Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Writer Stuff Wednesday: About love scenes...

First, a disclaimer: I am not the be-all end-all authority about writing love scenes. That being said, I've written and edited a lot of them. So I've seen a lot.

One thing I've seen too much, especially from newer writers, is what I call (not uniquely) the "insert part B into slot A phenomenon". The author dutifully describes the act of having sex. He does this, she does that, this goes here and that happens. The words are different than that, of course, but the reader has the same reaction in every case: Zzzzzzzzzzzz.

Zzzzzz is not good. Your reader starts to lose interest. They begin to skim. They put the book down. They wander away. You've lost them. Not what you intended to do when you began writing the scene, or the story. Why? Because you've failed to make an emotional connection with your reader.

Your primary goal as a writer is to make an emotional connection with the reader. 

An emotional connection is the key. That's what keeps them involved in your story, keeps them reading--and makes them want to buy your next book. ( maybe that's your primary goal, but it sounds so--ugh--materialistic. We write for writing's sake, right? Of course.)

Well, that's fine, you say. But how? 

Get in touch with your character and your reader will be involved. 

Add some emotion and physical reactions, but avoid using adjectives and adverbs. Oops. This is the kind of directive that will have you running to your writer buddies saying , "WTF?" Okay…let me see if I can explain it better…say your hero caresses the heroine's soft breast. That's only a surface description. (Insert hand A over part B.) You have to go deeper. What does his touch DO to her? Does her breast heat/tingle/insert reaction of your choice here? What does his touch do to her EMOTIONS? Does she love it? Hate it?

Of course, you don't have to go deep into your character's psyche and experience with every caress, but you have to build some layers.

Layer that scene like a lasagna!

Every love scene needs layers. You want to think of the Body/the Head/the Heart. (Physical/Mental/Emotional). Otherwise, you'll end up with a flat scene that reads like an instruction manual. And that's what I see, too often. The new writer stays at the surface of the action without adding those crucial layers that make a reader a part of it. Because by giving your reader those pieces, she (or he) will be able to put themselves in your characters' places. The connection is made.

Now, get to work. :)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Tom's Twelve Days of Christmas

Many thanks to my ten-year-old for today's post. It was a homework assignment; personally, I'd give the kid an "A"--especially because all the animals and some of the incidents mentioned in his rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas are all from real life. (Um...well...yeah.)

Here are the original "twelve" in the Christmas carol:

Day one: Partridge in a pear tree
Day two: two turtledoves
Day three: three French hens
Day four: four calling birds
Day five: five golden rings
Day six: six geese a-laying
Day seven: seven swans a-swimming
Day eight: eight maids a milking
Day nine: nine ladies dancing
Day ten: ten lords a-leaping
Day eleven: eleven pipers piping
Day twelve: twelve drummers drumming

Tom's Version:

On the first day of Christmas my two dogs gave to me a squirrel in a pine tree.
On the second day of Christmas my two dogs gave to me two dead mice.
On the third day of Christmas my two dogs gave to me three guinea hens.
On the fourth day of Christmas my two dogs gave to me four dying birds.
On the fifth day of Christmas my two dogs gave to me FIVE GOLDEN POOPS!
On the sixth day of Christmas my two dogs gave to me six running mailmen.  
On the seventh day of Christmas my two dogs gave to me seven neighbors complaining.
On the eighth day of Christmas my two dogs gave to me eight angry dog catchers.
On the ninth day of Christmas my two dogs gave to me nine days of quarantine.
On the tenth day of Christmas my two dogs gave to me ten barks of joy.
On the eleventh day of Christmas my two dogs gave to me eleven tails a-wagging.
On the twelfth day of Christmas my two dogs gave to me twelve licks of love.

Merry Christmas--we're counting down the days!

Oh, and speaking of merry--

Naughty Can Be Nice received four flaming hearts from Everybody Needs a Little Romance!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Yes, Virginia, there is a market for it...

Since my story concerns Santa Claus, I thought I'd spend the rest of the month focusing on The Big Man himself, with the occasional foray into topics also Christmas related.

Here is a copy of the original column printed in the September 21, 1897 edition of the New York Sun, and it answers the question: "Is there a Santa Claus?". As you may know, this editorial, one of the most-run columns in the English language was a response to the question posed by eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon (see "Dear Editor" to the left).

An interesting side note (found on Wikipedia):

Some people have questioned the veracity of the letter's authorship, expressing doubt that a young girl such as Virginia would refer to children her own age as "my little friends." However, the original copy of the letter appeared and was authenticated by an appraiser on the Antiques Roadshow in 1998. Its value was appraised by Kathleen Guzman, formerly of Christie's—now with PBS' Antiques Roadshow—at $20,000–$30,000.[2]

Ho, ho, ho-ly correspondence...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Release Day!

Merry Christmas to me! Naughty Can Be Nice has been released!

I'd tell you more about it, except it's more fun to have you jump to my friend Moira's blog. She asks the most interesting interview questions I've ever answered.

And here's something she didn't mention. I'm giving away a freebie--so leave a comment and one of you lucky people will get a copy of Naughty. :) Good luck and thanks for checking it out!

Happy day, everyone.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Come join me at my new and probably not much improved blog at:

Thank you for your patronage. ;)

Monday, November 22, 2010


This post is dedicated to my daughter.

She's thirteen. Unlike most thirteen-year-olds, she has taste. Her take on the Twilight series is as follows:
"Bella's a loser. Her entire existence revolves around a guy. She needs to get some goals and get a life." (If you can't feel the glow of fierce maternal pride radiating from your monitor, please check again.)

That being said, she's got posters and pics of Taylor Lautner hanging on the inside of her closet. (How symbolic! She's a closet werewolf fan. This is fine. He's not out in the open and the center of her existence, but is contained and an afterthought. Yay!)

Anyhow, I found this video by accident on You Tube, and since I'm pressed for time (mother of three--when am I NOT pressed for time? Anyone? Anyone?) I thought I'd share it. Jenna B, this one's for you.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

'Twas Nice to be Naughty

'Twas a few weeks before Christmas
and one night on the couch
only Brenna was stirring; she needed release.

She wished for the Santa she'd seen earlier that day
wearing boots and his hat and ready to play.
All naked and randy, wearing only a bow.
Young, sexy and hot, and ready to go.

When what to her wondering eyes should appear
But that very same Santa, very much bare.
His abs! Oh so tight, and his bod, oh so lean.
Brenna was thankful for such a nice dream.
With a wink of his eye and a nod of his head,
He let her know he was ready for bed.

His hands were so talented, his mouth was a dream
And Brenna bit her lips to hold back her screams
Santa knew what she needed and just what to do
He fulfilled all her wishes and her fantasies, too.

Because Santa knows when you're nice
And then when you're naughty
This night, Brenna was a bad girl and Kris Kringle was bawdy.

But wait, there's much more; it's Christmas, after all.
And there's more to Santa than a good time and balls.
There's love, there's redemption and there's sacrifice.
And Santa is willing to give up his life.

For the dreams of a child and one very dear
Who Brenna loves greatly and holds very near.
Will Santa return to love her again?
You'll have to read this to find out, in the end.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Free photos? Only three credits.

Like many writers, I'm trying  to take advantage of every opportunity available to promote my book for free.

So far, it's cost me $40.00.

You see, I'm trying to make a book trailer. A two minute book trailer. And you can't do that without photos. So I've been going to different sites, looking for free images and then--of course finding the "perfect" photo, which is not free.

And it's only one image. But you must buy a package of credits. And it's only $, you do. But then, you've got these other credits to use. So you begin to scroll through the other photos. And you find more. But then, you're short one you have to buy more so you can round out your collection of images. And've got these extras, so...

I'm telling you, it's all a scam. Does anyone besides the friends and families of writers watch those book trailers, anyway?

But then again...sometimes you just can't help yourself. Could you resist using this sweet little face in your Christmas book trailer? That sweet little smile just melts your heart. Feeling grinchy? Not anymore.

I got Cindy Loo Hoo here from Dreamtopia. (Damn it, I'm gonna make sure I get use out of these things.)

Where do you go to spend money on free photos?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


I suppose it's unusual for someone to say they had a wonderful, relaxing time shoveling shit, but  I did.

Last night I helped my daughter take care of her riding instructor's horses. They live outside and don't have stalls in the barn like some of the animals at the farm. And one of them, thoroughbred Will, hurt his foot and needed to stay alone in the round pen for a few days.

So the paddock needed to be de-pooped and Will needed to be hand-walked to graze for a bit. We dumped his water tub and hauled out buckets of fresh water to re-fill it and then took care of getting Shooter, Tonka and Damien out of their field and fed.

Not very exciting. For you. For me--it was nirvana. If you're a horse person, the smell of hay and horse and even horse manure is the very scent of heaven. While Shooter munched his hay and tipped his feed bucket (goof) I pressed my face into his neck and inhaled. I could have stayed there forever. He was big and warm and so alive. The tension held inside my body melted away. Peace.

I was reminded of so many quotes about horses.

A horse is the projection of peoples' dreams about themselves - strong, powerful, beautiful - and it has the capability of giving us escape from our mundane existence.  ~Pam Brown

The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse's ears.  ~Arabian Proverb 

And Allah took a handful of southerly wind, blew His breath over it, and created the horse.... Thou shall fly without wings, and conquer without any sword.  Oh, horse.  ~Bedouin Legend

And then Shooter lifted his head and sneezed on me.

But it was still the best kind of therapy...

What brings you bliss?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Nanowrimo: National Novel Writing Month

"The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!"
~Robert Burns, 1785
It's ironic that the poem about destroyed plans is about a mouse. Because part of the reason my nanowrimo is a no-no is because of a mouse. Well...mice, specifically. 

My mother told me this last spring, when I mentioned I'd seen a mouse in my garage (which is attached to the house). "The thing about mice is...they breed."

She's right. We're overrun. Not only did that cute little mouse find her way into my house, she and her progeny have set up residence. They're turning up in interesting my daughter's bedroom, where uneaten Halloween candy resides spread out on her desk, under the stove, in the silverware drawer and even in the toy box where they leave their dark bits of evidence behind. I've found a mouse in my recycle bin, in the dog's food bin (it had fallen in and spent the night there, probably trying to eat it's way out), and even, in my three-year-old's shoe.

That poor little mouse met with an unfortunate end; the dogs knew he was in the place by the door where we put our shoes when we come in from outside, and they pursued the tiny creature relentlessly until the hound caught him. The terrier took it from there; only after a struggle was I able to wrest the minute carcass away. 

The thing is...I don't like to kill anything. Even spiders, one of the oogiest creepy-crawlies on earth, are caught and placed outside. So I purchased some live catch mouse traps, baited them with peanut butter as per the instructions and placed them around the house. 

So far, I've caught five mice; two of them in the same trap at the same time. Once captured, they must be released--and that means taking them someplace where they won't come back. Which involves driving. Of course, being the softie I am, I take them someplace where they can find shelter and hopefully food--like by the barn where my daughter rides--to continue their mousie lives in relative mouse prosperity. Unless, of course, they're eaten by coyotes.

Anyhow, all this mouse catching has distracted me from my Nano. I've managed to write seven pages. Woo-hoo! Titled, Your Wish is My Command, it tells the story of a museum curator who finds a genie in a bottle while going through the unused inventory. Or it would, if I'd ever get her off the ladder and into the box where the bottle is...

Since it's possible no one will ever read this story, I might as well share the first page with you:

Only Dara's life could come to an end with a memo. And she only had a month to save it.
    "Due to the recent economic downturn as well as the loss of donations and, more importantly, the downturn in family and group memberships, the Board has decided that the Heffenpuffer Museum will close its doors, effective the last day of  February of this year."
    She clutched the memo until her fingers cramped. Close? The museum was going to close? "But…what about the exhibits? The artwork? The fossils? The Native American crafts?" A horrific thought struck her. "What about the mummy? He'll deteriorate if he's not kept in the correct climate. What's going to happen to Hachepcet?"
    "Forget him. He's already dead. What about us?" said Francie, her friend and gift shop manager extraordinaire.
    "What about us?" Dara looked up from the memo.
    "We'll be out of a job. That's what." Francie flung a bat puppet onto the display rack; it fell to the floor. She looked at it but didn't pick it up.
    Dara had never seen Francie not care about the placement of merchandise. The reality of the situation slowly occurred to her. "But where I am going to go? I love this museum."
    "I love my paycheck. Whoopedy-doo." Francie spun her index finger in the air.
    "But…but this museum…it's…it's…" Home. She'd grown up here among the exhibits. Daddy had been curator then, and so proud of each of the museum's items. He'd inspired her love of all things historical and beautiful and she, in turn, had committed her life to them. Each item in the museum's catalogue was a friend to her. Family,even. But now…
    "I have no where to go."

Poor Dara. She's sort of like my mice, come to think of it. About to be displaced. If I ever finish her story. 

I plan to...unless something else goes aft agley. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Reality vs. fantasy

I wonder if people--readers, specifically--think that romance and erotica writers live charmed lives of love and awesome sex? (Maybe wearing a feather boa and sexy clear acrylic platform mules.)

The answer?


Most romance and erotica writers have the exact opposite existence. Instead, we're trapped in our imaginations, pushing away the real people with whom we might be having fantastic, loving sex to watch those with whom we never could.

Picture this: woman, in wrinkled sweats (or jammies). There's a stain of indeterminate origin on her shirt. Her hair is a nest of tangles. Her eyes are red. She smells like coffee--possibly worse. She barely speaks when spoken to, but responds in grunts or distracted mm'hms because she's not listening to the voices in the real world. She's listening to the voices in her head, and watching a movie of her own making. Her fingers are itching to write it down. She wishes her loved ones would go away and let her work.

No one, not even her husband, wants to have sex with her.

And to be honest, she's not interested, anyway. She'd rather be a voyeur, a transcriber. A writer.

I think writers prefer our imaginary lives to our real ones because we can control them. True, it often feels as though our characters are going off on their own journeys, dragging us along for the ride. But the writer knows that, in the end, there will be a happily ever after and everyone will have a fantastic time.

So much better than real life, with its messiness, its arguments, its awkward moments. Think about it. Romance heroes never have belly button lint. Or worse, clip their bed. (Ack!) Or even worse than that--fart in bed. (And if they did pass gas, they certainly wouldn't hold the heroine's head under the covers until she screamed.)

Romance heroes rarely watch The Three Stooges.

Ah...the realities of living with a man.

Anyhow, we're in this for the same reason readers are--we just have a better view of the action.                                                        

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Waiting for cover...

I didn't want to start blogging and promoting until I got my cover for Naughty Can Be Nice, but...well. Bleh.

I received word that the publisher of two of my books, written by my alter-ego, has closed. I offered them to Breathless Press and, once I get the rights back (whenever that is), they will once again be available.

I won't promote those guys until...I get contracted for them. And covers.

Right now, I'm trying to figure out what path this blog will take. Is it for readers or for writers, or both? Any ideas? Anyone? Anyone? Buehler?

I'd really like your input. What do you want to read? What will make you come back for more? 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Coming Soon from Breathless Press!

Naughty Can Be Nice, a December 3, 2010 release.

...Santa hears all your wishes and makes them come true. Especially when they're naughty…because naughty can be nice.

Legal guardian Brenna O’Brien didn’t expect to become a single mom, especially of seven-year-old twins with troubles. What she needs is a good dose of sexual pleasure to swipe all her emotional burdens away.

Kris Kringle, Jr. doesn’t want to fill in for his dad. But when he meets a lovely lady at a Christmas party, he changes his mind; he wouldn’t mind filling her…stocking.

One wish is all it takes for the sexy Santa she met to appear in her living room, wearing nothing but his boots, his red velvet hat and a silver bow. Because at Christmas, all heartfelt wishes can come true.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Book Giveaway!

Author Carrie Pulkinen's book, Sweet Release, is coming out on Friday and she's giving away a free copy!

All you need to do is click on the link and comment on Carrie's blog: Sweet Release's sweet release

Ain't that a purty cover?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


...there's never too much conflict in a story.

Last night, I figured out what my hero has to do to solve his problem. My problem is--will it be so much of a sacrifice for him? Or is it something he'd be happy to do anyway?

Could the conflict be that the woman he's going to sacrifice for not want him to sacrifice himself? Or that she doesn't believe his sacrifice will make a difference? And how many times can I use the word sacrifice in one post, anyway?

Perhaps the conflict will come from the way he'll have to leave his family--literally--never to return. Can he do that? Will he do that? His entire existence will not only change, it will end. In might he. Maybe. I'm not sure.

Rats. It's hard to play God.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Muse has paid a visit!


I'm happy to report that I wrote seven pages (that's almost two thousand words) of a novella this weekend.

It's a Christmas story and it probably won't make it to the publisher in time, but...well, if that's the case, I'll just post it somewhere. Like, here. The title is, Naughty Can Be Nice. ( you suppose it might be a tad erotic?)

Dear Muse, thank you for the visit. I've missed you so much! You're always welcome to pay a call to this writer's domain. 

Speaking of domains, I've been trying to figure out how to get my webpage up and running again. It's been quite a while since I've thought HTML-ishly and quite frankly, I blocked a lot of it out. So if anyone has any ideas/tips/sites/information, please--send it my way. I'm lost!

On that note--I've got another 3K (at least) to get through to finish the story. Just as a teaser (heh), here's a little bit of it.:

“You’re not real! I hate you!” The tiny girl screeched, hauled back her foot and let Kris have it—right in the leg--before dashing off into the children’s hospital Christmas party crowd.
“Oh, that is so not nice.” Kris bent to grab his knee and looked around for the parent of the pint-sized perpetrator. No one appeared ready to claim the kid, and he couldn’t blame them. If that were his child, he’d deny it, too.
They were probably hiding from the brat. And she was a brat. He knew it. His Santa-Spidey senses weren’t just tingling, they were screeching. Naughty! Naughty! Because he damn well was real.

Gee...that doesn't sound very erotic, does it? Ho, ho,'ll have to wait until Christmas to unwrap this gift. :)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Food Fairy Came!

This post is intended mainly for any readers I have who are (God, I hate this term) homemakers. The rest of you can roll your eyes and go read something more interesting. Like...the weather.

For the trapped-at-home moms out there: The Food Fairy arrived! And she looked like a member of ZZ Top with a lip ring.

I don't know why I haven't taken advantage of this before now. Stop&Shop has this wonderful service called Pea Pod, and for a delivery fee of $6.95 (minus $1.00 because I scheduled my delivery for a "special" time where you receive a dollar off), they did my shopping, put the food into bags, loaded them on the truck and actually carried them into my house!

In my glee, I overtipped ZZ, but you know what? He saved me from listening to the incessant pleading of a three-year-old to buy gum, or candy, or ice cream or any product featuring one of his favorite (at that second) character (damn you marketeers of corporate America!). Plus, because I created my list on my computer during a (relatively) quiet moment, I could think about what I was doing and work from an organized list. AND--I could add to it later, when I realized we were out of milk. (Again. Honestly, it would be cheaper to buy a dairy cow and leave her in the back yard. Plus, she could mow the grass for us. But I digress.) Items were on sale, just as they were at my local store, and--if I were the type of person organized enough to do so--I could have used coupons for even larger savings. If they were out of an item on my list, I could elect to have them substitute a similar product, or not.

I suppose the only downside to this is, if I purchase produce, I don't have the opportunity to inspect each and every piece. However, as we've spent the past year shopping at a market which insists upon shrink wrapping produce together into a styrofoam tray, this is not such a bad thing. I've gotten used to cutting out bruises and bad spots.

Truly, Pea Pod is a wonderful, time saving and ultimately (because the tendency to impulse buy is reduced) a money saving thing. I love the Food Fairy, even if she does look like ZZ Top and I'm going to summon her to my home again!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Point of View. Again.

I'm editing yet another manuscript where the author's point of view hops all over the place and I'm perplexed. Why is this happening?

Is there any way I can help writers understand this concept or learn this technique? What do you need to know? What don't you understand?

Because I'm getting cranky, people. Really, really cranky. To the point where, if I see even a shade of headhopping, I'm going to start rejecting manuscripts without a second thought. I don't want to do that, though. I'd really rather see if I can teach what needs to be taught and help writers--especially new writers--get published. I'm tired of trying to teach and edit at the same time. It's distracting me from the other things, like plot holes and grammar mistakes.

My attitude is becoming; "if you think you're advanced enough to be published, you'd better have a good understanding of point of view. Your homework should be done. You should be well-learned in your craft already. If you're not, go back to work until you get it. I'm here to edit your manuscript, not do a seminar for you." Grrr. (I should change back to Lighthearted Writer, Darkhearted Editor. Seriously. Grumble.)

But I don't like that attitude. I'm a teacher at heart and I want to help. Please, my few but wonderful readers, send your writer friends here and tell them to leave their questions about point of view in the comments, or send them to if they find they can't access the comment feature. Tell them all questions are good questions (as long as they pertain to the subject, of course). Tell me: What don't you understand? What do you need to know? Why don't you understand why you can't see one scene in multiple points of view?

The thing is, I remember being a new writer and joining a critique group.When they told me I needed to learn point of view, I went to the library (this was in the days before Google) and looked for books about it. I found one. And it didn't help. Instead, my patient crit partners taught me point of view.

It's a strange thing, really. It's so difficult to understand until that lightbulb moment, yet so simple once you get it. So--how can I help you turn on your lightbulb?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

W.I.P.: First chapter, The Girl and the Goombah

 Chapter One

            "What is this?" Francesca Albasiano's father wrinkled his nose at the pizza she held.
            "It's pizza, Pop. Pesto pizza."  Chesca kept her voice light, despite her feelings to the contrary.  Her Nonni, hiding in the kitchen doorway out of his sight, made the thumbs up sign.
            "Pesto?  Annnng.  You're the pest. That's what."  He shook his head.  "This is Al's Pizza and Sangwich, Chesca.  We make pizza.  The traditional way, with sauce and cheese and little bits of sassige. Our customers don't want any pest' on their appiz'."
            Nonni flapped her hands at her son in the universal sign of disgust and turned away, shuffling back into the kitchen.  She'd told Chesca he wouldn't bend, but Chesca had tried anyway.  How else would she ever get her father to add the mix of traditional and upscale Italian foods to his archaic and greasy menu, if she didn't get him to see it and taste it?
            "Just try it, Papa.  You'll see.  It's delicious!"  She tried again.
            Al leaned to pat her cheeks with his large flour-covered hands.  "Cara mia, when are you going to learn?  Our customers don't like that fru-fru food.  They want pizza.  My pizza.  That's what they've been coming here for, for nearly thirty years."  He gave her a pitying look.  "Why do you want to reinvent the wheel?  Go be like your sister.  Find yourself a nice doctor.  Get married.  Have babies."  He spun her around and gave her a pat on the behind, pushing her along to the kitchen  like a chastised child and not the thirty-year-old woman she was. 
            She spun back to face him.  "Papa!  Look around you!"  She gestured at the dark paneling, the old formica tabletops and booths with the duct-taped red vinyl seats.  Most of them were unpopulated by patrons--except the regulars, old men who shuffled down in the mid-afternoons to play Keno and flirt with Nonni.  "There's no one here!  No one's eating!"
            Papa shook his head.  "Cara.  This is a neighborhood shop.  When the kids get out of school, when the parents get home too tired to cook, then we will have customers.  But for now…" He shooed her away.
            "Right."  Chesca nodded.  Pointless.  Completely, totally pointless. Trying to convince her father that it was time to upgrade was like trying to turn the grass blue and the sky green.
Chesca walked over to Tony and Max--the keno players--and dropped the pizza on the table between them.  "Here," she said.  "On the house."
            Tony frowned at it.  "What's that?"
            "Pizza," she told him.
            "That don' look like no abbiz I ever seen."  He poked it with a bony finger.
"It looks like it’s got mold on it.  Don't it, Max?"
            "Mold!"  Max agreed.  "Al!  What's this?  You servin' your customers moldy pizza, now?"
            Enough was enough.  Chesca knew when to retreat.  She held up her hand so she didn't have to see her father's knowing, "I told you so" gaze, and strode out of the shop.
            Out on the sidewalk, her desire to update Al's grew instead of lessening. Her grandfather had opened the pizza parlor years ago when their Silver Lake neighborhood was all-Italian. It had changed since then. Now it was a neighborhood of many ethnicities and tastes, and though Al's made enough to stay open, Chesca knew it wouldn't be long before it would have to close its doors. Papa was still coping with the Mom's death two years before; losing Al's would be a fatal blow for him.
            But if she could get him to change the menu, she would be able to entice a different clientele to the restaurant. Eventually, she hoped, she'd create a catering menu, and from there--well, that would be enough, to start. For the family, for him, and especially, for herself.
            She started up the hill towards the house she shared with Nonni. If only her father wasn't so entrenched in his ways; it was like his world began and ended in the '50's, in the pizza shop his father had begun. "Married." She muttered. "Like that's all I'm good for." She had a Bachelors in culinary arts. And an MBA. And all her father wanted her to do was get married.
For some reason, he seemed to forget that she’d done the “find a nice boy” routine and it hadn’t worked. Nice boys, especially ones who were doctors, didn’t grow on trees.
            Chesca frowned. She'd come home at Nonni's urging, to help out. But her father didn't seem to realize that his youngest daughter's successful track record as a restaurant manager and executive chef meant she could do more than wash trays and wait tables.
            Especially tables that were hardly ever filled.
            A shout and braying laughter behind her made her turn around to look. There, at the bottom of the hill, a man on a delivery-style bicycle strained to push his unwieldy conveyance up the steep slope, pedal by pedal. A group of teenagers clustered around him in a vicious circle, laughing and jabbing at him. Chesca's blood rose--the man cursed at the kids, but didn't strike out at them. He couldn't, because stopping the bike's momentum up the hill meant it would start rolling backwards down toward busy Pocassett Avenue and certain annihilation.
            First it was her father, rejecting her attempts to make things better for him, and now these rotten kids had to pick on an innocent schlep trying to make a living by biking groceries around to the neighborhood's elderly population.
            Her blood boiled at the injustice of it all.
Chesca ran down to where the kids clustered around the guy on the bike, and put her hands on her hips.  "Hey! Leave him alone!"
The boys turned their attention to her.  She gathered herself to her full height.  Okay, so five-foot-nothing wasn't so impressive, but she knew height didn't matter.  What counted was the attitude you projected.  That's what her brother, the cop, had told her when he'd taught her self-defense maneuvers.  Good thing, too, she realized.  The boys looked like a pack of feral dogs as they moved to surround her.
            "Hey, lady, mind your business!" One of the teens snarled.
            "I am minding my business, you little creep," Chesca growled up at him. "And you should be ashamed of yourself." She shook her index finger up at him; he grasped it in his sweaty grip. 
            "Let go of my finger, twerp," she said.
            "Make me," he answered.

            Oh, great.  Connolly Dooley couldn't believe this was happening to him.  It was bad enough he had to pull an undercover assignment as a bicycle delivery boy in hill-central USA.  And it was worse he couldn't blow his cover by hauling off and laying some serious moves on the brats trying to steal the wretched delivery bike. It had taken weeks to get into the market--a storefront for some major Rhode Island wise guys--by claiming to be connected to a made-guy- by-marriage, a cousin two or three times removed.  And secretly cooperating with the Feds to get out of jail time.
But now, all Con’s work was going to go to crap, because of this teeny, tiny woman in tennis shoes and .denim shorts. He turned the bike’s front wheel to the curb in the hopes it wouldn't rocket down the hill into the main road and cause an accident. 
            One of the punks grabbed at the handles as soon as he let it go.  "Hey, kid, cut the crap," he muttered, and reached out to tag the brat.  But the little creep let go of the bike and danced away, just out of reach.  Taunting him.
            I hate kids, Connolly thought, just before hearing a high-pitched scream behind him.  The woman!  He turned and was startled to see her twisting the big kid's arm up and around his back in superb style; when she kicked out and swiped his legs out from under him in one neat swoop, he nearly broke out into a cheer.
            But the little punk behind him took the opportunity to punch him in the side. "Bastard," Connelly gasped and went for him.
            After that, everything went crazy.  Kids jumped him; the bike went flying down the hill as predicted, the lid opening on the grocery box.  When it reached the bottom of the hill, the bike tipped--apples, oranges and fresh Roma tomatoes scattered in all directions on the busy main street. Connolly felt hard knuckles make contact with the side of his face  and  heard the woman shrieking, in pain or fear he couldn't tell. He struggled to make his way through the crowd of kids to get to her side, but as they moved out of the way he realized she was yelling with exhilaration.  And with good reason.
            The little woman whirled like a dervish, punching and kicking with vigor.  Whoever she was, Connolly thought, she had some great moves.  She wasn't a cop--he knew that instinctively--but she'd been trained by one. 
            One by one, the kids scattered and he was able to get closer to her.  "Hey," he said, "Thank--"
But then her shoe made contact with his face and he made contact with the ground.
            I feel like I've been hit by a truck.
            He knew this because he actually had been hit by a truck on his last assignment.
            That had sucked. But not as much as having to ride the delivery bike.
            God, he hated bikes.
            Con stared up at the sky.
            Didn't the gombahs at Rocco's Market know about motorcycles?
            How about a freakin' delivery truck? Con had been hit by a truck, for fuck’s sake, and he still liked them a hundred times more than bikes. But no. The goombahs thought those methods of transport used too much gas, required too much maintenance...and it was more old country  to use a delivery bike.
            It was old country to keep chickens and goats in your yard, too --but Rocco didn't want that much of Italy. Just the quaint, fucking bicycle part. He said it was good for the earth. It was green.
            Fucking green my bonny Irish ass, Con thought.      
            The woman appeared, looming over him to block out his view of the sky. He liked the way the sun shone white on her long dark hair. Tendrils of it escaped from the braid she had tossed over shoulder, and tickled his cheek.
            As she reached out to touch him, he smelled the vanilla and sugary-sweet scent of her perfume. Nice. He inhaled deeply.
            "O-di!" She said. Her voice was scared and husky enough to tickle his ears. "Your eyes are open. Please tell me you're not dead."
            "I'm not dead," Con said, though he wished he was.
            But then, he wouldn't be enjoying the solicitations of this angel.                 
            "Thank God." She gently lifted his head and pillowed it on her lap.                                     Warm, Con thought, and he remembered the tanned, toned look of her thighs as she’d kicked at the bad guys trying to get her. He smiled.
            It hurt.
            "I've got my cell. I'm calling my brother," she told him.
            He nodded. Okay. Whatever. He lay still and observed the woman as she flipped open her pink phone.
            Wait a minute...who was her brother, and why was she trying to call him? Con frowned and pushed himself off her lap. If her brother was anybody connected, he needed to know. "Why call him? The punks are gone." Con blinked a few times, clearing the cobwebs from his head.
            Fast recovery, his instructor from The Academy had always said, will serve you in good stead. No crap, Con had always thought in reply.
            "Vito's a cop," the woman said.
            Crap! If her brother started snooping, his cover might be blown. He reached out quickly to lift the phone from the woman's hand. "No, really. You don't have to bother him."
            "It's not a bother. But if you don't want to catch the punks who did this to you..." she shrugged. "Give me back my phone."
            He handed it to her. "Thanks for your help. You were very brave."
            "I was mad." She stood up and held out her hand to help him up. He let her; her hands were small on his arm, but felt strong.
            "Remind me not to get you mad at me."
            "All right." She looked up at him and smiled. Her teeth were white and straight, her eyes were dark brown--almost black--and they twinkled up at him. "Don't make me get mad at you."
            Damn, Con thought. She's gorgeous. He tugged his arm out of her grasp. "Sure thing." He turned to move away from her.  He was deep undercover and didn't need any hot little distractions. He was risking his life to catch the bad guys. That was enough.
            She followed behind him, down to where the bike lay on its side. Connelly surveyed the damage. About thirty-five dollars' worth of fruits and vegetables were scattered all over the road; that was going to be taken from his paycheck by Angelo Roccotelli, the owner of the grocery store. He'd have to act suitably angry—thirty-five bucks would be a lot of money if he really was a delivery boy.
            "Son ova’ whore." He practiced.                                           
            "What a mess." The woman agreed.
            "I'll have to go refill the order and deliver it in double-time." Con righted the bike and straddled it, feeling defenseless and stupid with his crown jewels so dangerously close to the center bar.
            I should wear a cup.
            The woman touched his arm. His heart bumped.
“You sure you’re all right?” She asked.
"Couldn’t be better." Bullshit. He needed to get away from her. She was just too pretty, and he'd been too long without the company of a woman. Especially one whose eyes sparkled like diamond-studded onyx, one who smelled of sugared vanilla and fought like a blackbelt. "Thanks for your help. You pack a mean kick."
            She shrugged. "No problem. Look out for those kids, okay?"
            "Sure thing." He waved, and began pushing the pedals, hurrying back to Rocco's Fruit and Deli before he got fired; if he did, would take the Bureau another six months to get a different undercover agent to take his place. And, they'd give him an even worse assignment...probably in a drug lord's bicycle shop. As if risking his life, thwarting daily discovery wasn't enough.     
            He had all the luck.
            "Chesca met a man, today!" Nonni announced as she placed a platter of Osso Bucco on the table.
            "Who?" Vito grunted.
            "What?" Her sister, Lisa, asked.
            "Where?" Papa glowered.
            Why? Chesca wanted to scream. Why did Nonni have to make her love life--or lack of one--the topic of dinner table conversation? She fixed Nonni with a stare, but the old lady flicked her mopeen over her shoulder and sat down as demurely as a lady and not the rabble-rousing troublemaker she was. "Pass the meat," she commanded.
            Food began to be passed and plates heaped, but that didn't stop Chesca's family.
            "So, who's this guy? Anybody I know?" Vito forked a generous portion onto his plate.
            "Forget that. What does he do?" Lisa pushed her food around, making it look like she'd eaten something.
            "When are we going to meet him?" Papa asked.
            Chesca frowned. "He's nobody. I mean, he's somebody, but I don't know his name."
            "How can you be seeing a guy if you don't know his name?" Lisa said.
            "I'm not seeing him!" Chesca answered.
            "That's not what I'm hearing," Vito said.
            "Nonni doesn't even know what she's talking about!"
            "I do, too.  Just because I'm old doesn't mean I'm over the hills," Nonni protested.
            Case in point, Chesca thought. She spooned a lamb shank onto her plate and began eating. It tasted perfect. Of course. Nonni drove her crazy, but there was no denying it; the woman was an excellent cook.  Even with all her education and experience, Chesca doubted she'd ever have the same skill at the stove.
            "I saw them, out the window. Chesca had his head on her lap."
            "What?" Papa's eyes widened.
            "Really?" Lisa dropped her fork.
            Vito said nothing--he just glared.
            She hurried to explain. It was nothing--she'd only been helping him save his bike. What she didn't discuss was the way the color of his eyes reminded her of fresh basil.  Or the way he'd cocked one of his heavy, dark brows at her. Or how he'd come to her defense when he'd heard her yell...
            "He's a delivery boy?" Lisa made a face. "He really is a nobody."
            Chesca felt a flush of anger rush over her scalp and crawl over her body until it coiled in her stomach. "He's not a nobody!"
            "You just said he was," Vito reminded her.
            "I did not!" Chesca wanted to clonk her brother over the head with her half-eaten lamb shank, but she stopped herself. For one thing, hitting someone with food this good was like using The Mona Lisa as a weapon. For another, he wouldn't understand why she'd hit him anyway. In his Neanderthal-like mind, he was protecting his little sister from a potential pervert. So she settled for a glare.
            He didn't get that, either.
            "Whut?" He mumbled around a mouthful of food.
            "You find yourself a nice doctor like Lisa," Papa chided. "He'll take care of you, let you stay home with your children."
            "And keep your house clean," Nonni added.
            Chesca bit the inside of her lip. She never should have left her job—her career!—to come home. She'd thought Papa needed her. But no, the whole thing felt like a ruse, a setup. Her family had shackled her neatly within their fold and now there was nothing to do but succumb, a lamb for the slaughter. They just wanted to marry her off just like they were doing with Lisa, who was content with her fate.
            Thank God, she’d never have to see the delivery boy—guy—again.