Monday, July 13, 2020

The First Chapter of The Billionaire and the Books

I'm working on my next Better Late Romance--a holiday novella for the Authors of Main Street box set.
To get in the holiday spirit (which is tricky, because the temperature is hovering around 90 degrees here), I've marked down my Christmas Collection to only 0.99 cents. Hurry and get it quick before the price, like the temperature, rises.
Only 0.99 for a few days. Get your copy now.

The First Chapter of:

The Billionaire Buys the Books

Lauren slipped on her shoes and slid away from the piano. Hardly anyone in the well-heeled crowd noticed the cessation of music. After silently closing the instrument’s lid, she stood, rolled her shoulders, and flexed her fingers. If she hurried, she’d be able to grab a bite to eat and peruse the book display tables.
LeAnne Gardener, the conference Grand Poohbah, bustled across the room, a tablet in her hand. The scowl hovering between her brows made Lauren worry that not everyone had noticed she’d stopped playing. Fortunately, LeAnne directed her scowl and energy at the caterers loitering near the refreshment table.
Lauren walked as fast as she could without actually breaking into a trot. Books first. Food second.
The book display had been set up in one of the hotel’s smallest conference rooms. The overstuffed chairs, end tables, tapestry rugs were striving to create a comfy-homey feel, but they were no match for the flickering overhead lighting, pale nondescript walls, and recycled air.
Lauren, like the rest of the staff, wore all black, but she because she was about thirty years older than most of the valets and caterers, she felt like an old crow in funeral garb. She would have liked to meet Sophia Lawson, her dream agent, in something not quite so severe and boring, but since the only way she’d been able to afford the conference was by agreeing to play the piano for the evening soiree reserved just for the literary professionals, she didn’t have a choice. But since she’d spent almost all of her adult life without a lot of options, she tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear and bent over the artistically arranged piles of books, searching for The Polly the Pirate series.
She brightened when she spotted the brightly colored books stacked in a far corner. Lovingly, she picked one up and flipped it open. These books had been her refuge when she’d been a lonely-only child of a dying mother and a grieving father. And now, she had the chance to meet the author, Gloria Spicer, and, if she was very lucky, get a chance to try and sell her book to Gloria’s agent, Mimsy Wharton—the premier middle-grade literary agent at Wharton Literary Agency.
When raised voices interrupted Lauren, she glanced over her shoulder and made eye-contact with a man in an ill-fitting suit. His dark hair had a smattering of gray at the temples and lines crinkled around his eyes.
“I’m trying to find a gift for my mom,” he said. “Can you help me?”
Feeling the clock ticking down her minutes until she needed to return to her piano bench, Lauren hesitated. Social conditioning mingling with the sincere desire to engage in book talk kicked in. “Sure. What kind of books does your mom like?”
He tucked his hands into his pockets. “I have no idea. That’s why I’m asking you.”
Irritation flicked through her. “If you, her son, don’t know, why would you expect me to know?”
“Because you work here, don’t you?”
“Well, yes.” Technically, she’d been hired to play the piano, not help cranky book-buyers.
His brow furrowed and Lauren took compassion on him. “Does she like fiction or nonfiction?”
He blew out a breath.
Lauren fished around for more information. “What does she like to do?”
“She’s a real estate agent.” His expression turned hopeful. “Are there any books about houses?”
“Does she like decorating?” An idea hit Lauren and she strode toward the Greta Boris mystery series she’d spied early on a front table featuring an interior decorator amateur sleuth. She picked up The Color of Envy. Annie couldn’t get enough of these books.
The man’s eyebrows shot up. “I can’t give her a murder mystery.”
“Why not?” Maybe she was more a Hallmark sort of gal? Lauren got that. For almost a year after her ex-husband’s violent death, she could only read light and fluffy books. Even the Twilight books had been too heavy, even though they hadn’t bothered children in the least. Annie continued her obsession with Greta Boris and James had devoured a steady stream of Michael Creighton’s books at that bleak time.
“I don’t want to give her any ideas,” the man said.
“Oh, okay. How about a book of poems?” Lauren’s gaze landed on a book with a bouquet of roses on the cover. “These should be harmless enough.”
LeAnne marched into the room. The scowl between her brows deepened when she spotted Lauren. She pointed at the open door.
Sighing, Lauren glanced at her watch. She’d missed her food opportunity. “I have to get back to work.”
“But don’t you work here?” the man asked.
“I do. Just not in this room.”
He seemed genuinely perplexed.
“I should have made that clear,” Lauren said.
LeAnne cleared her throat.
“Excuse me,” Lauren said, brushing her hand on the man’s arm in an apology before heading for the door and the piano in the ballroom.

Ron watched the woman go. Had she been flirting with him? He was hopeless when it came to women. And men. The only people he really felt comfortable around were his co-workers—fellow engineers who got excited over numbers, charts, and graphs. He softened when he thought of Margo—she had helped him navigates his world his entire life and was especially good at handling their mother. So, why was he here and not Margo?
Ron picked up the book the woman in black had recommended and took it to the cashier. Along the way, his gaze landed on a book with the picture of a beagle on it. The Billionaire’s Beagle. If the sale of his patent went through, he’d make a billion dollars. The thought still made his breath catch. On a whim, he bought the book. His mother liked dogs and she loved money. A lot. That was part of the reason he hadn’t told her about the impending deal.
After making his purchase and waiting for the girl to gift wrap it, he headed back to the conference. Soiree, he reminded himself of his mother’s word for the event. What was Mom doing here? She was a realtor, not a bookish person. His gaze swept the room and his stomach sickened when he spotted his mom at a table with her best friend, Lois Hampton.
He trusted Lois about as far as he could throw her, and if he’d ever be given the chance, he’d chuck Lois out of his mom’s life. The woman was a sponge. Why couldn’t mom see her for who she was?
Mom spotted him and lifted a bony arm to wave him over. With heavy feet, he navigated the room. Skirting past the tables where people in fancy clothes sat sipping wine and nibbling on pretentious pieces of food pretending to be art.
“Darling!” Mom stood to embrace him in a bony hug. Had she always been so brittle? He chided himself for not visiting more often.
She pulled away and laced her fingers through his. “I’m so glad we could connect.”
Ron pushed his fingers through his hair. “I wish I could stay longer.”
She reclaimed her chair and motioned for Ron to take the seat beside her. “I wish I hadn’t already committed to this conference.” She lowered her voice. “Thanks to Lois, we were able to smuggle you in.”
Ron sat beside Mom and wished, for not the first time, that his mom could be more like the seventy-five years old women who stayed at home to garden, knit, or bake cookies, and less like... Lois.
“You remember Lois, darling?” Mom laid her hand on Lois’s arm.
“Of course,” Ron said. “How are you, Lois?”
Lois’s smile didn’t reach her shrewd eyes. “I’m well.” Thanks to ample amounts of yoga sessions and plastic surgery, both Lois and Mom looked closer to his age than their own. Their Botox cheeks and bee-sting fat lips made him twitchy and uncomfortable.
Ron considered the plate before him. It held what looked like a scallop, topped with a cherry tomato and some sort of green and orange shoots. A puce colored sauce and been drizzled across the plate. His stomach, in want of a burger, growled.
Ron glanced around at their table mates—two women who each had two stacks of books at their elbows as if their towers were competing for height, a man lost in thought, scribbling on a notepad, another man in bottle-lens glasses with his nose buried in a book. These were the true bookworms. Mom and Loise didn’t fit at this table.
“I bought you something.” Ron put the gift-wrapped book on the table and slid it toward Mom.
Her eyes lit up. “Thanks, sweetie.” She turned to Lois. “He’s always so thoughtful. Never visits without bringing a gift.” She tore into the paper. The light in her eyes dimmed when she spotted the book. “A dog book?”
“You like dogs, right? This is a romantic comedy. And it takes place in Laguna Beach.” Why was he trying to sell this book?
Mom regained her composure. “Your company is a gift in and of itself,” she said in a high bright voice.
Music began to play. Most around him paid little attention to the swell of sound coming from the corner of the room, but Ron swiveled in the direction of the piano. The woman he’d met earlier in the book salon sat on the bench. Rachmaninoff, one of his favorite composers. One of his mentor professors had always listened to classical music at the lab while he worked, and Ron had carried on the tradition even after Joseph had retired.
He took in the woman at the piano. She really was lovely. Willowy, blonde, pink-cheeked. Her fingers stroked the keys with grace. Could he muster the nerve to talk to her again? No. What would be the point? His work was in Massachusetts, and she and her piano were in Orange County.
A middle-aged woman in a red dress stopped beside Lois. “I’m so excited about this,” she gushed. “I emailed you my manuscript immediately after our conversation. Did you get it?”
Lois plastered on a polite smile and winked at Mom. “Let me see.” Lois pulled her phone out of her Kate Spade bag and tapped on it. “Why, yes. Here it is. Hadley Brighton, right?”
The woman’s expression fell. “No, Mary Hadley. I sent you The Tales From the Edge.”
“That’s right.” Lois regained her composure. “Riveting.” Lois laid her hand on Mom’s arm. “Do you remember my telling you about it?” She turned back to the Mary. “This is @MOM. She’s the mastermind behind Cerealan Skye Publishing.”
“You’re a publisher?” Mary placed her hand on her heart as if to slow its beating.
Wait. What? Ron forgot all about Rachmaninoff and the lovely woman at the piano and he turned his attention to Mom. The realtor. Not publisher.
“She’s definitely someone to know,” Lois said.
Everyone else at the table lasered their attention on Mom. She flushed beneath their collective gazes.
“I’ve never heard of Cerealan Blue Publishing,” the woman with the tallest stack of books said.
Me neither, Ron thought.
“They’re very prestigious,” Lois said. “a discriminating boutique firm.”
“We’re still fairly new,” Mom said, sliding a Lois a conspiratorial glance.
When the soiree finally ended and the lovely woman at the piano slid off her bench and closed the piano lid, Ron hoped to have a moment alone with Mom.
“I’m sorry, sweetie,” Mom said. “But the evening has just started for me. Most of the deals are made at the bar.”
“The bar?” Ron echoed.
Mom plucked the linen napkin off her lap and laid it beside her the plate of her barely touched crème brulee. “You’re welcome to join us.”
The others at the table had taken their books and headed for where ever. Lois stood a few feet away, tapping her size-six foot.
Fighting the tension headache brewing beneath his brow, Ron scrunched his forehead. “What’s this publishing company?”
“Oh darling, it’s the most brilliant scheme,” Mom whispered.
Scheme? He didn’t like schemes. He liked numbers, graphs, formulas, mathematical equations. To him, schemes and Lois were synonymous and he wanted nothing to do with either. If only he could convince his mom to feel the same.
“I can’t wait to tell you all about it. You’ll be at the house tomorrow when I get home?”
“I’m catching a red-eye to Boston in the evening.”
Mom wilted with relief. “Oh good. We’ll have lots of time to chat. Have you seen @SISTER?”
“We’re going to brunch tomorrow.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to miss that. But work is work. You know how it is.” She patted his chest before kissing his cheek. “Ta, darling. Can’t wait to have our gab-session.”
But Ron didn’t know how it was. His work he understood—although, granted, most of the world didn’t. Even though people were surrounded by micro-WHATEVERS, not very people had any interest in them. Until they got sick.
His app, if used, would help stop with the spread of disease.
Mom’s work, until a few months ago, had been selling houses. Before that, she’d been a make-up artist selling fifty-dollar tubes of lipstick. Before that, she’d been an organization guru. Mom had the ability to reinvent herself more than anyone he knew. Maybe that’s why his biologist father had fallen in love with her. She was more chameleon than human.
There were things about himself that Ron would like to change—like the ability to converse with pretty pianists—but he lacked the skill. He was more like his father than his mother in that regard.

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