I went with it. I tried to find out his name, but he usually grabbed food from the case instead of ordering a drink. Anyway, I approached Coffee Guy to thank him, but just when I reached him he had to take a phone call. He was apologetic about it, but I felt kind of weird after. And while we flirted when we saw each other, if that’s what you want to call it, he never took things further.

Then I moved and the coffee shop was extremely out of my way. There was no reason to go there anymore. But I did. For another three weeks. It was so out of character Melanie literally got out a thermometer. I was waking up an hour early just to have a run-in with a guy whose name I didn’t even know. And to see Joe. Joe was a homeless man I befriended. I often bought him a cup of coffee as well. But then there were days when Coffee Guy stopped showing up. I saw him sporadically, and I wondered if he got a new job where he traveled. Then I learned of the Clayton-Ashford pitch, and Don wanted all hands on deck bright and early. There was no longer a point in schlepping an extra forty-five minutes for the same cup of coffee I could get in the lobby of my building.

I decided I was going to work up the nerve to talk to him on my last day there. As it turns out, he bought my coffee again that day. I took it as a sign. On my way out I approached him to say thank you, glad to have an excuse. My stomach was tied up in nervous knots, which only intensified with each step I took. Those dark eyes of his were watching me, waiting to see what I would do. Before I was a few feet in front of him, another girl walked over. I swear I’d seen her in there before. Maybe they were coworkers? But then he pulled her away by the restrooms, so I decided against that theory. I didn’t know what to do. With my heart pounding in my chest, I waited around for a few minutes, but they didn’t return. It made me wonder what they were doing back there. I lost my nerve. I quickly spun around and headed toward the door. I swear someone called out, “Wait!” But when I turned around he was still gone. And so was the end of my fantasy.

I think about him a lot, this random stranger that got into my head. But not tonight. I push aside any remaining thoughts of Coffee Guy and instead give myself a pep talk for the daunting task that lies ahead. I’m ready to check this one off my list. But first, I need alcohol, and lots of it.

 

I maneuver my Audi Cabriolet into my parking spot in the garage, if you want to call it that. It’s so tiny because I’m flanked by two poles and it used to take me three tries before I could fit. I’ve learned backing in is easiest, but while I’m doing so my water bottle spills all over my lap. I debate about letting my clothes air dry, but figure I still have time to dash upstairs and change. I let myself into my empty apartment, my boots echoing on the wood floors. It doesn’t bother me living alone―in fact, I like the quiet. I throw my keys in the dish on my nightstand next to a framed photo of Melanie and me. I must’ve tossed them harder than I intended because the frame topples to the floor and the corner shatters. It was a beautiful crystal frame that Charlotte gave me, and not because she was being nice. It was a gift from the bride of a wedding she planned and it wasn’t Charlotte’s taste. I quickly pick up the shards and am happy to see it broke into clean sections. Like a jigsaw puzzle, I attempt to put it back together. It looks like it will work, but I don’t have time to glue it. I place it on my nightstand as is, but it won’t stand properly now that the bottom section is missing. I decide to put the frame and broken pieces in my office until I have more time to fix it. Normally I’d take this as a bad omen, but the glass holding our picture didn’t crack, and generally speaking it seems reparable.

I put the pieces in a Ziploc bag and leave them and the frame in my top desk drawer. I throw on another black dress, run my fingers through my hair, and grab my keys. Before leaving I adjust the other photo on my nightstand so it’s more centered. It’s of my parents and me when they came in town to visit. Aside from my butterfly collection, the frames are the only personal items I have in my apartment. I just haven’t gotten around to hanging artwork.

I take the elevator down and wave to George, my favorite doorman, as I head through the lobby. He offers to turn on the cab light but I decline. I’ve been cooped up all day and could use the fresh air. When I step outside an icy breeze lashes across my skin, making my eyes and nose water. Perhaps I should’ve taken George up on his offer. I’m about to head back inside but at that moment a cab pulls up. I tap my foot as I wait for the patron to pay then slide in across the backseat. “The Aviary,” I tell the driver. The lights of the city blur by as he speeds to my destination, as if his life depended on it. “Slow down,” I tell him, echoing my thoughts about what lies ahead.

Of course, Trish knows me so well. She’s ready with a unique looking drink in hand when I walk in and spot her at one of the highboys. “Cheers!” she says as we clink glasses. “To an unforgettable night.”

I already wish it’s one I could forget.

 

Intrigued? (I hope so!) Reserve your copy now by clicking on the icons below and save! Pre-sale e-book price is $2.99. After the launch the price will go up to $3.99.

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Did you miss my last post? You can read the Prologue at the link below.

Sneak Peak: In Search of Mr. Anonymous

Sneak Peak: In Search of Mr. Anonymous

MrAnonymous_Amazon

I’m thrilled to announce I have a third book on the horizon: In Search of Mr. Anonymous. It’s been a labor of love for me and my favorite among the books I’ve written so far. Like the others, you can expect it to be fun and flirty with a healthy dose of romance. OK, so this one probably has more than a healthy dose. Let’s just say it’s a lot steamier than the others. But it also goes deeper and tackles some bigger issues about love and loyalty. Here’s a summary of the plot:

 

Two Strangers. One Passionate Weekend. Endless Heartbreak.

Cynical event planner Lucy agrees to a one-night stand as a result of losing a bet. It’s so out of character she insists on keeping their names anonymous. Lucy falls hard only to never hear from him again. She struggles with moving on until she meets James, her perfect match. Lucy realizes she must stop chasing the ghosts of her past if she wants a future with James. But the problem with ghosts is you never know when they’ll come back to haunt you.

 

I’ll be running an eBook preorder special soon. Details to come in the next few days. But in the meantime enjoy a sneak peek. Check back often because I will post a new chapter in the days leading up to my launch, which is slated for 4/27.

 

First up: the prologue. Yes, I have one of those 😉 Enjoy!

 

Prologue

 

I stare at the heavy wooden doors before me, willing them to open. Their windows are covered with wrought iron bars, reminiscent of the prison I’m in. Fine, these bars have more of an ornamental look and the windows are some kind of fancy stained glass. So the jail analogy might be a bit extreme. If I wasn’t so claustrophobic I might even find them pretty. But it’s hard to see their beauty while I’m crammed among a throng of my classmates. I close my eyes and take a deep breath, trying my best to ignore the pack that surrounds me. I could kill my mom for dropping me off early. “If you’re on time, you’re as good as late,” she always tells me. What does that even mean? It makes no sense. I feel jostling behind me and as the doors open I’m pushed forward into a large, brightly lit tent. I can breathe again.

“Lucy, let’s go!” Amanda cries as she tugs my arm toward a woman carrying a tray filled with fizzy, pink drinks. We each grab one, and I give it a good stir with my straw before taking a tentative sip. It’s fruity, and the bubbles tickle my throat as it goes down. I decide it’s too sweet, but I’m grateful to have something to hold―a prop of sorts.

I follow Amanda across the white, polished floor, being careful not to trip over my own feet. We head toward the center of the tent, near the makeshift stage, and I’m surrounded by a bustle of activity. A man teeters on stilts while juggling. To my left is a child-sized merry-go-round adorned with three small ponies, their fiery manes a match to the red satin tablecloths. I’m not sure if it’s to ride on or for show. To my right are carnival-style games. My mouth waters as someone walks by holding a red and white striped box overflowing with buttered popcorn. The logo on the carton matches the large sign behind the stage, which spells out “Happy Sweet 16 Taylor” in lights. It’s all a bit over-the-top if you ask me. But Taylor is an only child and from what I hear her dad’s loaded, at least according to the rumor mill. In my experience it always carries an ounce of truth.

The DJ is setting up his equipment and, to my dismay, he chooses the moment I’m standing next to a speaker to do a sound check. I jump as he belts out, “Testing. Testing 1-2-3.”

“Let’s go play some games,” I suggest. Amanda agrees. We survey the options and decide to start with “Taylor’s Gone Fishin’.” Yeah, right. Like I can really see her doing anything that involves worms. I grab a fishing pole and drop its magnetic hook into a small pool of water. Unfortunately I come up empty-handed because the bottom of my fish is blank. Only fish that have a star on the bottom earn you a prize. I guess Taylor doesn’t share the philosophy that everyone’s a winner. Next we head over to the can toss, where I successfully knock down all three with my first pitch. I do a little victory dance and Amanda stares and me and giggles. “Lucy, who knew you had it in you!” I laugh too as I watch Amanda imitate my victory dance. The man running the game appears impatient with our antics and hands me a large, stuffed teddy bear before shouting, “Next!” I wonder what I’m supposed to do with it during the party. Maybe it can be my dancing partner. A wave of anxiety hits at the thought of having no one to dance with during the slow songs. At least I’ll have my bear for company.

We move on and I’m engrossed in trying to toss a ring around the neck of a bottle when Amanda claps her hands in delight. “Look over there! Let’s get in line.” I follow her gaze and my heart sinks. It’s a fortune teller station. Reluctantly I stand with her in line. I try to distract her by suggesting we go to the photo booth before it gets crowded. She’s intent on staying put. When it’s our turn I say, “You go ahead. I don’t want to have my fortune read.”

“Why not?” she demands.

“You know I’m superstitious.”

She protests, citing off reasons why I should do it. I look around for a distraction and see a way out. “Isn’t that Jared over there?”

“Where?” she asks, following my gaze. “It’s him,” she squeals. “Do you think he noticed me? I think he looked over here. Yeah, he did. Should I go say hi? Or let him come to me?”

“Let him come to you. You need to play hard to get.” This is coming from someone who is anything but an expert when it comes to dating strategy, or dating for that matter.

“Yo, you’re up!” someone calls out behind us.

Jared makes eye contact with Amanda and walks over. “Lucy, take my turn,” Amanda says as she smooths out her perfect blond strands. The next thing I know Jared puts his arm around Amanda and whisks her away, leaving me standing in front of the fortune teller. I take in her lined face, the gray curls protruding from her colorful head scarf, and the large hoops dangling from her ears. She just looks the part. She’s not a real fortune teller. She even has a name tag that says, “Marci.” What kind of name is that for someone who’s supposed to know the future? And she spells it with an “I,” like it was an attempt to make her name trendier. Doesn’t instill much confidence. Still, I’d love to make a fast getaway, but I don’t want to cause a scene. I’m the kind of girl who likes to blend in.

Marci looks at me with narrowed, brown eyes. “I need something of value.”

She has an accent. Of course she has an accent. It’s probably fake. “I don’t have anything,” I say as I unzip my purse.

“No, no. Not money. Something meaningful to you,” she says as she eyes my necklace.

“Oh,” I say as my fingers fumble with the silver chain around my neck. How did she know? I wear two, actually. One is a butterfly pendant and the other a best friends charm. Fortunately the pendant is tucked beneath my dress, hiding it from view. So she must be talking about the charm necklace.

“Let me see it.”

I hesitate. I never take off the necklace―either of them. Seconds pass and I feel beads of perspiration breaking out on my upper lip. Embarrassed, I put my finger to my lips as though deep in thought, and attempt to nonchalantly swipe the sweat away. “Come on!” a boy groans behind me.

“She’ll be the last one,” Marci says as she passes out a stack of business cards to those remaining in line.

The boy behind me groans again.

With shaking fingers, I sweep aside my jet black hair and undo the silver chain around my neck. Silently I hand it to her. She studies the “St Ends” broken heart locket and places it in her palm. She covers it with her other hand and closes her eyes. I close my eyes as well and try to drown out the scene before me. Instead, I focus on the locket, and Melanie.

Melanie Baxter is my best friend. I met her at overnight camp when I was just ten years old. Looking back I have no clue why my mom sent me because I never asked or expressed any interest. I think it was her attempt at getting me out of my shell. To this day I don’t know why Melanie befriended me. We are complete opposites in every way. She’s outgoing, boisterous, and loves being in the spotlight. Some might call me a wall flower. I prefer to think of myself as an observer. Let’s just say I didn’t expect us to be friends.

We were assigned to the same cabin, but she already knew some of the other girls. I kept to myself at first, until there was an act of what I like to think of as divine intervention on the fourth night. As an evening activity, our counselor, Joanna, asked us to write something nice about each of our cabin mates. She had a cup labeled with each camper’s name, and after we wrote our message we had to drop it in each one. I wondered what people would write about me, the shy girl who didn’t give much away. It wasn’t intentional. I wanted them to see the real me, but I didn’t know how to go about it. I told myself it was just a silly activity, but their opinions mattered to me. I watched as most of the girls scribbled a quick message and then went on to gossip with one another. I took my time. I wanted to think of the perfect thing to say. We then went off to our evening program and I wondered what would become of the messages. I worried they would be forgotten, but before bed Joanna read each one aloud. Many of the notes were superficial and said things like, “so and so is really nice” or “she’s great at braiding” or “I love her clothes.” Except mine. For Victoria I wrote, “Her bursts of laughter are like catching glowing fireflies on a hot, summer night.” And on Paige’s I wrote, “Her smile is inviting, and when it’s directed at you it feels like you’re being wrapped up in a warm blanket.” And on Tina’s I said, “I wish I had an ounce of her bravery.” Then Joanna read the one I wrote for Melanie. “Melanie is like the sun. She shines her radiance on those around her. Always growing, you feel happy in her presence.”

“Glowing,” I corrected Joanna before I could stop myself. “It’s glowing, not growing.” Melanie’s eyes met mine as I said it. She smiled at me and I smiled back. I noticed her listening intently to the rest of the messages, her eyes darting my way each time one of mine was read. “Are you a poet?” she asked me when we went to brush our teeth.

“Me? No. I don’t write poetry, but I love reading it.”

“Oh. I liked what you had to say about everyone.”

I gave her an embarrassed smile as I squeezed out a dab of toothpaste. She kept talking while she was brushing and I had a hard time understanding what she was saying. Toothpaste dribbled down her chin and I attempted to stifle a laugh. Instead of being embarrassed, she made funny faces and put a dab of toothpaste on her nose. I followed suit and pretty soon our faces were covered with dots of toothpaste.

Joanna walked in and said, “What on earth?”

But neither of us could answer. We were both crying tears of laughter.

“You’ll be my bunk mate when we switch next week,” Melanie informed me. I didn’t mind that it wasn’t a question.

The next morning she took a few extra minutes getting dressed before breakfast.

“Mel, you coming?” Paige called.

“Go ahead. I’ll head over with Lucy.”

I tried not to look surprised. She fell in step next to me and I noticed how her strides were in sync with mine. From that day forward it was like that between us. As close as sisters, we had an inseparable bond. At the end of camp I worked up the courage to ask why she chose me. “Because you see people for who they are,” she said. She thought a moment and added, “And you see the good in everyone.”

I didn’t know that to be true, but I was glad she thought so. Back home I’d never had a friend like her, and I was thrilled for our newfound friendship.

The only hitch is that she lives in Illinois and I’m from Virginia. But we make it work and try to see each other at least once or twice a year outside of camp. She surprised me on my thirteenth birthday with the locket. “For the other part of me,” she wrote on the card. She wears the other half: Be Fri. So when you put them together the message reads “Best Friends.” My locket has a picture of her, and hers a picture of me. I’m an only child, but once I met Melanie I not only gained a best friend, but a sister as well.

Marci puts one hand on mine, bringing me back to the present. In her other is the locket. I watch as she strokes her thumb over the engraved letters, her eyes closed in concentration. “You are a perceptive girl,” she says. “Quiet but very loyal. You have many acquaintances but few true friends. You don’t like to let people in.” I relax a little. What she’s saying is true, but it’s nothing about my future. Her observations are only about my present. “You will change your mind about where to go for college.” Uh, oh. I spoke too soon. “You will have much success,” she continues. “A good career. But you must make decisions for yourself. You must stop basing them on what others want.” She opens her eyes for a moment and a look of concern crosses her face. My heart begins to pound in my chest.

“What?” I say.

“N-nothing. That’s it.”

“What else did you see?” I demand.

The DJ announces it’s time to sing “Happy Birthday” and I know our time is done. She hands me back my locket then packs her things away. “It’s not important.”

“Please, just tell me,” I plead. She shakes her head and quickly finishes packing. She walks away, wheeling a small suitcase behind her. My classmates head toward the dance floor. Instead I follow Marci, all the way to the parking lot. She studies me as she closes her trunk. My pale blue-green eyes fill with tears, which I hastily wipe away with my sleeve. She takes both my hands and lets out a sigh.

“You will lose something precious,” she says. I snatch my hands away as though I’ve been burned.

No, no, no. This is why I didn’t want to have my fortune read. Some things are better off not knowing. But then it occurs to me she might be talking about my birth mom. “I’m adopted. Is that what you mean?”

“I’m afraid I’m not talking about the past. But don’t worry,” she tries to reassure me. “It will come back to you in the most unexpected way.”

“What? What will come back to me?”

All of a sudden Amanda reappears at my side. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you! Greg said he saw you head out this way.” I try to interrupt but she keeps talking. “So Jared officially asked me out. Can you believe it? And he won me this stuffed bear. Hey, it looks just like yours! The merry-go-round was just a display, by the way. We tried to go on it and got yelled at. Can you believe it? Why have it then?”

“Uh, huh. Just give me a sec. I need to find out more about something.”

Panicked, I turn back to where Marci was standing, but she’s gone. Her car is gone too. I want to scream at the unfairness of it all.

Amanda sees my expression. “What did she say?” she prods.

“Nothing important,” I lie. I secure the locket around my neck and check three times to make sure the clasp is tightened.

Amanda peers at me and says, “Don’t worry about what Marci said. She’s just someone they hired for the party. She’s probably like a math teacher, or something.”

“Yeah, like algebra or geometry,” I agree. She links her arm through mine and we head back toward the party.

As I’m lying in bed that night I replay Marci’s premonition. I convince myself she can’t be a real fortune teller and likely teaches math or science, as Amanda suggested. Something logical. I need to forget about what she said. But try as I might, her words are etched into my brain. I already know what it feels like to lose something you never had. Yet I’m still terrified. Of what, I don’t know. But I have a strong feeling that someday I’ll find out. As the poet Jean de La Fontaine once said, “A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.” It would appear that my destiny is to lose.