In case you missed it, here’s my live reading from Any Other Love on my Facebook author page. Like my page so you never miss future videos!
With just three days ’til Any Other Love hits the shelves, I thought I’d share a bit more behind why I wrote this book.
Any Other Love is my first bisexual/lesbian, f/f romance. Even though I chose a partner who happens to be a dude, being bisexual is still a huge part of me. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation, stigma, and prejudice surrounding bi people. There also isn’t much representation of bi people on the shelves—especially of bi people in m/f relationships. When I met Amarie and Char in Just One More Minute, I knew they had to be together, and writing their book became a perfect opportunity for me to contribute to proper bi rep in literature.
It also served as an opportunity for me to represent people with invisible illnesses. Like me, Amarie lives with Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease (UCTD). I wanted to tell some of my story, and show that even though UCTD and other autoimmune diseases can be debilitating and throw your life off track, you can still live a fulfilling life. You just might have to live at a different pace. Many of Amarie’s struggles in the book were inspired by my own experiences.
I’m not sure if I’ll publish more f/f romance; while I love writing it, my writing is a business and I have bills to pay. So far, my pre-orders have been low—but I’m still so very proud of this book and glad that I put it out there. If my production schedule allows, I have even more f/f romance stories I’d like to tell. It’ll depend on how Any Other Love sells after release and whether I can fit more projects in while sticking to a steady release schedule.
It’s my hope, though, that Any Other Love will resonate with readers. I hope that it’ll show the world that being bisexual is not a state of confusion, a fad, or a sexy plot device. I want to show people that having an invisible chronic illness and disability isn’t laziness, inspiration porn, or attention-seeking. Mostly, I just want to show the world that two women can fall in love and live happily ever after—even when life isn’t perfect.
Any Other Love is available at a special pre-sale price of only $0.99! Pre-order now and the ebook will be delivered to the device of your choice on August 21st.
Read an Excerpt: Chapter 1
My f/f romance Any Other Love releases in two weeks! I’m always a combination of excited and nauseous during a launch, but I have more butterflies than usual surrounding this release for a few reasons.
Still, Any Other Love is a story that I had to tell from the moment that Char and Amarie met in Just One More Minute. (Yup—Any Other Love is a companion novel to Rowan and Matt’s story!) Plus, I’m very proud to be bisexual; I write f/f romance to honor that part of me, and to give other bi women a place on the shelves.
Finally, Any Other Love is important to me because it shares a bit of my journey to getting a diagnosis and treatment for my UCTD. Writing Any Other Love was like slipping into a warm bath and pouring my heart out into a journal.
So while I’m really nervous about this release, I’m also really, really excited.
Speaking of exciting things, it’s time to share the cover!
From the outside, Amarie has it all: a promising teaching career, a big group of friends, and a gorgeous boyfriend. On the inside, though, her immune system is attacking her own body and slowly taking away everything she loves. The specialists she’s seen are baffled by her condition, so Amarie takes matters into her own hands and makes an appointment with a renowned rheumatologist in NYC. She could finally get the diagnosis and treatment she needs to live her life—if only she can get there.
Charlotte may dye her hair bold colors, but she’s never been brave enough to chase her lifelong dream of owning her own restaurant. When she finds out about a restauranteur convention in NYC, she’s way too chicken to go for it—until her best friend signs her up. With no excuses left, Char heads out to the city, taking the girl of her dreams with her.
Five nights under the city lights could give Amarie and Char the happily-ever-after they’ve always wanted, but a devastating diagnosis and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity could send it all crashing down.
Any Other Love is a f/f romance.
Finding f/f stock photos is really difficult; finding f/f stock photos featuring a dark-skinned Latina with curly dark hair and a pale white girl with teal hair is damn near impossible. It was also really hard to find stock photos that weren’t better suited for erotica. After countless hours scouring multiple stock photo websites, I narrowed it down to a few (which you can see on my Any Other Love Pinterest board).
Then I talked with my cover designer, Chelsea of CJPB Designs. Together we decided on an image, and then Chelsea made pure magic. She also made me cry happy tears the first time I saw her mockup.
Any Other Love is available at a special pre-sale price of only $0.99! Pre-order now and the ebook will be delivered to the device of your choice on August 21st.
Or 1-Click for Your Kindle:
Read an Excerpt: Chapter 1
Packing was the hardest stage of any trip. It signified the last chance to turn back. It also served as a depressing reminder of just how many pills, salves, and electronic devices Amarie relied on.
She rolled her hand over the steroid pills that her primary care doctor had reluctantly prescribed rattled in their bottle. They were tiny. How such a small, foul-tasting white pill could make her feel better so quickly mystified her. It stumped her doctor, too. Even worse, it would stop working just as quickly when she finished the prescription.
Amarie closed her eyes, pushing the negative thoughts away. She should be excited. After all, it wasn’t often that her entire group of friends got together anymore. Not since they’d graduated high school and all gone their separate ways, to colleges scattered across the country.
She was almost done with her own degree. After that, she had no idea what was next. For all she knew, the last-minute camping trip could be the last time she’d see her friends for a while.
Glancing over at her neatly written checklist, she ran through it again, eyeing the items on her bed. Pillbox, check. TENS machine, check. Thank goodness it was the size of a TV remote—unlike the giant units in physical therapy that they had to roll around on carts. Prescriptions in their bottles, in case anyone questioned her—check.
She moved aside hoodies and tiny travel bottles of shampoo. She’d forgotten that—and sunscreen. Even though she’d been blessed with a rich, tawny complexion that could tan to a deep bronze in the summer, her mami had never let her forget that even the darkest of Dominicans could burn, too.
As if summoned, Paloma knocked on the open door and stuck her head in. “Did you pack your sunscreen?”
“Ay, Mami.” Though Amarie rolled her eyes, a smile touched her lips. If ever the day came that her mother stopped, well, mothering her, Amarie would be struck dead with disbelief. Not to mention a smidge of concern.
Paloma held out a plastic grocery bag. “Your bathing suit was hanging in the shower.”
Taking the proffered bag, Amarie peered inside. Nestled among the strings of her bikini was a neatly folded giant beach towel—and two different bottles of sun lotion.
“One’s for tanning, the other for protection. So you can alternate,” her mother explained. “Use the 30 SPF on your face, mi amor. You don’t want that leathery look.”
“You mean wrinkles,” Amarie corrected.
“No.” Paloma shook her head. “I mean leather skin.” She made a face. “Like your bad cousin Jaime. All those tattoos, now ruined by wrinkles and rough skin. Speaking of, make sure you use the 30 on your tattoo.”
Amarie stifled a laugh. “Mami, we’ve been through this. I don’t have any tattoos.”
“That’s right. You don’t. My good girl doesn’t even dye her hair.” Paloma beamed.
“You know, dying my hair or getting a tattoo wouldn’t make me bad,” she said, thinking of all the times she’d snuck out to get drunk with Lucas and their friends.
“No, but it would set a bad example for your students.”
“My future students, Mami.” Amarie arranged her face into what she hoped was a pleasant expression. Behind that face, swirls of doubt shadowed her mind. The fall semester was going to be her last, and then she’d be a teacher—just like her mother, and Paloma’s mother before her. Except Amarie wouldn’t be an elementary school teacher.
Paloma’s face softened. “You’re going to be a wonderful pre-school teacher,” she said.
Amarie nodded. She didn’t say that she hoped so, that it’d be a miracle if she got through her last semester and found a position that didn’t mind her missing time for doctor’s appointments.
“How long are you staying, again?” Paloma asked.
“Just the one night.” Amarie surveyed her bed again. To anyone else, it might look like an awful lot of things to pack for just one night of camping.
“And you’ll be okay sleeping on the ground?” Paloma pressed the pads of her fingers to her face, fretting. “Do you want your Papi’s old air mattress? It still holds air. You just have to refill it now and then.”
Amarie smiled. “No, Mami. I’ll be okay.” She hoped. More than likely, she’d be too busy making out with Lucas to notice. Besides, the guys were bringing plenty of booze, and her best friend Neve always had a blunt tucked away, ready to go. She’d be fine.
“I’ll leave you to it, then.” Her mom smiled, then turned, her footsteps down the hall as light as a fairy floating through the woods.
Taking a deep breath, Amarie removed the bottles of shampoo and conditioner from her bed. It was only one night. She didn’t need them. Everything else, though, she’d have to fit into one bag. Lucas would kill her if she made him schlep all of their gear and three bags of her own.
She put aside the heating pad, too. It’d be too hot, and besides, there wouldn’t be anywhere she could plug it in. She’d have to hope that her joints behaved for the one night. If all else failed, she could just go home. It wasn’t as if they were even going out of town. Black Rock State Park was less than five miles away from her parents’ house.
She was going to try to enjoy herself, though. She rarely got to see Neve anymore, and Lucas wouldn’t be happy with her if she took off early.
Subtracting her extra pillows, instant ice packs, and a few other things from her bed, Amarie shoved the remaining items into her tote.
“Thank goodness for obnoxiously large Victoria’s Secret totes,” she murmured.
She was going to have fun, she told herself. Everything would be just like normal: the guys cracking open cheap cans of beer and shotgunning them; Neve braiding her hair while they tanned on the small lake beach; the group sharing silly ghost stories around the fire as they passed the blunt back and forth.
Still, even as she added one more pillow to her tote—just in case—Amarie wished that, for once, things could be a little different.
* * *
Because their campsite was so small, the group decided to bring as few vehicles as possible. Amarie hated the idea of leaving behind her little blue Hyundai Accent. If she needed to leave, she’d have to talk someone sober into bringing her home. Or, she surmised with a grimace, she’d have to call her parents like a stranded teenager. She propped an elbow on her big ass tote and rested her head on her hand.
Lucas was late—as usual. She’d been sitting outside for fifteen minutes, not that she minded. The sun was warm on her skin and, despite the humidity, there was a regular breeze that made the air bearable. What was bugging her was her empty iMessages.
He hadn’t even texted to give her a heads up.
A pristine white SUV pulled into her driveway. Her best friend leaned out of the open driver’s side window. “Need a ride, little girl?”
“Aren’t creepers supposed to drive white vans?” Amarie grinned and stood, hefting her ginormous tote with both arms. Her elbows ached in protest.
Neve pressed a button and the door to the trunk lifted open, its air compression mechanism hissing softly. “True,” she agreed, “but beggars can’t be choosers.” She patted the dashboard.
Amarie fit her tote into a nook between a packed tent and several folded camping chairs. Then she joined Neve inside, the cold air conditioning a relief. “I can’t believe your parents let you drive this thing.”
“Me either.” Neve flipped on the rear camera and began backing out of the driveway.
“Then again,” Amarie said, “I guess it’s harder to total a vehicle when you have cameras helping you.”
“In my defense, someone T-boned me while I was parked.” Neve eased the SUV—which reminded Amarie more of a spaceship than a car—onto the road.
“Excuses, excuses,” she teased. “So, while I’m super happy to see your face in person, I’m a little confused. I thought Lucas was picking me up.”
“I know you were looking forward to making out with your boyfriend,” Neve said, slipping on sunglasses against the glare, “but you’re stuck with me.” She puckered her lips, and Amarie laughed.
“You’re too straight for me,” she said. “Seriously, though. Where’s Lucas?”
“The guys couldn’t fit all of their gear in one car, so they asked me to be the transporter. Matt is coming later in his truck with the rest of it.” Neve jerked her head toward the back seat, her delicate but tightly coiled curls bouncing with the motion. Though her skin was a few shades lighter than Amarie’s, she had her beat in the hair department.
“Oh.” Amarie eyed Neve’s hair, mentally comparing it to her own spirals for probably the millionth time. While her curls would weigh heavily against her neck during the hottest part of the day, Neve’s floated in a cloud around her face.
“I know what you’re doing,” Neve said. “Not all of us can be this blessed. Thank goodness for my beautiful African genes.” She patted her hair.
“Rub it right in,” Amarie said with a smile. She scrolled through her texts again. “I just . . . I’m sorry for obsessing, but he didn’t even text me.”
“You’re like a conversational ping pong ball.” Neve glanced at her over her sunglasses. “Boys, hair envy, and then boys again. If I promise to braid your hair and feed you wine coolers, will you relax?”
She sighed. “I’ll try. It’s just, I thought he was coming.”
“You’ll see your man soon enough,” Neve said. “God, you guys are so gross. You’re like the power couple of the group. He looks like a model, and you ain’t so bad yourself.”
Amarie pictured Lucas’s full, sensuous lips and sensitive brown eyes. He was gorgeous, and she did like him, but being Lucas’s girlfriend felt more like the right thing to do rather than the thing her heart desperately needed. He was her best friend’s boyfriend’s friend—not to mention studying to be a special needs teacher—and it’d just made sense. When they both started working at the same Dunkin Donuts together, it sealed the deal.
“All right, girl, quit spacing out and pouting, and help me sing this embarrassingly catchy ESX song.” Neve turned the volume to the XM radio station up. She definitely had the comfortable lifestyle of a doctor down. By the time she graduated Stanford, finished her residency, and started practicing, Amarie mused, Neve’s life wouldn’t be much different.
She wondered, in ten years’ time, where she and all of her friends would be. Despite how easily the group had fallen into place, they were all going in completely different directions. Even she and Lucas couldn’t possibly withstand the test of time. Especially not with her deteriorating mystery illness.
She was going to be lucky if she made it long enough to gain tenure as a teacher.
“Okay, you asked for it.” Neve turned the volume higher and practically screeched the annoying but catchy boy band song.
Rolling her eyes, Amarie obliged her friend. She was supposed to be having fun on this trip, after all.
* * *
Amarie snuggled into her cozy sweats, enjoying the way the combed cotton caressed her body. The sun had dipped below the tree line a while ago, and even though it wouldn’t set until around 8:30 p.m., the pines overhead made their campsite chilly.
“We’re almost out of wine coolers,” Neve lamented. She closed the cooler and joined Amarie, settling into her camping chair. She handed Amarie a bottle.
“You two are a pair of lushes,” Jason said from his position by the fire pit. He squatted next to it, stacking kindling around balled up pages of newspaper and a few candle stubs. For a guy with such a cherubic face, he was far handier than Lucas.
Amarie supposed that, out of the trio, Matt and Jason were more the outdoorsmen than her guy.
Jason swore in Portuguese. Amarie looked over just in time to catch him sucking on a finger.
“Maybe we should wait for Matt,” she said.
He shot her a dirty look. “I can build a fire.”
“Clearly,” Neve said, arching an eyebrow at him.
Despite the ribbing, Jason looked at her tenderly. He returned to his task, striking another match and holding it to the newspaper.
Amarie wished that she and Lucas had the same connection that Neve and Jason seemed to have. Even as Lucas scooped her out of her chair, settling her into his lap, she didn’t feel the butterflies in her tummy that she should have—though things much lower heated and clenched.
With Lucas, things were purely sexual. Her heart just wasn’t in it, no matter how hard she tried. She snuggled into his arms, willing herself to feel it. His arms wound around her, holding her close, but the only warmth she sensed was body heat and lust.
She wanted that great love, the kind that would knock her off her feet, sending her life careening off track. Even Matt had found it—the only one of them that rarely dated, dedicating most of his time to his mother and little brother. If he could, surely so could she. So far, though, the longer she waited to fall in love with Lucas, the more she realized that their relationship was seriously lacking.
The sound of tires rolling over the dirt road snagged her attention. Matt’s truck backed into the campsite. The party would really be starting soon.
She craned her neck, trying to get a glimpse of Matt’s new girl. Her name was something uncommon, something that started with an R. Rosalie or Rhiannon or something like that. Her eyebrows scrunched together as she fought through the brain fog to remember.
The girl who hopped out of the truck first wasn’t anything like she’d expected, though. Her heart hitched, catching mid-beat. Wild, teal hair framed her face, contrasting lush red lips. Bright, round blue eyes surveyed the campsite.
She looked nothing like Amarie had pictured. She certainly didn’t look like Matt’s type. When her gaze lighted on Amarie and she smiled, Amarie’s heart actually fluttered.
“Guys,” Matt said, drawing her attention. “This is Rowan.” He gestured to another girl standing shyly next to him. A pretty girl, but Amarie’s gaze immediately flickered back to the other woman. “And her friend Charlotte.”
Charlotte, she mouthed, tasting the name on her lips.
From across the site, Charlotte’s eyes met hers. She held her gaze. Fireflies drifted through the purple-streaked twilight, their lights flashing gently as they called to each other: Be mine, be mine, be mine. Amarie’s hands trembled on the arms of her chair. The soft breeze that had caressed her skin all day stroked Charlotte’s hair, moving it away from her face.
Those cherry lips parted, and the campsite around them disappeared.
“Hi,” Charlotte said, wiggling her fingers. “Nice to meet you.” Those eyes never wavered, trained solely on Amarie.
“You too,” Amarie whispered. She drank in those eyes, mind flipping through all of the colors she knew, trying to remember the name of the exact shade of Charlotte’s eyes. They were somewhere between cyan and gray, a blue bright and pale, like the spot where the sky met the ocean on the horizon.
“Call me Char,” Charlotte said, and it was as if she was speaking directly to Amarie. Every time her lips moved, Amarie strained to memorize them. They were so red and plump, as if they were made especially for kissing. She had to restrain herself from imagining exactly how swollen she could make them if she ever had the chance to kiss Char.
“Welcome to our humble gathering,” Lucas rumbled from underneath Amarie. The vibration of his voice through her body snapped her out of the trance that Char had put her under.
She yanked her eyes toward the flames licking the newspaper, igniting the sticks. Jason stacked skinny logs in an upside down V around the flames.
Matt laughed. “Dude, are you drunk? You’re supposed to set up the teepee shape before you light the kindling.” He shook his head. “Let me get our tents pitched, and then I’ll take over fire duty.”
Amarie straightened, wondering where Char was going to sleep. Since Matt and Rowan were together, that made Char the seventh wheel. Surely Rowan wouldn’t leave her friend to sleep alone in the woods. She opened her mouth, ready to make rearrangements so that she, Neve, and Char shared a tent, leaving Lucas and Jason in the third tent.
Rowan pulled a tent of her own out of the bed of Matt’s pickup, though. To Matt’s dismay, she and Char began pitching it.
Amarie pressed her lips together, feeling a bit sorry for Matt—and herself. She had a boyfriend, though. She snuggled into Lucas, closing her eyes. Besides, even if she was single, it wasn’t as if Char would actually be into her. Their “connection” had simply been a product of all of the booze floating through her veins. Nothing more.
Still, all throughout the night and the rest of their camping trip, she couldn’t get Char out of her head. If she took a leap and broke up with Lucas, she might find herself in the kind of love that swept her away. Or maybe she would be living yet another fantasy.
I like lists. Schedules. Planners. Being prepared. As much as I appreciate order, though, life continues to teach me that I can’t control everything.
Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.
Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do other than let go and focus on the things you can change.
I’m learning this more and more lately.
Because I have anxiety, I can easily spin out—especially when there are too many what ifs hanging over my head. I’ve always been observant and curious, which are both my best and worst qualities. I see everything. I always have. Sometimes it’s a bit like being the psychic in a Stephen King novel. You just know shit’s gonna hit the fan, but no one will listen to you because you’re weird.
I can be stubborn and pushy, which almost never works, but I have a really hard time letting go and letting be.
Especially when it concerns people I love.
But more and more I’m learning to focus on me. Even when it feels selfish or wrong. Because, at the end of the day, the only thing I can control is what I do.
I can’t force a loved one to get help, but I can be a shoulder to lean on and an ear to listen with.
Because the truth is, no matter how observant I may be and how much I might worry, I still don’t know what the future holds. Not for sure, anyway. By working on myself, though, and making sure my own world is stable, I can be more available for others—and whatever comes next.
My worry list is long, but the more I work on myself, the more capable I am of coping with those worries.
Rowan stared out the almost too-shiny front window of Elli’s. It’d long been replaced since the wild thunderstorm a few months earlier, but the glass was nearly reflective. She suspected it had more to do with Matt’s obsessive cleaning of the window than the actual glass itself.
She sighed. Snowflakes drifted down from the sky, painting the quiet Main Street in soft white. The scene was picturesque—or it should’ve been. Watertown’s Christmas cheer contest was in just three days, and she was nervous.
Actually, “nervous” didn’t even begin to cover it. She’d entered Elli’s—the bakery she’d inherited from her aunt Katherine—with confidence, but that was before The Curse started.
Yes, she was definitely calling it The Curse now.
It was more than a funk. She’d been in baking ruts before—where no matter what she did, she botched every single recipe—but that was years ago when she was still a student. She was a pastry chef—one with certification and her own business. She never messed up the recipes she’d made a thousand times before. It was getting to the point where Matt—her handsome business partner and boyfriend—was taking over her morning work. She was even ruining plain old bread. No matter how carefully she measured, it ended up too salty or completely flat.
She was cursed, plain and simple.
She sighed again and looked away from the pretty town. Normally, snow would cheer her up. It was almost Christmas, after all. But if she couldn’t pull it together, Elli’s would not only lose the competition, but they’d become the laughingstock of the town.
Her shoulders slumped. “C’mon, Aunt Katherine,” she whispered. “Be my angel and guide me or something.”
The bells over the door jingled and Rowan straightened in her seat. A vaguely familiar young woman strode in, a red Starbucks cup in her gloved hand. She was decked out in full winter attire: the world’s cutest knit cap, a red sweater wrapped several times around her neck, and cozy UGG boots. Rowan glanced down at her flour- and chocolate-streaked chef’s jacket. Matt should be up front greeting customers—not her.
“Hello,” she said, managing not to sound like a total Scrooge. “What can I get for you?”
“Hi there,” the other woman chirped. “I’m from over at Tilly’s.” She pointed in the direction of the little café. “I’m just scoping out the competition.” She peered into the display case, not even trying to look ashamed. “All you have are sandwiches? Where are those famous cookies and cheesecakes I keep hearing about?”
Rowan suppressed a groan. Tilly’s Café, to both her and Matt’s chagrin, had opened about a month earlier. The town only allowed three total bakeries, but Elli’s hadn’t had a competitor in years. Everyone loved Elli’s. There was no need for another place like it. But Tilly’s had roared in, taking the space where the old chocolate café had once been. The owners fixed up the inside, repaired the stage, and reinstated the open mic nights and other events the town had loved when Rowan was a kid. Elli’s couldn’t possibly compete with that vibe, considering they didn’t have enough space to add a stage.
There had been no stopping it, though. Technically Tilly’s was well within their right, and the town approved it unanimously. Competition, everyone said, was healthy.
Composing herself, she lifted her chin. “Gotta keep our secret weapons hidden until the big day.”
“Ah.” The woman lifted a finger. “Good plan.” She held out a hand. “We haven’t met yet. My name is Tilly. Are you surprised?” She simpered, perfect dimples appearing in each cheek.
Rowan shook hands with her and resisted the urge to gag. Tilly was sugary sweet, in that completely fake way that some women adopted. “So you’re the baker?”
Tilly scoffed. “Oh no, sweetie, I’m the director. I have people baking for me.” She glanced Rowan up and down. “I’m assuming you’re the baker here. Where’s your director?”
“You’re looking at her,” Rowan said, not bothering to hide her disdain.
“Oh my. That’s telling.” Tilly shook her head and clucked her tongue in disapproval. Straightening, she sniffed the air, her delicate nose wrinkling. “Is something burning?”
Eyes widening, Rowan darted out of the front room and careened into the kitchen. “No, no, no,” she protested, yanking open the oven door. But it was too late. The pan she withdrew and placed on the counter held a dozen nearly black red velvet cupcakes. She slumped against the stainless steel counter.
“Well,” Tilly said from the kitchen entrance, “it’s been a pleasure. I’m really glad I came by.” With one last condescending smile, she turned and left.
Rowan glowered at her back. “I’m really glad you’re a total bitch,” she muttered. She shook her head at herself. That was hardly even a comeback.
“Are you talking to yourself again?” Matt strolled into the kitchen from the back room. He carried a clipboard in one hand and pushed back brown curls from his eyes with his other.
“You were supposed to be watching the cupcakes,” she accused.
“I was?” Green eyes shifted from side to side. “I thought I was taking inventory.” He pointed to the clipboard.
Jabbing a finger at the ruined goodies, Rowan scowled. “Tilly’s owner came by. She was a complete tool.” She crossed her arms.
“Sorry, babe.” Matt put the clipboard down. It clinked against the stainless steel counter. He drew her in for a hug, and she couldn’t help but relax against him. With his green eyes, cherub-like curls, and muscular arms, he was living, breathing Ativan. “Still on that streak, huh?”
She huffed. “It’s a curse.”
“Nah.” Stepping back a bit, he lifted her chin with a warm finger. “It’ll pass. You’re Rowan, Elli’s amazing baker.”
Snorting, she shook her head. “More like Elli’s walking disaster!”
“It’ll be okay.”
“Oh yeah? When? The day after the competition?” She stepped completely away and put her hands on her hips.
“It’s no big deal. It’s just a contest.”
Her eyes widened. “Just a contest? Matt, you must have amnesia. Elli’s has won every single Christmas cheer contest for the past ten years.”
“To be fair,” he said, “that’s only because we’ve been the only bakery in town.”
Rowan’s jaw dropped open. “Are you saying we didn’t deserve those awards?”
He held up his hands. “I’m just saying that there was no one else in our category. It’s been, well . . . a piece of cake.”
“I hate you right now.”
He chuckled and slapped his thigh. “Sorry, I couldn’t help it.”
Rolling her eyes, she turned back to the burnt cupcakes. “This event always meant a lot to Aunt Katherine. Christmas was her favorite holiday.” Tears stung her eyes. Exactly six months had passed since Katherine had suddenly died—well, suddenly to Rowan. She’d had no idea that Katherine was even sick. She’d been out in New Jersey, licking her wounds and hoping to sever her family ties all the way down to her DNA. She’d been so, so wrong.
Matt cupped her shoulders. “I know,” he said quietly. Those green eyes bore into hers, pulling her back from the abyss. He smiled. “What if we go through Katherine’s recipe book? Maybe you just need to try something new.”
“And botch one of her sacred recipes?” She shook her head. “I don’t think I could handle it.”
“Well, it’s better than ruining your own recipes and beating yourself up.” His lips flattened. “Actually, it’d be great if you could just stop the self-flagellation altogether. Ro, you’re a freakin’ magician in the kitchen. Everyone has a bad day now and then.”
“A two-week bad day?” she asked. Still, she bent down and retrieved the cherished recipe book from its spot, nestled in a wicker cube that also housed Katherine’s lucky apron. She eyed the apron thoughtfully. “Maybe I should put that on.” Her forehead wrinkled. “Or . . . not. It’s probably better if I don’t taint it.”
She plunked the recipe book onto the counter. It was a two-inch binder wrapped in a floral pattern fabric. Each of Katherine’s recipes was tucked into a clear sheet protector, written in her looping hand that Rowan had always loved. She flipped it open and skimmed through the contents. “What do you think?”
He drummed his fingers on the counter. “Something we don’t make very often . . . and something easy.”
“Hey.” She swatted at him.
Shaking her head, she read through the list again. “What about Aunt Katherine’s candy cane cookies?” She tapped the photo with a fingernail that she’d nibbled down to the nub.
“Those are good,” Matt agreed. “She made them the first year I worked here.”
“You mean the year you stole my job?”
“Yeah. That year.” He grinned. “Anyway, she wouldn’t let me touch them. I could only watch. She was so particular about how everything was done.”
“In the best way possible.” Rowan smiled. “She always wanted to make sure you were paying attention, that you really learned how to bake with your heart.”
He nodded, then pressed a kiss to her cheek. “Bake with your heart, babe.” He picked up the clipboard again.
“You’re not going to help?”
“I believe I just did.”
“You know what I mean.” She began laying out the ingredients.
Grimacing, he continued toward the store room. “And hang around you? That’s bad juju.” He strolled away, whistling “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
“Brat,” she called after him. Still, she smiled. Despite their rocky beginning, Matt was the best thing that had ever happened to her.
Rolling up her sleeves, she got to work.
She flipped on her favorite Christmas music playlist—a mix of piano-only songs on Spotify. With the cheerful tunes drifting through the kitchen, she started mixing the dough. Mixing was always her favorite part. Though she used a mixer, there was just something so soothing about watching all of the ingredients come together. She combined butter, sugar, egg yolks, and peppermint extract, watching as the paddle stirred the wet components together. Her shoulders loosened and a sappy smile played on her lips.
This was it. She was going to break the curse, if it was the last thing she did.
Switching the mixer to low, she stirred in the dry ingredients. The dough churned, becoming more and more solid with each turn. It was hard to believe that, at one point, she’d been willing to give all of this up.
Once the dough was mixed enough, she shut off the machine and separated it into two equal halves. She swaddled one in plastic wrap and set it aside. Maybe covering it completely was going overboard, but with her luck she’d splash red food coloring everywhere and she’d end up with completely red cookies instead of candy cane-shaped cookies, alternating in red and white.
She hummed to herself as she dyed the other half of the dough red. Already she could see the perfect little candy canes, positioned in the display case so that every other one of them were Js, their sugar sprinkles glistening.
Using her hands, she shaped each ball of dough into a flat square, smoothing the edges into perfection with a bench scrape.
The front door jingled again, and she cringed. “Matt,” she called.
“It’s just me.” Her best friend, Charlotte, practically floated into the kitchen. Her face glowed, and Rowan suspected it had little to do with the cold weather.
“Tell me everything,” Rowan said as she wrapped the squares, “in just one more minute.” She tucked the dough into the walk-in refrigerator, taking a moment to admire her work. Content, she hurried back into the kitchen. “Go!” she told Charlotte.
“Okay, so you remember Amarie?” Charlotte said, unable to hide the goofy grin that clung to her lips like confectioner’s sugar.
“How could I forget?” Rowan tossed everything into the pot sink for later scrubbing.
“Well,” Charlotte drew out the word, “she added me on Facebook a while back.”
“Uh-huh. I remember,” Rowan prodded.
“She hasn’t posted much lately, because of finals and all that, but . . . she’s coming home for winter break!” Charlotte clapped her hands together and bounced on the balls of her feet, her hair flying off her shoulders. Usually dyed one bright color or another, Charlotte had made no exceptions for the holiday season and had turned her naturally blonde locks into cheery Christmas red.
“That’s awesome, Char,” Rowan said with a smile. “So are you gonna make a move?”
Charlotte’s smile faded. She took a deep breath. “She’s still with Jason,” she admitted.
Rowan nodded sympathetically. “We’ll just have to plan a get-together and then you can sweep her off her feet!”
Her best friend shrugged. “I don’t know . . . I mean, I know she’s queer. My gaydar has never failed me. But . . .”
“Jason puts a wrench in the plans.”
“Exactly. I’m not into adultery.”
“They’re not exactly married,” Rowan said, lifting a finger.
“Right, but they’ve been together a while now. Over a year? Maybe even close to two. And I don’t think she knows she likes girls, too, Ro. Like, maybe deep down, but not really, you know?”
Rowan nodded. She slung an arm around Charlotte. “We’ve got to cure you of this crush, babe. It’s only going to tear you apart.”
Charlotte twisted her lips to the side. “I know it. I barely know the girl. I’ve never felt so connected with anyone before, though. It sounds freakin’ stalker-ish.”
“Nah. I get it.” Rowan shrugged out of her chef’s jacket. “How about we go get our Starbucks fix? I’m really craving a peppermint mocha now,” she said, sniffing at the faint traces of the oil on her hands.
Charlotte giggled. “So I take it your streak has ended?”
“I think so,” Rowan said. “I can feel it.” She pulled on her winter coat, a black parka that fell to her knees. Though Charlotte had tried talking her into dying her whole head green, Rowan had gone back to her natural mousy brown—just until the competition was over. She meant no offense to Charlotte, but she’d wanted to be taken seriously, and she was glad now that she knew how put-together Tilly was.
Linking arms with Charlotte, Rowan called out to Matt that they were heading out, and promised to bring him something back. Arm in arm, she and Charlotte stepped onto Main Street. It was at least a mile walk to Starbucks, but with Charlotte she didn’t even feel cold. They chitchatted as they walked, catching up on their lives. Charlotte had started bartending school so that she could be a mixologist at The 545, the lounge she was a short order cook at.
“This way I can chat up cute girls and make some extra money in tips,” she reasoned.
“Makes sense to me.”
Rowan glanced into the windows of the various shops they passed. Main Street was always cute, but it had an even more special vibe during the holidays. Each bare tree was wrapped in white string lights, the lights intertwining and forming a canopy above the sidewalk. It was pure magic, she surmised.
By the time they stepped inside Starbucks, though, her cheeks and nose were numb.
“My treat,” Charlotte said, blocking her from the chip reader.
“No, mine,” Rowan insisted. “You got the last time.”
“Plus Matt’s ordering too. C’mon.”
Charlotte stuck out her tongue playfully and gave the barista their orders before Rowan could argue further.
“You,” Rowan told her, wrapping her in a one-armed hug.
“Me.” Charlotte beamed.
They took their coffees and sat down at a table.
“So,” Charlotte said meaningfully, dragging out the word. “Any special Christmas plans with Matt?”
Rowan tilted her head, her eyebrows furrowed. As far as she knew, they were each spending Christmas with their families. They saw each other every day anyway. They could exchange gifts any time.
“Seriously? He didn’t invite you to Christmas dinner with the family?”
“So what? I mean, he doesn’t really have a lot of family. It’ll just be his mom, his little brother, and him. He doesn’t get to spend much time with them.”
Charlotte gave her a flat look. “You guys have been together for like six months now.”
“Four, technically. Actually . . .” Rowan counted. “Three.”
Her best friend rolled her eyes. “Six,” she said firmly. “That month or whatever you were ‘broken up’ so doesn’t count.”
“Either way,” Rowan said, “it’s family time.” She suppressed a groan. “Family time,” to her parents, meant ditching their children just before the holidays for their annual cruise. “What are your plans?” she asked, changing the subject.
“The Butler family tradition: Christmas Eve mass and a stern talking-to about how God hates gays.” She rolled her eyes.
“I’m sorry, love.” Rowan reached across the table and gave her best friend’s hand a warm squeeze. “Any way you can skip?”
“Only if I’m bleeding to death. And even then . . .” She shrugged.
Rowan raised her coffee cup in a salute. “To family.”
Charlotte knocked her cup against Rowan’s. “Happy holidays.” She giggled.
A little while later, they headed back to Elli’s. Full dark had fallen in the meantime and, with it, the temperature. Rowan huddled deep into her coat.
Charlotte walked her to the door and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Good luck with those candy canes,” she said. She hopped into her warm car, thanks to her remote starter when they were still a block away, and waved as she pulled from the curb.
Taking a deep breath, Rowan hurried into the warmth of Elli’s. She hung her coat up, then went into the walk-in.
Matt bent over a shelf, his black Dickies accenting his ass.
“Nice,” she said flirtatiously.
Straightening, he turned and wrapped her in a hug. Full, warm lips pressed to hers. “Aw, look who’s cold. Let me warm you up, baby.”
“In the walk-in?” Rowan lifted an eyebrow.
He smirked. “We could do it in the kitchen instead, if you prefer.”
“Tempting,” she said, twirling away, “but I’ve got a hot date.” She grabbed her chilled dough and took it to her station, leaving him chuckling after her.
Heart thudding in her chest, she eyed the dough on the stainless steel, willing it to cooperate. “All right,” she said. “Let’s break this streak.”
Rowan is determined to win the town’s Christmas cheer contest, but she’s in a funk—for the past two weeks straight, she’s managed to botch every single recipe. With the judging day only a few days away, can Matt get her back on track?
Just One More Christmas is a standalone holiday romance novelette set six months after the novel Just One More Minute.
I’m still unplugged to focus on my health, but I also don’t want to lose momentum with my career. It’s a double-edged sword. What I’ve decided is, while I won’t be checking Twitter/Facebook/etc, I’ll still post bookish things using HootSuite. And I’ll continue with my marketing plan for Just One More Minute.
The next thing on my list is a 50 reviews blitz for this month, meaning I’d really like to get the book to 50 reviews or more on Amazon. Why? Because word on the indie author street is, once a book has 50-60 reviews, Amazon starts suggesting it in emails to their customers—hence more eyeballs on my little book. Since I can’t afford a NetGalley or even a co-op, I’ve had to get creative to get those reviews. For my last few releases, I’ve been offering incentives, AKA… presents.
Here’s how it works.
Every time we reach a new milestone, I’ll give you, my readers, some kind of Just One More Minute bonus or giveaway. In the past, I’ve done this in multiples of five, but this time I’d like to try something different.
Right now, Just One More Minute has 4 reviews on Amazon. This is a great start! When we get to…
I know we can at least reach 50 reviews by the end of December!
So how can you help?
If you’ve already read Just One More Minute, great! Please go post a review on Amazon (and any other site, like Goodreads). Your review can be as simple as a couple sentences saying whether you liked the book.
If you haven’t purchased a copy yet, you can buy your copy here. After you read it, post your honest review on Amazon and any other site.
If you can’t purchase a copy but would still like to help, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me which format you need. If you’re reading on a Kindle, please include your Kindle email address (and make sure you’ve added my email address to your approved senders list). I’ll send you a free review copy!
Please note that at this time, I’m unable to process emails quickly; I’m currently checking my inbox every Monday (though sometimes I sneak on in the middle of the week), to save my hands and wrists. Just be patient with me, pretty please. 😘
I know with your help, we can totally do this.
*U.S. residents only