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An excerpt from my bestselling romantic comedy, BABY & BUMP, on sale now for just 99 cents!
“Anytime.” I looked up at Fletcher, who was beaming at us. “What brings you guys to the market today, Fletcher?”
His smile tensed. Just a bit. “Well, Marisol said you guys were setting up a booth.”
“Oh, okay.” My heart coughed at the mention of Marisol. “She’ll, um, be right back. She went to grab a mango.”
She was still pretty sore about the fact that I refused to share who the father of my baby was with her. In fact, as she’d stalked away from our booth with her keys fifteen minutes earlier, Marisol looked over her shoulder and called, “Your stomach is growing by the millisecond, and if I don’t find out who the father is soon, I’m going to stop speaking to you. Serving appetizers with me all winter is going to blow if I’m giving you the silent treatment.”
“Oh, okay. I’ll just wait.” Fletcher’s voice brought me back to the present. “Martha and I needed some produce, anyway.”
I forced myself to grin up at Fletcher. “Well the market’s the right place for that. What are your favorite vegetables? How about you, Martha?”
“Tomatoes. Broccoli. And corn.” She rolled her eyes towards her father. “He hates all of them, and whines when I cook them.”
My mouth dropped open. “Doctor Haybee, you should be ashamed of yourself. Didn’t you tell me I needed more iron from leafy greens at my last appointment?”
“I did. But I’m a hypocrite.”
“You totally are.” I snickered, cutting into another roll. “I’ll bet you don’t take vitamins every day, or get a full eight hours of sleep, either.”
“Wait a second. I do too take a vitamin.” He winked, and my stomach tightened. Well, the stomach muscles around my ever-growing offspring. “But I’m lucky if I get six or seven hours of sleep.”
“You might try eating some edamame. It has tryptophan.” Apparently my flirt was set on high, because I tilted my head to the side and offered him a coy smile. “Or some spinach. That’s a vegetable guaranteed to get you into bed.” I bit my lip. Did I just say that?
Fletcher stepped closer. “I just haven’t met a vegetable I like yet.”
“That’s because you haven’t had my pasta primavera.” One of my eyebrows arched, and the corner of Fletcher’s mouth tugged upward. “It’s been known to convert even the staunchest of vegetable haters into vegetarians.”
“Really?” His voice had lowered by at least an octave, and he leaned forward with his palms pressed against the table. “You sound pretty confident about that.”
My stomach whirled. The closer he got to me, the more my skin started to sizzle and pop like bacon in a pan. “Oh, I am.”
Fletcher paused, and for a moment, all of the noise of the farmer’s market melted away. Through the corner of my eye, I saw Martha’s head bobbing in both directions, her gaze going from her dad to me and back again. My insides melted into goo, then churned inside of my belly.
He stepped even closer. “I find your cocky side very compelling.” A smile was making his lips twitch and his eyes dance, and it was completely irresistible.
He’s flirting with me. There’s no mistaking it this time.
Fletcher’s grin widened. Our faces were only a foot apart. “Listen, Lexie, I—”
“Hey, handsome. What are you doing here?” Marisol’s voice shattered the moment into about eighteen dozen pieces that scattered all over the grass. The melted goo in my stomach hardened into a large, guilty block.
Fletcher tore his eyes from mine and stood upright. As soon as his attention was off of me, it felt chilly. Like when the sun slips behind a cloud.
“Hey!” He pulled Marisol in for a quick hug. “There you are. We were looking for you.”
Marisol leaned in with her cheek pointed at Fletcher’s face, but he released her and let his hands drop down at his sides without even noticing. My heart did a little victory dance, but I quashed my joy when I saw a flash of disappointment in Marisol’s eyes.
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Cocinero bounced around the river rocks that bordered my lawn, undoubtedly taking his time to find the proper place for taking a crap, when my home phone rang inside the house.
I glanced at my watch. It was almost ten o’clock. Nobody called me this late, except for the occasional booty call. But I wasn’t currently involved with anyone, a fact that irritated me almost as much as the fact that my cat insisted on taking a hour to take a dump every night. A booty call sounded nice right about now.
“Probably Lexie,” I murmured to myself, slapping across the hardwood floors with my bare feet—which were still repulsive on the bottom from my little adventure earlier. She was probably up feeding the baby, and fretting about the quiches. She was infamous for adding an ingredient at the last minute that transformed dishes from good to great, and unfortunately that inspiration only seemed to happen long after we’d stopped cooking for the night.
I plucked up receiver, and answered without looking at the number. “Lexie, this is the worst booty call I’ve ever gotten. You know I haven’t swung that way since that one kegger in college.”
There was silence on the other end.
“Lex?” Pulling the phone away from my ear, I looked at the tiny screen. “Oh, um. Sorry. Who is this?”
“Is this Marisol Vargas?” The deep, gravelly voice on the other end sent a whirl of excitement shooting up my spine.
Demo-the-mechanic. I’d left him my home number back at the shop, since my iPhone was still missing. Note to self: replace cell tomorrow. Well, well. Maybe it was a booty call after all.
Not interested, my ass, I snickered to myself. “This is she,” I purred. “And let me guess. This is Demo… Demo… uh…”
Dang that crazy last name of his. It was blowing my sexy cover all to pieces.
“Antonopolous,” he replied.
“Right.” I pressed my lips together and reminded myself to keep my temper in check. “So why are you calling me so late? A little lonely in the garage at night?”
“I towed your car after we closed,” Demo said simply.
My eyebrows rose high on my forehead. He’d done something nice for me. Maybe there was hope after all. “Oh. Well, thank you.”
“Since it was after hours, I’ll have to charge time and a half.”
My eyebrows dropped back to their normal spot. “Of course.”
“You made it sound like money wasn’t your primary concern,” Demo explained in a flat voice.
“It’s not,” I hissed. “Do you always work this late at night?”
“I knew you wanted it back quickly,” he answered simply. “So I brought it back and took a look.”
I leaned against my kitchen countertop and waited for the bad news. The booty call scenario fizzled right before my eyes. “So what’s the verdict?”
I heard him shifting some papers, and then the clang of something landing on the metal desk. “You’ve got a bad alternator.”
“The car’s only a year old!” I blurted.
“It happens. Got a buddy across town who works with BMWs all the time. He says your make and model are infamous for alternator problems.”
“Can I get his number?” Grabbing a pen and paper out of my nearby mail stack, I readied myself to write. “Maybe he’ll be able to fix it.”
“Oh, I can fix your car.” Demo’s voice took on a defensive edge. “I’ll have it ready by ten tomorrow morning.”
“You’ve got the right parts, and everything?” I didn’t know much, but I knew enough to know that BMW parts weren’t usually sitting on the shelves in most Spokane mom and pop auto shops. That was the reason why I usually took it to the specialty shop at the dealership for maintenance.
“Got a buddy who owns a parts store.”
“My, you certainly have a lot of buddies. He let you into his shop to get the part this late at night?”
“She opens at six am. It’s in stock.”
A random spark of jealousy blinked inside my chest. I really needed to get a grip on myself. “Well, I underestimated you, Mr. Antonopolous.”
Yes! I got his last name right. Score one for me.
“Seems to be a habit,” he grunted.
I grit my teeth together. “And you’re telling me that you’re going to fix my Beemer first thing in the morning?”
“For time and a half, right?”
“The tow was more,” Demo growled. “The labor will be standard cost. Unless you’d like to pay more, Princess.”
Seeing red, I pushed myself away from the counter. “Hey, who do you think—”
“Sorry. Listen. You want me to work on your car?” he interrupted. “I’ve got a client who needs new sparkplugs in his delivery van real bad. I can do that first, if you like.”
“Just one moment.” I put the phone down on the countertop and kicked the back of my couch a few times, leaving black footprints. “Estúpido, grosero culo limpie!”
I thought I heard a chuckle when I picked the receiver back up and said, “I would love it if you fixed my car first thing tomorrow.”
When Demo spoke again, there was a smile in his voice. “You know I speak Spanish, right?”
I scrunched my face up and slapped a palm to my forehead. Whoops. I’d focused so much on his bulging biceps and surly attitude, that I’d forgotten that detail. “Yes,” I lied. “Yes, I do.”
“Well, it’s settled then. See you at ten.”
“Right.” I felt like punching a hole in something. Anything.
He hung up before I could say another word.
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Enjoy an excerpt of THEN & NOW, the last book in the This & That Series that rounds out the love lives of three best friends. This book has been described as "cougariffic". You're welcome.
I set the zucchini down in the middle of the table. “Let’s eat right now, then. Kids, dinner’s ready!” The kids ran to the table, the sound resembling a herd of small elephants.
“It looks yummy, Candace.” Mom leaned in and smelled the food, as she helped Aubrey into her chair. “Did you grow these veggies yourself?”
When I shook my head, my dad banged his hand on the table. “Take up gardening. Do that for a living.”
“Mommy’s going to sell vegetables?” Ellie poured herself some milk, and it splashed onto the tablecloth.
“She’s not becoming a farmer.” Corrine asked. “I think she should work for me. I’ve got some entry level positions that would suit her just fine.”
Mom shook her head. “I don’t know. Candace was never very good with numbers. She was a Lit major in college, remember?”
“I like numbers,” Quentin announced, playing with his fork and spoon.
“Always reciting Shakespeare or reading or dragging someone to an obscure play.” Dad rolled his eyes. “It was exhausting. Hey, I’ve got it. Why not become a librarian?”
I smiled to myself. I’d considered that a time or two. The local library was always hiring pages, and nothing sounded better to me than being surrounded by books all day. Except maybe writing books all day. That sounded even better.
I used to write stories, years and years ago. I created worlds and put them down on paper, then made my friends read them. I wonder what it would be like to take that up again? To actually write for a living?
“No way.” Corrine’s voice jerked me out of my thoughts. “Librarians don’t make good money at all.”
“Well, maybe your sister doesn’t want to be rich.” Mom adjusted her glasses. “Not everybody has it in them to live the high life like you do, Cori.”
“It’s Corinne, and I’m not saying she has to live a high life,” my sister snarled.
“She’s got kids to support.” Dad gestured at my children, then stabbed one of the steaks with his fork. It landed on his plate with a thud. “She can’t work for peanuts. You know that.”
Mom nodded. “The house may be paid for, but there are monthly bills to consider.”
My eyes bounced between the three of them for a few minutes, and a dull ache started to throb between my eyebrows. Did they not realize that I was right here? My family acted like I was stupid. Or invisible. Or both.
Corrine huffed. “She’ll make more than enough money if she works for me.”
“But will she be happy?” My mom threw out her arms. “Nothing makes her happy. She doesn’t work. She doesn’t date. She doesn’t spend time with her friends.”
Dad cut into his steak. “What friends? She doesn’t go anywhere or do anything.”
Frustration built in my chest. “Hey, wait a second. I can hear you right now.”
“Mommy goes on dates,” Ellie announced, helping herself to a spoonful of pasta salad. “She went on one a few nights ago.”
My parents and sister looked at me. “You went on another date?” Mom asked.
Heat scalded my face. “No.”
Corrine’s mouth spread into a smirk. “You sure?”
“Well, fine. Okay. Yes.” I used a potholder to wipe sweat off my forehead. “Marisol set me up again.”
“And how did it go?” Mom’s eyes were wide and hopeful.
“It didn’t,” I muttered. “It was over before it started.”
“Candace didn’t score.” Corrine served herself a steak and dug in. “Bummer.”
“No, I didn’t,” I snapped, glancing at my kids. Thankfully, they were preoccupied with their food. “I told Marisol no more set ups. If I meet someone someday, it’ll be because I met him myself.”
Corrine put her fork down, and covered her eyes. “Were they all strippers and pimps?”
Dad jerked around in his chair to gape at me. “You dating a male stripper?”
“What’s a pimp?” Quentin asked.
I glared at Corrine. “Real nice.”
“Why don’t you let me fix you up again? Maybe someone nice from church, perhaps?” Mom asked, taking a bite.
“No, thank you.” I wiped my mouth with a napkin. The back of my shirt was sticky with sweat now. “The last guy you set me up with turned out to be emotionally unstable.”
Dad frowned at me. “Your mom’s just trying to help—”
“I know, but…” Taking a breath, I willed my pulse to slow down. My family loved me, but why hadn’t I noticed how much their interference strangled me? And, damn it all to hell, why was it so hot in my house? “I can handle it myself. Besides, I’m too busy to go on another date now. I’ve… I’ve got a lot of things going on.”
“Well, we know that.” Mom started cutting her meat, her eyes never leaving my face. “But other than the children, have you already got a job you haven’t told us about?”
The pain in my head flared, and my skin heated even more. Seriously, had I forgotten to turn on the air conditioning? “No. I’m not working.”
Dad grunted. “Well, if you’re looking for a man so you don’t have to work, can you at least have the decency to stay away from strippers and pimps, for hell’s sake?”
“She’s not looking for a man so she doesn’t have to work,” Corrine said. I opened my mouth to thank her for defending me, but she cut me off. “She did that last time, and look where it got her. Alone with three kids.”
My mouth dropped. “Hey—”
“Brian passed away.” Mom leaned over to press a quick kiss to Aubrey’s head, then dropped her voice to a hiss. “He didn’t leave.”
Dad frowned at Corrine. “No, he didn’t, young lady.”
“Sorry.” She shrugged, and went back to her food. “I just don’t want my big sister reverting back to being a wife and mother, when she has the potential to do more with herself. Especially if she’s marrying a stripper.”
“Mommy, are you getting married?” Aubrey asked around a mouthful of food. Ellie and Quentin looked up from their plates curiously.
“No.” I tucked my hair behind my ears. My head throbbed, like my eyeballs were going to fall out and land on the table any minute. “Of course not.”
“But you’re looking for a new man,” Corrine pointed out.
“No!” I rubbed my eyes. “I’ve been set up a few times, but wouldn’t say I’m dating anyone at all.”
“Because you don’t want to?” Mom searched my face. “Or because you haven’t found the right man? If you let me help, that might change.”
“I like men like daddy,” Ellie said, matter-of-factly.
“We all did, kid,” Dad agreed, shoving another bite of steak into his mouth.
Sweat trickled down the back of my neck. “Hey, weren’t we talking about work? Let’s go back to that topic.”
“I’m not sure I understand why you won’t work.” Mom used her napkin to wipe a drip of catsup off Aubrey’s chin. “Is it because you’re dating a stripper? Do male dancers make that much money? I’m not familiar with that sort of thing.”
Ellie licked food off her fingers. “Can I be a stripper? I like to dance.”
All of the adults in the room replied in unison. “NO.”
“I want to be a construction worker,” Quentin announced. “I want to hold the slow sign on the road. That job looks fun.”
Corrine looked appalled. “You can do better than that.”
“It’s honest work,” Dad quipped. “Beats marrying a male stripper.”
“I’m not marrying a stripper!” I slammed the potholder down on the table. It skidded across the table, knocking over Quentin’s empty cup. It rolled off the edge. Everyone went silent and stared at me. I heard a car door slam somewhere outside, and the neighbor’s Pomeranian bark. After a few beats, I cleared my throat. “Sorry.”
Corrine went back to her steak with raised eyebrows. “Well, that was dramatic.”
“I need…” I took a deep breath to steady myself. My head ached so bad, I felt sick to my stomach. And the heat in my house was un-freaking-believable. I made a beeline for the front door. “I need some air.”
“Air?” Mom put down her fork. “It’s ninety-three degrees outside. You’ll get better air in here.”
“Let her go, Dory.” Dad waved a hand, dismissing me. “Candi needs to chill out. It’s a girl thing. Remember when they were teenagers? All those hormones and mood swings? Boxes of Tampax everywhere?”
“Oh, here we go again.” Corrine put her fork down. “Mom, why do you let him bring up menstruation every time he refers to our adolescence?”
I slid out the door and pulled it closed behind me with a decisive click. I couldn’t hear anymore, otherwise I was going to go postal. I don’t know what I would have done had I not been able to lean on my parents over the last two years. But put me in a room with them now, and then pepper the mix with my feminist sister, and it was a shit salad with extra drama dressing on the side.
It was almost July in eastern Washington, and the heat was stifling, the air as dry as Melba toast. It settled on my skin as I settled down in the chair on my front porch and tried to draw a few deep breaths to calm my frazzled nerves. I didn’t know what I would do with my time without the kids, but I wouldn’t be hosting any more family dinners for a while.
I had to figure out what I wanted to do with myself. For the first time in fifteen years, I found myself completely free to do as I wanted. No husband to consider. No career path laid out for me. Just total freedom. I could go into anything, if I wanted. The freedom itself frightened me more than the idea of working again. How lame was that?
I’d fallen a long way from that free-spirited girl who dreamed about writing fiction and living in a New York loft. Back in college, I thought I could go anywhere, do whatever my heart longed for. Then I’d met Brian, and happily surrendered every wild dream I’d ever imagined for a life in the suburbs. Now I was a widow who rarely did anything besides read books written by other people and drive my kids around in a dusty minivan.
I jumped at the sound of metal grating on metal. Glass broke. There’d been a moving van in the driveway next door all day today, and I’d assumed the new neighbors were all done moving in by now. Guess I was wrong. They were apparently still moving in… minus one lamp.
I heard the muted sound of a man’s voice from within the back of the moving van, and craned my neck to get a glimpse of the new people. I hoped it was a family, so the kids would have some new friends to play with.
A teenage boy emerged from the van, shirtless, with low-slung jeans hanging on his hips. Sweat glistened on his back and shoulders as he hoisted the remnants of a lamp on his shoulder and hiked down the ramp towards his front door.
My eyebrows rose high on my forehead. That teenager was cut. His lean torso was defined like a washboard as it descended into the waistband of his boxer briefs, and his arms were corded with muscle just enough to look strong, without appearing like a poster child for adolescent steroid use. Though I couldn’t see this kid’s face, one thing was clear: he was probably very popular.
“They didn’t make boys like that when I was in high school,” I whispered, forcing myself to look away. Good Lord, lonely or not, gawking at an underage moving boy was wrong. Super wrong.
I heard the shuffle of his feet walking back up the ramp, but didn’t look up. Didn’t want to get caught checking out a kid. A kid whose mother I would probably deliver welcome to the neighborhood cookies to by the end of the week. I needed to get back inside, and make nice with my family.
He started to whistle, the sound echoing inside the back of his van, and I glanced back in that direction.
This is so wrong. I’m a creepy old lady checking out a pimple-faced kid. I need help.
My front door swung open, and the screen whacked into the side of my chair with a smack. “Mommy?”
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