Behind the Scenes of ANY OTHER LOVE: The Distancer and the Pursuer

via Unsplash

These two have been giving me a run for my money. When I first started all my pre-writing for Any Other Love—character profiles, plot structure, etc—I thought I had the whole who’s chasing who part down. It seemed pretty cut and dry: my shy little Amarie would be the distancer, and my animated Char would totally be the pursuer. Apparently these two had other plans, because Am was the one to make the first move and now Char is the one who’s hesitating.

Which is why Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain” is so perfect for these two.

And I run for miles just to get a taste
Must be love on the brain

According to some psychologists, in every relationship there is a distancer and a pursuer. You can even flip roles from time to time, depending on the circumstances. I’m trying to find a balance between the two, because I don’t want Char and Am flip-flopping throughout the book, driving you crazy. I think I’ve found a rhythm, though, with Am the full-time pursuer and Char very uncertain but also very into her.

On Friday I crossed 20K for this book, which is a huge deal! My wrists haven’t exactly been cooperating—I’m seeing a neurologist soon to be evaluated for carpal tunnel—and I’ve also had a lot on my plate lately. But I managed to check off all of my To Do list for this month, so all of this week will be dedicated to writing.

That first 20K was fueled by A.G. Ferrari coffee, Stash Breakfast in Paris tea, and Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice chai. I typically have one cup of coffee in the morning, then Breakfast in Paris after lunch and my chai in the evening. So far I’ve been mostly listening to SZA, The Pretty Reckless, and Phildel while writing.

Originally I’d hoped to finish the first draft by the end of this month, but I’m only about a third of the way done. It is what it is; all that matters is I’m putting the words down, one day at a time.

Are you on my email list? Join now—I’ll be sending out an exclusive excerpt from Any Other Love in another week or so! Click here.

#FridayReads: Bad Boy, by Elliot Wake

This past week I devoured Elliot Wake’s latest, Bad Boy. As usual, I stayed up late just so I could finish and man was it worth it.

I’ve been on a queer #OwnVoices fic kick lately. Not really on purpose—aside from the lesfic—but reading books featuring queer characters by queer authors feels like coming home, to me. There’s a big part of me that worries about losing my queerness because I married a dude. And I know, I need to shake that shit—especially because I’m the one always telling my lady bi friends that being with a guy doesn’t make them any less queer. Plus… I’m kind of a little rainbow-lonely in IRL. I live in a small town. Most of my LGBTQIA+ friends live in the city or have long moved on to bigger and better places. Not that you need queer friends in your immediate area to be queer. It’s just that I feel the hole in my life where my high school rainbow gang used to be when conversations like “What is pan?” and “You’re married; you can’t be queer!” come up with my straight cis friends and family.

Sometimes I just wanna be around people who get it. Who get me.


Bad Boy.

I highlighted a lot in this book. I nodded so many times while reading. I also learned much about how men process emotions, thanks to Ren. Even without the plot, Bad Boy is a good read. It explores what it means to be a feminist man, and what it means to be a man in general. It’s not about which “bits”—as my favorite robot Mr. Pendulum would say—you’ve got.

I also loved the line about how every touch from a woman is a communication, a question. As usual, Elliot Wake knocks it out of the park with his prose. Each sentence is a true delicacy.

The plot is fast-paced, though, so I took lots of breaks to just let things sink in. Especially because the main character Ren is a survivor of rape, and he must confront the “man” who raped him. I don’t think there are any triggering scenes, per se, but every time the subject comes up I’m going to be automatically thinking about my own experiences. Bad Boy truly highlights how completely it can shatter a person.

Bad Boy also carries a common thread through Black Iris and Cam Girl.

Vlog star Renard Grant has nothing to prove: he’s got a pretty face, chiseled body, and two million adoring video subscribers. Plus the scars on his chest and a prescription for testosterone. Because Ren is transgender: assigned female at birth, living now as male. He films his transition and shares it bravely with the world; his fans love his honesty and positivity.

But Ren has been living a double life.

Off-camera, he’s Cane, the muscle-bound enforcer for social justice vigilante group Black Iris. As Cane, he lets his dark side loose. Hurts those who prey on the disempowered. Indulges in the ugly side of masculinity. And his new partner, Tamsin Baylor, is a girl as rough and relentless as him. Together, they terrorize the trolls into silence.

But when a routine Black Iris job goes south, Ren is put in the crosshairs. Someone is out to ruin his life. He’s a bad boy, they say, guilty of what he punishes others for.

Just like every other guy: at heart, he’s a monster, too.

Now Ren’s got everything to prove. He has to clear his name, and show the world he’s a good man. But that requires facing demons he’s locked away for years. And it might mean discovering he’s not such a good guy after all.

This is one of those books that will stay with me, that I’ll keep thinking about long after I’ve finished.

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#TeaserTuesday: Maybe She Needed to Let Go

It wasn’t like she really could ever have her own restaurant.

Maybe that was what she was supposed to do, though.

Maybe she needed to let go of the familiar and jump into the unknown.

In more ways than one.

This week I’m hoping to cross the 15-20K line for Any Other Love. I’ve had a lot going on lately: the passing of my Aunt Gayle, several family get togethers, my godson’s surgery… I’ve been exhausted, and laying it all out like this, it’s no wonder why. So maybe I won’t finish this book by the end of April like I’d hoped, but I’m still plugging away.

Also, I’ve decided I need to work a steamy shower scene into this book. I haven’t seen a single one in all of the f/f romance I’ve been reading. It’s a tragedy, truly.

In the meantime, join my email list for updates. You’ll be the first to know when I have a release date.

#FridayReads: The Gravity Between Us, by Kristen Zimmer

For the past few months, I’ve been stuck in a reading rut. Every time I tried to read for fun, I just couldn’t get into it. I forced myself to finish books or just stopped reading them altogether. And it broke my heart because, hi—I was the kid who used to get in trouble for reading inside her desk during class.

Mrs. Serra, if you’re reading this, I have no regrets, but thank you so much for trying to teach my mathematically challenged brain.

The few books I did manage to read during my rut just didn’t sweep me away like they normally do. It wasn’t because they were bad books, per se. They just weren’t what I needed.

Enter The Gravity Between Us, by Kristen Zimmer.

Since I’m writing f/f romance, I figured I should read some to see what works and what doesn’t. I mean, I know what I like—hello days of yuri slash fic—but in this gig, market research is super important. Fortunately for me, market research usually means reading.

There aren’t as many books in the lesbian or bisexual romance section as there are in the het romance section, but there does seem to be a hungry readership for it. Unfortunately, Amazon’s categories could use some organizing to better serve their readers—but I’ll talk about that in a future post.

Keeping myself within a budget narrowed down my selection, so I started scrolling through the remaining titles. I looked at lots of covers, read many blurbs, and tried a few excerpts, but nothing really grabbed me—until I came across The Gravity Between Us.

The cover, though pretty, isn’t what I expected; it could be anybody kissing, which I guess must’ve been the point. I almost passed it by, but I decided to give the blurb a shot.

Where does friendship stop and love begin?

At just 19, Kendall Bettencourt is Hollywood’s hottest young starlet, with the world at her feet—but behind the glamour and designer dresses is a girl who longs for normal.

Payton Taylor is Kendall’s best friend since childhood, and the one person who reminds her of who she really is—her refuge from the craziness of celebrity life.

With her career taking off, Kendall moves Payton to LA to help keep her sane. But Payton is hiding a secret that could make everything ten times worse. Because to her, Kendall is more than a best friend—she is the only girl that she has ever loved.

Just as they need each other more than ever, they’ll have to answer the question of where friendship stops and love begins? And find out whether the feelings they have can survive the mounting pressure of fame…

The Gravity Between Us is a daring, romantic, emotional story about friendshiplove, and finding the courage to be yourself in a crazy world.

It sounded fun and romantic with just the right touch of angst—and it is. I’m not much of a fan of the coming out trope anymore, because I feel like it’s been done to death. At least, it was in the fan fic community. But Zimmer balances each of Kendall and Payton’s troubles with humor and absolutely adorable moments. You also get to see these two just living their lives—which is really important to me in f/f fiction, because as much as readers need coming out stories, we also need stories that tackle other life problems. It was especially interesting to see how Kendall and Payton each handled their relationship being in the spotlight.

The sex scenes are emotional and evocative rather than descriptive, and while I wouldn’t have minded Zimmer turning up the heat even a little, they were beautifully done. It felt like it took forever for these two to have their first kiss—in a totally good way. I rooted so hard for them, I practically threw a party when they finally got there; the slow burn is one of my favorite tropes, and this one was so very sweet.

The Gravity Between Us is more like the NA I wish we could always have: young people figuring out adulthood while dealing with tough issues. I really enjoyed it, and I hope Zimmer writes more f/f romance soon.

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Give me your f/f recommendations! I honestly haven’t read very many. I’m pretty sure the last one I read was The Bermudez Triangle… and Maureen Johnson has since changed its title to On the Count of Three. That’s how behind I am. Please send help! Leave me a comment with your favorites.

Creating Characters for Any Other Love

Usually the first thing I do before I start writing a new book is sketch out the characters. Since Any Other Love is a companion novel, that part was mostly done for me. I just had to build upon the characters I’d already created for Just One More Minute.

Whenever I start a new book, I create a stylesheet for it. A stylesheet is something an editor will put together during their first pass of a book, making note of character features, style choices, and other things. I can’t remember where, but I once read a blog post suggesting that authors start a stylesheet from the very beginning to keep track of these things. Doing so has been a game changer for me. Because I love spreadsheets, I create my stylesheets in Numbers.

The stylesheet includes the characters’:

  • name, any nicknames
  • current age
  • date of birth
  • occupation
  • goal
  • fear

I took the Just One More Minute stylesheet and updated it for Any Other Love (which mostly involved aging everyone up by a year—tough work, I tell you).

I’ll often fully sketch characters in my dev doc—the document where I develop the plot structure, outline, and other important pre-writing elements. My dev docs range from a few to dozens of pages. While sketching characters, I list their physical features, typical outfit, any quirks, and other things. I also complete exercises I’ve picked up from different places over the years.

Sometimes I’ll do some writing where I throw the characters into a short scene, just to play with them or get to know them better.

There are also some things that are just for me to know, referred to as author headcanon—official things about a book or series that only the author knows. Usually I’ll make a note of these things in the stylesheet or dev doc. These are often things that won’t make their way into the book, but help me flesh out the character—like their favorite movie, or something else minor.

Inevitably I’ll end up on Pinterest. Don’t judge me—Pinterest is a fantastic place for writing inspiration! I always create a board for each new project, pinning pretty things that remind me of my story and characters. This includes everything from celebrities that look like the characters I see in my head, to typical outfits that my characters would wear.

And if I get sucked down the Pinterest rabbit hole, I’m still technically working. 👀

Speaking of pinning, I’ve got to, um, get to work…

While I do that, check out basic character sketches of Charlotte and Amarie!

Playlist for Any Other Love

One thing I have to have while writing is music to match the tone of the scene I’m working on. Sometimes I’ll throw on an instrumental focus playlist on Spotify, but more often than not I’ll listen to a few specific albums over and over while writing the first draft. For example, while I wrote Just One More Minute, I basically listened to LIGHTS’s Midnight Machines on repeat.

Any Other Love is shaping up to be a The Spirit Room (Michelle Branch) book, with my usual Banks in between. (I’m obsessed with her latest album, The Altar, right now.) I have a feeling there will be a lot of Eisley, too.

Here’s the Spotify playlist I’m building of songs—so far—that remind me of Amarie and Char, and are inspiring certain scenes I’ll be writing.

What are some of your favorite “I don’t wanna fall in love” songs? Let me know and I’ll consider them for the playlist!

Meet Amarie Locke

The first “vision” I ever had of Amarie was of her sitting by herself, chin in hands, tendrils of curly hair framing her face like a mane. In her eyes, though, danced pain and longing. I knew right away when I was writing Just One More Minute that Char and Amarie were going to get their own book, and that Amarie has Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease (UCTD), like me.

Amarie, inspired by Angelic Zambrana

Age: 21

Occupation: Dunkin Donuts

High School: Kennedy High

College: Naugatuck Valley Community College

This is the college where I got my A.S. degree in web design. Amarie is in their Early Childhood Education (ECE) program. It’s convenient for her because NVCC has a childcare center for parents, meaning that she gets hands-on experience right on campus. She’s also been able to keep up with her classes… so far.

Car: blue 2015 Hyundai Accent hatchback

This car is freakin’ cute, and I feel like it fits Amarie perfectly. It’s royal blue and very compact, but quietly powerful. That thing can fly if you let it!

Wants: to be a pre-school teacher

Fears: her disease rending her completely bedridden

This book is #OwnVoices mostly because this is my fear. My UCTD can get pretty aggressive if untreated, and currently Amarie is still searching for a doctor who will listen to and treat her. Everything that I went through in the past decade was such a nightmare, and it’s important to me to share that experience. There are so many facets to being a chronic pain patient: living with the actual illness and its debilitating symptoms, trying to get a diagnosis and treatment from doctors who won’t listen, dealing with people’s looks when you’re using a cane but don’t “look” sick… I could go on but I plan on pouring all of that into this book.

It’s also #OwnVoices because Amarie is bisexual. In Just One More Minute, she’s dating Matt’s friend Lucas. Unlike me, she knows what her sexuality is but hasn’t had time to explore it; she’s been so sick that she hasn’t exactly had time for dating, never mind dealing with yet more looks and questions that she hasn’t really been able to answer for herself. It’s especially difficult being bisexual because society wants you to fit into a neat package and, well, you don’t when you’re bi—at least, according to their rules.

Despite the difficulties that Amarie and Char face, my goal is to keep the tone of Any Other Love just as light as Just One More Minute—with, of course, steamy sex. I’m so excited to write this book, I kind of want to drop my entire life in order to do it. These two have been chattering away in my head for over a year now, and I can’t wait to share their story with you.

What do you think of Amarie? Are you excited for Any Other Love? Let me know in the comments!

You can also go meet Char.

Meet Charlotte Butler

I’ll be starting my f/f contemporary romance Any Other Love pretty soon, and since I’m in the pre-writing stage, I thought I’d share some tidbits with you. You might remember teal-haired, bouncy Char from Just One More Minute. She and Rowan run into each other in the grocery store and it’s BFF love at first sight. Here are some fun facts about Char!

Char, inspired by Frances Bean Cobain

Age: 21

Occupation: short order cook at The 545

Fun fact, The 545 is based on a lounge in my own small town. It was creatively named The Lounge, and for years it was the place to go. I never actually set foot in there—mostly because my thing was karaoke—but my sister went a few times. It closed a couple years ago and it’s been empty ever since.

High School: Kaynor Tech

Since these books are set in the town I live in, I had to include my high school. It’s a technical school, meaning you get a dual education. When you graduate, you receive your high school diploma and usually certification in a trade. My trade—and Charlotte’s—was culinary arts. Out of high school, I could have worked at any restaurant or gone on to culinary school, but I decided it wasn’t for me. Charlotte, however, loves cooking and found her place at The 545… for now.

College: N/A

Car: green 1998 Pontiac Sunfire

Oh, how I miss my Sunfire. It bit the dust several years ago, suddenly and painfully. It lives on in these books. 😥

Wants: to open her own restaurant in NYC

Fears: being stuck in intolerant Greater Waterbury for the rest of her life

She also has a major crush on Amarie, who she met during a camping trip with Rowan and Matt in Just One More Minute. There’s just a teeny problem: Amarie is dating Matt’s friend Lucas, and doesn’t seem to be into girls.

Char is always dying her hair in “crazy” colors, and is usually pretty upbeat and bouncy. It’s interesting, because when I was in high school it wasn’t considered cool to dye your hair unnatural colors. You were automatically labeled goth or punk, and were considered weird. Now everyone dyes their hair all kinds of colors. Man, how things have changed!

What do you think of Char? Are you excited for Any Other Love? Let me know in the comments!

Happy 2nd Birthday, The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos!

via Unsplash

Two years ago today, I released my third novel, The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos. In the two years since, this little book and I have had a wild journey together. It was the first romance I published, which was nerve-wracking enough, but I’d decided to push the boundaries with the social issues I tackle in my writing.

A single dad, dealing with his daughter’s irresponsible mother while trying to put himself through college.

A tattooed Latina artist, determined to do more than just get by, and have a real career.

A little girl who brings them together through a Craigslist ad.

I wanted to crush stereotypes, to show the world that young single parents and tattooed women aren’t the “losers” they’ve all branded us as. It was my friends’ decisions to raise their children alone, but they never asked for strangers’ opinions on whether or not they’re good parents. It was my decision to get tattoos, but I never asked for customers at the jewelry store I worked at to rudely interrogate me about my body.

I wanted to tackle heritage, how colonization forces immigrants to assimilate into American culture, to give up the things that makes them unique, the things they eventually lose. Like the Italian my family no longer speaks, the Spanish my niece and nephew rarely use.

I also wanted to challenge gender roles and equality rules. Who says a man can’t raise his daughter alone? Who says that a woman can’t choose to be a nanny while she builds her career?

These things had been burning inside of me for years, and they all sort of bubbled out of me while writing The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos. I knew that a “traditional” romance was never told from the guy’s point of view unless it alternated with the woman’s, but I wanted to do something different. I wanted to break the mold.

Go big or go home, right?

I’ll probably never win any awards for this book, but I’m damned proud of it. It’s a great big middle finger to society and conforming, and that’s reward enough for me.

Single dad Max isn’t looking for love—or so he thinks.

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Chapter 1 · Chapter 2 · Chapter 3 · Chapter 4 · Chapter 5

The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos: Chapter 5

Icy snow seeped into the canvas of Max’s sneakers. He jumped, yelping, and dashed from his parked car. Every step he took brought more icy water into his shoes. He swore as he stomped through slushy puddles of half-melted snow. Tilting his head back, he stuck his middle finger up at the gray December sky. Toes going numb, he clambered onto the front porch, then opened the front door to his apartment, thankful that he had gotten the first floor.

Heat blasted him as he stepped inside, and his shoulders sagged in relief. He kicked off his shoes and unzipped his coat.

“Daddy?” Chloe called from somewhere in the house.

“Hi, baby girl,” he called back, draping his coat over the old gas heater. He splayed his fingers over the humped bars, the warmth sending tingles through his nerves. He shuffled closer and slid his feet underneath. Reaching down, he peeled off his soaked socks and laid them out over the heater to dry.

“Daddy, come here,” his daughter called.

Patting the heater, he ambled toward the back of the apartment. The doors to his bedroom and Savannah’s room were closed, but light spilled into the hall from Chloe’s room. Max’s bare feet pressed into the carpet as he neared the open door, reveling in the warmth oozing through his body. Poking his head in, he gazed through the room, searching for his daughter.

She sat in a pile of pink and purple tissue paper. Savannah sat next to her, slender brown fingers a blur. Max blinked, leaning against the doorframe. Pink and purple tissue paper flowers adorned the walls of the once plain bedroom, bursting from the wall and decorating the top bars of Chloe’s crib.

Savannah grinned at him, shrugging a shoulder. “What do you think?”

Chloe squealed, dipped her small hands into the pile of tissue paper, and flung some up into the air like confetti. Kicking her feet, she laughed.

Max felt the remaining ice melt from his face as his own lips curled into a smile. “How did you do this?” he asked, entering the room. He scooped Chloe up, tissue paper floating from her tiny legs. Twirling, he flung her into the air, snatching her just before she hit the ground. She shrieked with laughter.

“Dollar store,” Savannah said, watching as he threw Chloe into the air again. She drew her knees up to her chest. “Are you hungry?”

“Starving,” Max said, tossing Chloe up again. Her wispy hair flew out in all directions, her limbs splayed. He caught her again and snuggled her to his chest, pressing a kiss to her forehead. “I missed you,” he told her.

Savannah climbed to her feet. “Come on,” she said. “Dinner’s ready.”

He followed her into the kitchen, his nose catching the scent of garlic for the first time. A platter of spaghetti and meatballs sat on the table next to a pile of garlic bread. “I didn’t even know we had this stuff in the house,” he said.

Savannah picked up a slice of garlic bread. “Hot dog buns,” she said, handing it to him. “And I used the rest of the red peppers in the sauce.”

“Is there anything you can’t cook?” he asked as he strapped Chloe into her high chair.

“Try it first,” she said. “My ex always said my meatballs were too soggy.”

Max froze. “Your ex?” He winced at the squeak in his voice. Jealousy pitted in his stomach. He ran a hand through his hair, the back of his neck flushing. It was stupid of him to think that Savannah wouldn’t be off the market. Of course she was dating. She was beautiful and she knew how to cook. Just because she always had dinner on the table for him and decorated his daughter’s room didn’t mean that she was his girlfriend. He swallowed hard. The guys she dated probably spoke three languages and lived in Puerto Rico part-time.

The sound of a chair scraping across the floor brought him back to the present moment. “Yeah, he couldn’t even make pancakes,” she said, sitting down. She piled a dish with spaghetti and three meatballs, then held it out to Max.

“Thanks,” he said, taking it and setting it down in front of him. He sat across from her, his heart hammering in his chest. “So what does your boyfriend think of all this?” he said, trying to keep his voice casual.

“My boyfriend?” She snorted. “If I had one, he would be ridiculously jealous, blowing up my phone. I always end up with insecure assholes.”

“Yeah, right,” he said. “You drive a BMW.” The words were out of his mouth before he realized what he was saying. He flushed.

“So what?” she said.

“I just mean, like attracts like.” He shoved a bite of meatball into his mouth before he could do any more damage.

She scrunched up her eyebrows at him. “Sure,” she said, eyeing him.

“Good meatballs,” he said with his mouth full.

“Thanks,” Savannah said, filling her own plate. She twirled spaghetti around her fork. Silence settled around him.

Max cleared his throat. “I’m sorry about the other night,” he said. Despite the heat in the apartment, cold sweat dotted his hairline. “I was kind of a dick.”

“Kind of?” she said, but her dimples flashed and her lips curled into a smile. “I’m sorry, too. It’s none of my business. I just want to help.”

“I know,” he said quickly. “And you’re great. This is great.” He motioned to the spread of food on the table and to Chloe, whose face was covered in sauce and spaghetti. His eyes widened. “Chloe, no!”

Savannah laughed. “It’s okay. She needs a bath tonight anyway. No problem. You just focus on your work.” She reached for a slice of garlic bread. “So, what are you studying, anyway?”

Even though he was sitting, Max’s knees went weak. “Um, just elementary ed,” he said, preparing another bite of meatball.

Savannah’s eyebrows shot up. “You’re gonna be a teacher? That’s cool!”

He shrugged. “I guess.”

“No, it really is. I could never do anything like that.” The smile evaporated from her face, a longing expression burning in her eyes. Her gaze drifted away from the table, toward the living room. Her eyebrows slanted down.

Max frowned. “It’s really no big deal. I mean, my brothers are lawyers and authors and doctors. I’ll be lucky if I graduate.” He forced a laugh, despite his heart slamming in his chest.

“You will,” Savannah said, her eyes meeting his. She smiled.

He snorted. “No, really, I’m barely passing. You have to have a really high GPA. My dad wanted me to join my older brothers in the family law business.” He bit his lower lip, wondering why he was telling her so much. He should be talking himself up, not knocking himself down. Girls like Savannah wanted confident men, not family fuckups like him.

She muttered something in Spanish, her hands flying as she spoke.

He blinked at her. “English?”

Rolling her eyes, she huffed a sigh. “My dad’s a granite countertop contractor, and my mom’s a home designer.”

Max snorted laughter. “My mom’s doing that now, too. That’s why she kicked me out, so she could use the space I was apparently taking up as her office.”

Savannah twisted her lips. “Um, I meant she, like, designs houses. She draws up the plans in a CAD program.”

“Oh,” Max said, running a hand through his hair.

“They kicked me out when I dropped out of college,” she said quickly.

He blinked at her. “You dropped out of college?”

She nodded and flashed him a dancing thumbs-up. “Mmn-hmn. I was going to Naugatuck Valley for fine arts.”

Frowning, Max cut a meatball in half. “Why did you drop out?”

Her eyes glinted. “I failed math.”

“You couldn’t retake it?” he asked, dropping his fork.

“I also failed English.”

He stared at her. “Like, composition?”

She nodded. “And psychology. Basically every class that wasn’t art. I even failed art history.” She shrugged. “I just wanted to paint.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, “but how the hell do you fail all of those classes?”

She pointed a finger at him. “Watch it, pendejo.”

He stuffed spaghetti into his mouth, shoulders hunching.

“School is hard,” she said. “They gave me that BMW when I finished high school, but then they freaked out when I said I wanted to study art. I mean, what the hell? I guess it’s because I’m the only child. They wanted me to take over the family business.” She rolled up her sleeves, exposing the tattoos. “Can you imagine me designing houses for rich people? Screw that.”

Max’s heart pounded in his chest. He and Savannah weren’t much different, he realized. Despite his initial assumptions, he just might have a shot with her. “So you don’t have a boyfriend,” he said, trying to keep his voice casual.

She lifted an eyebrow. “What does that have to do with anything?”

Clearing his throat, he put on what he hoped was an innocent expression. “I just mean, I totally get it. My ex is crazy. She doesn’t even want to see Chloe.”

Savannah’s eyes darted toward his daughter, and her gaze softened. “Bendita,” she said, frowning. “Why not?”

Max shook his head. “I don’t know. We dated for two years in high school, and she got pregnant our senior year. Her parents didn’t want her to have the baby, and she wanted to have—well, I stepped in for full custody, and we had to fight in court. Luckily I have a lot of lawyers in the family.” He forced a smile, but his heart ached at the memories. He swallowed hard, remembering the look on Nicole’s face when she told him what she planned to do with their unborn baby. Tears sprang to his eyes.

“Okay, happier conversation,” Savannah said, thrusting another piece of garlic bread at him. “How much do my meatballs suck?” She grinned, but she squeezed his hand.

“They’re really good,” he said, taking a bite out of the garlic bread with his free hand. He sighed and squeezed her hand back, his heart racing. “Any guy who criticizes your cooking is an idiot. I would totally starve without you.” He smiled.

“You’ll see,” she said. “I’ll have you speaking Spanish and making sofrito verde by the time Chloe’s three.” She grinned.

“Yeah, I can’t even boil water,” he said, smiling back. “You’ve got your work cut out for you.”

“Stop saying you can’t,” she said. “Every time you say you can’t, you knock yourself down a peg. You’ve gotta stay positive. You don’t see me saying I can’t, just because I dropped out of college. I can do anything I want.” Her eyes smoldered. Max swallowed hard. He realized they were still holding hands. He gently pulled his away, shifting in his seat. His pants tightened. Blood roared in his ears. Taking a deep breath, he reminded himself for the millionth time that he needed to keep things professional between them.

Savannah stood and went to the kitchen sink. She dampened a towel and returned to the table. “I mean, think about this. I have like, no experience as a nanny. But I like kids, and I can cook. Here I am.” She put Chloe’s empty dish on the table and began cleaning his daughter’s hands and face.

“Wait, what do you mean, ‘no experience’?” Max asked, his eyes widening.

“I mean, I’ve watched my little cousins,” she said with a shrug. “My point is, if you don’t focus on your good qualities and only your bad ones, you’ll never get anywhere.” Tapping Chloe’s nose with her finger, she smiled. Chloe giggled. Savannah lifted the little girl from her high chair.

“So you lied to me?” he asked, frowning.

“More like I highlighted my good experience,” she said with a wink. “Do you trust me any less?”

Max rested his chin on one hand. So far, she hadn’t done anything to make him think she was a threat to his daughter or him. He shook his head. “Maybe I’m stupid, but no. I trust you.”

“You’re not stupid, Max.” Savannah cuddled Chloe. “People like us just have to work a little harder. But we’ve got street smarts. I mean, look at you. You got kicked out of your parents’ house, yet you were capable enough to find a place for you and your daughter to live. You can’t cook, yet you were smart enough to find someone who can.” She stuck her tongue out at him, her eyes dancing as she teased.

His skin tingled. He took a deep breath. “Yeah,” he said, his thoughts swirling. It seemed like she was flirting with him. He swallowed hard. “You’re right,” he told her.

“Of course I am,” she said. “I know more than you do. I’m older and I can speak Spanish.” With a wink, she turned and left the kitchen, carrying Chloe into the bathroom.

Feeling slightly dizzy, Max remained sitting. He stared at the spaghetti and meatballs, and the saucy towel on the table. From the bathroom, he could hear the water running and Chloe giggling. Savannah’s sweet voice drifted to him, a song in Spanish that he had never heard. He had no idea where she had come from or why she had decided to work for him, but he was glad. They had more in common than he had initially thought. Shame washed over him for judging her so quickly, but only briefly.

She had said that she didn’t have a boyfriend. She made dinner for him every night, even though he had only hired her to look after Chloe. She had even decorated his daughter’s room, out of her own will and pocket. His heart pounded in his chest. She teased him every chance she got. Sometimes, the way she looked at him reminded him of the way Nicole had looked at him, back when they had first started dating, when things were good.

Maybe he was crazy, but he was beginning to wonder if he had a chance with Savannah—and whether he should take it.

Single dad Max isn’t looking for love—or so he thinks.

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Chapter 1 · Chapter 2 · Chapter 3 · Chapter 4 · Chapter 5