Wednesday, August 1, 2018

An Excerpt from The Billionaire's Beagle

I will be reading the following excerpt at my writer's group tonight. Tomorrow, I'll post their feedback just to show what can happen at a writer's critique group.

Wes let his embarrassment carry him into the hotel and up the stairs to his suite. He didn’t like staying at the hotel for the simple reason that hotels could never feel like home, despite the fact that he had grown up living in one hotel after another. He preferred his boat, but he could see how staying on the Seabird with the dog didn’t make sense. Sharing the tiny cabin with the farting dog would be miserable and he couldn’t very well make the dog sleep on the deck. She’d probably fall overboard. Of course, she was so fat she’d most likely float, but he didn’t want to bet a billion dollars on Betty’s buoyancy.
“Hey you! Dr. Conner!” Vanessa Walgreen rounded the corner and Wes took an instinctive step back.
No one ever called him doctor. Which was fine with him. He didn’t get his Phds in history and literature because he wanted to teach.
She laughed and even from a hall length away, the sound sent a creeping chill down Wes’s neck. Vanessa shook her finger at him. “Are you avoiding me?”
Absolutely, Wes thought, but he said, “Why would you think that?”
Vanessa swung toward him. She’d long lost the baby fat she’d carried into high school, but he and his friends still called her the Loch Ness Monster.
She wore a size too small, dark navy skirt and a silky white blouse with the top three buttons undone, exposing a pink lace bra. Why did he find the woman from the wedding with her knee-length pink crinoline skirt and neck-high lacy top so much sexier? Same dark hair, same height. But the woman at the reception had been lanky and lean while Vanessa had curves.
“With you, I can never tell.” Vanessa slid toward him and pressed her hands against his bare chest. Her nails looked like splotches of blood. “You’re a hard man to pin down. We’ll be seeing a lot of each other now that you’ll be working at the hotel.” Vanessa purred as she wrapped an arm around Wes’s waist.
“How did you know about that?” Her perfume filled his head. What scent had the woman from the wedding worn? He wished he knew. He typically didn’t like perfume.
“You know I have my ways!” Vanessa winked. “Your grandfather and I,” she wrapped her middle finger over her pointy finger, “are tight.”
Wes winced. “You two are probably good for each other.”
“And I’ll be good for you, too!” Vanessa bumped him with her hip. “I’ve missed you. Your grandfather has missed you. Where have you been?”
“Marlin fishing in Mexico.”
“It’s pretty hard to run a hotel on the move.”
“There’s a few Montlake hotels in Mexico.”
Vanessa rolled her eyes. “But you’re home now.”
“Huh, not for long.” Not long at all, if he could help it.
“Maybe sometime you can take me on one of your adventures.”
“I don’t think you would like it, Vanessa. Things get pretty rough.”
Vanessa’s laugh trilled. “Oh, I like it rough.”
Wes blinked at her and tried to imagine Vanessa on the slimy deck of a fishing boat. “You don’t even know what that means.”
“You should try me.”
Wes cleared his throat and looked up and down the empty hallway for someone to rescue him. “You know, as much fun as this has been, I have to get Betty cleaned up. She’s had a rough night.”
“There’s that word again.”
He cocked an eyebrow at her.
She answered his unspoken question. “Rough!” Laughing, she said the word again, but this time while barking like a dog. “Ruff!
“Excuse me.” He pulled away from and walked as fast as he could while towing Betty like a beefy barge.
Letty met her mom at Florence’s bakery for lunch for three reasons: she much preferred Florence’s food to that of the hospital’s cafeteria, she enjoyed spending time with her mom, and she liked getting away from the work—even if it was only for an hour.
“Letty, girl.” Florence whipped out her pad and pencil and frowned at Letty. “What can I do to convince your mom that she needs to stay and work for me?”
“And here I thought you were going to ask me for my order.” Letty settled into the wrought-iron bistro style chair, spread a linen napkin on her lap, and smiled up at Florence.
“I don’t need to do that. You get the tomato bisque every day. You’re as boring as vanilla gelato.” Florence liked to dress as Boho as her shop. Today she had on an embroidered tunic that she’d most likely picked up on her last trip to Morocco. Although her grandparents immigrated from Sicily during the second world war, Florence liked to claim she was African American. Close enough, she would argue when her husband tried to correct her.
“I love vanilla gelato!”
Florence pointed her pencil in Letty’s face. “See? You made my point.”
“If you want my mom to stay, you’ll need to give her a raise.”
“Honey, you know she won’t let me pay her. She says that baking soothes her soul.”
“Yeah, but something or someone is going to have to pay her rent and buy her food.”
“I don’t need any more food.” Mom emerged from the back room carrying a tray loaded with two steaming bowls of soup, a small loaf of bread, and a carafe of water.
Florence and Letty exchanged eyerolls while Mom deposited the tray of food on the table in front of Letty.
Mom straightened and her face brightened into a welcoming smile. “Try this bread. I made it this morning. Taste it and tell me if you can pick up on the secret ingredient.”
“Well, hello there!” A man’s voice boomed across the patio.
Letty twisted to see the man with the cake-eating dog striding their way. He looked different clothed. His thick brown hair still had comb tracks in it and he wore a pair of khakis topped with a hunter green polo shirt boasting a Montlake Hotel insignia. He smiled and waved before stopping at the gate that led to the sidewalk café to secure the dog’s leash to the fence.
“Don’t want a repeat of last night’s fiasco,” he said as he approached. “This is really fortunate. I hoped to find you, but I didn’t really expect to.”
“You were looking for us?” Mom flushed while Florence stared with frank curiosity mixed with admiration.
Letty poured herself a glass of water and fussed over lining up her silverware.
“I checked with the hotel to find out the name of the bride and groom, but since they are on their honeymoon, I tried a different tactic and discovered where the wedding cake had been made. From here, I hoped to get your name and address.”
“Why?” Letty looked up and swept her gaze over the man. Despite his Mountlake uniform, he was incredibly handsome.
“So I could apologize properly.”
“You already did that.”
“Letty, please!” Mom kicked her under the table. “Please Mr. ?”
“Conner. I’m Weston Conner.”
“And I’m Barbara Ashton and this is my daughter, Felicity, and our friend Florence who owns this bakery.”
Weston turned his brown eyes on Florence and she simpered beneath his gaze.  “So you made the cake my dog so enjoyed last night?”
“My mom made the cake,” Letty said.
“But I’ll make you a sandwich…or anything you’d like,” Florence gushed. “Please sit.”
Wes pulled out a chair at Letty’s table and sat down. “That’s nice. I’ll have whatever.”
“You’re lucky! We have that! One whatever coming right up.” Florence tucked her notepad into her tunic’s pocket and headed for the kitchen.
“Wait, I want to help!” Mom scurried after her friend, leaving Letty and a chattering patio full of summer tourists alone with Wes.
“So, you’re a nurse.”
Letty glanced down at her tell-tale scrubs and sturdy shoes. “How did you know?”
He grinned.
“I guess you work at the hotel?”
“Hmm, you don’t sound like you love it.”
He sawed off the slice of bread and slathered it with butter. “It pays the bills.”
“So, I guess there’s something you’d rather do?”
“I have a degree in history.”
“That’s not super useful?”
“No, but it helps with research. I’m writing a screenplay about the Civil War.”
An awkward silence fell between them. Letty glanced at her watch.
“You have to get back to work?” he guessed.
She nodded.
“Please, eat your lunch.”
“I feel weird eating in front of people.”
He laughed. “Why?”
“My dad…he hated to listen to people chew.”
“I bet you have people eating in front of you all the time. As a nurse, you probably have to feed people.”
“But that’s different.” She reluctantly picked up her spoon and dipped it into her soup. It smelled of tomato, basil, and heaven.
“Why? You don’t need to eat?”
She ladled her soup to her lips.
A few awkward moments later, Florence bustled across the patio with a tray laden with food. “I brought you our five favorite sandwiches.”
Letty almost spat out her soup in surprise. “You only serve five types of sandwiches!”
Florence ignored her. “And we got regular and sweet potato fries. And three different desserts—lemon custard, raspberry tart, and a tiramisu.”
Letty set down her spoon and stared at the two trays food carried by Florence and her mom. “What? Not the chocolate souffle?”
“He can have that next time.” Florence flushed. “You know it takes at least thirty minutes to prepare.”
“I’m overwhelmed,” Wes said. “I don’t know what to say, except I can’t possibly eat all this food.”
“But you owe me,” Mom cooed.
“I’m happy to pay for all of this, but I can’t eat it all.”
“This is on me,” Mom said.
“Mom!” Letty pushed away from the table.
“He doesn’t have to eat it all at once. I intentionally picked things that are good the next day. He can freeze the desserts—”
“I’m sorry,” Letty said to the man, “but my mom doesn’t realize that she’s poor now.”
“I’m not charging her for the food,” Florence put in. “She’s been working her for free for years. This is the least I can do.”
“But why?”
Florence put her hands on her hips and nodded at Wes. “How can you ask that? Just look at him!”
“Sure, he’s handsome, but if you gave free food to every good-looking beach bum you’d be out of a café in a week.”
“Pardon her,” Florence said to Weston. “She’s obviously inhaled too much antiseptic this morning.” She turned to Letty. “Was it a rough morning in the E.R.?”
Letty shook her finger at her mom and Florence. “You’re both certifiable.” She stared in horror when she saw Monique, a waitress, unwrap a sandwich and feed it to Wes’s beagle. “You’re feeding the dog, too?”
“We want them to come back!” Mom said.
“I have to go.” Letty climbed to her feet.
“I’ll walk with you.” Weston pushed away from the table.
“What about your lunch…and dinner…and next week’s menu?” Letty waved at the food.
“I’ll come back and get it. Can you wrap it up? Do you mind?” He pulled out his wallet and dropped a credit card on the table.
Florence and Mom both gave him goofy smiles.
Letty shook her head as she left with Weston right behind her. Was it ridiculous that she could feel him through her thin scrubs? She frowned at the beagle wolfing down a roast beef sandwich as they passed. What had gotten into her mom? And Florence? Did they think Weston needed to be fattened up? She slid him a glance. He looked perfect to her. Of course, he’d looked even better last night in his swim trunks.
Once they stepped through the gate, he caught up to her with one long stride. “What did you mean when you said that your mom is poor now?”
“She’s running out of money. She has to sell the house and Bentley but keep can keep one car.”
“She’s in bankruptcy?”
“She has to pay a lot of people a whole lot of money.”
“She got in over her head?”
“It was my dad’s fault, but I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Okay. I get that. I don’t always want to talk about some of my relatives either.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Do you think Betty will be alright?”
“Sure, the hospital is right around the corner.”
He ran his fingers through his hair. “I better not leave her.” He ran back to unhook the leash from the fence. Minutes later, he caught back up with her.
“You seem really attached to your dog,” Letty said without looking at him.
“You could say that,” Wes said. “Do you have a dog?”
“My mom has a yorkie. We call her Dorkie. She’s going to hate Arizona.”
“You would hate Arizona too if you had to wear a fur coat everywhere.”
“What’s in Arizona?”
“My mom is moving in with my grandmother and aunt in Mesa.”
“That sounds…hot.”
Letty nodded. “My dad always said that he’d rather be dead in California than alive in Arizona.”
“I’d like to meet your dad.”
“No, you wouldn’t.”
She shook her head.
“Yeah. Well, you probably don’t want to meet my grandfather, either.”
“It sounds like we both have shady characters hiding in our family trees.”
“I think everyone does.” He stopped at the foot of the hill that led to the hospital entrance.
“It was nice to meet you, Felicity Ashton.”
“Call me, Letty. And it was nice to meet you, Weston Conner.”
“Call me Wes,” he said.
Letty dropped to one knee so she could look the dog in the eye. “And you, too, Betty.”
Betty answered by placing a paw on Letty’s shoulder making Letty’s heart melt like a wedge of Florence’s cheese.

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