Monday, May 9, 2016

Blog Tour - Live By the Team





Title: Live By The Team
Series: Team Fear Series #1
By: Cindy Skaggs
Publication Date: April 23, 2016
Genre: Romantic Suspense


They created a monster. Trained by the army, enhanced by medical experimentation, and tested in war. What happens to the creature when the war ends and the man awakens? SSgt. Ryder was born, bred, and enhanced as a warrior, but when he returns home to his new wife—exiled from the army along with the rest of his disgraced team—he faces mounting anger and paranoia. When a fellow soldier does the unthinkable, Ryder disappears to protect his wife, but his departure leaves a vacuum filled with danger. Can he save her or will he lose himself to the beast and destroy what matters most? Abandoned most of her life, Lauren Ryder married thinking she had finally found stability, until her new husband disappeared. He returns altered and secretive. Can she forgive him for crushing her dreams of picket fences and happily ever after? Will she survive what he has become? The surviving members of Team Fear are out of the military and in a world of secrets, lies, and cover-ups in this new romantic suspense series by Cindy Skaggs.


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A free excerpt...
Live by the Team
A Team Fear Novel
CINDY SKAGGS


This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Cindy Skaggs. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the author: Cindy@CSkaggs.com
Edited by Jessa Slade
Cover design by L.J. Anderson
First Edition April 2016
  
ISBN: 1532795742
ISBN-13: 978-1532795749
Prologue
Six months ago
Ryder shifted through the crowd gathering behind the police barricade. A local news crew panned the scene from a vantage point to his left. In front of him, a young blonde lifted a wide-eyed toddler to her hip, giving the kid a better view. Gunshots fired had turned into a three-ring circus complete with spectators and media crews.
Crime scene tape snapped under his fingers before he made the conscious choice to proceed. A uniform cop moved to intercept him, but Ryder stopped him with a glare. Menace was an art form he’d studied for twelve years in the Army. He knew how to intimidate without a word, without a weapon. Could kill as easily.
No one stood between Ryder and his men. Ryder dialed back the tension bunching his shoulders. He scanned the scene, gauging overall mood and readiness. Time didn’t allow for more than superficial recon.
A row of patrol cars created a barricade behind which officers lined up, guns drawn. They faced a nondescript ranch house on five acres of hard dirt. A pickup truck was parked under a stand of trees, the only shade for a good ten miles. The shade didn’t help much; it was Texas summer hot.
Nervous energy spread like gossip through the officers on this side of the scene. They were getting trigger-happy the longer the standoff lasted. Jittery men did stupid things.
Ryder walked through the line of patrol cars. No one noticed until he placed his body between the police and the scene of the crime. A last line of defense for the soldier in the barricaded house.
Expletives exploded behind the cop cars. Ryder let loose a sarcastic grin and turned; sure he had their attention now. He lifted his hands so they didn’t feel compelled to shoot him. The energy in the open field shifted from unease to outright distrust. Sweaty grips tightened on guns. Every eye in the area focused on Ryder and judged him a million kinds of fool.
Ryder met their uncertainty with cool resolve. Today’s mission involved getting PFC Madigan out alive, which put Ryder in the hot seat. Times like this, he missed the adrenaline rush: the increased heart rate, the quicker thinking, and increased energy that presaged a good fight.
“Sir, step back,” a male voice spoke into a bullhorn.
Ryder shook his head no. He raised his voice for the camera and the crowd. He didn’t need a bullhorn. “I served with the man inside the house. You want this to end peacefully?” He nodded at the camera. “Let me go in and talk to him.”
More expletives before a tall, slender man wearing a ballistics vest stepped to the west end of the barricaded cars. Tall like a Jolly Green, the man’s shadow stretched across the desert, the setting sun casting him in silhouette. Any half-trained soldier coming off a three-day bender could take him out. The soldier trapped in the house qualified as exceptionally trained. Ryder had done the training.
Ryder held his position, protecting both sides from bloodshed. “Sheriff,” he guessed, rightly so when the man nodded. “I was on the phone with your suspect when you arrived on scene. We’ve established rapport. Let me go in before the situation escalates.”
It wasn’t a question. Ryder didn’t back down. Another news van pulled up in a billow of dust. The crew jumped out, filming on the fly.
A sidebar conversation happened behind the cars while the cameras whirred. Even at sunset, the temps were in the triple digits. The heat factor fueled tempers. Voices raised and lowered with curses and outrage.
Standing between the police and their suspect, Ryder didn’t break a sweat. He absorbed the heat, used it to fuel his system. Guns from both sides pointed at him. The police maintained their vigil, while inside, Madigan would do the same, his sole focus on the troops massing in his front yard. “Mad Dog” Madigan was a weapons specialist. He would have the scene covered.
While the sheriff and his men deliberated, Ryder’s backup moved into position through the rear of the house.
The phone in his back pocket buzzed with an incoming call. He reached and guns lifted to the top of the cars. His hands stayed steady as he pulled the phone out, keeping his movements slow and deliberate. The voice on the other end reached his ears before the phone did.
“Please tell me these reports aren’t live.” The Texas drawl didn’t calm the panic in her voice. He could picture her pretty face, brows raised in frustration. Her hands fluttering as she spoke.
“They’re live.” Regret closed his eyes for a barely perceptible moment. Lauren. He’d told her he had to go help an Army buddy. “This is me helping a friend.”
“With guns pointed at you?”
“Sometimes, that’s what it takes, baby. I gotta go.”
“Ryder—”
He clicked off and dialed Madigan. The call connected without a word spoken. The soldier’s breathing pattern was high and erratic, which concerned Ryder more than the police standoff. Every damn thing about this situation felt wrong. None of this shit was the way they were trained. Hell, Ryder would have sworn emotion had been beaten out of them until he heard the sob on the other end of the line.
“This is bad, Ryder.”
“No shit.” He kept his tone low and measured, aware of the audience.
“Do you think—”
“I’m coming in whether they let me or not. Keep it holstered.” He pocketed the phone and looked across the yard to the sheriff. The other man’s gaze hid in twilight shadows, but his stance read more relaxed than the rest of his men. “Sheriff, I have him on the phone. This is your one chance to end this standoff without bloodshed.”
“How do I know you’re not taking another weapon inside?”
The smirk came natural to Ryder. Who was the sheriff kidding? Madigan stockpiled enough weaponry to start a civil war. The cache of weapons was what kept the sheriff’s men hunkered down instead of going inside. Ryder lifted his shirt and turned slowly, he even smiled for the cameras as he proved he wasn’t armed or dangerous. Well, the dangerous part was open for interpretation. “I’m not losing another soldier, Sheriff. That’s a promise I made my men when we came back.”
There wasn’t a soldier alive who didn’t know the odds. Twenty-two suicides a day. Not today. The words were a prayer. Too bad Ryder had nothing left to believe in or pray to. Sometimes you had to handle shit on your own.
“You can shoot me in the back for the cameras if you want, but I’m going in.”
He didn’t wait for a response. The dirt shifted under his boots as he spun and headed to the front porch. Ants circled a discarded pizza box on the welcome mat. The stench of rancid cheese hit him as he grabbed the doorknob, which turned easily in his hand. Ryder pushed into the house. Gloom shrouded the entryway.
“Close the door.” The voice came from the black void several feet to the right. “Lock it.”
“Not my first rodeo,” he said, but moved to comply. “You hung up on me earlier today, Mad Dog. We didn’t finish our conversation.”
They followed a strict protocol. No matter where a soldier lived, if he called, someone came running. No questions. They weren’t going to be part of some fucked-up statistic. Ryder was geographically closest to Madigan, so he dropped everything, kissed his new wife, and hit the highway. Rose had moved in from the north, and they’d arrived about the same time.
“I shouldn’t have called. Shouldn’t have involved you. I woke up—” Another hiccup from a hardened warrior. What the ever-loving hell?
“Nightmare?” They happened, and when they did, they felt real. Sounded real.
“I called before I had time to pull my head out.” Madigan’s tone calmed. “Before I could pin down what was real, a shitload of cop cars came barreling down the drive. How the fuck did they know to show up?”
“Good question.” Ryder kept his tone slow and easy as he catalogued the surroundings, waiting for his backup to come at Madigan from behind. Ryder was the distraction. They weren’t losing another soldier.
“You did the right thing, calling me. That’s the deal. Live by the team.” They might be out of the Army, might be disillusioned and disgraced, but they were still a fucking team.
“I lost time today, Ry.”
Could they still be having side effects after all these months? “How much time?”
“Hours.” The anguish in Madigan’s voice turned the dark hall into a black hole. “I’m afraid to turn on the light. Find out what’s real.”
“The hell you are.” No fear wasn’t just a motto. “Pack that shit up. Concentrate on the situation. Where are Maggie and the baby?”
“They’re my life. You know that?”
“I do. So let’s end this so you can get back to living.”
Sniffling sounded from a corner and Ryder was closer to triangulating Madigan’s position. He could take him in the murky light, but Madigan’s eyes were already acclimated to the black void. He’d have the upper hand. Darkness was Ryder’s friend, helped him focus, but today, night vision didn’t give him the advantage. Ryder reached to the wall and patted until he hit a switch. He flipped the light.
“Fuck.” Madigan shielded his eyes with one hand while the other aimed a gun at Ryder.
Where the hell was Ryder’s backup? Rose was supposed to take Madigan from behind, but Mad Dog’s back was now against a wall. Madigan backed himself into a corner looking every bit like his call sign: Mad Dog. A halo of red hair capped a tall, lean body smeared with war paint. The wild expression on his face surpassed insane. Blood covered Madigan’s hands and bare chest as if he’d painted himself in some twisted ritual. His eyes were dilated.
“You on drugs?” Maybe drugs explained the panic that shouldn’t be there. And the lost time.
“No.” Madigan scrubbed a hand over his eyes. “At least I don’t think so.”
“What does that mean, Mad Dog? You know better than to experiment with that shit.” With everything they had had pumped into their systems, even alcohol was a gamble.
“I didn’t, not on purpose, Ryder, I swear, but I woke up with the worst fucking headache. Disoriented.”
They’d all experienced those symptoms at least once. Shit. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
“I went into town to get pizza. Maggie didn’t feel good and the baby was fussy. I thought—” He pounded his forehead with the hand holding the gun. “Why the fuck can’t I remember?”
“What time was that?”
“Lunch.”
Hours ago. “Your truck’s out front. Do you remember pulling into the drive?”
“Yeah.” He pounded the back of his skull into the wall. “Maggie screamed. That’s what I remember. She screamed. I bolted. God, I can’t believe— I wouldn’t, but I had to, it’s only me in the house. And I’m covered in it.” His voice rose. “They’re my life.”
“Calm down.” Something was seriously fucking wrong, because the soldier stank with fear. Ryder took two measured steps closer.
“Stay back.” Madigan lifted a handgun and aimed at center mass. “Don’t take another step.”
Ryder paused. “I’m not afraid of dying.”
“Neither am I.”
Wasn’t that the problem?
Keep him talking. “Did Maggie leave you?”
“I wish.” Panic lifted his voice. “Not the way you mean. I don’t remember, but it had to be me.” An unfocused haze covered his eyes in a thin white film. “I’m the only one here, and there’s so much fucking blood.”
“You’re not making any sense.” Two steps closer. “Sitrep,” he barked, demanding a situation report from the soldier.
The order snapped Madigan’s shoulders to attention. “They’re dead.” He twisted his bloody hand in front of his hazy eyes as if the five fingers held the answers. “They’re my life.”
Seconds later, something in his eyes went hard. Determination replaced the haze, causing a shift in the soldier’s stance. All the training and the mood-altering modifications clicked into place until Mad Dog metamorphosed into a warrior.
Madigan knew how to kill and he’d finally settled on a target.
“No,” Ryder ordered.
“The pain ends. Right now.” Madigan turned the gun to his head. “No fear.”
Ryder launched across the space, but he wasn’t faster than a speeding bullet. Blood spatter hit him before exposing the ruined skull of a man Ryder considered a brother. Mad Dog was a soldier, a protector, and a killer. Where did one start and the others begin?
Rose barreled down the stairs at the sound of gunfire. “What the fuck?” He took in the sight of the fallen soldier. They’d seen death. They’d lost teammates, but they’d never lost one like this. Train a man to kill, take away the fear, and suicide was too damned easy.
“Wife and kid are dead,” Rose confirmed. “Bloody fucking sacrifice. Just like Kandahar.”
One of the special teams had turned sadistic in Kandahar and taken out a local village. Bad press didn’t begin to cover the fallout. The organization reacted swiftly, shutting down the program and denying any and all knowledge. Contracts were severed. Their service records heavily redacted. Overnight, the entire team was out. Out of the military, out of the war, out of the only life they knew. Team Fear took the fall.
Nothing about Mad Dog’s situation could leak. Fallout from a failed government program on U.S. soil would be catastrophic. If the company investigated, retribution would be swift and fatal.
“Shit, Ry—”
“I know. Get out,” he ordered. The cops didn’t need to know Rose had been in the house. “Rendezvous at zero three hundred hours. If I’m not there, you go underground.”
Rose vanished up the stairs. Outside, some idiot on a bullhorn issued threats he couldn’t hear inside the macabre house of hell.
Ryder leaned against the wall, and then slid down as the world shifted under his feet. Was this what it meant to be fearless?
Discover more of Cindy’s fast-paced romantic suspense:
She’ll do whatever it takes to find her son - Lie. Cheat. Steal. Seduce... As the former wife of an infamous crime boss, Sofia Capri is untouchable. She exists outside of the law...and outside of the criminal world. When her son is kidnapped, Sofia is desperate to find him. She’ll do anything. Lie. Cheat. Steal. Anything but trust. But it’s a strikingly handsome FBI agent who’s her only chance to get her baby back... Something about Sofia’s fiery beauty must be hitting all of his weak spots, because suddenly Mr. Law And Order Logan Stone finds himself bending the rules. When they’re implicated in the kidnapping, Logan and Sofia discover a horrifying reality—they have less than 72 hours to find the boy and clear their names.


Cindy Skaggs grew up on stories of mob bosses, horse thieves, cold-blooded killers, and the last honest man. Those mostly true stories gave her a lifelong love of storytelling and heroes. Her search for story took her around the world with the Air Force before returning to Colorado. As a single mom, she’s turning her lifelong love of storytelling into the one thing she can’t live without: writing. She has an MA in Creative Writing, three jobs, two kids, and more pets than she can possibly handle. Find her on Facebook as Cindy Skaggs, Writer, @CLSkaggs on Twitter, or www.CSkaggs.com to sign up for her newsletter.



Social Media Links
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/CSkaggs
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Website: http://www.cskaggs.com
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Interview

Q: Please tell us about Live By The Team and what inspired you to write it.
A:  Every book starts with a character for me, and for this book, that character was Ryder. He’s a badass, a little dark, and a lot sexy. He’s prior military, accustomed to leadership, and trying to keep his disgraced Army team together while their world falls apart. I had this image of him in the desert at sundown walking into a live crime scene, snapping the yellow tape, and putting himself between the police and whoever was involved in the standoff. He lifts his shirt (women everywhere fan themselves) to prove he isn’t armed or dangerous. “Well, the dangerous part was open for interpretation.”
Lauren is a good foil for him. She’s strong-willed, independent, and highly intelligent with a hint of insecurity and a fear of being alone. She’s a history professor and a PhD candidate, because even smart girls deserve love. She’s not above challenging Ryder’s arrogance, and she’s been known to threaten to gut him and filet him for dinner, but at the end of the day, he’s the one man who can give her the love she craves. Together, they seriously heat up the page!
As I delved into the writing, I realized that what drew me to the story was a fascination with fear. Untouchable, my debut novel, went deep into the main character’s fear, which at one point is immobilizing. The men of Team Fear are the exact opposite. They charge head-on at fearful things. Studying fear has become an academic focus for me, so it was only natural that my fiction would take on a new aspect of fear. I’m in awe of the men and women of the military, police, fire, and other first responders who charge towards the trouble the rest of us run from.
Q: What themes do you explore in Live By The Team?
A recurrent theme for me revolves around abandonment and trust. Lauren’s father died fighting in Iraq when she was a kid, and her mother never emotionally recovered. Lauren is determined not to make her mother’s mistakes, so when Ryder disappears; she’s ready to write him off. What does it take to trust? What does it take to risk it all for love, even your most visceral fear?
The other theme that is prevalent in this particular story is home. I know firsthand the difficulty of moving every few years with military orders, leaving behind friends, family, and all that is familiar. The physical location changes every few years for military members, so what makes a home? Is home a place or is it people?
Q: I understand you have an aggressive writing schedule. Are you exhausted? Do you still enjoy writing?
A: Yes. Yes it is exhausting, but also thrilling. From October – December of 2015, I wrote 2 category romantic suspense novels plus a novella in the Untouchable series that are all now with my editor at Entangled, and after seriously stretching my legs as a writer, I didn’t want to slow down. The Team Fear idea had been percolating for quite some time, and this was the perfect time to work on it.
Writing is a puzzle for me. I setup a schedule where I can write close to 20 hours a week plus my MFA homework, my regular job, and teaching night classes at a local college. Oh, yeah, plus the kids and the pets and the rest of life as we know it. It is exhausting, but in the best possible way. Even when I’m struggling with a scene, I’m happy that I have the ability to do what I love most. I hope I always feel the joy of sitting down to the computer, putting in my ear buds, and zoning at to my make-believe world.
Q: What is your most challenging aspect of writing?
A: Starting.  Until I have that clear vision in my head of the characters and the opening of the story, I resist. I listen to a playlist for every book or series that I write, and I play it all the time to immerse myself in the emotional mindset of the characters. This stage is the only time that I can’t read anyone else’s work because I need that sole focus on the incoming book. The funny thing is, I forget this every time, and every new book creates this same sad frustrating cycle until something clicks and the characters start taking on a life of their own.
Q: Describe your typical writing day?
A: I drop the kids at school and head to a coffee shop where I meet a couple of my writing friends (as often as we can all get there, anyway). We use writing sprints to keep us motivated, writing for 30 minutes at a time and comparing output. It’s not as competitive as it sounds. Mostly, we’re encouraging each other to write more and better. Sometimes the process changes when someone has a book coming out and wants to talk about publicity, promotion, and Indie publishing, but for the most part, we’re there from 10-3 to get writing done, and all of us have improved the quality and the quantity of our work this way. Writing sprints have liberated me as a writer, because if you’re writing fast, you don’t have time to get in your own way.
Q: What’s the happiest moment you’ve lived as an author?
A: That changes with each project, but right this second, it’s Indie publishing the Team Fear series. It is flying without a net, terrifying and thrilling, but worth the ride.
Q: Is writing an obsession to you?
A: Absolutely.  I get cranky (what a nice word) when I don’t write.  The truth is, I become a raving witch and my children run as fast and as far as they can.  My son calls it “caving” when I need to write.  “Are we caving tonight?” he’ll ask, and it gives me permission to hide in my cave to write.  Writing helps me get through all the crap in my head so I don’t take it out on those closest to me.  I could give up wine and coffee and even the gym (well, actually, that wouldn’t take much incentive), but I could never give up writing.  I honestly believe I’d go crazy without the ability to create fictional worlds and fictional characters.
Q: Ray Bradbury once said, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Do you agree?
A: Truth.  I cannot speak for other writers, but for me, reality isn’t such a great concept.  I think that’s true for many creatives.  It’s why we create.  If I became too much of a realist, my ability to write would disintegrate.  I can handle a cruel and unjust fictional world, but a cruel real world will send me to the nearest tub of Ben & Jerry’s.
Q: Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about you and your work?
My blog is a little like my happy place.  I love to see people there, digging through my brain for the newest relevant or irrelevant (or irreverent) post.  And I love to engage in conversations (so please post and comment).  http://www.cskaggs.com/see-cindy-write I have recently added a writer’s tab to my website where I post writing related topics. I’ve started and continue to facilitate a local writing group, and it’s our place to post on what we’ve discussed each month, but I think the information is valuable for writers everywhere. http://www.cskaggs.com/writers
Q: How has your upbringing influenced your writing?
My dad was significantly older than my mom, and consequently, he died when I was still a kid.  It flattened me, so I buried myself in books, starting with Nancy Drew.  As a Pisces and a dreamer and an (un)realist, I lived in my dreamworld.  I could create fiction out of any environment and lived there.  It protected me as a child, and insulated me as an adult.  I think the ability to live in fiction is a gift, but others would say it’s a curse, because I have a hard time facing unpleasantness (why would I do that when I can read a book!?).
Q: When and why did you begin writing?
My first short story was written in the 5th grade as a result of a creative writing prompt.  I doubt Mr. Pittman meant for it to affect my life in the way that it did, but I wrote a three-page short story about my class being stuck on a cruise ship in the Bermuda Triangle.  I, obviously, was the heroine of the story (yes, I saved my class’s fannies).  I wrote it out, on purple paper with purple ink, and I wore an actual dress (gasp) to read it aloud to the class.  After I finished, Mr. Pittman said, “Now I see why you dressed up.”  From that point forward, I knew I’d be a writer (even if I always thought it in the future tense).
Q: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
It was an extension of my reading, and it started young.  I read Nancy Drew from a young age, and in the 4th grade in Mr. Neis’s class, I started reading The Little House on the Prairie books (which led to a long stage of historical fiction writing). When I was 13, my mother’s Aunt Ilene gave me a brown grocery bag filled with Harlequin romances, and I was hooked.  She taught me that you “hid” your “trashy” romances, and that the super-hot doctor always fell for the awkward nurse/patient.  I knew I wanted to create a world that existed outside reality and that ended Happily Ever After.
Q: When did you first know you could be a writer?
I finished my first novel in high school. I never showed it to a soul, but through my historical, Civil War, “epic” romance, I learned that I could complete a novel.  Unfortunately, I never gave myself permission to pursue writing as a career.  After high school, I joined the Air Force.  After the Air Force, I got a “paying” job.  I went back to college, and still didn’t give credence for my desire to write.  After I had kids, I “didn’t have time to write.”  In 2011, I finally gave myself permission to write, and I applied to the Creative Writing program at Regis University.  That’s when I finally knew that my desire to write could become a payable and pursuable career choice.  Others probably don’t need as much validation, but I’m nothing if not persistent in my resistance.
Q: What genre are you most comfortable writing?
Like my reading, my writing is all over the card catalog.  The best thing about getting a Masters in Creative Writing is the expansion of your awareness as a writer.  It forces you to work in other genres, and I learned that I didn’t hate them. ☺  I write literary nonfiction, and wouldn’t have known what it was if I hadn’t gone back to school.  I absolutely love it.  It feels very natural to write as myself (something I always thought I wouldn’t do), but romance was my first love in writing, and I’m still most comfortable there.  I like the cadence and the patterns and the HEA.
Q: Did writing Live By The Team teach you anything and what was it?
Fabulous question. It taught me to face my fears and it taught me to take risks, both of which of have to do with Indie publishing and believing in my story and myself. The characters always teach me things, an unexpected and sometimes unwanted revelation. Lauren is very self-motivated and self-contained. She doesn’t need a man, but man-oh-man, does she want Ryder. It’s hard for her to give up her perceived independence and start acting as a partner, and I realize I have some of those same pig-headed tendencies. I need to learn to accept help and work together rather than independently all the time.
Q: What is your favorite quote from Live By The Team and why is it your favorite?
Asking me to pick one line out of 85,000 words is a little like asking me to pick a favorite child, but in the interests of fairness, the first line that comes to mind is something I tell my kids all the time: Love is an action word. Ryder is a smooth talker, he can quote poetry, and The Art of War, and naughty limericks, and Lauren is easily swept away the first time, but after he disappears for six months, she’s gotten a little hard. A little bitter. “Love is an action word, Ryder. Your sweet words don’t buy you a pass.”
Q: Who is your biggest supporter?
My kids. I cannot tell you how fabulous it feels for them to support me, and it’s an interesting role reversal.  They tell me all the time that they think I’m a great writer, that they’re proud of me, and that they can’t believe I have more Twitter followers than they do. J  They’ve known for years that we go without material possessions so that I can pursue my education and my writing, and while they may miss “things,” they’ve never complained.  I hope it teaches them to pursue their greatest passion.
In Live By The Team, there’s a line where Ryder asks his army buddy why he joined Team Fear, an experimental program. Rose answers: “Doesn’t matter. I signed the papers and drank the Kool-Aid.” The Kool-Aid is the symbol for what brought them to this point, so in the dedication to my kids, saying I would drink the Kool-Aid means I would repeat any and all of my life choices that led me to them, because they’re worth everything.
Q: Who is your biggest critic?
Me, absolutely.  After I finish a book, I’m sure it’s garbage and shouldn’t see the light of day.  I have to put it away for awhile before I can read it and evaluate it fairly.
Q: What cause are you most passionate about and why?
My kids, single moms, writing, teaching, and the perfect pair of boots.  I work three jobs, go to college, teach college classes, have kids and pets and a house and a car to maintain.  All that “work” helped me to focus on what was important to me and what I’m passionate about, which is split evenly between my kids and my writing.  All jokes about boots aside, I’m passionate about the inequity in this country that faces single moms as an extension of my own experiences and those of women around me, which has led to my passion for teaching, because I believe education is a way out of the bad place many women find themselves.
Q: What are you currently working on?
Finishing up the Team Fear series. Book 2 continues the story as we follow Rose in the fight against... Well, we’ll just have to see. J
Q: Do you have any advice for writers or readers?
Trust your instincts.  When you’re younger, you think you have to learn “the rules.” Mostly, I want writers to trust the process.  The technical aspects of writing will come the more we read and write, but if we rewrite our book every time someone mentions a “rule,” we’ll kill the book faster than we would if we never wrote another word.  And sadly, listening to those “rules” and their advocates can block us from writing at all, and that, my friends, is a tragedy.  Trust your instincts.  If you believe your writing should go in a certain direction, go that direction and hang the rules.
Q: What are some of your long term goals?
To rule the world...oops, that’s the Evil Cindy’s goal.  For me, I want to finish the Team Fear series, and I have another novel, more women’s fiction than romance (no dead bodies) that I’m rewriting as part of my MFA thesis project. Under the category of fame, fortunate, and everything that goes with it, I want to make some best seller lists, maybe get a movie deal, and as long as we’re talking dreams...  Nah, those are things I can’t control (even if I do want them).  What I want most is to reach readers, and provide for my family.  If I could write full time, that would be like winning the lottery.
Q: Are you a different person now than you were 5 years ago? In what way/s?
Not even in the same zip code as I was five years ago. I was an insecure single mom who didn’t know how she’d provide for her kids. Ironically, I lived in fear. All. The. Time. Now I don’t have time for fear. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist, but I’m running around all the time, so fear doesn’t know where to catch me. J And I embrace things that scare me, such as Indie publishing this series. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have even attempted it.
Q: Do you have a press kit and what do you include in it?  Does this press kit appear online and, if so, can you provide a link to where we can see it?
A:  Yes. I have a list of interview questions, my bio, links to my social media sites, plus my cover photo, because, dang, Mayhem Cover Creations did a fab job on that cover!
Q: Have you either spoken to groups of people about your book or appeared on radio or TV?  What are your upcoming plans for doing so?
A:  I established and continue to facilitate a local writers group, so I speak monthly on various writing craft topics as well as critique both fiction and nonfiction. I was recently interviewed on the Creative Magazine Radio Show, and I participated in an annual writing program established by the Pikes Peak Library District called the Mountain of Authors. I enjoy speaking on topics of writing craft and fear.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Blog Tour - To Seduce a Seal

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Sin City SEALs ~ Book 3
U.S. Navy SEAL Dante Raske is all about guarding his heart and serving his country, but now that he’s busted his knee on a mission, he needs something to keep his mind busy. Playing bodyguard for a sexy little country starlet until he’s cleared for duty? Just what the doctor ordered. Chrissie Tate refuses to be a one-hit wonder. If she’s going to take care of her family, she can’t let herself get distracted—especially not by the hot as hell Navy SEAL hired to be her bodyguard. But when a crazed fan attacks, she changes her tune. She’ll keep Dante around…if he agrees to teach her self-defense. Except their close-contact lessons quickly become steamy bedroom sessions. And it’s up to this Navy SEAL to save Chrissie’s career—and his heart—before their explosive passion consumes them both… Book Links Amazon: http://amzn.to/1YVvIed B&N: http://bit.ly/1Tg5HCt iTunes: http://apple.co/1VUEX14 Kobo: http://bit.ly/1WsKkTk Entangled: http://bit.ly/1rkGP5U Goodreads: http://bit.ly/1XX13wV


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Excerpt:
She turned her attention to the man who’d rushed in to save the day. Oh, he had muscles all right. But she suspected he didn’t spend all of his time in the gym. “Stay down,” Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome growled. Jared whimpered and looked as if he might cry.
The man who’d rushed in and rescued her turned to her. His expression softened as his deep brown eyes scanned her from head to toe. A lock of his wavy, dark hair fell over his forehead. Her hero looked as if he’d stolen Patrick Dempsey’s hair and Channing Tatum’s muscles. And to her impromptu rescue she was wearing a witch’s wig that had been on clearance at the Halloween store. But without the ugly wig, someone might recognize her, and she’d be stuck signing autographs instead of rehearsing. “Are you all right, ma’am?” he asked. “Fine,” she gasped, still fighting to regain her equilibrium. His brow furrowed as he reached into one of the many pockets lining his shorts. He withdrew a cell phone. “Would you like me to call the police?” “No,” she said quickly. “Really, I’m fine.” His concern deepened as if the word “fine” meant something altogether different to him. She offered him her best smile, the one that won over audiences night after night. “I saw what happened,” he said. “I can give a statement. It won’t be your boyfriend’s word against yours.” “Chris—” Jared started. “He’s not my boyfriend,” Chrissie said, cutting Jared off before he could reveal her identity to the stranger. “We’re backup singers. Both of us. We’re shooting a music video out here later today. And we wanted to get in some practice.” She forced a fake laugh. “Clearly, we need it.” The man with the movie star muscles took a step back. “Music video?” “Uh-huh. The song is about lust, love, and well...” She bit her lower lip and glanced at her feet. “Sex. It’s a country song.” He crossed his arms in front of his chest, drawing attention to his biceps. One touch. Just one. But she fought the temptation. She needed the handsome stranger to continue with his hike through the canyons before he recognized her. Or decided to call the cops despite her protests.

SJSauthor photo  Author Bio: After several years on the other side of the publishing industry, Sara Jane Stone bid goodbye to her sales career to pursue her dream - writing romance novels. Armed with a firm belief that dreams do come true, Sara Jane sat down at her keyboard to write fun, sexy stories like the ones she loved to read. Sara Jane currently resides in Brooklyn, New York with her very supportive real-life hero, two lively young children, and a lazy Burmese cat.


Author Links
Website: http://www.sarajanestone.com/ 
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SaraJaneStone
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/SaraJaneStone
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7036481.Sara_Jane_Stone

Blog Tour - Sugar & Other Luxuries



 

Title: Sugar & Other Luxuries
By: Everly Scott
Publication Date: April 5, 2016
Cover Design: Mayhem Cover Creations
Genre: Romantic Comedy/Chick Lit
Katherine Humphries wants to find the love of her life. As a recovering perfectionist who hasn’t been on a date in five years, finding love is harder than she thought. Faced with beginning her twenty-sixth year of life insecure and living in Los Angeles where men and women either ignore or insult her curvy existence, Katherine decides to make dating her bitch. She’s not changing her curvy body. She won’t put down the dessert. And she isn’t going to apologize for any of it. Her first night out ends nothing like she’d planned. When a flirty and rugged New Yorker asks for her phone number, Katherine freezes. She’s ready to give up before heartbreak happens. That is, until she meets a polyamorous, fairy-godmother-wanna-be, Hunter. The self proclaimed Queen of Pleasure coaches Katherine on badass, dating etiquette. Hunter’s first rule? Don’t fall in love. The second rule? Perfection doesn’t exist. But when a bet with a sexy and sensitive music teacher changes her perspective on the dating game, Katherine learns that breaking badass rule #1 before loving every inch of herself might spell trouble. On the other hand, breaking rules might be exactly what Katherine needs to discover the true power of a woman’s body, the sugary sweetness of indulgence, and whether saying yes to her dream life against the wishes of advice-slinging friends will lead to heartache or harmony.
Amazon UK - http://goo.gl/0YNGGA
Amazon CA - http://goo.gl/8x4AoU

Chapter One
I spent the first half of my twenties accusing myself of being a feminist fraud for wanting a boyfriend who thought I was perfect. I had been a good girl, a maniacal, career-focused, intellectually stimulated woman who leaned-in, took a seat at the table, and made my voice so heard I had become hoarse. But none of that seemed to matter in the Los Angeles dating world. Looking for love had led me into the defined biceps of guys who thought I might turn into an acceptable companion if, and only if I changed something about myself. If I lost fifteen pounds. If I didn’t say “fuck” so much. If I made more money. Less money. Had a smaller nose. Didn’t always want to eat pasta. If I didn’t have a belly. At some point between learning how to flirt in high school chemistry class and stumbling furiously toward the eve of my twenty-sixth birthday, I had given up. Stopped dating completely. Packed away the dresses, heels, and the innuendo. Vowed to focus on myself. Sharing a chocolate chip cookie sundae with a guy who wouldn’t be afraid to caress an arm, thigh, or hip bigger than a size two, five, or eight only happened in my imagination. A male sundae-lover definitely didn’t exist in a Los Angeles gym. I went to the gym once. My childhood best frenemy, Jenna, convinced me that the gym helped women burn energy, melt fat, and meet men. The entire experience mirrored meditation, she’d told me. “Don’t complain about being fat. Complain about things you can’t change.” I went alone, without telling her that I had decided to test out her theory. Bad idea. With my phone, tiny polka dotted towel, and headphones in hand, I entered the world of adult, organized, physical activity. It smelled like stale water. I flashed my electronic guest pass at the laser scanner, kept my focus towards the back of the big square room, and moved quickly past the cardio machines, knowing that if I tried to run or elliptical or spin bike myself, I’d be exposing my newbie status. A tsunami of terror hit me, hard. I had no idea what to do in a place like this. I quickly looked for a place to fit in, a place to disguise myself. A group of women crowded around one weight machine like it was a pan of brownies and they had PMS. It seemed like the magic potion. It was the Miss Universe of the gym, and if they had to have it, so did I. Jenna’s directions echoed in my mind. “Stretch first. You don’t want to pull a muscle. Touch your toes or something.” So I leaned against the wall and touched my toes. Except touching my toes was more like leaning my elbows against my bent, trembling knees. I bent over a little farther, and the back of my thighs burned. A couple of bones crackled, but I had a good view of the magical machine. “Totally worth it,” I whispered to myself, rubbing my hamstrings. A woman in a full face of makeup, with boob-length blonde hair taught me how to use the contraption without knowing it. I continued touching my knees. Step 1: adjust the weight on the machine. Step 2: pull the level that makes the thigh pads fly apart. Step 3: sit down. Step 4: clench thighs together. Step 5: Repeat. A lot. It seemed easy enough. The blonde sitting on the machine made it look like thigh clenching was a way of life. Real women learn to walk, talk, read, and thigh clench. So when she was done, and the crowd of women had busied themselves with other gym work like butt extenders, and arm pumpers, I approached my machine like we had an intimate relationship. “Looking good,” I said, patting the seat. I adjusted my weight and assumed my clenching capacity would be 50 pounds. I didn’t want to look like a complete wimp. I pulled the lever, sat down, and tried to squeeze my thighs together. Nothing moved. The more I tried to pull my knees toward each other the more everything stayed in place. At that moment, I understood why the weight lifting men grunted. I closed my eyes and pressed my knees against the pads. A grumble vibrated inside of my stomach. Roar like you’re a queen. Queen of the fucking jungle, I thought. My best attempt at roaring resulted in a throat clearing sound, a thankfully silent fart, and yet again, a complete lack of movement. I lowered the weight down to twenty-five pounds and did two of rapid squeezes. The weights slammed together, alerting everyone within ten feet of me that I worked hard. I pumped iron. Made my body fat cry. A woman with a bright orange towel draped around her neck walked back and forth in front of me. Sighing and pacing. Her orange shoes squeaked each time she spun to walk in the opposite direction. She was hunting me. Staring. My knees hovered in mid-thrust, incapable of meeting in the center, already too shocked by this new range of motion. Orange bang and I had been subjected to watching my shameful attempts at exercise long enough. My inner thighs tingled, and damp sweat bubbled under my butt. I would sacrifice my time on the clencher before Orange Bang threw me to the floor in an exercise-induced rage. I rubbed my inner thighs before getting up. “She’s all yours,” I said. Orange Bang looked at me, her head now between her legs because she could actually touch her toes, and mouthed thanks. She wiped down the seat before she took her turn. I stood in the middle of the gym, scanning to find my next work out option. A thick film of steam covered the floor to ceiling windows of the gym. Bathroom mirrors after a hot shower had nothing on these shining beauties. Men were everywhere. And only one of them had a belly that hung over his shorts. He was diligently at work, doing squats all the way across the length of the gym floor. Squat. Step. Squat. Step. I was relatively inexperienced when it came to exercise protocol and gym etiquette, but I was pretty sure squats could be done in one location. A trainer, dressed in the gym’s collared uniform shirt, stood in the corner scribbling on a clipboard. The squatter smiled through open teeth, and kept his eyes glued to the clipboard – his finish line. A man, who could have been a football player, or model, or a professional Hulk impersonator, fumbled with the weight control on a machine that looked like a horse and carriage. Right next to me. He set his desired weight, somewhere way at the bottom of the weight stack, and then jumped into the empty space fit for a human’s body – the horse section of the horse and carriage. He rested in a squatting position, his legs bent at an awkward angle. It already looked painful to me, and he hadn’t moved yet. He placed the handles on his shoulders, and unbent his knees, until they were completely straight. He let out a guttural sound that, to me, suggest he tore something. I squinted, but couldn’t look away. He pressed his chin into his chest, took a deep breath, and bent down again. This was it. My next victim. It seemed simple enough, as long as I stuck with what I had found to be my twenty-five pound limit. The man, finished with his grunting and growling, stepped out of the machine, and looked my way. “You next?” he asked, wiping the sweat from his forehead. “Yeah. I do these all the time,” I said, not moving from my spot in-between the thigh clencher and the horse and carriage. “I’ve got a couple sets left. Let’s rotate.” He patted the machine, raised his eyebrows, and then poured water into his mouth from a water bottle he held a foot away from his face. I had no idea what he was talking about. Rotating sets sounded more like baking cakes than exercising. Instead of being clueless and admitting it, I was clueless and nodding. “Yep,” I said. “Rotations.” I cracked my fingers on my right hand one by one. I assumed he would simply move on to the bigger and better things this place had to offer, maybe returning to the horse and carriage when he was done with a different machine. Pulling the levers down to rest on my shoulders turned out to be impossible. I leaned against the back of the machine looking for switches or hooks or buttons that would make it do what I’d seen happen for the Hulk a few seconds ago. I refused to read the instructions. No one at the gym read the instructions on anything since I got there, and I wasn’t going to be the first one. You are a lion, I thought. A lion goddess. Jenna will be jealous because you will look like a fucking lion goddess. And then I roared at myself. Out loud. While the levers of the machine were still in the air and I, stood there, obviously not lifting weights. “Get off for a second. I’ll adjust it for you,” the hulky-man said. And then he laughed softly. My face felt like it had caught on fire. I had been discovered. “Why are you still here?” My undercover mission was prematurely aborted. I got off the machine. “You didn’t happen to hear any roaring, did you? Cause, if you did, I think it was that lady over there with the orange towel.” He shook his head. “If you did these all the time,” he said, “you’d probably know that you gotta pull this handle back here. It raises the height and loosens the shoulder rest.” He rattled the metal, pulled what had to be fifteen different handles, and slapped the machine. “We’ll just have to adjust it again when it’s my turn.” “Thanks,” I said. I needed to make a quick recovery if I was going to survive this encounter with any dignity. “I meant, I come here a lot, but I never use this machine,” I said. He dropped the weight from twenty-five to ten. I adjusted the underwire in my sports bra. “You know, if you want to lose weight quickly you have to focus on your diet more than exercise,” he said, as if he were talking through me. I got off the machine, made some excuse about having to use the bathroom, and walked to the water fountain near the entrance. We were separated by half a wall, a couple of mirrored pillars, and hundreds of sweaty people, but what he said felt like it lodged itself in between my ribs. Jenna had been so wrong. No one designated wanna-be Hulk as the king of the gym universe. He didn’t know if I was there to lose weight. He didn’t know what I ate on a regular basis, if I was actually healthy or not. He didn’t know anything about me, and yet, out of his mouth came an ice cold dagger. But neither the Hulk or Jenna could know that the gym had gotten under my skin. So I stuck around. I played with a strange arm contraption, choked back tears of embarrassment, waved some free weights in the air, and accidentally hit the max speed button on my archenemy the treadmill before I ran out of the gym basically screaming. When I came home sticky and red skinned, I looked in my own mirror for an entire hour. Sat and stared. It seemed like I had grown larger than I was when I left for the gym. I removed my faded white shirt and saw rolls of flesh that had in no way been taught a lesson by an ab-ripper. Without the support of my sports bra, my breasts were sagging and young, a complexity I still can’t understand. And under my yoga pants there were seas and valleys, mountains, craters, and hills that were either created by nearly twenty-six years of a delicious diet, or a poor genetic makeup. I sat for the entire hour, inspecting my body, centimeter by centimeter, wondering how anyone could unveil me, explore me, and touch me without seeing this history of a rebellious body. At the end of the hour, I was naked and alone and unchanged. I texted Jenna. Me 7:05 PM: Liar! Meditation does not exist at the gym. There are no magical fixes. I have boobs and thighs and arm bulges and cheeks and I hated the entire experience. Keeping my body the same. Thanks. Jenna 7:10 PM: Hahaha, you actually went? Okay chubs. If you say so. I knew my best frenemy was an asshole, but the longer I sat in front of the mirror, the more I solidified my belief that someone out there could love a stomach that wasn’t the countertop, washboard, six pack, bikini ready bombshell type. Jenna had to be wrong. Somewhere, there’s a single guy who would love a woman even though she despised the gym. He would probably have three sisters and would adore his mother. He might eat large portions of healthy lettuce wraps and protein shakes when in public, but at home would nurture gnocchi in pesto creams, butter sauces, and b├ęchamel toppings. He’d indulge in garlic breads and steaks and brownies and ice cream cakes. When entertaining a lady, he would not stare at her disapprovingly if she went back to the kitchen for a second taste. And he certainly would not recommend that she accompany him on his next trip to the gym. I wasn’t so desperate for designated exercise time that I was willing to justify paying hundreds of dollars a month to attend the sweatiest, most judgmental place on earth at four in the morning on a Thursday. I didn’t want to go running at four in the morning on a Thursday either. And doing crunches to an online workout video wasn’t my idea of an enthralling way to spend a Friday night. I wouldn’t have wasted a Monday night on that. I’d rather paint, or browse make up blogs, or learn how to play an instrument. Anything other than the gym, honestly. I hoped that I could find a man willing love the naked woman sprawled exhausted and overwhelmingly bootylicious on the floor of her bedroom. I had only encountered the opposite of him. Then again, I didn’t bother to spend time in many different places – I went to my makeup studio, I went to the mall, to the bank, to buy groceries, the park– but surely the most enticing and rare of the male species must have gone to places like these too. If he did, he must have been hiding from me. I was absolutely against the online dating world – if not for any larger reason than that upon meeting my initially two-dimensional friend, he might have found that my picture didn’t accurately portray who I was in person. Maybe he would expect my body to be similar to a nutritionist or a gymnast instead of a hardcore foodie or a self-proclaimed pizza connoisseur. I was always in the mood for a good, thin crust, fresh mozzarella covered pizza. Anyway, the body-type mix up was possible despite video chatting and selfie-sending. Honestly, no one ever looks like themselves on Skype. And so, on the eve of my twenty-sixth birthday, in a gym induced state of fatigue, I threw both middle fingers in the air. Fuck Jenna, Orange Bang, the Hulk, and the gym. “Victory,” I screamed. I stood in front of the mirror, middle fingers still up, swaying, spinning, and posing for no one but myself. After many years of contemplation and in the face of all the things that men and women might have considered my cosmetic deal breakers, I decided to find new public places to spend some time, places that embraced bodies like mine. A place where I could find my person. My tribe. I committed to participating in a new social activity every weekend, even if I was uncomfortable or terrified. Promised myself I would stay for at least an hour. Pinky swore I would talk to or maybe even flirt with at least one guy during that time. One place, one hour, and a couple of weekends to find the love of my life. Or maybe to find a couple of men who showed potential. At least, that was the plan.
Chapter Two
I walked into the cooking class alone on the first Saturday evening in February. My twenty-sixth birthday. The day I had casually titled Find My Soul Mate Date. It was raining outside, a cruel and unusual punishment for Angelenos. The windows of the corner restaurant speckled with condensation. A sign informed the public that the restaurant was closed for a private event, but it was written on a chalkboard positioned inside the closed door. Helpful, right? As I got farther into the room, the door behind me opened and closed, and hungry groups of people hummed and grumbled while retreating back into the damp night. I brushed past empty tables for two or four, and targeted the ten people already in the back of the restaurant, not including the chef who wore a floppy, white hat covering the very top of what could only be a charmingly bald head. I wondered how many people in the group already knew each other before that night. It definitely crossed my mind that all ten of them came in a huge party bus, and that I would be the intruder, the odd woman out, the one oblivious goldfish in a pond of stunning family of koi. Initially, I thought a cooking class would be a perfect event to find a man who appreciated a curvy body. But as I pried each foot off of the ground and then forced one in front of the other, I saw that of the ten people, only two males were present. One of them attached his pinky to the brightly polished pinky of a woman in a short black dress. Taken. Under no circumstances should a woman attempt to attract a man who obviously operates under the spell of another woman. Even I knew doing that brings bad dating karma. So I immediately diverted my attention to the other male. He was surrounded by a group of three women, and none of them looked particularly attached to him. I was interested, and terribly sweaty. I made it my mission to sneak into a conversation with the only seemingly single man in the room. With about ten minutes until eight, we had time to mingle. The ten people were standing in subgroups of six and four, and I turned slightly to the right to angle myself at the single man. The more I focused, the more clammy my palms got. There was no ring on his left hand, and he had very nice facial hair - the kind that required special grooming tools and more time to perfect than the amount traditionally expected for a man to spend. I approved. When I was about five feet away, I made eye contact with the woman standing next to the single man. I smiled. The extra fat on my stomach wiggled up and down with each bang of my heel against the floor. Looser clothes were on the list of necessary items for my next night out. While draping my coat over my right arm and sliding it in front of my stomach, I continued smiling. Looking friendly had to give off good vibrations. Standing just slightly outside of the circle their bodies had formed, I leaned forward, glancing at each person’s face. “Hello,” I said, which sounded way too professional and not at all fun. Who ruins saying hi? I waved, hoping it would lighten up my manly hello. Sweat formed in my armpits, lubricating my skin in the most unpleasant way. I made sure that my hand was the only part of my arm that moved. “I’m Katherine,” I said through a forced smile. The woman standing next to the single man grabbed the hand I waved with and shook it. My arm flailed wildly as she pulled it up and down. Mission accomplished. Sweat droplets fell from my armpit and slid down the side of my torso, settling somewhere near my belly button. Pull yourself together. You’re not meeting the fucking President. “My name is Mindy, and this is my brother Zander,” the woman said as she pointed to the single man. All signs pointed to Zander’s potential. He had a sister, and she was friendly. Progress. I moved to shake Zander’s hand and I made a quick but complete once over. Brown eyes. Trimmed mustache. Crooked bottom teeth. Tousled black hair. Tight green shirt. Black suit jacket. Dark jeans. Converse. Maybe twenty-eight. Skinnier than the average guy. Cute. “Nice to meet you,” he said. It looked like he was winking but I didn’t know for sure so I acted like he wasn’t and decided that I needed to say something interesting to Zander. That was my self-imposed requirement before meeting the other two people in the circle. “So what brings you here on a Saturday night?” I said and then immediately regretted. It didn’t get any cheesier than that. No, the first thing out of my mouth was even worse than cheesy, it was strangely forward. Not even cute-forward. Just bizarre. No one says that tired line except cougars who know they sound like an extra from a one season sitcom. I continued picking myself apart for asking that question while Zander made conversation. “My sister loves cooking. I live on the east coast so we don’t get to spend much time together. While I’m visiting I try to hang out as much as possible. Quality time, you know?” He grinned. His sister was chatting furiously with the other two women from the original group of four. I told myself to go for it. It. Zander. Flirting for the first time in five years. Because I had already been cheesy and strange, so I thought the night had to be up from here. “And,” he hesitated a little, leaning forward, “I don’t ever turn down good food.” He smiled a one-sided grin. And we have a winner, everybody! That was all I needed him to say. Before I had the chance to convince myself that I totally wasn’t Zander’s type I was blurting out things like, “I could show you around sometime,” and “Maybe I could take you to see the Hollywood sign?” Determination goes a long way, I guess. He stared straight at me as stupid words fell out of my mouth. I stood there squeezing my arms into my sides, feeling shocked at my ability to be bold, and worrying that in about two seconds I’d be shot down. I wasn’t worried because I’d be getting shot down from Zander in particular, but because I didn’t want to be shot down at all. No one likes to be told they suck. The possibility of rejection, of someone saying right to my face that they didn’t want to get to know me, or even have a one night stand with me (not that a one-nighter was the goal, even though hell, it might be nice) was enough to make me run straight out into the rain and down the street to the closest gym. Really, any kind of rejection, even a remotely polite one, might as well scream “You’re not good enough,” or “You don’t look like that girl on T.V. and you probably eat a lot so taking you out to dinner would be too expensive.” I worried that if someone told me that I might want to change myself. I resisted the sudden urge to bat my eyelashes and flip my hair because I wanted this guy to like me for me and not for whatever horrible impression of a runway model I could come up with on a fifty-four degree winter night in the back of an empty restaurant on Pico Boulevard. “That’s nice, really. But, no need to show me around,” he says confidently. I knew it was coming. There was no chance that we had made a connection in the first place. I should have walked right back out into the rain when I saw there were only two guys here. I could have pretended I was a hungry customer turned away by the chalkboard announcement. I wanted to break eye contact with him but he smiled and then I couldn’t look away. “I’m from here originally. Born and raised. I work in New York now, but I’ll always be a California boy at heart. Actually, I could probably show you a thing or two about L.A.,” he says. He nudged my arm and walked over to his sister who had joined the pinky partners’ group. I touched the spot on my arm where his elbow brushed my skin. I had become a giddy teenager in less than ten minutes. “Everyone find your kitchen companion,” the man with the chef hat said. “It’s going to be a delicious night.” He walked around to the front of the kitchen where his counter top was, and explained in a thick Italian accent that the class would be making Fettuccini Alfredo. “Pasta and sauce from scratch,” he said, “because that is the only way.” After everyone was paired up, Zander with his sister of course, myself and the second half of the pinky partners were the only two people standing alone. Her male companion found himself partnered with a woman with giraffe legs. He drooled and stood there staring, right at eye level with her breasts. I looked at him, and then back at the woman he came with. I sighed. “Men,” I said under my breath. The kitchen assistant dropped a ball of dough on my work stand, slapping the dough once on its puffy top before she moved to the next pair of amateur cooks. My partner’s name was Hunter and the pinky partner was her husband. She told me they have an open relationship, and patience is not in his nature. It was going to be a long night. We began rolling out our own sections of pre-kneaded dough just like the chef instructed. “So,” Hunter said, moving her rolling pin in short bursts, “Anyone special in your life? A lover, I mean, not a best friend or a sassy grandma or anything.” Her eyes fixed on me, expectant. I told her I didn’t, and that I was in the market for a six-foot-two businessman who had a thing for bigger women. “Oh please. You’re not a bigger woman,” she said, almost too quickly in my opinion. I laughed it off and put more pressure on the rolling pin. “Honestly Hunter,” I said, putting too much upper arm strength into the task, “you and I both know that out here anything bigger than a size 5 is a bigger woman these days.” Holes began to peek through my dough, which looked more like lace than like pasta. Hunter rolled her eyes. “It’s true,” I continued. “ They call size eights plus sized models, and if any woman dares to call herself curvy but has a little extra stomach, then she’s not the hot kind of curvy she’s just fat.” “Honey,” Hunter said, throwing a flour-covered hand in the air. “A little confidence goes a long way.” “Do you know how long it took me to get into this dress?” I asked. “Same amount of time it took me to get into this thing,” Hunter said, pushing her breasts together with her arms. “Impossible,” I replied. “I’m a 10, the dress says it’s a 10, but it wanted to act like a 5 tonight,” I said, pulling the dress down at my thighs. Smudges of flour polka-dotted along the hemline. “My dress has multiple personalities.” Hunter shook her head. “Poor thing,” she said while laughing. “All the best ones do.” The chef spun around quickly in our direction. “All the best what?” he asked. He peered down his nose at our workstation, and held my dough up for the class to see. It hung in the air; the weight of the mass opened the holes up even more. “Attention class! This dough here, is not the best. Don’t. Do. This.” I could have sworn it wasn’t that bad stretched out on the counter. Even though there were only ten other people there, my face went red as he explained that my lack of technique resulted in a poor product. “Stop all the talking. You are not focused,” he added. I glanced around the room to gauge everyone’s reaction to the chef’s tirade and there he was. Zander. He looked at me and mouthed the words: I like it. He shrugged his shoulders. I felt sweat seep from the pores in my hands. The rolling pin slid easily against my palms. The chef handed my dough back to me, and I crumpled it up to start over. The chef shook his head. “You are not a natural. It will take more work,” he said. Zander watched and laughed silently. With my crusty ball of dough in hand, I swung it through the air in a halfhearted attempt to hurl it at Zander’s head. I quickly slapped it back onto the counter, and blew him a small kiss. Zander held up his flattened dough and swirled it in the air like a pizza. “The biggest and most important rule of my kitchen, this kitchen, or any kitchen is: do not play with the food,” the chef said as he wandered over to Zander’s station. He said something directly to him that I couldn’t hear. I was staring long and intently enough that I should have been able to read their lips, but I couldn’t. The chef walked away and Zander whispered in his sister’s ear. In that instant I was already jealous of their relationship. If he were that interested in me, wouldn’t he have looked at me first? After all, we were having an across the room food fight when he got busted. His attention should have been directed at the last person of contact before the interruption. And there I went. My imagination exploded in a fury of fake memory montages: my first date with Zander, quickies before work, meeting the family, Thanksgiving dinners. We had absolutely no relationship and I was already acting like we had to decide which set of parents to visit on Christmas. If Zander would have shown up here alone like me, maybe then we could have been partners. Maybe I could have practiced this flirting thing without adding in the complications of jealousy. I was still watching him when Hunter began to tell me about how she and her husband met. She mentioned something about Palm Springs in the summer time and a business trip to get away from his ex-wife who was adamantly against the open relationship lifestyle. But when Zander’s eyes met mine and I had absolutely no idea what Hunter was talking about anymore. He winked. I was sure of it. “After going through all of that,” Hunter said, “I knew for sure he was supposed to be my husband. If we could get through something like that and still be in love. And I mean he really supported me through it all, then I could explore a non-traditional relationship for him.” “Definitely,” I said, pretending to be completely up to speed with the conversation. “Who knew I would love it so much?” Hunter burst into laughter. “Well, honey that’s life.” I nodded, the other half of my consciousness sill across the room lost in whatever Zander was doing with his hands. My hands had given up on rolling my useless crumbly ball of dough into anything edible. So Hunter made the fettuccini. I asked Hunter if she thinks she has found true love. She handed me a hand held pasta cutter and a sheet of dough. “Do that.” She pointed to the screen at the back of the class, magnifying the intricate work of the chef. Hunter slipped her section of dough through the slicing machine as she looked at me and asked, “is dough only pasta after you cut it?” “Not sure,” I said. Hunter raised her eyebrows, and plopped the long noodle into a pot of boiling water. “So you’re the type who likes to speak in riddles?” I asked. “A little bit.” We dropped the fettuccini into boiling, salted water, and the chef taught everyone how to make Alfredo sauce with butter, Parmesan cheese, and a little heavy cream. “No garlic or onion or any extra seasoning. Not authentic,” he said. I let Hunter do most of the work. My job was to stir. Wooden spoon in my hand, I stirred and stirred to meld the ingredients into one united sauce, and to keep it from burning. My hand sweat made the spoon slide around in my grasp. The damp hands could have been a result of nerves or a product of the sauce’s tiny sauna. Both were equally possible. I stirred while I looked at the back of Zander’s head wondering if he was too handsome. I wondered if he lived too far away, or was too skinny, or too rich, or too smart to be interested in someone like me. I consoled myself with the idea that he could simply be a nice guy. The nice guy who said nice things to the sort of chubby girl who came to the cooking class alone. I laid the spoon handle against the side of the pan and then wiped my palm against my shirt. “I’m sorry if I’m being too intrusive,” I said to Hunter, who still hadn’t told me the status of her belief in one true loves. “I thought we were sharing stories.” “I haven’t heard very much about your story yet.” “Well,” today’s my birthday-“ “And you’re by yourself?” She looked surprised. “That’s usually a thirty-something thing to do.” “How do you know I’m not thirty-something?” “Honey, because I’m thirty-something. You’re still a baby.” “I’m twenty-six today, thank you.” “Exactly.” “I’m twenty-six today, and I’m-” I lowered my voice. “I’m trying to meet people, kind of the old fashioned way. I felt like I needed to do it on my own. Be responsible for my own happy ending.” I tapped the top of the sauce with my spoon. “So here I am.” Hunter directed her attention to Zander, and then back to me. Then she did it a couple more times, raising her eyebrows the whole time. Hunter asked if I was interested in the guy with the black suit jacket. “You know, the guy who likes to play with his food,” she said. “I know you want to go talk to him. In my opinion, he’s a little immature for you, but if that’s what you like…” I stirred the sauce again, my eyes fixed on the pot. “Oh come on, you’ve been staring at him the entire time. I thought you were going to slip your fingers into the pasta machine.” The pasta machine was highly frowned upon by the chef, but was there in case anyone was inadequate with slicing by hand. “Practice. Practice. Practice.” The chef clapped after every pause. He stopped to hover over every station, inspecting the sauce’s aroma. An intense heat flooded my cheeks and I wondered if I had in fact been that obvious. “Look, Zander seems alright but I think I’ve embarrassed myself enough for one night,” I said. “I just want to eat this pasta and head home.” The chef stopped at our station, adjusted his hat, and yelled with a wide-open mouth. “Practice!” He clapped twice. Hunter dropped the freshly drained fettuccini into the alfredo sauce and inhaled deeply. “Sweetie, don’t be sorry when that cutie walks right out of here and you never see him again. Mine likes to be curious and all,” she said, gesturing to her husband who was chatting with the giraffe girl and not even attempting to learn about making fettuccini alfredo, “but I know who means the most to him.” She smiled and dropped fresh pasta into boiling water “True love?” I asked. “Our own kind of true love.” At the end of the class everyone was sitting around eating fettuccini with slices of bread and drops of olive oil and the scent of Italy rising from the pots seated on multiple stoves. I shoved my elbow into Hunter’s side when I saw that Zander was walking over to our station. “Oh my God,” I said as I shoved a forkful of pasta into my mouth. “Swallow that pasta! You don’t want to look like a pig, do you?” She giggled after asking and I assumed it was to take away the sting of calling me a pig. “Asshole,” I muttered to her. She ignored me. I swirled the fettuccini around my fork and asked Hunter if she thought it was pasta or dough now. “Both.” She shrugged and I swallowed. I shoveled in another bite hoping I would still be chewing when he reached our station. He started talking before he made it all the way to where I was sitting. “How’d yours come out? Mine was a little dry,” he said, attempting to replicate the chef’s accent. All I could manage with my mouth fully occupied by creamy starch and cheese was a clumsy head nod. “I take it that nod means your food was molto magnifico,” he said with some kind of waving hand gesture. “Your horrible job on the rolling must have been the secret.” “Did you have too much wine or do you always speak in tiny spurts of Italian?” I asked. Hunter butt-bumped me from her spot at the counter, and then cleared her throat. I took another bite of the fettuccini, a little smaller this time, hoping that having something to do with my mouth would excuse any moment of silence in case the small talk grew stale. As I looked up from my plate, I noticed Zander’s eyes weren’t focused on my face. He wasn’t even staring at my chest like I expected. His eyes were glaring at the area directly underneath my chest, and I couldn’t be sure what his conclusion about that area was. I had a feeling it could be something like: This girl should really stop with the forklift of cheese and cream ‘cause I can see right where it’s headed, and it’s not pretty. I stood up immediately to help disguise the bounding rolls. I smiled and took another bite. Bigger this time. “My sister and I are leaving now, but I thought maybe I could get your number,” he hesitated, for what I could only explain as an attempt to read my reaction. “In case I forget something about L.A. and need a tour guide or something.” He smiled and his eyes traveled from my face back down to my stomach, and all the way to my feet. I didn’t know if he was intrigued or appalled. “I think its sweet that you’re asking, really, but you really don’t have to do that,” I said. I put my plate down and wondered if his sister put him up to this. She probably said, “Zander, that poor girl looks so lonely. And I can tell she likes you. She could have a fun time with a successful, attractive guy for once. Show her a good time and then go back to New York. No harm done.” I could just imagine it happening. If I could read lips I probably would have recognized the exact moment it happened too. “Don’t have to do what?” Zander asked as he fumbled with his cell phone. I pressed my tongue into the corner of my lips and wished I was still chewing so I could buy myself some time to respond without having to tell him the ugly truth. I couldn’t tell him that I was too afraid to give him my number because if he never called all of my fears would be staring me in my big, hope-filled face. I couldn’t tell him that I didn’t want him to call out of pity, or because he just wanted a girl he wasn’t attracted to for a friend so that the relationship would never get messy and complicated. I must have stood there thinking for too long because he shifted his weight to his left side and asked, “So do you have a boyfriend or are you just not interested after all?” His gaze stayed on my face this time. All at once I could see my heart breaking before it happened. If we actually started a relationship his friends would ask him when he started being into bigger chicks. They’d tell him he could do better. His mother would disapprove. His sister would tell him she didn’t mean for us to actually date, she just wanted us to have a little fun. He would go back to New York and would decide that he’s too nice of a guy to dump me. So we would have a long distance relationship, and then he would run into a model on her way to a photo shoot. He would cheat on me and they would fall in real love. And it would all be because I was never meant to be with someone that far out of my league anyway. “Its none of that Zander. I actually have to go. It’s getting so late. Great job on the dough though!” I turned around, grabbed my coat and my plate of pasta, and ran out of the kitchen and into the cold, sprinkling night.





Everly Scott loves Italian food, yummy candles, and love stories. She recently made the switch from teaching college writing to hogging all of the writing time for herself. But, when she’s not writing, you can find her hanging out on Twitter, Instagram, and her website, or learning how to powerlift, kind of. Eventually. 10 Random Facts About Me: 1. I am the proud owner of Bachelors Degrees in Honors English Literature and Creative Writing and an MFA in Writing. 2. Sunny (and dehydrated) Los Angeles has been my home base since birth. I’ve never lived anywhere else. 3. I love dogs, especially my own fuzzy Shih Tzu baby, but I am not the biggest fan of dog beaches. 4. I am utterly in love with my high school sweetheart. Not in a creepy, still crushing on him kind of way, but in a we-are-married-and-more-in-love-than-ever kind of way. 5. I may or may not be addicted to pasta. 6. I also may or may not be addicted to Dateline, 20/20, and Investigation Discovery. Don’t judge me. 7. Beyonce is #lifegoals. 8. I used to sing. A lot. In choirs, at weddings, and funerals, and football games. And in the shower. Actually, I still sing. Mostly in the shower. 9. When I was a kid I wanted to be a veterinarian. Then I realized I was allergic to cats, hated science and really sucked at math. Dreams crushed. 10. Tattoos. I love them. I have three, and if I could be covered from head to toe in beautiful art, I would! Okay, maybe not head to toe. Maybe just from collar bone to toe.