Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Watch Me Write a Book in a Week, episode 5


Today is my husband's birthday which means I was picking up his gift, making his cake, etc. He came home early and we went on a bike ride. All totally worth it. I only got about 1500 words down, but 1500 words is better than no words.
Happy Birthday to the love of my life.


Tessa waved at red velvet @chair, encouraging him to sit. Steven folded into it and tried to find a comfortable position. The chair was more about appearances than comfort. The same could be said about Tessa’s store and clothes.
Tessa perched on the gilded coffee table before him, crossed her knees and folded her hands in her lap. “I know who your dream woman is.”
“I don’t have—” he began.
“I know you don’t think you need a woman in your life.” She shook her finger in his face. “Believe me, I know your type. In fact, I’ve had this same argument with your dream woman countless time.”
“Excuse me, but there is no—”
“Oh, there absolutely is. You two are perfect for each other. Pig-headed, thinking you’re better off on your own, blah, blah, boring, boring, boring.”
Steven sat back, stunned. He tried to recall the last time he’d seen Lisa angry. She’d been twelve, too old for dolls, and yet, not, because she’d been lugging around a Chatty Kathy doll for most of her life (up until that point.) He and Mitch had dressed Kathy up in camoflouge and had used her as B.B. gun practice. Even thought Kathy hadn’t been hurt (neither he or Mitch had been very good shots) Tessa had been furious.
Aunt Maureen had made him and Mitch clean out the horse stables for a month. Which even know seemed like an unreasonable punishment.
“—you two each other!” Tessa was still talking about this dream woman he didn’t know and had no intention of meeting. “You kissed her at the Mardi Gras party.”
He rocked back and a different sort of memory coursed through him. One that had nothing to do with Chatty Kathy dolls and BB guns and everything to do with a burning kiss.
“Aw,” Tessa said with a smile. “I see I have your attention.”
He shook himself. I’m not interested in women…he told himself. The burning in his belly told a different story. “Who?”
Tessa’s smile darkened and a knowing glint filled her eyes. “I told you. I have a proposition.”
He studied her. He had known her all his life and he had never seen this side of her. Of course he knew she had to be a cunning business woman to successfully create and market her own clothing line. Standing, he started to pace. A part of him told him to settle down, act calm, bored, even…He shoved his hands in his pockets and tried to sound casual. “So, I kissed a woman at a party. It wasn’t a big deal. I don’t even know her name.”
“And I do.” Tessa studied her nails as if they could tell her a story. She glanced up. “Do you want to know who she is?”
“Sure, but it really—”
She cut him off. “I know. You’re not interested in a relationship. But you do want to see her again, right?”
He sucked in a deep breath. “Sure,” he repeated.
“Good. Because I want you to come to a dinner as my date.”
“Your date?”
She nodded. “And I want you to act like you’re crazy about me.”
“I am crazy about you. You’re my cousin.”
“But no one needs to know that.”
“Why not?”
“Just go along with me, okay?”
“Why are we doing this?”
“I have my reasons. You’ll understand in a few weeks.”
“That sounds oddly specific. What’s in a few weeks?”
She shrugged and tried to match his nonchalance. “Things will…come to light soon.” Standing, she took his arm and steered him toward the door.
“Wait.” He balked. “You were going to tell me the name of the mystery woman.”
“And I will, but first you have to be my date to the dinner. She’ll be there. I’ll introduce you—as my date.”
“Then she’ll think I’m not available.”
“What does it matter,” she said with a grin, “you said you weren’t interested.”
Steven went home with a strange and uncomfortable mixture of longing and curiosity burning in his belly.
THE DINNER
“Hey, Mom! Dad!” Maggie called out after she let herself into her parents’ bungalow. Their car had been in the driveway, so she knew they were home. Silence answered.
Maggie crossed through the tiny spotless living room and the kitchen where the smell of freshly baked cookies hung in the air. On the counters, cookies cooled on racks. Maggie knew better than to eat one without first getting permission. Chances were, the cookies were ear-marked for a fundraiser or an ailing neighbor. One of the earliest life lessons she’d had drilled into her was cookies are collateral—tickets into people’s good graces and tokens of friendship. A tool. Often used for manipulation. And they worked.
But they’d lost their appeal to Maggie.
After Peter’s death, Maggie dropped thirty pounds. It wasn’t something she’d consciously thought about. She hadn’t joined a gym or sworn off carbs. Just one day, she found her clothes floated around her. Even her shoes had grown too big. It was as if Peter had taken half of her, not only metaphorically, but also physically. He’d left her with only a shadow of who she’d once been.
Now, all these years later, she wasn’t quite sure who she was anymore, but her parents were good reminders.
“Mom?” Pushing through the backdoor, Maggie found herself in her parent’s postage-sized backyard. She spotted her mom hunkered down in the vegetable garden pulling weeds.
Mom stood and righted the straw hat on her head. Her smile grew when she saw Maggie. “Pumpkin!”
“Hey, Mom. I brought you those things we talked about the other day.” Maggie settled into wicker chair and set the pharmacy bag on her lap.
“Orange wood oil?” A questioning scowl darkened Mom’s expression.
“I thought you could use it instead of the WD40. It’ll smell better. I also brought you something to help you sleep so that even if Dad does get up, he won’t disturb.”
Mom twisted her lips. “You know I don’t like taking medicine.”
“But you do like sleeping through the night, right?”
Mom pushed back her hat, wiped the sweat off her forehead, and crossed the lawn in Mother-May-I large steps.
“Want me to get you something to drink?” Maggie asked.
“No, I’ll get it. I want you try this new tea I made and tell me what you think.” Mom dropped her trowel on picnic table and headed up the steps to the backdoor.
Maggie gazed around the yard with admiration. How many eighty-year-olds grew their own food in a garden they planted and tended themselves? And her parents didn’t just grow the regular but boring vegetables. They had several different varieties of tomatoes, beans, beets, carrots, and peas, plus the staples of corn, cabbage, and watermelon. Maggie both admired and pitied her parents. She marveled at their self-reliance, but she pitied their joyless work ethics.
Their family, as far as she knew, had never taken a vacation. Until they’d allowed her to take over the bakery, her parents had worked there six days a week, fourteen hours a day. Apprehension tickled in her mind. She couldn’t lose the bakery her parents had worked so hard to create. She wouldn’t let that Steven Fox destroy her parents’ business!
The Foxes Den was just a flash in the pan! That fitness shop was just all the other countless small startups that she’d seen come and go in Rancho Allegro while Maggie’s Muffin Stop had been in business since the year she was born. Her parents liked to brag about how they opened the bakery when her mom had Maggie’s buns in the oven.
“Something wrong, sweetie?” Mom, bearing a tray with two cups of tea, reappeared.
Maggie wrinkled her nose. “Just thinking. What do you think of all this gluten-free this and dairy-free that?”
Mom placed the tray on the wicker table in front of them, picked up the two tea cups and handed one to Maggie. “Food fads come and go.”
“I know, right? While flour, sugar, and butter have been staples for centuries.”
Mom settled into the chair beside her and stretched out her legs. “But that doesn’t mean they’ve been doing us any good.”
Maggie, who had been about to sip her tea, froze. “What are you saying?”
Mom took a swallow before answering. “According to Dr. Jake, we need to be adaptable.”
Mom had recently discovered podcasts and Dr. Jake’s pop-psychology was one of her new favorites.
“But Mom, butter and flour—”
“You have to be willing to change because life likes to throw curve balls.”
This sounded suspiciously not like her mom. “Even the Bible tells us for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”
“Well, I hope butter and sugar will always be in season.”
Mom patted her knee. “Me, too. What do you think of the tea?”
Maggie took a sip and let it linger on her tongue. She liked the fruity sweetness mixed with something tangy and told her mom so. “What is it?”
Mom winked. “It’s a secret. For now. I’ll let you in on it if I decide to take things any further.”
What things? Further where?
“Tell me, is Robbie seeing anyone?”
“Not that I know of.”
Mom sighed. “That boy! It’s not too late, you know! He could still have children.”





Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Watch Me Write a Book in a Week, Episode 4


I didn't get as many words in as I would have liked, but I did get this cover that I love. What do you think?
You can read previous episodes here:
ONE
TWO
THREE

TODAY'S WORDS...

The lunch crowd was especially slow that day. As had been yesterday. It couldn’t be because of The Fox Den, could it? Maggie peeked outside at the line forming near the end of the street. Because Steven Fox’s shop was around the corner, she couldn’t actually see the what was happening down there, unless she left the bakery…She had run out of shampoo that morning. Her plan had been to pick some up on her way home, but she could run to the drug store now…
Maybe she should pick something up for mom and dad. They were always needing a prescription filled. The thought warmed her and she pulled out her phone.
Mom picked up on the first ring and Maggie explained why she’d called.
“That’s so sweet of you, baby, but we just got our prescriptions filled yesterday.”
“Are you sure?” Maggie worried at a hangnail.
“Well, we could use some WD40. The bathroom door squeaks something terrible and with your dad getting up several times a night—”
Maggie stopped listening because she didn’t want to go to the hardware store which out near the interstate, she needed to go to the pharmacy which was around the corner directly opposite the Fox’s Den.
“Isn’t there something you can get to help Dad sleep through the night? Advil p.m. or something?”
“Goodness. I’m not sure I want him sleeping through a full bladder,” Mom said.
“No, I suppose not.”
Mom began to talk about Rob. It had always concerned her and Dad that Rob had never married. Never had the time. They’d thought that after med school maybe he’d devote some effort, but residency had followed med school, and then he’d gone and gotten that Ph.d, which had just been over the top, and now that he was head of @ he should have more time, but of course, we all make time for what we really want, and did Maggie think Rob’s single-hood could be blamed on bad parenting?
Maggie made reassuring noises. She and Mom had had this conversation many times before.
Now that Maggie had pulled off the hangnail, she needed a band-aid. She wandered over to the employee restroom and pulled the first-aid kit off the top shelf. A fine layer of dust lay over the top and a spider had spun a web around the handle. Goodness. She hadn’t realized the kit was so old. All of these things would need to be restocked. The Band-Aids had probably even lost their stickiness. What good would a Band-Aid without stickiness do? She ripped open one of the band-aids and found it worked just fine.
But still. The Aspirin must have expired. She checked the date. Nope. Still good. But according to who? She had better get some fresh Aspirin, just to be safe.
“Mom, I gotta go,” Maggie said.
“You’ll pick up the WD40?”
“Do you think they’ll have it at the pharmacy?”
“I wouldn’t think so…” Mom paused. “I’ll send your dad. It’ll get him out of the house for a bit.”
Maggie ended the call, traded her apron for her purse on the hook on the back wall and said goodbye to Camille before heading out. It felt good to be outside in the sunlight.
@DESCRIBE RANCHO ALLEGRO. She waved hello to Patsy who owned the hair salon with her barber husband, Stan, and Mrs. Felix who worked in the Second Time Around antique store. The Fox’s Den had a small cluster of people gathered around its entrance. Maggie tried not to stare or be offended when she spotted a couple of her friends from the community choir inside the shop.
It didn’t take her long to pick up the shampoo and aspirin. On a whim, she bought a sleep aid for her dad. She looked around for WD40, but after not finding it, she grabbed some orange oil from the cleaning supply section. It could work the same and would most certainly smell better.
She stopped short when she spotted Steven Fox in the pet aisle. Remembering how he’d snubbed her the day before, she lifted her chin and averted her eyes as she passed him.
“Aren’t you the woman who owns the bakery?” Steven Fox asked.
She started as if she hadn’t seen him. “Yes. Maggie LAST NAME@”
He smiled, his skin crinkling around his eyes. “Steven Fox.” His voice was deeper than Maggie had remembered. Of course, the only time she’d ever heard him speak was that awful night when they’d both pleaded their cases before the Chamber of Commerce…and Steven Fox had won.
“I remember,” Maggie said.
“I hope your worries have been unnecessary,” Steven said.
“Oh, yes.” She gave a false laugh. “Business is good. And you?”
Steven glanced out the window at the crowd clustered around his shop. “At this rate, I may need to hire another assistant.” He waited for her to reply, but since she couldn’t think of a response an awkward silence fell between them. After a moment, he said, “Have you ever considered Goat Yoga?”
“Excuse me?” Maggie knew what those words meant, but she couldn’t fit them together in a sentence. It was like peanut butter and Worchester sauce in the same recipe—fine on their own, but incomprehensible when combined.
Steven Fox nodded at the sleep aid in her basket. “Yoga helps you relax and the goats are…well, you just have to try it to see what I mean.”
Goat yoga. “Yoga…where do the goats come in?”
“Well, actually, the goats are already there. You go to the where the goats are.”
“And the goats wander around while you do yoga?”
“You don’t do yoga, you practice yoga—”
“And the goats are also practicing yoga?”
“Not really, they’re just there, climbing over and under you.”
“Goodness.” Maggie let out a breath and it took her moment to realize why the tightness in her chest loosened just a smidge. She was relieved. Steven Fox was clearly a delusional man and delusional men couldn’t run successful businesses. At least not for very long. She heard that he’d been a high powered bond broker in New York before coming to Rancho Allegro. He must have had a mental break down along with that heart attack Tessa had told her about.
“Yoga, meditation, @ exercise,” he continued, “a healthy regimen will do wonders for your sleep.”
“I’m sleeping just fine.”
He glanced at the sleeping aid in her basket.
“Oh, this is for my dad. His restlessness is keeping my mom awake.” She didn’t need to tell him about her dad’s shrinking bladder, did she? She gave him a sunny smile. “I better get back to work and bet you need to do that, too.”
He looked disappointed that their conversation was coming to an end, but didn’t try to stop her.
Goat yoga!
#
Steven watched Maggie go. There was something familiar about her. Of course, she was still angry about his opening the shop. He could hardly blame her. But she had to realize that her buttery and sugar loaded baked goods were clogging people’s arteries and playing havoc with their blood sugar! And it wasn’t his fault if those same people were wise enough to make the healthy choices he offered.
A saying his mother used to say came back to him as he watched Maggie’s attractive backside sashay down the street. Never trust a skinny cook.  Maggie wasn’t skinny, but she was curvy in all the right places and in all the right ways. Soft, supple.
He paid for Ailenie’s@ flee medicine and tried to put the cranky baker out of his head. Back outside, he inhaled the fresh coastal air. He already loved this town with its Spanish architecture, stately oaks, and vibrant bougainvillea. He’d bought an ocean-view home within walking distant of Main Street. It had been
1282
@MAKE STEVEN A FAMILY FRIEND, NOT REALLY A COUSIN
Tessa stopped him on the street. “Hey,” she said. “Mom told me about your girlfriend.” She winked.
He scratched his head. “Yeah, I feel terrible about lying to her. I just…I know that everything I tell your mom will go straight to mine and from there, it’s a short jump to @ Monica.”
Tessa cocked her head and stared up at him. “Why is it so important that Monica knows you have a girlfriend?”
Steven raked his fingers through his hair. Discussing his divorce or the accompanying emotional tailspin on the street was not on his to-do list.
Tessa must have read his hesitation, because she said, “We don’t have to talk about it here, if you don’t want to.”
“Thank you,” he said, pulling open the door of his shop. To his surprise, Tessa followed him inside.
“But I think you want to talk about it and maybe your office would be a good place.”
He chuckled and weaved through the patrons lining up in front of the cash register. “I don’t think so.”
Mike, one of the few employees that wasn’t still in school, shot him a glad you’re here glance.
“Oh, I know so,” Tessa said.
Steven went to the backroom to fetch a Fox’s Den apron. Tessa trailed after him. He loved Tessa like a sister. Given how close their two mothers were, she was as close to a sibling as he would ever have. Although, he and Mitch were the same age while Tessa was six years younger.
He stopped to study her smug expression. She was approaching forty-five, but her diminutive size made her appear much younger. Her thick brown hair was still dark and untarnished by gray. She’d gained some weight, he noticed, no longer as wiry as she’d once been. Should he introduce her to the Whole 30 diet?
No, women never appreciated introductions to diets. Not really.
“I’ve got work to do, Tessa,” Steven said.
She patted his arm. “Come by my shop after work. I have something you want.”
He really doubted that Tessa carried anything in her shop that would interest him. She had her own line of clothes and catered to the wealthy who refused to wear anything off the rack. Heaven forbid they should ever be caught wearing an outfit identical to anyone else! But a black t-shirt was still a black t-shirt—until Tessa put her signature @emblem on it. With the @, the cost of the one of a kind black t-shirt skyrocketed.
Steven remembered when Tessa had first told him her idea for making one of a kind clothes. She had just graduated with her MBA from NYU, Steven’s alma mader. @ She had emphasized in marketing, while Steven had specialized in finance. Proctor and Gamble had offered Tessa a position, but she was on the fence. In the end, she taken a different sort of gamble and started her own business. He’d joined the chorus of naysayers and shaken his head. Still, part of him was proud of her success. Undoubtedly, she would have made more money playing with the big boys, but Steven had learned the hard way that money didn’t always define success.
Now, clearly Tessa felt she held something over her head. He had no clue what it could be.
#
“You want me to go where?” Maggie asked Tessa.
“To a cooking class,” Tessa said again.
Maggie leaned against her mop. “Should I be offended?”
“No, silly! You’re a great cook, it’s just…well, it won’t hurt you to learn a few new tricks, right?”
Maggie grumbled and thought about her dwindling cliental.
“And would it be so bad if you offered sugar and gluten free desserts?”
Maggie shuddered. “Julia would turn over in her grave.” @IS JULIA CHILD DEAD? Maggie liked to trot out Julia Child quotes whenever she needed culinary back-up.
“This isn’t about Julia! It’s business.”
Maggie bit her lip and went back to mopping. “People have been baking with flour and sugar for centuries. This whole sugar and gluten-free nonsense is a passing craze. Remember when people thought bagels were a health food? Or how fasting was bad for you? And people are still arguing over the merits of caffeine, wine, and carbohydrates!” She let out a big sigh. “No one is ever going to convince me that a dough-not is the devil’s food.”
Tessa steepled her fingers and gaze at Maggie over the top of them. “Please come with me to the cooking class.”
“Why?”
“It’ll be fun…and enlightening. Besides, it’s the least you can do after I made you the butterfly costume.”
True. But Tessa had said it was a gift with no strings attached and yet her she was tugging on strings. Suspicion crawled up Maggie’s spine. “Will I be home by ten?”
Tessa rolled her eyes. “The class ends at nine, so if you want to be, you will.” Muttering, she added, “But maybe you won’t want to be.”
“You’re not trying to fix me up, are you?” Maggie carried her mop to the drain in the back and wrung it out with more force than needed.
“I know you loved Peter,” Tessa called out from her booth. “And you always will.”
Maggie nodded even though she knew Tessa couldn’t see her.
“And that you think most men over fifty are looking for a nurse or a purse,” Tessa continued.
After hanging the mop on its hook above the drain, Maggie headed back into the dining room. She glanced around the Muffin Stop, loving it. She and Peter had built it together. They had raised Emily in this place. Even though Maggie shared the bakery and her wares with dozens of customers a day, she still considered it an extension of her family’s home. “You forgot maid…I don’t want to clean anyone’s toilets.”
“But what if you found someone who had their own purse, didn’t need a nurse, and could clean their own toilets?”
“Are you talking about lesbian? Because you just described another woman.”
Tessa slammed her hand on the Formica@ table top. “Why are you so cynical?”
“I’m not…I’m just not interested in dating.” Her traitorous thoughts flashed to the man in the Zorro mask and his kiss. She leaned against the now empty display case and crossed her ankles in an attempt to look casual.
“Just say you’ll come,” Tessa persisted. “Rob will be there.”
“Robbie? My brother?” This startled her. “Why?”
Tessa shrugged and didn’t meet her eye. “The hospital is putting it on and inviting all of the head doctors. It’s a team building function.” Tessa plucked a straw from the dispenser on the table and shook it at Maggie. “You’re lucky I got you a spot.”
“Lucky?” Maggie echoed.
“I don’t get you,” Tessa turned whiney. “You love to cook. I thought you would be all over this.”
“Okay, I’ll go,” Maggie said. But only to try and figure out what you’re not telling me.
#
Steven pushed open the door of Tessa’s Threads. The smell of @EXPENSIVE PERFUME hit him and his stomach turned. Monica had worn this scent. He remembered the first time she’d bought. He was fresh from grad school and they were living in a tiny apartment on the Eastside. If he stood on his toes and looked from the corner window, he could catch a peek of Central Park. They’d signed the lease on that fact alone. It didn’t matter than Monica would need a stool to see the spot of green, or that most of their windows looked out on to the side of brick wall, the fact that they could say with a crumb of honesty that they had a peek-a-boo view of the park had sealed the deal.
This alone should have told him something about Monica. But he’d been deaf and blind to any and all Monica warnings in those heady days of first love. He was going to be stock brokerage genius. She was going buy and sell New York properties like they were bags of peanuts.
If you’re going to sell something, sell something pricey, Ned, Monica’s father, liked to say. Because it’s just as easy to sell pencils as it is yachts. Just another one of the many lies Monica’s family liked to tell.
Steven had nearly killed himself buying and selling stocks and bonds. So now he sold health and fitness gear and products. And he loved it. But, of course, in a way that was totally different from how he’d loved Monica.
Monica, like the stocks and bonds, had been a thrilling ride. Skyrocketing highs and crashing lows. An adrenaline rush followed by dark despair. His fitness shop provided a smooth and steady income. Tomorrow, he wouldn’t wake to find the cost of Traveler Boots had tripled, the profit margin on Cliff bars wasn’t going to double over night. He wasn’t going to make a million dollars over the weekend…or lose it.
He wasn’t ever going to gaze across the dinner table and see Monica again.
“Oh good,” Tessa breezed into the room, “I’m glad you’re here. I have a proposition for you.”

Monday, September 9, 2019

Watch Me Write a Novel in a Week, Episode three. First Chapter and More

As promised here are my words for today. Be forewarned. It's a hot mess. I never made it to 2k words in an hour, but I know it can be done because I've done it before. I wrote close to 5k, which was my goal. Maybe tonight I can stay up late and make it happen. But that is seriously against my nature. I'm much more likely to get up early and get it done. Some thoughts on my characters. A writing friend complained that all of my main characters are too nice and she challenged me to write a sympathetic but ornery character...I'm not sure I can pull it off. Who wants to hang with a cranky character? But as I got into Maggie's head, I started to enjoy it. But I'm curious what others will think.
You can read episode one and two here.


Robbie pulled at his bowtie. “I hate these things.”
“The tie or the gala?” Maggie asked. She straightened her brother’s tie and had a vivid flashback to the senior prom where she’d tired to smooth down Robbie’s cowlick. Balding had long since cured that problem.
“Both,” he growled. “All these pompous @.” He shuddered.
She thought about pointing out that with his generous salary, he was probably richer than most of the people in the room—not to mention in the world—but since she knew he hadn’t gone into medicine for the money, she pressed her lips together.
“I like your costume,” he said, his gaze flicking over her.
Maggie fluttered her wings. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Lisa made it.”
Robbie’s lips tightened and a closed expression like a hood passed over his face.
“Why don’t you like her?”
“I never said I don’t like her.”
“You clam up whenever she’s around.”
He shrugged. “It’s weird you’re friends, that’s all.”
“Why?”
“You’re nothing like each other. You’re you and she’s…she drives a Mercedes.”
“So?”
He shrugged again.
“A Mercedes isn’t a sin-mobile.”
He elbowed her. “Come on, I have to show my face.” As head of the @ department, he was right. He looped his arm through hers and led her through the parking lot. “Thanks for being my date tonight.”
They passed the valets milling around the Teslas and Land Cruises. Because Robbie didn’t believe in valets, they had marked in the neighborhood adjacent to the Rancho Allegro Country Club. The lights from the party flickered in the distance and a honky-tonk jazz band began to play.
“No problem. I love free food.”
He smirked and shook his head. “I don’t get you.”
“Yes, you do.” She slid him a glance. “If not you, then who?”
“You’re right. I do get you, but I just don’t understand how you can spend all day around food and never get tired of it.”
“Do you get tired of saving people?”
“No, but it’s different.”
“No, it’s not. You save people, I feed them. We’re in the same line of work.”
They passed the valets—young, lean men in button down white shirts and tight black pants—without looking at them. Their parents had taught them that trick—never make eye contact with someone who might expect a tip. Of course, since they hadn’t actually parked in the lot, they didn’t tip the handsome young men, but Maggie felt their questioning glances on her back as she followed Robbie up the stairs leading to the Country Club.
Originally, The Lodge, as locals called it, had been constructed as a hunting lodge back when Rancho Allegro had really been a ranch and coyotes and mountain lions were nearly as plentiful as the bunnies that currently terrorized gardeners. Strange how the gentlest of the creatures were the ones who actually survived urbanization, Maggie thought.
In the lobby, several people vied for Robbie’s all at once. Maggie, a baker without food, and therefore a nobody, wandered off to peruse the refreshment table, not necessarily because she was hungry, but because she liked looking a beautiful food displays.
She had to stop herself from whistling in admiration. The caterers, men and women dressed in black, moved like perfectly choreographed dancers around the room bearing trays that looked more like portable art than appetizers. Edible art, the phrase came to Maggie’s mind and rested there. Could she try and copy any of this in her bakery?
Her nose wrinkled at asparagus wrapped in a flakey crust and a piece of bacon. She would never understand the compulsion to ruin perfectly good baked goods by making them play nice with vegetables.
“What, no donuts?” Lisa, dressed as Florence Nightengale, appeared at her side. “They should have hired Maggie’s muffins.”
Maggie turned and gave her friend a hug. “Maybe next time.” Robbie was right, they were an unlikely pair. Tall and curvy Maggie dominated over pixie-like Lisa. Maggie was blonde like a German milking wench while Lisa was gyspy-dark.
“Really?” Lisa asked.
She nodded. “Robbie said he’d recommend me.”
Lisa smiled and said, “that’s great,” but her gaze darted around the room. Was she looking for Robbie? Or someone else? “The costume looks really good on you.”
“Thanks to you.”
Lisa flushed and straightened Maggie’s wings. “I love making beautiful things even more beautiful.”
The band, playing on a soundstage across the patio, began a @.
Lisa took Maggie’s hand. “Want to dance?”
“Sure, but first let me check my purse.”
Lisa winced when she saw Maggie’s old beat-up leather satchel. It matched the costume like @, but Maggie refused to be embarrassed. She loved her purse—she’d had it for nearly a decade. And yes, it looked like the poor country cousin among all the Dooney and Burkes and Kate Spades on the shelf, but she didn’t care.
#
Steven strolled into the country club and sought out his cousin. Because of her diminutive size, she was often easy to miss. Most of the guests were wearing masks, but Lisa had told him she’d be wearing a Florence Nightengale costume. He spotted her dancing with a tall, beautiful butterfly.
Because he was new to Rancho Allegro, he only knew a handful of the guests. His uncle, Lisa fathers, was the president of the St. @ASK JACKIE hospital chain and had insisted he attend. Even though Steven was probably now worth more than his Uncle Jack, it was still hard to deny Jack anything. The family still kowtowed to the rich uncle…even when there were, now, richer cousins.
As he crossed the patio, something crinkled beneath his shoe. Given the noise—the music, the chatter, the clattering cutlery—he almost missed it. What was it that people said about the sound of falling coins—everybody heard it because people heard what they wanted to hear?
A hundred-dollar bill. Steven stooped and picked it up. Someone must have dropped it.
He glanced around at all the bejeweled people in their fancy costumes. Only one man wasn’t in a costume—although he was wearing a bowtie. Did he think that was costume enough?
In most crowds, someone would be frantically searching for the lost bill, but here, no one seemed to notice. Still, it had to have been an accident. He held it and slowly turned, hoping someone would notice. Someone did. His cousin Mitch.
“I’ll take that.” Mitch moved to swipe it from his hand.

1056

Steven tightened his grip on the bill and shoved it into his pocket, away from his cousin’s greedy hand.
“Hey,” Mitch complained. “This is a fund raiser. I’m just trying to raise funds.”
Steven tried not to roll his eyes. “If I can’t find the owner, I’ll give this to someone who needs it.”
“The hospital needs it, you @.” He waved his wine goblet at the party. “That’s why we’re here.”
“This is a hundred dollar bill. It cost, what? Three-hundred dollars to get in?”
Mitch scowled.
“I’m going to give it to…” Glancing around the room, he couldn’t debated: a valet? One of the waiters? He could wait and donate it to one of the regular charities on his list @LIST THEM
But then it would weigh on him and Mitch would bug him. His gaze landed on the coat check. One scruffy leather satchel stood out from the rest. He strode over to the bored-looking girl behind the counter.
“See that purse,” he pointed at the satchel.
“This one?” Surprise for a moment over rode the girl’s bored expression. She obviously didn’t think a man in a Zorro cape would be interested in a scuffed leather satchel. “It belongs to my girlfriend.”
“And now you’re a liar,” Mitch said.
The girl narrowed her lids and tightened her lips. “I can’t give out any of the purses unless you have a ticket.”
Steven hurried to placate her. “I just want you tuck this into it.” He pulled out the bill and showed it to the girl. “Can you do that?”
“You’re a crazy person,” Mitch said.
“Crazy like a fox,” Aunt Miriam said from behind him. She snaked her arm around his waist and looped the other through Mitch’s arm. “A silver fox! How did two of my favorite boys ever grow to be so old and handsome?”
Mitch flushed. “The same could be said of you, Mom.”
“Hush!” Aunt Miriam bumped Mitch with her hip. “I don’t want anyone to know I’m old enough to belong to you.” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “You could pretend I’m your date.”
“I could,” Mitch said, pulling away. “But I won’t.” He gave Steven the stink eye. “Let’s ignore her.”
“You can ignore me, but you better not ignore your wife,” Aunt Miriam said, nodding at the approaching Lydia.
Mitch audibly groaned, but also grinned.
There were lots of things Steven didn’t admire about his cousin, but he did envy him his long and happy marriage.
The butterfly he’d noticed earlier approached the coat check and handed the girl her ticket. He watched as the girl handed the butterfly the beat up purse.
His gaze met the girl’s.
“Your girlfriend, huh?” the girl asked.
Surely, this was a breach of some sort of hired-help ettiqute.
Aunt Miriam perked up. “Your girlfriend?”
Mitch grinned. “Yeah, about that, Steven?”
Steven rubbed his chin and decided to go along with it. “There you are,” he said. “I’ve been looking for you.”
“For me?” the butterfly put her hand on her chest. Most of her face was covered by a jewel-studded mask, but her lips were full, red, her skin creamy and white. Definitely girlfriend material.
“I want to introduce you to my Aunt Miriam and cousin Mitch.”
The butterfly blinked and took Mitch’s extended hand. “I’m Grace,” she said.
“Come on, Grace,” Steven said, taking her hand and pulling her toward the dance floor and away from his aunt and laughing cousin.
Grace stumbled after him until they reached the dancing couples. “I don’t know who you are or what you’re thinking,” she began.
He silenced her by putting his finger on her lips. “Just go along with me, please. There’s a hundred-dollar bill in your purse for your trouble.”
Then he kissed her.
#
His warm lips spread a flurry of emotions through Maggie. Should she slap him? Push him away? Scream at him…but…oh…was this what kissing was all about? How long had it been since she’d been kissed like this? Maybe never.
She’d loved Peter. She had loved kissing Peter. But near the end, the kisses had been so mixed up in grief and pain, they’d just as soon make her cry as curl her toes in pleasure…like this one did.
What must this person think of her? What made him think he could just kiss her like this? Maybe he kissed everyone like this. She couldn’t be someone special in his life since he had only just met her…but he hadn’t really met her, had he? It wasn’t as if they’d been properly introduced.
But this kiss, though…
She really should end it. This was exactly the sort of privileged behavior her brother and parents were always spouting off about. Rich people who thought they could whatever they wanted with little or no regard for who they stepped on…or kissed.
Oh, this kiss. It was like kissing Clark Gable, or Gary Grant, or…Zorro.
He pulled away. She was grateful to see he wore a dazed expression.
Maggie touched her lips. “What was that?”
“That,” he said, “was worthy of an encore.” And he kissed her again.
This time, Maggie, forgetting all about social injustice, leaned in and gave herself into pleasure. It rocked her world. Shook her to the core. Made her legs shake.
It took her a moment to realize that not only was her world rocking, but the lights stringing above her were wildly swinging. The band had stopped playing. People were screaming. Pillars bearing lanterns fell with a crash and glass shattered. The hospitality tent collapsed and one of the curtains fell into an open fire pit.
And still Zorro held her in his arms.
The lights went out. Women screamed and men shouted. All around her, panicked people pushed and pulled. Zorro grabbed her hand and pulled through the chaos. She staggered after him, barely seeing through the smoke and din.
The damp and cold seeped through Maggie’s flimsy shoes as she crossed the lawn. Zorro took her elbow and steered her through the parking lot, passed the valets who had gathered into a tight bunch beneath the awning. Here, away from the party, the moonlight shone clearer.
Maggie blinked when she realized it wasn’t Zorro who had led her through the chaos, but her brother.
“Rob! What the hell?”
He stopped and stared at her. “What’s your problem?”
“I don’t have a problem,” she said.
“You sound like you do.” He stepped closer. “Who was that guy you were kissing?”
She floundered for an acceptable answer and finally came up with, “I don’t know.”
“And I have a problem with that,” Rob said.
CHAPTER
A @ earthquake. The night had done more than rattle Uncle Jack’s fundraiser, it had shaken Steven’s resolve. After his marriage to Tabitha had ended, he’d sworn off women.
But that kiss, though…
Thirty minutes later, the lights flickered on, but it was too late, the guests had long since disappeared.
“Can we salvage anything?” Mitch asked.
Uncle Jack swore as he looked around the debris. “Let’s get all this food wrapped up,” he said to the caterer standing at his side. “See if we can deliver it to the local shelter.”
In view of all the wreckage, a woman should be the last of concerns, but Steven couldn’t stop thinking about the mysterious woman in the butterfly costume.
1160 which is weird, because I thought I was slower than last time.
Steven stripped off his Zorro cape and placed it along with his mask on one of the few upright tables. The tables couldn’t have been toppled by the earthquake, they must have been overturned by the panicked guests. Wasn’t that the way it went? A disaster was always compounded by human stupidity.
Steven rolled up his sleeves and went to work beside Mitch, Uncle Jack, Aunt Maureen, and the caterers. He tried to make his voice sound casual as he approached his cousin.
“So, that woman in the butterfly costume,” he began. “Do you know her name?”
“You mean the one my mom thinks you’re dating?” Mitch asked without even lowering his voice.
Steven wanted to punch him. Instead, he filled his trash bag with debris.
“Why are you lying to my mom?” Mitch straightened and looked him in the eye.
He shrugged. “I just went with it.” But there was more to it than that, and he knew it and even worse, Mitch knew it.
Mitch grinned. “You don’t want my mom to tell your mom who could possibly tell Monica that you’re moping around Rancho Allegro like a man who lost his puppy.”
Steven reapplied him to trash pick up. “Do you know her or not?”
“Not,” Mitch replied with a joyful negative.
“Could I get a hold of the guest list somehow?”
“Probably, but what reason could you give? And what will you tell your auntie when she wants to invite your pretty little butterfly to brunch?”
“I’ll tell her we split up.” That, at least, would be the truth.
#
The kitchen windows of Maggie’s Muffin shop overlooked the back alley. For years, the back alley had been a quiet place of backdoors, trash bins, and the occasional stray cat. In the early hours Maggie devoted to baking, her bakery was a peaceful place—almost reverent. She loved being awake before the rest of the world, kneading bread, cutting donuts, baking cookies. It was her form of meditation. Surrounding herself in heavenly scents reminded her of all the happy hours she’d shared with her parents before they’d left to serve as missionaries in @AFRICAN NATION\
But all that had ended when The Fox Den had opened its doors. She’d fought the city council on the part sporting goods shop and part cafĂ© opening so close to the bakery. But the chamber of commerce had ruled against her, claiming that a shop that sold health food wasn’t so very different from a shop that sold packaged goods.
But it was very different. And the Fox Den was nothing like Joe’s Camping Gear—the shop the den had replaced. Mostly because the den was stealing her morning costumers. Some of the friends that had stopping at the bakery for coffee and a donut for decades, were now ducking into the den for kefir and Postum. Did they think she didn’t know? Did they think she couldn’t see them?
And, to make it all worse, Steven Fox had started a jogging crew. That’s what he called them—the jogging crew, like they were an official team. Maggie called them ridiculous. Grown women sprouting gray hair and wearing spandex trotting through the town in mass@, looking like a great preposterous flock of geriatric geese.
True, most of the women (because they were mostly women—following Steven around like he was God and they were his devoted disciples) were her own age…maybe some were younger…but still old enough to be grandmothers. And there they were, clustering in her back alley at six in the morning.
“It’s pathetic,” Maggie muttered.
“What’s that, Mrs. Wares?”
Maggie started. She didn’t know Camille had arrived. She glanced over her shoulder at her assistant. “This jogging crew. I know for a fact Ruth Cameron goes for a morning run with Steven Fox and then promptly returns to her home and bed and doesn’t stir again her two o’clock tee-time.”
Camille tied on her apron and went to the industrial sized sink to wash her hands. “But you have to hand it to her. Not many fifty-year-olds are running three miles every morning and playing a round of golf.”
“For one thing,” Maggie plunged her hands into her mound of dough, “Ruth is still in her forties.” Forty probably sounded ancient to Camille. Most young people couldn’t distinguish ages beyond thirty. “And another, Ruth plays at @ course which is only nine holes and she rides around in a cart!”
Camille just shrugged. “Maybe you’re jealous.”
“Jealous?” Maggie hooted louder than she should have and some of the jogging crew cast a puzzled look toward her shop. Fortunately, the morning light made it impossible to see inside her window.
“If you’d like to join them, I can take over here for a while.”
Maggie snorted. “As if.” Never before in her life had she ever used the phrase as if. She’d overheard some of the high school crowd using it and she trotted it out. It felt awkward on her tongue. Maybe not as awkward as those clinging pants and ridiculous tank tops would feel against her skin, but still…she couldn’t even imagine being seen in public in those clothes—And they weren’t really clothes, were they? They were more like ballet tutus or s@
“I’m serious, Mrs. W,” Camille said. “Tomorrow, if you want to join them, you should. If you knead me to cover for you.” She emphasized her pun.
“I don’t even own sneakers.”
“You can solve that problem.”
Maggie snorted. Until this moment, she’d liked Camille. The girl was working her way through law school. Maggie had considered her bright—until now.
Later that day as Maggie was driving her muffin van, she pulled up to a streetlight and spotted Steven Fox in the lane beside her. Of course he drove a Porsche. If Robbie were here, he’d rolled his eyes. Consumerism can’t buy happiness, she reminded herself. Still when he glanced her way, she smiled and waved. No point in not being neighborly.
He looked right through her as if she wasn’t there.
Maggie’s simmering anger began to boil into rage.
#
Twenty minutes earlier.
Steven dripping with sweat, righted himself as a goat kicked a bunch of hay into his eyes. He wanted to laugh. Having fun was the whole point of goat yoga, but now he couldn’t see. He also couldn’t breathe—well, he could, but he wasn’t enjoying the farm fresh air as much as he thought he should. Wading through goats and people balancing in their down-dog poses, he headed for the exit. Rubbing his eyes, he stepped over the gate that kept the goats corralled. He blinked and one of his contacts fell out.
Discouraged he plopped onto a bail of hay. Ffion, the aging hippie who owned the farm, sat beside him.
“Hard day?” she asked. She had a tangy scent—body odor mixed with some sort of essential oils. This wasn’t surprising since she sold natural herbs and oils that she claimed could do everything from curing arthritis to cleaning out his energy lines.
“I think I lost my contact in your hay.”
“It’s your hay, too,” she said gently. “What’s mine is yours.”
“Right.” He rubbed his eye again.
“Do you want me to help you look for it.”
He shook his head. “They’re disposable. I have more at home.”
“This is your home.”
“Right,” he repeated. He wasn’t quite the socialist Ffion was.
She chuckled. “We can slow a lot of the aging process, but when it comes to our eyes, we’re dependent on our lenses.”
This he could agree with.
“You’re a different man than when you first arrived here,” Ffion said.
He squinted, wishing he could see her face clearly to better read her expression. Was she poking fun of him? “True,” he said.
“You’ve released some of the weight and baggage you were carrying.”
“Forty-five pounds.”
She nodded sagely. “You’re recapturing your youth.”
Youth wasn’t a word he would use to describe himself. At fifty, he was past middle-age. Both his father and his brother had died of heart disease in their forties. He probably would have, as well, if he hadn’t quit his job and changed his lifestyle.
“Do you miss your old life?” Ffion asked.
“No. Not even a little.” This was true, even though he occasionally had long and lonely nights.
Ffion slid him a glance and stood. “Come with me.” Her long skirts swished around her as she swayed, waiting for him to climb to his feet. “I have something that will help.”
Had he said he needed help? He didn’t think so. Still, he followed her past the barn. When the bleating goats and New Age music were barely audible, Ffion stopped at an outbuilding. Apprehension tickled the back of Steven’s neck and he wondered what Ffion had in mind. She was, he thought, happily married to Hans, a big, beefy man who wore overalls and not much else—not even shoes.
Ffion opened the door to the outbuilding and there in a slant of daylight lay a Golden Retriever surrounded by puppies. The bitch raised her head and thumped her tail.
“Would you like one?” Ffion whispered.
Puppy farms were illegal in California and breeders were strictly regulated, but it didn’t surprise him that Ffion didn’t play by the rules. He wasn’t sure, but he guessed Ffion and Hans made most of their money by growing and selling marijuana as well as poppyseeds.
He thought, but he wasn’t sure because he couldn’t see, that Ffion was studying him as if he was a puzzle she needed to complete.
Ffion stooped down, picked up the closest and turned her over to inspect her. “Most are spoken for. This here is a girl.”
Steven took the puppy and let it nestle against him. “How did you know this is exactly the sort of woman I need?”
“Her name is Aileni,” Ffion told him. “It’s Welsh for reborn.”
#

And now he has a puppy. Maggie twisted her lips and watched the women of the jogging crew fawn and twitter over the bundle of fur. Their voices floated in through the open window. Now that summer was approaching, she no longer had the luxury of hiding in her bakery, keeping her door and windows closed. She turned on some music—Cobly Caliet—to keep her company.
Steven must have noticed because he jerked his head in her direction. Quickly, she averted her gaze and focused on her brioche. Apple strudel. Lots of sugar and butter. Two ingredients no one would find in the Fox Den Nature Store.
Her liberal use of cinnamon made her feel better. She imagined a family in need of comfort food settling down in front of her brioche. No one sought comfort in Kefir. What even was that? And why did all these new-fangled foods have such weird names? Kefir, Kamboochi, @
People had been baking and eating brioche and strudels for generations? Kefir was as fleeting as protein bars. No one really wanted to eat those things. They just did it out of some misguided guilt. Greedy health food gurus were always trying to separate fools from their money. She felt sorry for those who bought into the hype.
What had happened to Gwen’s legs? Even in high school, Gwen had been thunder-thighed. Lisa had blamed Gwen’s tree-trunk legs on all the Irish clogging competitions Gwen mother had forced her to participate in. One of the women caught Maggie starring and gave her a friendly nod.
Maggie returned the smile before turning her back, but still wondered if Gwen had gone in for liposuction. Maggie would have heard, right? You can’t really hide something like that, what with the bandages and bruising. But hadn’t Gwen gone on the Greek Island cruise with her children?
Or so she’d said…
Would she lie? Because cruises were notorious for making thighs grow bigger, not smaller.
Oh dear. The puppy squatted and piddled on Janet Gray’s sneaker. Maggie tried not to laugh and went back to braiding her brioche. @MORE ON BRIOCHE