So, the other day I sent off the manuscript for the final book in my Match Made in Heaven series, BAKED WITH LOVE, to my editor at Wild Rose Press. Fingers crossed she likes it.
I get a great deal of inspiration for writing my characters from my PInterest Boards. I have a few for Baked with Love you can troll thru:
Below is the opening scene I’ve written for the book. Here’s hoping it stays as is when it gets edited, because I lovelovelove this scene so much! Hope you do, too.
“Oh, my God, Maureen.” My sister Colleen’s voice rose a good two octaves from its normal sultry timbre. “Are those…penis pops?”
“Lower your voice,” I told her as I continued to pipe buttercream roses on the cupcakes I’d made for tomorrow’s wedding. “My entire inn doesn’t need to know I’ve got those”—I grinned—“hardening in my kitchen.”
“Why, in the name of all that’s holy are there”—she counted out loud—“seven chocolate candies in the shape of male genitalia on your counter?”
“Because your bride’s maid of honor special ordered them for the attendants. I tried to talk her out of it, but she paid me triple to make them and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Be happy there are only seven. She wanted one for each of the thirty females on the guest list. I was able to talk her out of it by promising to make those”—I pointed my chin toward the candy—“for the bridesmaids. She’s going to present them tonight after the rehearsal. Thinks they’ll be, quote, a scream, unquote.”
My wedding planner and getting-bigger-by-the-second pregnant sister plopped down onto one of my kitchen chairs and sighed. Heavily.
“Oh, good Lord. Thanks for the head’s up. I’ll make sure the moms are nowhere in sight when she gives them out. I don’t relish having to listen to one more complaint about this wedding. I’ve had enough for the past week to last me until Princess here”—she patted her round tummy—“is off to college.”
I flicked her a glance and said, “Put your feet up, Coll. I can see how swollen they are from here.”
With more effort than was probably warranted – she is after all, related to our grandmother, who corners the market on theatricality – she hefted her feet onto an opposing kitchen chair then extended and flexed her toes a few times. This time her sigh was thick with fatigue, and if I wasn’t mistaken, pain.
“I can’t believe you’re still wearing those ridiculous heels when you’re almost nine months along,” I chided. “Standing in them all day can’t be good for the baby. Or your back.”
“Stop scolding me.” It was impossible not to miss the whine in her voice. “I refuse to take advice from someone who thinks flipflops are the greatest invention known to the shoe wearing population of the world. For the record, my back is fine and my feet don’t hurt.”
“No, they just look like flesh colored water balloons.”
“When did you turn so mean? You’re usually the supportive, quiet sister.”
In ordinary circumstances this was true. But with my ready-to-pop and three-inch heel wearing sister, I was more than willing to make an exception.
I piped the last rose on the final cupcake, laid my pastry bag down on the counter, and took a good look at her. Camera ready face with her professionally polished outfit perfect and not a tendril of red hair out of place, the middle of my three sisters looked something she rarely did: tired. With her hands folded over her protruding belly, she’d dropped her chin to her chest and closed her eyes.
The snarky remark I was going to make about the benefits of wearing flats died before I gave it breath.
Since lunch service had finished a half hour ago and my serving staff was done with cleanup, Colleen and I were alone in my kitchen. I put the kettle on for tea and asked, “Did you have lunch?”
When she lifted her head her eyes took a moment to clear before they focused on me, lending credence to the fact she was tired. And maybe more than simply tired.
“There’s a salad waiting for me at the office. Charity got one for me while I was with the florist.”
“Text her back and tell her to put it in the fridge. I’ll make you something to eat.”
While she contacted her assistant, I plated the luncheon salad I’d concocted for today’s menu, then put half a ham and cheese sandwich into my Panini maker.
“Eat this until the sandwich is done.” I handed her the salad and a bottled water.
“What is it?”
“Spinach, cranberries, walnuts, raisins and carrots with a light pomegranate dressing and shaved Parmesan.”
Colleen shoved a forkful in and groaned. “Oh. My. God. Honestly, Maureen, you should have your own cooking show. This is insane.”
“Everything she makes is insane,” a male voice said from the doorway.
It was a voice I knew well, since its owner was a frequent inhabitant of my dreams. Husky and deep, with a dash of just woken gravel, it could cajole a lover into seduction or cut off a criminal at the knees.
Fortunately, I’d never been the latter. But I’d fantasized about being the former for years.
“Truth,” Colleen said around a mouthful of salad. “Why are you here?” she asked Heaven’s Chief of Police, Lucas Alexander before I could. “Somebody call a cop?”
Lucas flicked his moss green, heavily hooded eyes from my sister to me, one corner of his mouth tilting up. I actually had to contract my pelvic floor muscles whenever he looked at me so I wouldn’t melt to the floor in a pool of want. My ninety-three year old grandmother, Nanny Fee, calls this girding your loins. As far as a descriptive phrase for the maneuver, it’s a good one.
“You got a minute?” he asked me.
“A few. Then I have to get the dining room reading for tonight’s rehearsal dinner.” I pulled Colleen’s sandwich from the press when the bell tinged. Lucas, always comfortable in my kitchen, moved to lean a hip against the counter and then halted mid stride.
I knew the cause of his sudden stop and bit down on the inside of my cheek while I handed Colleen her plate. She caught my eye, and my stifled grin, and realized the cause. Her lips lifted in a wicked grin.
Lucas cleared his throat. “Are those–? Wait. What, what are those? Are they…?”
“Are they what?” Colleen asked, innocence dripping from her voice, at the same time I asked, “Want one?”
Lucas spun around to find the two of us staring at him, expressions blanked, and waiting for him to continue.
He huffed out a breath and dragged a hand through his hair. “Never mind,” he said, with a nervous shake of his head and shoulders.
Colleen glanced up at me, winked, and then took a huge bite of her Panini. “Oh, good Lord, Mo.”
I smiled and told her, “You’re welcome,” before I said to Lucas, “What’s up?”
He cocked his head in a come-with-me move.
In the breezeway separating my private kitchen from the commercial one I used for the inn I own and cook in, Lucas stopped, bit down on a corner of his mouth, and twirled his hat in his hands. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was nervous, but nerves weren’t an emotion common to this man. His army training had taught him how to remain calm in any crisis, cool under the most volatile of situations. I’d never even heard him raise his voice in all the years I’d known him.
I repeated my question.
“I need a favor.”
I rolled my hand in a go on gesture.
“Cathy might have mentioned Robert’s coming to spend a few weeks with me. Nora’s getting remarried this weekend and then leaving on a long honeymoon.”
I nodded. “I’d heard that, but not from Cathy.” To the question in his eyes I said, “Nanny told me the other day when I dropped off her scone delivery at the nursing home. She heard it from Tillie Carlisle who got it from Maeve Capshaw, whose granddaughter, Olivia, told her. Nanny said Olivia was the one who introduced Nora to her intended at a divorced-and-looking event she’d hosted.”
“Jesus.” Lucas shook his head again. “Small towns.”
I couldn’t help but smile. “A curse and a blessing, as Cathy is fond of saying.”
“Yeah, well, your sister is one of the smartest people I know. Anyway. Nora doesn’t want to leave Robert home alone. He’s too old for a babysitter, but at fifteen, still too young to be left to his own defenses. He just started driver’s ed and doesn’t have a valid license yet, so it was easier to take him while she’s gone.”
“So he’s gonna stay with you and your dad until they get back?”
“Why don’t you sound happy? Whenever Robert’s visited for school breaks before you’ve always been thrilled since you don’t get to see him as much since they moved.”
He huffed out another breath and leaned a shoulder against the wall. My pregnant sister wasn’t the only one who was tired.
“I’m not not happy he’s coming to stay. It’s more, things with dad now aren’t good and I’m afraid he’s gonna make the kid’s life miserable with all his complaining and griping. Last time Robert came for a weekend all dad did was harp on him. Get a haircut, stand up straight, stop mumbling. Poor kid couldn’t wait to get back to his mother, and that’s saying something, because she’s almost as bad. I don’t want him to spend all his time with his grandfather while he’s here, getting criticized for merely breathing.”
“I’m assuming this is where the favor you need from me comes in?”
He nodded. “The kid needs something to occupy him while he’s here. I’ve gotta work and I can’t take any time. I don’t want him sitting home all day fighting with dad or locked in his room playing video games. I want him to get out of the house. Get a job. You hire high school kids to bus tables and help serve. I’m hoping you’ll take Robert on as summer crew. Then, I’ll know where he is during the day, he’ll earn a little money of his own, and I won’t have to worry about coming home to World War III every night. Plus…”
“Well, if he’s with you I won’t…worry about him. I know he’ll be in good hands. You’ll feed him and watch out for him like he was one of your own. Like you do everyone else.”
To say I was thrilled by the offhanded compliment was an understatement. Even if I wasn’t on the lookout for extra help, I would have hired Lucas’s son.
“Sure. I can always use another body, especially in the summer when I’ve got a full house every weekend from Colleen’s wedding parties.”
Lucas’s shoulders dropped a couple of degrees from where they’d stationed themselves at his ears and he let out a breath filled with relief. “Thanks, Maureen. Really.”
I waved my hand at him. “Don’t worry about it. When does he get here?”
“Sunday morning. Nora’s dropping him off before she leaves for the airport.”
I nodded. “Get him all unpacked and settled and then you can bring him by Monday. I’ll go over everything with him then, okay?”
“More than okay. Again, I can’t thank you enough. You’re truly a lifesaver.” He took my hand and squeezed it. Lucas had done this hundreds of times over the years and like every other time he had, the wiring in my heart went a little haywire.
And like every other time, I swallowed the temptation to tug on his hand and pull him close enough so I could kiss him.
“Any time okay?” He let my hand go and I had to physically refrain myself from pulling it back.
“After breakfast service would be good, so around ten-ish?”
He nodded. Whatever he was going to say was cut off by the beeper at his waistband blaring.
“Sorry.” A quick glance at it and he shoved his hat back on his head. “Duty calls.” He grinned. “See you Monday.”
I waited until he walked out the Inn’s front doors before going back to the kitchen. In all honesty I needed a moment alone to center myself. Seeing Lucas, no matter when or where, always made my insides flutter, my toes tingle, and my heart beat faster.
From the time I’d turned nine Lucas Alexander had been the only man I’d ever loved. At eighteen, nine years older than me, he’d been my brother-in-law’s best friend from the cradle and a part of our family since I was a baby. But the first time I’d ever spied him in his army uniform I’d lost my heart forever. Cliché though it is, Lucas in a uniform had slayed me, even as a little girl. Twenty-plus years later I still felt the same way whenever I saw him in his police attire.
And in his regular clothes, too.
Colleen was still in her chair, feet up, the plates in front of her now empty, and her chin kissing her chest again. I had to smile. This was the sister who defined the term perpetual motion. To see her actually napping during daylight hours was akin to seeing a leprechaun’s pot’o gold. This pregnancy, her first at the age of thirty-seven, was weighing heavily on her and zapping the energy she was blessed with. I didn’t have the heart to rouse her.
With as little noise as I could, I went about tidying the kitchen. The sharp ping of her cell phone signaling an incoming text ten minutes later called her slumber to an end.
She startled, blinked a few times, then tugged her phone from her pocket. No one I knew could type faster than my sister. A series of rapid-fire finger taps and then the whoosh of her text being sent filled the room.
“Did I fall asleep?” she asked, while she stretched her arms high above her head.
“Just for a few minutes. I’m betting this was the first time you’ve sat all day.”
With another of those soul-weary sighs, she hefted her feet from the chair and stood. Another full body stretch, then she said, “No rest for the wicked. Or wedding planners the day before a big wedding.”
“Where are you off to now?”
“The church, the spa to check tomorrow’s appointments, the printers to pick up the programs for the ceremony. Then back to the office for a conference call.” She ticked each stop off on her fingers. “I can check off the rehearsal and reception right now. Everything set?”
“All taken care of. When you all get back from the rehearsal, I’ll start service. Some of the non-bridal party guests have already begun arriving. I had Janie put all the goodiebags in their rooms this morning. The bridal suite is all set for tomorrow. I have the champagne in the cooler and I’ll put it in the room during the reception.” I swiped a hand toward the cupcakes I’d been decorating when she arrived. “In lieu of the cake your bride didn’t want, I’ve got the cupcakes she did all ready to go.”
Colleen sighed and kissed my cheek. “I honestly don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“You’d survive but you wouldn’t get the family discount or the personal service-with-a-smile you’re used to.”
Her laugh warmed my heart.
“Before you go,” I moved to my industrial refrigerator, pulled out a bundle of aluminum foils and put them in a shopping bag. “Here. Leftovers from yesterday for you and Slade. Now you don’t have to cook tonight.”
Colleen took the bag and then tugged me into her arms for a full body hug, not an easy accomplishment with her belly bump in the way.
“I simply adore you,” she said, with another cheek kiss. “My husband does, as well. You take care of us better than anyone.”
“I aim to please.”
“Speaking of, what did Lucas want?”
I glared at her. “How did you take ‘I am to please’ and equate it with Lucas?”
“He’s just another person in your realm who adores you and who you take care of.”
I shook my head. “Okay, first? He adores my cooking, not me. And second? My realm? Really, Coll? You make me sound like some imperial and benevolent ruler.”
“Benevolent for sure. I won’t go so far as to call you a ruler because then I’d be your subject and I’m older than you, so, no way.”
Her laugh drew one from me.
“And as far as Lucas adoring your cooking and not you, they’re one and the same, sis. Now, why was he here?” She held up the shopping bag. “To mooch one of these go-bags for him and his dad?”
She wasn’t wrong in asking if I’d given him his own to take. More times than not, Lucas would stop by on his way home after a long day for a quick cup of coffee and a chat. He never left empty handed if Sarah—my assistant—or me had anything to say about it.
I explained about Robert Alexander and the favor Lucas had asked me.
“Win win for you,” she said. “You get extra help, which I know you can always use, plus you get another person to take under your smother-love maternal wing and care for.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know exactly what I mean, Maureen Angela Bernadette.” She flapped her free hand in the air like she was waving a wand. “You may be the baby in our family, but you act more like a mother hen any day of the week. You cook for us, look out for us, heck, you even research solutions to problems like you did when Cathy’s dog got sick, or when I was suffering through that awful early stage morning sickness. Adding Lucas’s son, a teenaged boy who’s probably got all the angst and raging emotions inherent in the breed under your wing, and I bet my secret stash of Peppermint Patties the kid’s never gonna look at his own mother the same way again.” She kissed my cheek one more time and said, “I’ve gotta go, so toodles. I’ll see you later when I come back to escort the bridal party to the church. Thanks for lunch.” She lifted the bag. “And dinner.”
To her retreating back I said, “Just FYI, it’s not such a secret stash. We all know where you keep your candy.”
Her response was to toss me a backhanded wave as she went through the doors of the Inn.
With my hands fisted on my hips I shook my head.
So what if I tend to spoil the people I love? Make sure they got enough to eat? Always have a bed ready they can crash in, or a willing ear they can confide in? They deserve it. It’s my humble opinion if more people showed how much they cared about one another, instead of simply tossing out an offhanded I love you every now and again, people, in general, would be much happier.
If that’s smothering, so be it.
Back in my kitchen I washed Colleen’s dishes, then reheated my cup of untouched tea. While I drank it, I planned the next few days in my head and went over the staffing I’d need for the busy weeks ahead of me. When I added Robert Alexander’s name to my mentally tally, it was his father’s ruggedly handsome face that popped into my mind’s eye.
The exhaustion I saw floating in his eyes was worrying. Having his aged and ailing father living with him was taking a toll on Lucas’s mental wellbeing. Hogan Alexander cornered the market on the term curmudgeon. He’d been crabby and ill-tempered ever since I could remember. My grandmother claimed it was because his wife up and left him after sixteen years of marriage, saddling him with a teenaged son Hogan didn’t know how to relate to. The fact Lucas grew to such a wonderful man and upstanding citizen was one of the wonders of the modern world. Cursed with a father who doled out complaints instead of compliments and a mother who left to find her self at the age of forty, Lucas could so easily have gone to the dark side. Instead, he’d enlisted in the army with his best friend, served three tours, then come home to roost.
When his own marriage had gone south, Lucas didn’t turn bitter as his father had, but made every effort he could to be a good father to his son.
A quick glance at the wall clock and I stopped my wool-gathering. I had to get the private dining room ready for Colleen’s bride’s rehearsal dinner. Before though, I needed to wrap the chocolate pops and get them to the Maid of Honor. Remembering the look of confused horror on Lucas’s face when he spied them brought a smile to my own.
But then, just thinking of him always did.
Yeah, I know it’s a long one, but every word I truly loved writing!!!
I’ll let you know about publishing details if and when I have them!
Until next time, peeps ~ Peg