Monday, May 11, 2015

Monday's Montage Mantlepiece: Tales of the Curious Cookbook

It’s called comfort food for a reason. 

Not much is known about the cookbook, except that years ago, the mysterious Granny B collected a set of magical recipes and wrote them down. Over the years, each book has been modified, corrected, added to, and passed down through the generations to accumulate its own unique history. The secrets behind these very special recipes are about to find their way into new hands and new lives, just when they’re needed the most.

Food created out of love casts a spell all its own, but Granny B’s recipes add a little something extra. This curious cookbook holds not only delicious food, but also the secrets of love, trust, and healing, and it’s about to work its magic once again.

For a Rainy Afternoon by RJ Scott
Robbie MacIntyre manages a small post office in the old Station House on the outskirts of sleepy Barton Hartshourn northwest of London. He’s stunned when the owner, Maggie, a close friend, bequeaths him not only the post office, but also Station House.

The rest of her estate is left to an American writer, Jason Young, and when he moves to the village, Robbie is thrown by the attraction he has for the man who has more of a claim on the Station House than he does.

Then there is a box that holds several rare first editions and a cookbook. Only when the secrets of the ingredients in a particular recipe are finally revealed does everything begin to make sense, and a love cut short seventy years earlier is finally discovered.

Food for Thought by Amy Lane
Emmett Gant was planning to tell his father something really important one Sunday morning—but his father passed away first. Now, nearly three years later, Emmett can't seem to clear up who he should be with—the girl with the apple cheeks and the awesome family, or his snarky neighbor, Keegan, who never sees his family but who makes Emmett really happy just by coming over to chat.

Emmett needs clarity.

Fortunately for Emmett, his best friend’s mom has a cookbook that promises to give Emmett insight and good food, and Emmett is intrigued. After the cookbook follows him home, Emmett and Keegan decide to make the recipe “For Clarity,” and what ensues is both very clear—and a little surprising, especially to Emmett's girlfriend. Emmett is going to have to think hard about his past and the really important thing he forgot to tell his father if he wants to get the recipe for love just right.

Lost Along the Way by Marie Sexton
Three months after losing his parents in a car crash, Denver weatherman Daniel Whitaker returns to Laramie, Wyoming. It’s bad enough dealing with the death of his parents and his failing relationship of fifteen years, but when he finds his childhood home full of clutter, Daniel is at a loss. He enlists Landon, his parents’ sexy neighbor, to help him sort through the mess.

Landon Kushner is a study in contradictions. He builds wind sculptures out of scrap metal and loves the outdoors, but he also rides a mint-green Vespa and has an affinity for knitting and fortune-telling. He's been friends with Daniel's parents for years, and he's more than willing to lend a hand.

Their plan is simple: clean the house so Daniel can sell it and get back to his life in Denver. But when a strange cookbook comes into Landon’s possession, Daniel begins to realize that the universe – and Granny B – may have other plans.

Cookies for Courting by Amber Kell
After his sister’s death, businessman Marshall Hunter gains custody of his niece. Unused to children, Marshall struggles to connect with her. In an effort to make her more comfortable in her new home, he hires professional muralist Pace Barlow to personalize her room.

Pace is intrigued by his tiny client, and even more interested in her handsome uncle, but Pace isn’t certain he’s ready for the commitment of an instant family.

When Marshall decides to move for the sake of his niece, will he be able to keep his relationship with his young artist, or will he have to give up love to become a good father for a lonely little girl?

The love baked into an old-fashioned recipe might bring the two men together, but some things take more than magical cookies to fix.

Just Desserts by Mary Calmes
Boone Walton has tried hard to create some distance between himself and his past. He's invested in his new life, his New Orleans art gallery, and his friendship with Scott Wren. Things finally seem to be settling down to normal, and Boone couldn’t be happier.

Chef Scott Wren wants much more than normal with Boone. He wants to raise things to the next level, but Boone is terrified—and not because of the ghost in Scott’s apartment or Scott’s relatives. No, Boone's past is about to pay him a visit, and the only thing that can get between Boone, Scott, and a hinky recipe for chocolate mousse found in a curious cookbook is the river of pain Boone had to swim across to get to this side of The Big Easy. There’s a secret behind the ingredients, though—one that might reveal the trust and love that have been missing from Boone’s life.

For a Rainy Afternoon by RJ Scott
Chapter 1
“AT LEAST you tried, Robbie.” Doris patted my hand gently in her usual reassuring way. I didn’t need reassurance. I needed the damn cake to bloody work. I mean, how difficult could it be to not fuck up something when I had the recipe sitting in front of me?

I poked what was left of the applesauce cake with a fork. The mess let out an audible “bleurgh” as it collapsed in on itself around the massive hole that had somehow appeared during the cooking of it.

“I followed the recipe.” And I had followed it, to the letter. Every single cup of flour and tablespoon of butter, every teaspoon of nutmeg, and I’d even performed algebra to work out what two-thirds of a cup was compared to a whole cup. Doris patted my hand again and nodded in her most reassuring fashion.

“Maggie made this cake for nearly ninety years. You’re not supposed to be able to get it right the first time.”

My chest tightened in grief, which twisted in and around my heart. Maggie Simmons had been the reason I’d stayed in this village. When all my friends had left for the city or even the next town over, I was the one who had come home with a degree in art and no idea what to do with it, then stayed. Three years of study and a first in my degree and I was lost. Maggie had cornered me by the phone box one Monday morning, talking at me about her cairn terrier who had curled in and out of my legs as Maggie spoke, the leather of the lead wrapping around my legs. I can remember that day so clearly as the single moment when my life changed:

“I’ve bought the old station house,” she’d explained, and I must have said something very polite in return. I was always polite, and I liked Maggie. After all, not only was she a fixture in Burton Hartshorn, she was also an indomitable force of nature and had a mean throwing arm. If I was honest, she’d scared me just a little bit. I remember getting rotten fruit thrown at me with pinpoint accuracy when she caught me and two friends trying to steal apples from her small orchard. The phantom ache of an apple to the face had me pressing my fingers on my cheekbone and wincing inwardly.

“I’m building a library,” she added.

“Where?” Surely not here in Burton Hartshorn, population three hundred and off the beaten track? Why would we need a library when we could just as well get over to Buckingham to use the library there? I remembered the excitement of the library trip out with my dad in his shiny Ford Mondeo. Libraries are big sprawling rows of shelves of every conceivable book possible; they’re not tiny places in the back end of nowhere.

“Not really a library,” she confided to me on that summer’s day. “We could move the post office there when Silvia retires at Christmas, and there would be tables, with tea and coffee from a small counter, and a reading area with big comfy sofas. We could run a book-swap program and maybe advertise with the local school.” I recall the wistful expression on her face. Even then, ten years back, she was old. Well, as old as any person in their seventies and eighties appears to someone fresh out of university.

“Sounds lovely.” I felt then that I was damning her with faint praise, and maybe I was. What she proposed did sound lovely. I was never happier than with my nose in a book, tea next to me, and maybe a couple of chocolate chip cookies on a plate. Add in rain against the window and I was in heaven. Of course a boyfriend next to me, with his head in my lap, would be the icing on the cake. Abruptly whatever Maggie was saying to me mixed in with a recent break up of a university romance.

“Well, I wanted to talk to you,” she continued and punctuated each word with a tug on her dog’s leash until the tangling around my legs was enough so I would never be able to move. “You’re back now, and I need someone to run this place. Not much money, mind you, but there’s rooms on the top floor, and you could do what you wanted with them.”

“Pardon me?” I asked, stupefied.

“I like your mother,” she said, slightly impatient. “She said to me you were rootless, and that building something around books and history and family would be an excellent idea. She suggested a small gallery area for your paintings, which I think is a lovely idea.”

I wish I could have concentrated on the good parts in that sentence, but at the time all I could think was that I was angry my mum thought I was rootless. Just because I was lying longer in bed in the mornings and was becoming obsessed with daytime TV didn’t mean I was rootless. Just because I wasn’t painting at the moment didn’t mean I couldn’t if I wanted to. Right?

With a final tug of the leash, I was free from the leather confines, but I didn’t move. Maggie was teasing me about a job. She had to be. I glanced around me to see if anyone was watching. My gaze caught on the beautiful old station house. L-shaped, it sat close to the deep cutting where the Great Central Main Line used to run steam trains from London to Manchester. Mothballed in the sixties, the station house had fallen into disrepair until a brewery tried to turn it into a pub. How in the hell they thought they would have anything in the way of clientele given the Red Lion was at the other end of the village, I don’t know. It didn’t last long, and for the last ten years or so, the station house had been a rental property with a high turnover.

“It’s a beautiful place.” Maggie sounded wistful.

The thatched roof needed fixing, the white windows lacked new paint, and the dark blue door was three different shades in peeled-off layers. And the garden was wild. Not just wild with weeds, but with a glorious display of autumn greens and golds that never failed to make me stop and look. Not that I am into flowers so much, but the whole effect, with the thatch and the small leaded windows and the general air of neglect, somehow captured my imagination.

“Very beautiful.”

“So, I inherited money and I bought it. You should know that. It’s mine, permanent, some small place that you could make a home.” She spoke so carefully and stared right at me with determination in her expression.

“You want me to run the post office?” Real life caught up with my wild imaginings in which I single-handedly restored the former station house into exactly what Maggie wanted. Large oaks shaded the garden to the rear, and ivy spread from the main house to a small seventies extension with roof lights. I imagined tearing back enough of the ivy to expose the beautiful original brickwork of the unique station house.

“Not just the post office,” she continued. “Stamps, parcels and post, and a small shop stocking the essentials. Like tea bags, milk, mustard, and marmite.”

I didn’t flinch at the strange combination of what Maggie thought were essentials. Although I did hate it when I ran out and my toast remained bereft of marmite. “Mustard. Marmite. Okay.”

“And the café,” she added. “With a small library, good books, and lots of romances. Maybe some DVDs. When could you start?”

I stood there for the longest time and even crouched down to pet the small dog just to give myself time to think. No one knew how much money Maggie had, but she clearly had enough to think of buying the old house that had once been the station on this old line. She wasn’t reclusive with money out of sight, but she wasn’t flashy either, and no one knew a lot about her. She was the very solid and focused backbone of this village while somehow remaining private. Her own cottage, the aptly named Apple Tree Cottage with its fruit orchard, was right at the center of village life just opposite the duck pond and the village green. The cottage itself dated back three hundred years, and when I was young, rumors said that Maggie was the same age.

“I have an interview at the hospital in patient records. Tomorrow.” I needed her to realize I had options.

She nodded. “Good, good. Not your thing, though, is it?”

Me? Stuck in an office with computers? No, it wasn’t my thing, but it was good money and there was a staff canteen with discounts. Rent to my mum, fuel in my car, enough money to buy beer and art supplies, and I would be happy. Apart from sacrificing eight hours a day, five days a week to the evil day job, that was.

What prompted me to agree I didn’t know. But the endless stretch of long summer days with no idea of what I wanted to do lay before me, and I didn’t really want to take the admin job. I wanted time to paint and live and do something special.

“No,” I answered then. “I can start now.” The small addition made her smile, and just making this decision was the best thing I’d ever done.

That was then, and now, nearly ten years had passed in which I had been the person in this special place. Pulling back ivy to reveal history was the easy part. Stocking, maintenance work, fundraising, those had been the difficult bits. And every Thursday morning, Maggie would come with her friends, all of whom she had known forever, and they would sit and talk and drink tea, and swap books, and make everything right in my world.

My art was good—I’d even sold some of the pieces and made enough to save some money after buying myself a car. What I was saving for, I don’t know. Probably that same nebulous future I had always been searching for.

Then last month happened. When the end came, it was sudden. Maggie didn’t come to her Thursday tea and cake meet-up, but she’d visited on Friday, told me point-blank her time was up, and that at ninety-one, she’d done her bit. After all, she’d left the station house and bequeathed it in some kind of weird estate contract for the future, and that legacy was just as important as her children.

I’d listened to her talk, and every word had knotted inside my heart in an impossible ball of grief, and that was exactly how it had remained. The day we laid Maggie Simmons to rest had been bright and sunny. The four weeks since had been the strangest of my life. I didn’t have a boyfriend at that moment. In fact, if I was really honest with myself, I hadn’t had a real boyfriend in over a year. The last of them, Josh, short, blond, and devious, had been the one who put me off men for the longest time. His ability to fuck up everything had left me wary and tired of the scene, of nights out, of drinking and dancing and being on view. I just wanted peace, I wanted my village in the Buckinghamshire countryside, and I wanted to lick my wounds and find Mr. Right.

“Are you okay?” Mrs. Patterson asked gently. I snapped back to the here and now and refocused my gaze on the cake. Applesauce cake was one of Maggie’s most requested bakes in the small café. Alongside an ancient whistling kettle and beautiful mismatched china cups and saucers, the cake was like part of Maggie and the shop. The cake was moist, flecks of apple and a vein of cinnamon in each bite—always perfect. She’d scrawled down a recipe for me from memory, but clearly something must’ve been wrong with it.

“I just wanted to do something nice.” This was the first Thursday since the funeral that everyone had met up again. Five instead of six now, there had been some tears and laughter over remembered times. This was the way that Maggie would want to be honored by the five women who called themselves friends.

“And we love you for that,” Mrs. Patterson said. “Maggie would have laughed,” she added with a cheeky wink. Mrs. Patterson was definitely one for the whole flirting business. One or two of the knots inside me unraveled gently, and I relaxed the breath that had caught in my chest. They were here talking about Maggie, remembering her, and even though my attempt at doing the same had failed miserably, it didn’t matter. Somehow during the making of a damn apple cake, I had crossed over from grief to acceptance for the loss of the woman I looked on as fondly as my own grandmother.

“Yes.” I poked at it again, and it deflated even further. “She would have.”

When they left it was nearly five, and I cleared up and washed the crockery and cutlery. Each piece of china had its place in the small kitchen, and only when everything was put away did I actually relax. I probably needed to get out of the house for the evening. Make my way over to Northampton maybe, meet up with Tim or Jack, friends from uni, or even Anna from the village, who had been my partner in crime when we were young kids with the freedom of every day after school to be filled with fun.

I tipped away the water remaining in the kettle and placed it back on the stove. Somehow I misjudged it and the edge of it clanked on the iron of the hob, the vibration of the clash traveling up my arm.

“Fuck it,” I snapped, because that is what a person did when inanimate objects screwed around with them. No one asked what was wrong, no one would. “Sad fucking bastard, talking to yourself,” I muttered.

Then with conviction that this evening would improve with beer and friends, I climbed up to my large open bedroom with its views over acres of green fields. I was going out, and I was going to celebrate Maggie’s life my way: by getting completely pissed and talking crap with anyone who would listen.

By the time I’d showered, had exchanged numerous texts with Jack about which pub was better, and had decided what to wear, it was nearly seven. Wallet and keys found, I locked up the station house and crossed to my car, noting that some bastard of a bird had seen fit to christen the polished silver doors.

“Story of my life.”

Food for Thought by Amy Lane
Barbecued Ribs and Wieners
EMMETT’S FRIEND Vinnie had the best family reunions.

Emmett, who had grown up as an only child with his dad, had always envied them. Fourth of July arrived, and Emmett and Vinnie would be on chair duty, setting up the backyard for relatives, over a hundred of them, people even Vinnie didn’t know. The pool would be filled and cleaned for the kids, and trees needed to be pruned so they didn’t drop leaves into the pool or on anybody’s heads or in the giant vats of food that every one of Vinnie’s female relatives brought or helped prepare in the kitchen.

Emmett and his father were always invited, and for Emmett, getting to run around with the other kids carrying sparklers and playing in the pool was better than Christmas. At Christmas, Emmett got presents, but at the reunion, he got family.

Emmett’s father passed away in Emmett’s senior year of college, and Vinnie got married to Angela this past year, and the reunion seemed especially important. Christine, his girlfriend, hadn’t been able to make it—she had to work, and since she was planning to take Emmett to her parents’ house for Christmas, Emmett figured he could go alone.

Besides, he really was surprisingly ambiguous about the whole “Christmas” thing, but he didn’t know what to do about that.

Instead, he immersed himself in the reunion, taking instructions from Vinnie’s mom, Flora, and eventually, after helping load the pig into the barbecue pit and the prime rib into the slow cooker, he became her helper in the kitchen.

“Okay, so, six and a half cups of warm water in the pot,” Flora said. She was doing something complicated with a meat grinder and stuffing fixings, even though it was the middle of July. Emmett had tasted her Fourth of July stuffing, though, and he had no objections whatsoever.

“Done,” Emmett said promptly.

“Three tablespoons of yeast.”

Emmett looked into the brown yeast container and tried not to think that this was a living organism, waiting to be released from dormancy. He threw the little bastards into the warm water and said, “Done!”

“Good, now three tablespoons of salt—stir it until it’s dissolved.”


“And now thirteen cups of flour.”

Emmett grinned at her, a slight, middle-aged woman with graying black hair and drooping breasts under a flowered apron that her mother had probably worn. Her five kids had been fixtures in Emmett’s life from kindergarten and beyond. “That’s not gonna be so quick,” he said promptly.

“I know it. That’s good, though. We can talk. Now tell me about this girl.”

Emmett started carefully counting cups of flour. “She’s nice,” he said vaguely. “You’d like her.”

Flora would adore Christine. Christine came from a large family, she was kind and sassy and liked to cook.

“Yeah, what would I like about her?”

“She’s got a big family. She believes in ’em. So, you know. Emmett gets a big family.”

He smiled happily while stirring the flour into the thickening mass of dough, because he really wanted that family.

“Emmett has us,” Flora said, not sounding as happy as Emmett had hoped. “I would prefer Emmett had a girl he wanted to make babies with.”

“Ew!” Emmett cried, and then held up the spoon with a gooey dollop of dough on it. “It’s, uhm, too wet. I think I need another two cups, don’t you?”

“Uh-huh.” Flora watched him add the flour, her usually generous mouth compressed into a firm line. “Please don’t lie to me, Emmett.”

Emmett looked away. “I wouldn’t dream of it,” he lied.

“I happen to know that Jordyn is a boy’s name too,” she said, her tone brooking no bullshit, and Emmett kneaded the dough with unnecessary force.

“It’s a girl’s name,” he said.

“You’ll wreck that bread—it’s mixed enough. Put the towel on top and put it in the corner of the counter.”

Emmett did as he was instructed, thinking hard to try to get out of this. At the beginning of his junior year in college he’d taken the bus from Sacramento to Chico, just to have dinner at Flora’s table before he saw his dad the next day. He hadn’t announced why he was coming, he’d just asked Vinnie if his mom would mind.

That night, as he got ready to sleep in Vinnie’s room, Flora came in with an extra blanket.

“You look like hell,” she said quietly. “Who broke your heart?”

Emmett said the name without thinking. “Jordyn.”

“What did she do?”

So he’d told the story about growing close to someone for an entire school year, of thinking the two of them had a future, and of making promises to get back together as soon as school started again.

And of unreturned phone calls and texts, and of getting back to school to find that the person you thought you’d loved was now with someone else, and the whole world thought they were the perfect couple.

He’d told Vinnie’s mom everything….

With the exception of one or two teeny little details.

And Flora had been the one person who’d known, including Emmett’s father, whom Emmett visited once a week. It stayed that way until Emmett told Vinnie the story at Christmas. He’d been better by then, not quite so thin and wild-eyed, and Vinnie had given him a brother’s hug, and told him about Angela.

And nobody had ever challenged him on those one or two teeny little details, until right now.

“Emmett?” Flora said kindly.

“What else do you want me to do?” Emmett asked, smiling gamely. He had a good smile—his face was sort of plain, bony, with a long jaw and teeth not quite bucked enough for braces—but he knew when he smiled, his full lips eased the harshness, erased the impression of his slightly crooked teeth, made him beautiful.

“I want you to tell me something real about this girl,” Flora said gently.

Emmett thought carefully, trying to find a detail that would make Christine good enough for the only mother he really remembered. “She wears these really skinny black skirts,” Emmett said. “They look severe, and businesslike, right? And she wears blazers over them, even in the summer. But underneath, she buys these adorable little shirts with cartoon characters. Unless she has a meeting or something, she’s a grown-up wearing Hello Kitty! Or Dora the Explorer. And she likes to watch those shows at night, when she’s working. That’s her background noise, and she knows all the episodes.”

His smile relaxed, and he nodded hopefully into Flora’s eyes. “It’s really cute.”

Flora regarded him sorrowfully. “You’re leaving tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” Emmett said, feeling bad. “You know, low man on the totem pole—don’t get to take the whole week off.” He was in the marketing department at Intel, along with Christine. They’d started dating when she needed a plus-one for her sister’s wedding, and everybody had been so nice to him—Christine’s dad had wanted to talk stocks and her brother had wanted to talk sports. Her sisters had wanted to talk television shows and her mother had wanted to talk cooking. It was, in fact, a lot like Vinnie’s reunion, except Emmett knew all of Vinnie’s relatives, and Vinnie’s dad didn’t keep asking him how serious he was about his daughter.

Emmett, who hadn’t been in the market to date anyone had immediately started asking Christine to movies and out to dinner. Yeah, the good-night kisses were sort of tepid, and she kept hinting that she wanted a sleepover, but whenever she got too grabby, he just got her started about the sister who got married and how her other two sisters were planning their weddings and how her two brothers wanted kids and suddenly, she wasn’t interested in sexy times anymore, she was interested in babies, and he figured that they could manage the sexy times when there were babies at the end of it.

Babies meant family, and yes, Emmett was a fan.

Flora pursed her mouth. “So she wears cute cartoon character T-shirts. How big are her boobs?”

Emmett could swear his eyes did the “Ayoooga!” thing, like the cartoon characters on Christine’s shirts. “I don’t know!” he floundered, moving his flour-coated hands a lot. “Standard size, I guess!” He thought about it. “Uhm, smaller than Angela’s.”

Flora raised her thin, gray eyebrows. “All my daughters are smaller than Angela’s. Are they smaller than Cecily’s?”

“I don’t know!” Emmett burst out, waving more flour around the Tomiche’s kitchen. “I don’t look at your daughters’ boobs!”

“Aha!” Flora crowed, like she’d caught Vinnie stealing pies. (Vinnie had stolen a lot of food in Emmett’s name when they’d been kids. Flora had finally gotten wise and started asking Emmett if he’d gotten the pie or the cookies or, in one case, the half of a wedding cake. When Emmett gave her the blank stare before sputtering and trying to cover for Vinnie, Vinnie had gotten into a lot of trouble as well.)

“Aha what? What’s aha?” Emmett looked around the kitchen wildly, taking in the old yellow wallpaper, the peeling veneer on the pasteboard cabinets, and battered tan tile. A showcase, this place was not, but Emmett felt like he’d been ambushed in his place of safety. “Why would you yell ‘Aha!’ at me? I thought you liked me!”

Flora’s deep brown eyes—so much like Vinnie’s—were nothing but kind. “I love you, Emmett. That’s why I want you to be happy. Honey, you don’t have to be a chauvinist pig to look at a pretty girl’s boobs. The fact that you were surrounded with pretty girl’s boobs and you didn’t notice a little? That makes me think that maybe pretty girls aren’t what you’re looking for.”

Emmett swallowed, touched and, weirdly enough, near tears. But there were a hundred people gathering on Flora’s lawn, and he didn’t feel like talking about Jordyn and Christine and about his next-door neighbor who wasn’t like either of them.

“I, uh, should wash my hands if I’m going to help Vinnie with the barbecue,” he said, hoping she’d just drop it.

She sighed and shrugged. “You do that, Emmett, but I’ve got you until tomorrow, and this isn’t over, you hear me?”

“Gotta go unbury the pig, Flora—catch you later!”

He ran away then, retreated without shame. He’d been there the night Vinnie’s mom had cornered Vinnie in the living room about marrying Angela because the poor girl couldn’t see that he was an idiot and Flora wanted what was best for her idiot son, even if it was more than he deserved.

But standing next to Vinnie and downing a beer while Vinnie prodded the ribs and dogs on the barbecue was not the haven Emmett thought it would be.

“So, Christine,” Vinnie said, gingerly poking a rib and sticking out a full upper lip when it appeared to spring back. Emmett had spent a lot of his adolescence fantasizing about Vinnie’s lips, until he’d snapped out of it and grew up. You didn’t think about another guy’s lips. That was kid’s stuff.

“What about her?”

“She as cute as Jordyn?”

Emmett grimaced. “You know, I was trying to forget that name.”

“Is she?”



“She’s nice, you’d like her.”

“Why would I like her?”

“She likes action adventure movies.”

“Yeah,” Vinnie said grimly, leaving the poor ribs alone for a minute. “But you like romances.”

“I like action adventure movies!” He did. In fact, he was starting to like them more now, because romances were icky with girls! Or, uhm, watching them with his girlfriend was icky. Uncomfortable. Watching romances with his girlfriend with whom he had not yet consummated the relationship was uncomfortable. “I, uhm, like their mood,” he said weakly, smiling into Vinnie’s eyes the same way he’d smiled into Vinnie’s mother’s eyes.

Vinnie stared back at him, long Italian face unmoved and unimpressed.

“Their mood.”

Emmett smiled brightly. God, he’d wanted to tell Vinnie about Jordyn—he really had. But Vinnie had been so excited about Angela, and Emmett hadn’t wanted to bring up the stupid way he’d fantasized about Vinnie’s full lips and warm brown eyes when they were in junior high.

“Their mood. I like their mood.”

“You know, Emmett, you could still come to the family picnic and to Christmas and Thanksgiving if you, uhm, brought a date who didn’t have boobs, you know that, right?”

At that moment, Vinnie’s uncle Jimbo walked by, a “Marriage is for one man and one woman” T-shirt proudly stretched tightly across his prodigious man-maries. Emmett looked pointedly at Jimbo and then back at Vinnie, who shrugged, unimpressed.

“Mom loves you more than Uncle Jimbo,” he said, without batting an eyelash. “In fact, she loves you more than most of her other children. Except Cecily. She’s the baby, and Mom loves her best—and that’s okay. But you, she loves.”

Emmett couldn’t keep looking him in the eyes anymore. It was getting embarrassing, and his eyes were starting to water.

“I… uhm, you know. You’re like my only family,” Emmett said. He didn’t want to say any more, didn’t want to think about his dad, with his slow smile and his outsized hands, and the way he’d wait outside on his front porch for Emmett to show up on his Sunday visits home from college. Emmett still found himself, Sunday mornings, waking up excited about driving to visit his dad, and not able to remember why he couldn’t do that anymore until he was in his underwear, making coffee.

Which was usually why Keegan came over on Sunday mornings, but nobody knew that but Emmett.

“Emmett,” Vinnie said gently, “you’re my brother. And you’re not going to be any less of my brother if you and this girl don’t work out.”

“You’d like her,” Emmett said with conviction. But Vinnie liked everybody. Hell, Vinnie would probably like Keegan, too, and Keegan was an acquired taste.

“I’m sure I would,” Vinnie said grimly. “But I’m not the one who has to sleep with her, so the question is, do you want her?”

“That hot dog is burning,” Emmett said a little desperately.

Vinnie just shook his head and sighed, and Emmett held out the plate so Vinnie could unload the dogs. The ribs still had a ways to go.

BUT IN spite of the constant prying into Emmett’s love life, the reunion was a success. Happy children, mildly drunk adults, and nobody set themselves on fire during the pyrotechnic portion of the show. The next morning, after the giant after-meal of waffles and bacon, Emmett retreated to Vinnie’s old room to pack. (Vinnie and Angela lived in town—they just drove to and from Vinnie’s mom’s house, and Emmett was always surprised at how venomously he envied his friend for something that simple.)

Flora came in after him.

“Here,” she said without ceremony, and dropped a book on his suitcase.

Emmett eyeballed the book and then picked it up gingerly. “Flora, this looks really old.”

“Well, yes—it’s sort of an heirloom. Somebody’s grandmother’s aunt’s cousin or whatever. Made five copies, gave one to each child. And then my aunt gives it to my cousin who gives it to me.”

Emmett picked the book up with a little bit of reverence. It was battered, hand-bound, hand-typed pages tied together with what looked to be old leather lacings, with a leather cover. On the front, he read, Recipes for the Heart: Mystical Meals and Dangerous Desserts, by Granny B.

Carefully, Emmett started to leaf through the yellowed pages, surprised when they didn’t just disintegrate into powder.

“For Rainy Days,” he read, smiling a little. “For Courting.” He turned the page to the next section. “For Thought. This is a cookbook?”

“Yes, it is—but it’s an unusual one.”

Emmett found that the thing seemed to purr in his hands, like a kitten. He wanted to wrap his arms around it, holding it to his chest.

“Why unusual?” he asked suspiciously.

“Because—the sections aren’t the usual ones for one thing. There’s no ‘Entrée,’ ‘Chicken,’ ‘Dessert,’ or any of that. And for another, well… you simply need to try a recipe. They’ve all been added to. You want family, Emmett? This is the advice of generations of families, all in one cookbook.”

Emmett swallowed, wanting that book so much his mouth watered. “I can’t take this,” he said, trying to be a good guy. “You’re going to want to give it to Angela or Cecily—”

“Angela has her own family recipes,” Flora said, sounding philosophical about it. “And Cecily has cooked from this book since she was very small. It’s her writing in some of the margins, childish as it is. Even Vinnie had something to say.”

Emmett wanted to cry more than ever. “Then I really can’t take it,” he said gently, and to his surprise, Flora laughed.

“You go ahead and try to leave it here,” she cackled, and then kissed him on the cheek. “You’re a good boy. I’m going to go make you some sandwiches for the trip.”

Emmett spent a few minutes leafing through the book. There was a shortbread recipe, which seemed to be the only thing relatively untouched by comments. Awesome, fattening, and fricking easy. That looked like Vinnie’s handwriting right there—leave it to Vinnie to comment on the obvious.

He ended up in Food for Thought. “‘Beet Porridge,’” he read, and then scrawled next to the Beet Porridge, in different ink, were the words clarifies things. He laughed to himself and read some more. Chipotle sauce, start the night before. There was an arrow to that and a scrawled comment: You can buy the cubes now, which keeps your house from becoming a tear-gas repository for two days. Wow—this must be some clarifying recipe if people were willing to go through that. Reluctantly, Emmett stood up and set the book down on Vinnie’s bed.

Yeah, he was curious… but… but… it wasn’t right that he should take the book. This kind of book—that was family. And if Emmett knew one thing for sure, it was that as of yet, he didn’t have a family of his own.

HE SET his duffel on the front floorboard of his Toyota hybrid, and the package of sandwiches on the seat, then went to hug Vinnie’s entire family who had arrived to see him off.

God, he loved these people. He’d played board games with them on rainy days, and they’d gone to each other’s track meets and baseball games, chess games and theater productions. He’d held the girls through broken hearts and congratulated the guys on getting the guts up to go to prom.

Every time he left, he felt like clinging to them, weeping, and begging to be a part of them for just another second.

And he couldn’t stand, ever, to look next door to his and his father’s little house, which had always been so quiet, even when he and his dad were there, playing chess.

Lost Along the Way by Marie Sexton
Chapter 1
IT WAS not a dark and stormy night. Somehow that would have been appropriate. It certainly would have suited my mood on the day I was fated to return to my hometown to deal with my parents’ cluttered house, but it simply wasn’t the case. Instead, the sun shone bright in the cloudless Colorado sky as if to spite me.

I wrapped up my shift at the news station, smiling as I gave the afternoon weather report for the Denver area—10 percent chance of showers in the evening, cooling to the high fifties overnight—and a forecast for the next day of mostly clear skies, 30 percent chance of afternoon storms, highs in the midseventies. All in all a typical day for late May. Then I made my way to my office with my heart full of dread.

I didn’t want to do this, but I’d already put it off too long. Landon had generously taken care of it for me since their deaths, but it was time for me to deal with it, once and for all.

Chase called at four o’clock, just as I was removing my makeup with a baby wipe. He often teased me about having to wear it, as if it was only about covering up the wrinkles that were beginning to form at the corners of my eyes, but it was more than that. The camera could be brutal.

“I thought I’d grill some burgers for dinner,” he said. “We’re out of buns, though. Can you stop on your way home?”

“You bet.” An early dinner would be perfect. We could be on the road before six.

“Get some coffee too.”


“Are you leaving soon?”

“In a few minutes.”

“Good. See you in a few.”

“Love you.”


The conversation took less than twenty seconds and was as routine for me as drinking a cup of coffee in the morning. Although the law prevented Chase and me from being legally married, we’d called each other “husband” for the last fifteen years.

No, I wasn’t looking forward to returning to Laramie, but at least I’d have Chase by my side. We’d been floundering lately. Not arguing, exactly. We didn’t talk enough to argue. But we’d become depressingly mechanical and complacent in our relationship. We’d become little more than roommates. I hoped a few days away from our normal routine would shake us out of it.

I stopped at Safeway on my way home as requested. Hamburger buns were easy, but as I stood debating the shelves and shelves of coffee—caramel cream or hazelnut biscotti?—I felt a tap on my elbow.

“Are you Daniel Whitaker?” a middle-aged woman in jogging clothes asked.


“The Channel 9 weatherman?”

“Meteorologist,” I said, as my heart sank. I could tell by her tone this was going to hurt.

“It was supposed to rain yesterday, and it never did. I missed my afternoon run because you said it was going to rain.”

“I said 70 percent chance of afternoon showers.” And personally, I’d argued for lowering our prediction to 60 percent, but I’d been overridden by the senior meteorologist at the station.

She crossed her arms and tapped her toe. “But it didn’t.”

“It did. It just didn’t reach this far north. It was more in Castle Rock and Parker.”

“But not here.”

I resisted the urge to sigh, or to explain to her that “70 percent chance of showers” meant only that the predicted probability of more than a measurable amount of precipitation—defined as more than one one-hundredth of an inch—in any one point of the forecast area averaged out to 70 percent. We’d been 90 percent sure of rain in the southeastern portion of the city, but only 40 to 50 percent sure in the northwestern regions, which boiled down to a glib “70 percent chance” for the forecast.

“We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t predict tomorrow’s weather,” she grumbled as she walked away. “Maybe one of these days you’ll get it right.”

I brooded over the conversation all the way home. Everybody knows the jokes about meteorologists: Why did the weatherman get fired? Because the climate didn’t agree with him. What do you do when you get every answer wrong on your SAT? Become a weatherman. Who does everybody listen to, but nobody believe? You guessed it.

The weatherman.

As usual it wasn’t that our forecast had been inaccurate, but many viewers don’t understand basic forecast terminology. They also don’t seem to realize how difficult it could be to take massive meteorological and climatological events in an area as large and geographically varied as ours and boil them down to a three-minute forecast. If we’d only had to predict the weather for the one hundred fifty-five square miles that made up the City of Denver, it would have been easy, but our forecast area covered the entire state of Colorado—an impressive one hundred four thousand square miles—and stretched as far north as Laramie, Wyoming. Even in the greater metro area of Denver, what happened in one suburb could be vastly different than what happened in the others. It was the most frustrating part of my job. We were predicting the future, for fuck sake. Even though we got it right 90 percent of the time, people only ever talked about the 10 percent of the time when we didn’t.

I was still replaying the conversation in my head, imagining all the ways I could have contradicted the jogger, as I pulled into my driveway. Before going inside, I strolled down to the sidewalk to check the mail. My neighbor was there as well, just locking the little square door on her box.

“Evening, Daniel,” she said, without glancing up at me. She was flipping through her stack of envelopes.

“Hi, Lydia.”

“Not going to get any hail tonight, are we?” Lydia had moved to Colorado from San Diego only a few months before and seemed to live in fear of one of Colorado’s outlandish hailstorms shattering the skylight in her bedroom as she slept. Never mind that the worst hail usually stayed northeast of us, where Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska collided in an area known to weather buffs as Hail Alley. Denver had apparently seen enough golf ball-sized hail over the years to make Lydia nervous.

“Probably not.”

“Thank goodness.” She sighed and waved her stack of envelopes at me. “All junk. Every single piece.”

“Isn’t that always the way?”

Lydia was three steps away when she stopped and turned back. “I meant to tell you, Daniel. You might want to get your engine checked.”


“I was walking Rio the other day, and I noticed there was oil in your driveway, right where you usually park.”

“Oh. Thanks for letting me know.”

Back at the house, I tried to spot the oil stain, but with my Subaru parked right on top of it, there wasn’t much to see. My car was only a few years old. None of the little alert lights had been on, and I’d had all the usual maintenance done at prescribed intervals. I didn’t know the first thing about cars, and Lydia’s warning about the oil leak worried me. Laramie was only a two-and-a-half-hour drive from my home in Westminster, but the last thing I needed was engine trouble along the way.

I found Chase in the kitchen, patting ground beef into patties.

“How was your day?” he asked as I set the bag from the grocery store onto the counter.

“Wonderful. I had another argument with Grant about the five-day forecast. I was reminded that my job is to read off his prediction rather than formulating my own.” I ticked the points off on my fingers. “The station manager suggested I lose a few pounds. The makeup girl told me the wrinkles around my eyes are now so pronounced she needs the extraheavy concealer to cover them. And I was ambushed in the coffee aisle by a fair-weather jogger.”

“All in a day’s work.” He pushed the plate of patties aside and used his wrist to nudge the faucet handle on the kitchen sink in order to wash his hands, which were coated with congealed fat from the raw hamburger. I stepped forward to squirt a drop of dish soap into his palm.

“Are you packed and ready to go?” I asked.

“Well, no. I needed to talk to you about that.” He kept his eyes on his hands as he washed. “The restaurant called today. One of the waitresses broke her collarbone in a bicycle accident—”


“—and now they’re short-staffed for the weekend.”

My heart sank. “But you asked for the time off. We already have plans.”

He turned off the water and finally faced me as he dried his hands on a kitchen towel. “I know, hun. I’m sorry. But I’m low man on the pole, and after the row I had with the manager last weekend, I can’t afford to push my luck.” He set the towel aside and stepped forward to put his hand on my arm. “It’s not like this’ll be your only trip back. I’ll request a weekend off at the beginning of July, okay?”

I nodded jerkily, trying not to take it personally. After all it wasn’t Chase’s fault somebody had broken their collarbone.

No, said a small voice in my head, but he sure jumped at the chance to stay home, didn’t he?

Well, I couldn’t blame him for that, either. Who wanted to spend an entire weekend locked in a musty old house, sorting through boxes of who knew what, dwelling on somebody else’s memories? Even I would have jumped at the opportunity to stay home. And as he’d said, cleaning out my parents’ house and getting it ready to sell would probably take several weekends.

Still, I was disappointed. Having a couple of days away with Chase had been the only bright spot for me in an otherwise depressing weekend. But there was nothing to be done about it now.

“You’re right,” I said at last. “There’ll be plenty of other weekends.”

THERE ARE two options when driving from Colorado to Laramie, assuming one doesn’t want to take single-lane county roads the whole way. One is to go straight north on I-25 to Cheyenne, then take I-80 west. The interstates are fast, direct, and boring as hell. The other option is to cut through Fort Collins on Highway 287. The latter route is shorter by about thirty miles, but the drive times are about the same. If I’d been driving at night, I probably would have opted for the interstates, where I was less likely to have deer, antelope, or coyote jumping into my path, but with daylight still left, I decided to take the more scenic option.

It’d been nearly fifteen years since I’d driven this road, and I was struck by how perfectly familiar and welcoming it felt, winding my way through the rolling, dusty foothills. A few trees in the creek beds and a lot of sagebrush were the only hints of green. The reddish-gray earth contrasted with the bright blue sky. Huge stone outcroppings pierced the blue sky, the wind having stripped away the flesh of the earth, leaving her bones bare and exposed. It was harsh and barren, and yet hauntingly beautiful too. Some piece of me, long buried and denied, seemed to open up and rejoice of the sight.

I was going home.

It was a disconcerting thought. I hadn’t called Laramie home since I was eighteen. But I’d spent my formative years there. I’d ridden my bike through her streets as a preteen, and cruised those same streets in a beat-up Ford truck as a teenager. Hung out downtown with my friends. I’d dated a few girls. I’d even gone to bed with one, and all the while, the dawning realization that I was different gnawed at my gut. And yet I never felt out of place so much as I felt lost.

I’d left Laramie when I was eighteen, moving south to Fort Collins to attend CSU, and I’d immediately felt reborn. College was a whole new world, wide and educated and open to diversity. GLBT resources were abundant on campus, and the words “I’m gay” suddenly became easy to say to myself and my open-minded dormmate, if not to my parents. Fall of ’98, shortly before beginning my senior year at CSU, I’d finally rallied my nerve and come out to them. My father had raged. It wasn’t so much that he disliked the idea of homosexuality as that he hated the idea of his son not being “normal.” My mother had assured me over and over again it was only a stage. She was sure some girl had broken my heart, but eventually I’d meet a new girl. A different girl. A girl who would inspire me in ways I’d never been inspired before. My protestations fell on deaf ears, and I’d returned to Colorado for my senior year of college without even saying good-bye to my parents.

Two months later a young man was found tied to a fence in Wyoming, beaten nearly to death. He was rushed to Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, only a few miles from campus. Facts were slower to emerge in those days, but rumors have always moved like wildfire. The boy was gay. That was the one thing everybody seemed to know. There were stories he’d been barhopping in downtown Fort Collins the night he was ambushed. On the CSU campus, there was a shared heartache, and a looming feeling of guilt. A deep-seated dread that something so vile could happen there, in that place where we celebrated life so freely. We couldn’t have done this, the refrain went. We’re not bigots.

When the truth finally emerged that Matthew Shepard was from Laramie, we’d all felt vindicated. It was with a sense of hesitant righteousness and a great deal of relief that we aligned ourselves with the rest of the country, pointing our fingers accusingly at my hometown.

For my parents, the tragic death of Matthew Shepard six days later only proved how dangerous my newfound “lifestyle” could be. For me, it was an excuse to turn my back on my roots. If people asked where I was from, I lied and said Cheyenne. And yet I watched with secret pride as Laramie rallied to its own defense, holding candlelight vigils for Matthew and suddenly declaring themselves on the right side of love. When one of my high school classmates came out on national TV, I’d fought the urge to run home and shake her hand.

Yes, I assured my mother when she called me in tears. I was still gay. Matthew Shepard hadn’t changed that. If anything, the tragedy had driven the fact of my sexuality home.

Not long afterward, I met Chase, and my life changed forever. I knew immediately this wasn’t a dalliance or a fling. This was love, strong and pure and so undeniable it sometimes brought tears to my eyes. I went home for Christmas that year and told my parents all about Chase. I wanted them to meet him, but they refused. They insisted I was going through a phase. I just needed to try harder. Date more women. They offered to pay for a psychiatrist. They begged me to move back home, away from the university and its dangerous ways. Needless to say, I’d refused.

That’d been my final trip to Laramie. Even after their deaths, there hadn’t been a reason to return since the service had been held in Omaha.

Now, I had no choice but to go back.

In my mind, Laramie remained forever unchanged, solid and serene, quiet yet proud, somehow untouched by time. In some ways it was true, and yet everything was different too. I recognized her form and her foundation, but new buildings and businesses now rose above the old, testaments to forward progress and growth, even here in the dusty regions of southern Wyoming.

The speed limit decreased. The highway narrowed and transformed into Laramie’s main drive, Third Street. I turned right before entering the downtown district. My parents’ subdivision lay just south of the University, a large neighborhood of sprawling ranch homes on wide green lawns, built before the oil boom and the rise of cookie-cutter architecture. Here I found myself smiling with fond remembrance. The trees were taller, and a few of the houses showed signs of having been taken over by property management companies and leased to college students, but most of the homes were well maintained, the lawns neatly cropped, the flowerbeds just starting to show promise. My smile broadened as I passed Washington Park, with its old-fashioned band shell. I wondered if they still used it.

Part of me wanted to drive right past my parents’ house and explore more of the neighborhood I’d grown up in. I wanted to know if the jungle gym at my old elementary school was the same, or if modern safety concerns had forced them to remove it. Spring Creek and LaPrele Park lay a block or two to the south, and I wondered if the weeds and wild grasses still grew lush and unchecked along the stream’s banks.

But it was almost eight thirty. There’d be time for reminiscence another day. In truth, I was only delaying the inevitable.

I stopped in front of my parents’ house, staring open-mouthed at their front lawn. In its center sat a strange contraption constructed of shining metal. Loops and slender rods formed circles, some of them ending in strange scoop-shaped ovals. The others held metal birds aloft, their wings outstretched, ready to catch the next breeze that came by. It was relatively still at this time of the evening, but I imagined the entire contraption would spin when the wind hit it. I shook my head, expecting the vision to disappear, but no. It remained, incomprehensibly, in my parents’ yard.

“My father must have lost his mind,” I said to myself. The structure itself was oddly beautiful, but it seemed out of character for my somewhat conservative parents, and especially for my father, who normally found such things ostentatious.

I pulled into the driveway, killed the ignition, and sat for a moment studying the house. My parents had repainted it at some point, covering the pale yellow I remembered with tan, but my mom’s horrid gold curtains still hung in the front window. I’d paid for the power and water to remain on all this time. Landon had volunteered to keep the lawn mowed, an offer I’d gladly accepted, but I could see he’d done more than that. The yard was gorgeous, with lush green grass and full flowerbeds, although not much was in bloom yet. They looked better than they ever had when my mother had tended them.

I dragged my duffel from the car and found the key that had remained on my key ring all these years, untouched, and yet somehow a talisman of my past. It still fit in the lock. Muscle memory made me reach out and flick the light switch without having to hunt for it as I stepped inside. My jaw dropped at the sight in front of me.

“Your parents have collected a lot of stuff over the years,” Landon had said during one of our brief phone calls. I marveled at what an understatement it was.

My dad’s old recliner, a bit more worn and significantly droopier in the seat than when I’d last seen it, still afforded the best view of the television, a big, black, clunky box purchased right before I left for college. The couch was new, and the cushion on the end closest to my father’s chair had a bit of a dent in it, exactly as the old one had, indicating the place my mother had spent so much of her time. But the rest of the room was a surprise to me. Every bit of space around the perimeter had been filled with shelves of some kind, and each shelf was covered with bric-a-brac. In some places stacks of banker boxes loomed in front of the shelves, their tops covered with knickknacks. My mother had never been interested in such things when I’d lived with them. I was stunned to see so much of it collected here now.

The kitchen was as tidy and clean as it had always been. My parents’ bedroom looked lived-in, but not unreasonably so. Maybe the living room was some kind of anomaly? Maybe they’d been in the middle of a project? But the guest bedroom was worse than the living room. Stacks of lidded boxes and similarly sized Rubbermaid containers filled the space, piled four or five deep in some places. The bed was buried beneath boxes and bags, as were the dressers and bedside tables. My dad’s office and the garage were the same. I didn’t dare check the attic.

It was with some trepidation that I opened the door to my own room. To my relief the space was completely devoid of clutter, looking exactly as it had last time I’d stayed there. My twin-sized bed had the same blue bedspread it’d had when I left. Abandoned books filled about half the shelves. A couple of old action figures and a spelling bee trophy remained, but many of the shelves were empty because I’d taken most of my treasured items with me at some point. An ancient Rolling Stone magazine and a thin layer of dust covered the desk. A couple of posters still clung to the walls—Nirvana, even though I’d never liked them as much as kids my age were supposed to, and Wayne’s World, because all my friends thought it was great. I was too embarrassed to admit I’d liked A League of Their Own more.

I wandered back into the living room, stunned by the enormity of the task ahead of me. I’d stupidly assumed a few weekends at home would be enough to clear the house. Now I feared it would take months.

I glanced around and received the biggest shock yet.

The mantel had always held framed photographs. A few of cousins or aunts and uncles. A couple of my late grandparents. A whole lot more of me, from bald baby to high school graduation. Now, a new photo sat front and center. It was Chase and me, squinting into the sun, my arm draped casually around his shoulder. I was smiling at the camera, but Chase had been distracted just before the shutter clicked. He appeared to be looking at somebody or something over the photographer’s left shoulder. The sunlight shone like gold on his dark blond hair, and his lips were parted as if he was about to speak.

I recognized the photo immediately. It’d been taken by our neighbor at a barbecue, two years earlier. It was a digital image, stored on my laptop, shared on social media, but I’d never printed a single copy. I’d certainly never sent one to my parents. Yet here it was, bright and in full color in their living room.

I ran my finger down the side of the frame, wondering at how my mother had come across it. I imagined her shopping for the frame, then rearranging all the other photos on the mantel to make room for us, in the place of honor. The sight brought tears to my eyes.

Better late than never.

Cookies for Courting by Amber Kell
Chapter 1
PACE BARLOW slathered his brush with thick acrylic paint. Swiping his hand sideways, he drew a fat crimson line across the canvas. He stepped back to examine it for a minute before doing the same thing again, intersecting the two marks. Biting his lip, he considered the large, still mostly white, space. He’d already finished his piece for the auction, but this one had pulled him out of bed and insisted he do another painting. Sometimes art was a bitchy mistress.

“I need blue.” He turned to locate his tube of cobalt paint. Scanning the pile on his side table, he groaned. He really needed to pick up his studio. He’d been in an artistic cloud for the past few days and hadn’t paid much attention to his surroundings. A hurricane could’ve hit the room and it wouldn’t have made a difference in the overall tidiness of his workspace.

His cell phone rang. The sound of crickets chirping distracted him from his search. He’d chosen that ringtone because it was just irritating enough to pull him out of his art. Normally, he ignored the phone, but on the off chance it could be a customer, he decided to answer it.

His checking account was becoming perilously low—again. If this kept up, he’d have to dip into his trust fund. He hated to do that. It dented his pride when he had to fall back upon the money his grandfather had left him.

Pace preferred to live a life of meaning and donate his time and interest income to various charities around town. Instead of lounging around a big house or working on his tan like his trust-fund friends.

After placing his brush and palette on a paint-spattered crate, Pace grabbed his phone from its safety zone on top of a high shelf.

Pace didn’t recognize the number but pressed to connect anyway. “Hello?”

“Is this Pace Barlow?” a woman asked in a no-nonsense voice.

Pace’s money senses tingled. “Yes.”

“I’m Joyce Smith, Marshall Hunter’s assistant. He’s asked me to find an artist to paint a mural for his niece’s bedroom. You were highly recommended by Mrs. Breverton. Would you be interested in coming in and interviewing with Mr. Hunter about the job?”

Pace cleared his throat. “I’d be happy to.”

“Would tomorrow at ten work for you? We’re trying to get this project started as soon as possible.”

“That would be fine.” Pace struggled to keep his voice steady and not screech with excitement. He loved doing murals. Mrs. Breverton had been a bitchy, demanding client, but she’d paid really well and he’d received two other jobs from her recommendations. He might not want to live off his inheritance, but he didn’t mind using his connections. A guy had to eat.

“Excellent. Don’t forget to bring your portfolio.”

“Will do.” Pace said his good-byes, then disconnected and spun in a circle, pumping his fist. “Yes!”

The day was looking up after all. His phone rang again. Pace stopped jumping around long enough to answer.


“Pace, where are you? You were supposed to be here like an hour ago,” a hard Russian-accented voice demanded.

Oh crap.

He’d completely forgotten he was supposed to meet his friend at the new nightclub that had opened a few streets from his studio.

“Sandy? Sorry, man. I got involved in my painting. I’m not going to make it. I might have a job lined up, and I need to bring my portfolio to an interview tomorrow. I haven’t updated it in a few months.”

Sandlova Aliev, nephew of Boris Aliev, head of the Russian mob, made a rude, annoyed sound. “How am I going to attract the right man if you aren’t here to be bait?”

“Sandy, I might get to do a mural.” Pace couldn’t help the whine in his voice. He knew he was in the wrong, but he needed a new art project.

Sandy sighed. “Fine, but if I don’t get sex tonight I’m blaming you.”

Pace could sympathize. It had been a while since he’d had sex, but in a contest between art and fucking, art always won. “Sorry, buddy, call Frankie. He’s pretty enough to be your wingman even if I doubt you need one.”

Half of the time, Sandy made stuff up just to get Pace out of his studio. Sandy was a loyal if slightly dangerous friend.

“Fine, if you’re sure…?” Sandy let it hang, as if maybe Pace would suddenly decide to change his mind.

“I’m sure.” The club scene had begun to wear Pace down. Maybe he’d gotten too old for that sort of thing. The loud music and pulsing lights no longer got him excited. He was more likely to get a headache than get laid.

“Let’s get together Sunday and have brunch at Harold’s,” Sandy said.

“I’ll see you there at eleven.” Pace agreed. Harold’s was an overpriced restaurant with even snobbier waiters, but it overlooked the water and had the best eggs Benedict on the planet. He’d gladly pay a premium if it got him out of another night of clubbing. Hell, he’d even pay for Sandy’s breakfast and anyone else he brought along.

“I’m getting old,” he said to the empty room. “Maybe I should just get a fucking cat.”

His excitement over a possible job faded as he looked around his messy studio. Nobody would want to live with someone so involved in his inner world that he rarely stepped out to see what was going on around him.

“At least my apartment isn’t quite so bad. Probably because I’m never there.”

He lived in a studio apartment, the only place he could afford with the costs of renting his art space. Still, he kept it tidy so he wasn’t tripping over all his crap all the time. He needed to spread that neatness to his work area.

After placing a cover over his current painting, Pace cleaned up his brushes and headed home. The two-block walk along the tree-lined street always made for a good end to the day, not to mention an amazing Thai restaurant lay between the two spots.

He loved Thaitian Thai. They had the best pad Thai with chicken he’d ever eaten. His stomach grumbled, and Pace made a beeline for the restaurant door.

“Hey, Pace,” Kiet, the owner, called out. Kiet had started the place in his early twenties with some money from his parents. Now in his midthirties, he had made a success out of his takeout business. Pace usually called ahead, but he’d forgotten in his rush to get home and update his portfolio.

The other reason Pace came to Kiet’s place was because of Pace’s deal with Kiet. In exchange for painting a mural for the restaurant, he got free meals.

“Hey, Kiet. I’m starving. Please say there isn’t a long wait.” Pace pressed his hands together in a pleading motion.

Kiet laughed. “Not for you. Have to feed my starving artist. The usual?”

“Yes, please.” Pace settled on one of the padded seats along the walls.

“It’ll be about fifteen minutes,” Kiet said.

“That’s fine.” It would take him longer to whip something up at home, assuming he had groceries.

Kiet grabbed a pen and wrote some things on a pad of paper before vanishing through the door behind him, which led to the kitchen.

A moment later, Kiet returned.

“Did I tell you? My uncle is very pleased with the mural you painted in his restaurant. I told him to give your card to anyone who asks.”

Pace smiled. Kiet’s uncle gave him the same trade as Kiet. Soon he would be able to travel around the neighborhood and never have to buy another meal again. “Thanks. I could use the business. I have a lead on a new job, but I’m always looking to have another one lined up, especially if this one doesn’t pan out.”

“Doing what?” Kiet found Pace’s career as an artist a constant source of entertainment. He never understood why Pace didn’t want to sit back and live off his inherited money. Kiet had told Pace more than once that his life goal was to get rich and do nothing but sit on the beach and drool over women in bikinis.

“A client wants a mural for his niece.”

“If you need a recommendation, have him call us. We will make sure you get the job.”

Pace laughed. He loved his friends. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

They exchanged small talk for a bit until one of Kiet’s servers brought out a white takeout box. Kiet shoved it into a small plastic bag, followed by some cookies.

“Those aren’t exactly Thai,” Pace said, pointing at the cookies.

Kiet rolled his eyes. “I discontinued them for a bit, but I couldn’t stand all the customers complaining. If it comes with rice or noodles, Americans want a fortune cookie.”

Pace accepted the bag Kiet held out. “We are a weird culture.”

“I agree. Have a good night.”


Pace waved to Kiet on his way out the door and headed home, eager to get his portfolio set up.

He jogged up the short flight of stairs to his studio, then unlocked the door. After he entered and relocked the door behind him, he walked over to his small dining table and set down his food. He popped open the Styrofoam top to reveal long strips of chicken and spicy noodles lying in their white bedding. The aroma caused his mouth to water like a puppy spotting a juicy steak. After plopping his ass down on a wooden dining chair, Pace snatched up the chopsticks and snapped them apart.

“Best deal I ever made.”

Just Desserts by Mary Calmes
Chapter 1
IT SMELLED like jasmine.

In the whole city of New Orleans, jasmine was the scent hanging heavy in the air, and no one could tell me any different. When I first moved to NOLA five years ago, I would walk around sniffing, asking people what it was, and after answers of crawfish or gumbo, dogwood or honeysuckle, the river or the rain, it always came back to that one underlying current: jasmine. It wafted through the Garden District or came in on a faint breeze off Dumaine, and when I walked the uneven, broken sidewalks in the quarter early in the morning or very late at night, it’s what I inhaled deep in my lungs. My friends thought I was nuts, especially my closest one, my best one, the guy I’d not gone a day without talking to since I met him two years ago. Scott Wren.

When he’d walked into my gallery to give me the flyer touting that he was moving into the French Quarter and bringing his semitraditional Spanish cuisine with him, I noted the gray eyes first, then the thick dirty-blond hair swept up, longer on top, short on the sides and in back, his graceful artist hands, long legs, and lastly his perfect, tight round ass. I was planning to lay a line on him when his mouth dropped open as he glanced around the main room.

It wasn’t my art—I was an interior design guy, not an artist, but I ran a very successful gallery that had my name, Boone Walton, on it, and the fact that he was gazing around in awe gave me pause, made me rethink.

“Holy crap,” he whispered. “I’ve been to ten or so galleries today, but this one is amazing. No wonder everyone said to skip it.”

I instantly bristled. “People told you to not come in my place?”

He nodded, still taking in everything, not giving me much attention. “They said you didn’t need anything, that you never had local food at your openings, that you had a catering company that came in from New York.”

It was all true.

“They said I would be wasting my time.”

And he would have been, had he not noticed the art, had he not appreciated it and thus opened my eyes to the possibility of what he had to offer.

“But I figure, we’re both transplants, yeah?” he asked, turning to regard me. “And you probably just haven’t found someone you trust. You’ve had no one to believe in who had the same things to lose as well as gain.”


“Am I right?”

He was, and the wink I got was adorable, so of course I glowered back. “What?”

“Would it kill you to smile?”

It might.

“I promise you can stop scowling. We’re gonna be friends.”

There were no guarantees.

“Does the glare thing usually work? Do people normally scatter?”

They did. Yes.

I could be as enthralling as the next guy, or just plain old menacing. My height combined with the way my clothes fit, hugging hard, heavy muscle, made people wary. If they’d been aware of the tattoos under my clothes, most of my patrons would probably run, but as it was, I could dial down the scary and turn up the charming to make a sale. And at that moment, even though I very much wanted to sell Scott Wren on me—because I really wanted to discover what he tasted like—more than that, I wanted him to go. I could already tell he could get under my skin and make me care about him. He wasn’t scared of me, and that could be bad.

“I hate to burst your bubble,” he informed me, “but I’m not going anywhere. I can already tell you need me.”

“I don’t—” I began, growling. “I have more than enough friends, thank you.”

“Nobody ever has enough of those.”

I couldn’t dispute him with any real authority. I’d made, up to this point, one friend in California and one in New Orleans, and all the rest of them from my childhood were dead or worse.

“So whaddya say? You want to take a chance on me?”

Did I? More importantly, could I? Because if my first instinct had been to want to sleep with him, could we be just friends?

“I think we could help each other out. Maybe you’d like to hang some pictures in my restaurant, and in return, I could cater for you. What do you think?”

It was a gamble. “Is your place nice?”

“Not yet,” he sighed, gazing wistfully around my gallery. “It’s not really anything yet. I wish it could look like this, though. God, it’s just gorgeous in here.”

Reluctantly, I was interested, wanted to take a peek at his space.

His focus returned to me. “This is the beginning of my dream; you want to take a ride with me?”

He wanted to be partners of a kind, and anything that included my business, I was serious about. So I had to make a decision right there on the spot. Were we going to be friends or simply a hot one-night stand?

“Come eat at my place,” he offered, moving close to me, into my personal space, touching my veined forearm. “Just see what you think.”

I was deciding, and then he took hold of my hand.

“Please. Let me cook for you.”

So I did. I allowed him into my home over the gallery. And everything I had from the Shrimp Azafrán to the Paella Valenciana to the roast pork was amazing. I had him cater my next opening, and the tapas and red wine were a huge hit. My patrons were thrilled; the referrals Scott got made him delirious, so all in all, we were great together. It removed him permanently from the conquest column and firmly into the colleague one, but that was better for me. The men I slept with were a dime a dozen, utterly forgettable. A collaborator, and then friend, was much harder to come by.

At the moment, my best friend was squinting at me from across a table at Café du Monde. We never came here; it was too loud, too crowded, but sometimes he just had to have beignets, and since he’d vowed never to make them at his own restaurant, we schlepped over to the packed tourist trap and ordered some.

“You should break down and make these,” I offered before shoving one in my mouth, using my fingers to cram the doughy morsel in.

He chuckled. “Wow.”

I flashed him a powdered-sugar smile.


I gestured for him to listen.

“No, babe, not a chance. I am never making beignets. I don’t ever want to be compared to the original.”

“I ha beyah,” I said through the food in my mouth.

“We’ve all had better, and worse,” he agreed, translating me even with my mouth full. “But frankly, why bother? I need something else, some kind of fabulous dessert. I need some kind of wow factor that will make people remember the restaurant.”

I arched one eyebrow.

“You know what I mean. Everyone needs a signature something.”

He’d been trying out lots of different desserts in his search for what would be that “one thing” people ordered when they visited his place. So far he’d been unsuccessful.

“They have this coffee down to a science,” he said as we got up, leaving a ridiculous tip, something we always did. “You gotta admit.”

It was café au lait, and yes, it was good, but his café con leche was better because he swapped out the chicory I wasn’t crazy about for cinnamon. Before I tried it, I would have thought it would be too sweet for me, but really, it was soothing, like chamomile before bed. “I like yours better.”

He snorted out a laugh. “Don’t placate me, I can take it.”

“Oh no, g’head, assume I’m lying to you, that’s perfect.”

His grin was huge and changed his face so much that a few people around us did a quick double take. When Scott Wren smiled, he went from being just another guy you’d pass on the street to a movie star. He stood shorter than me, five nine to my six two, leaner with long sleek muscles under golden skin. His eyes glittered a gorgeous shade of silver-flecked gray, his lips curled wickedly, his dimples popped, his nose scrunched up—and you noticed not only that he was adorable, but breathtaking as well. All the beauty was topped off with a husky chuckle that made everyone who ever heard it want to follow him home.

Normally he was too dog-tired to care. Scott worked really hard every week, so when he was finally done on that sixth night, I would get a call to come get him since higher brain function was over and he needed me to feed and water him, then tuck him into bed.

Tonight was his Friday, even though it was actually Sunday, just after close. His place, the bungalow—all the signage in lowercase letters, dark brown on lighter tan—was closed every Monday. So when he walked out at midnight, two hours after closing, he’d stroll over to my place. It wasn’t far from his restaurant down on St. Peter to my gallery three doors down from the corner of Bienville and Royal close to the Hotel Monteleone.

Sometimes, like tonight, he’d call and tell me to meet him at his place, and I’d always warn him that since the bungalow was closed, I’d be tempted to stop at The Gumbo Shop on my way to meet him.

“I’ll cook at your place,” he promised. “The shrimp you like.”

He left the shrimp intact so I had to pull it apart and suck the juices out of the head, and served it in an almost-soup I had to dig into to get at. It was heaven in a bowl.

“Yeah, okay,” I said, salivating.

He chuckled. “Come get me. I need coffee and beignets to wake up, and I wanna walk through Jackson Square on the way home and check if that guy is there.”

Always there was a guy.

No one trusted faster, fell harder, or jumped into the deep end with more abandon than Scott. He wore his heart on his sleeve and he would give it to anyone. It made me absolutely crazy how easily someone became “the one”—but even worse was the inevitable pain when he was disappointed. Each and every time, he was surprised when people either walked out of his life, disappearing as though they were never there, or screwed him over big time. The last guy, Jason Daly, had actually emptied Scott’s bank account. Luckily, Scott had put my name on his business account six months ago so no one could take a cent, not even him, without my approval unless the funds were being transferred to a vendor. So while Jason got about two hundred dollars and change, the nineteen grand—there right after Scott did payroll and paid everyone else on the first of the month, from his webmaster to the cleaning crew, laundry service, produce, meat and fish, etc.—was safe. Scott hadn’t wanted to report it to the police, feeling ten kinds of lame, but I’d pushed and he’d filed a report. Jason was long gone when the police went by his place, which turned out to be another friend’s, but at least if he ever showed up again, I could call and have him arrested after I beat the shit out of him.

“I’m swearing off men,” Scott had promised me.

And yet, here we were, on our way to check out another guy. I had no idea where he got either the interest or the energy.

Crossing the street from Café du Monde, we walked along St. Ann, in Jackson Square, toward St. Louis Cathedral.

“So,” I began, “if your tarot card reader is out tonight, does that mean I’m not getting fed?”

“No,” he said quickly. “I’m going to invite him out another day. This is the time he’s at work, for crissakes.”

I nodded sagely, brows furrowed.

“Don’t be an ass.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

We passed many tarot card readers along the way, but he had no interest in them, instead searching for the one he’d made a so-called connection with. I couldn’t have cared less, instead focused on the warm spring air, not quite hot yet, only a bit sticky, the slight breeze making the walk with my friend truly enjoyable.

“God, he almost killed himself.”

“I’m sorry?” I asked after a moment, realizing he was talking to me.

Scott was grinning crazily. “Did you even notice that guy who nearly walked into a pillar because he was staring at you?”

“No. Where?”

He shook his head. “Man, if I looked like you, I’d clean up.”

I glowered at him.

“You know it’s true. That’s why you run every morning and why you lift weights and don’t own a car because you walk everywhere. Your body is important to you.”

“I own a motorcycle,” I corrected. “And I don’t own it because it’s good for cardio, as clearly it’s not, but because there’s room for me to park it in the alley on the side of my building. I can’t fit a car in there no matter how small it is.”

“Don’t get me started on the frickin’ cafe racer that—”

“It’s a Norton Commando 961 Cafe Racer and I saved up years to get it,” I stated flatly. “And don’t make me out to be some douche bag who only rides a bike to get laid.”

“I wasn’t,” he said, chuckling. “What I was trying to insinuate was that you’re a rich douche bag trying to get laid.”

“Oh fuck you.”

“You do own a whole building on the 300 block of Royal Street, Boone.”

“Which I bought with what little savings my mom had, and my own,” I reminded him. “I didn’t inherit it or come by it any way that was easy.”

He had no idea how I’d gotten the money needed to run away from Japan. After Haru died, I’d taken what was given to me and run.

“Yeah, but not only did you buy it, you had to renovate it, as well. The cost had to be astronomical.”

It had been. “What’s your point?”

“I don’t remember,” he teased.

“And as you recall, no one else wanted that building anyway. It was empty for years.”

“Because it’s expensive,” he retorted. “Which brings me back to my rich comment.”

“Yes and no,” I said, responding to the first part of his reply but not the last. “Buying it was one thing, but that place was a mess. It needed to be completely renovated.”

“Plus, it’s haunted,” he told me.

“Every building in New Orleans is haunted.”

He grunted.

“Something you wanna say?”

“Just the fact of the matter is that you had the money to make a go of your dream.”

I’d needed to get a new one after the old one died with the guy who had been my whole world. “If you want something bad enough to work only for it, anything is obtainable.”

“That’s true, I believe that.”

“And I saved a lot of money because I didn’t have to pay anyone else to fix up my place. I did it all myself.”

“I know,” he said, bumping me with his shoulder. “It took you three years to get it how you wanted. You did most of the work yourself. That’s why it’s so gorgeous. Everything you do is stunning. Look at my place.”

I had renovated the entire interior of his restaurant from installing the Spanish colonial revival tiled entryway to hanging the Turkish mosaic lamps. Both bathrooms were redone in vibrant Mexican tile with Talavera sinks; I removed an ugly drop ceiling and fake paneling to reveal vaulted wood-beamed ceilings and exposed brick walls, along with finding farmhouse-style reclaimed wood dining tables. The wall behind the bar—lit with soft blue to give off a dreamy glow at night—was now stacked to the ceiling with liquor bottles, a rolling ladder like in an old library hung to reach everything. I treated the concrete floor to look like Tuscan slate, which added to the overall feeling of warmth and a depth to the room.

It was cozy but not stifling—you could breathe in his restaurant and familiarity settled around you even if it was your first time through the door. Every review he got said the same thing: it was simply a place where you wanted to be. People loved being in his restaurant, and eating there was even better.

“Your place was easy to do,” I yawned.

“Oh? How so?”

I shrugged. “I just made it like you.”

He stepped in front of me so that I had to stop moving or walk into him.

“What?” I asked, stilling as I frowned slightly.

“How do you mean, you made it like me?”

“Bright, cheerful, warm,” I explained. “Like you.”

His smile was brilliant. “You say the nicest things, Boone.”

I groaned, stepping around him.

“And for the record, if I had your dimples or your ridiculous jawline or your gorgeous shoulders, I would get all the pretty boys.”

I processed his words. “Ridiculous?” I asked, not sure if I should take offense.

“Only superheroes have your bone structure, buddy.”

I nodded, patting his shoulder, placating him.

“Oh, there he is,” Scott announced, darting away from me, intent on the tarot card reader sitting close to the wrought iron fence, in one of two chairs normally deployed only at soccer games by parents cheering on eight-year-olds, a small table in front of him. The twenty-four-ounce Pabst Blue Ribbon can beside his chair was a nice touch.

I had no doubt some of the fortune-tellers were actually legitimate, and I had great respect for those few who had a gift. But come on… how gullible did Scott have to be?

As he flopped down into the chair in front of the guy, I walked down to the corner of St. Ann and Chartres, glancing over at Muriel’s for a moment.

It made sense to me why Anne Rice put her vampires in New Orleans; if I was one, the dark streets, deep shadows, and lonely alleyways were where I would hide out. I meandered, no clear destination in mind, just walking, stopping at one of the jewelry stores and peering in the window. All the sparkling things were there to catch my eye, but even though it appeared expensive, it couldn’t be. If they were real diamonds and rubies, they would be locked up in a vault for the evening. It occurred to me then that my best friend should be safe behind closed doors as well. Flirting with some guy he barely knew was not smart.

Jogging back to the corner, worried for some strange reason, I made it in time to find Scott standing now, talking to some new guy while the tarot card reader, still seated, was checking out his ass and giving the new arrival a thumbs-up behind Scott’s back. It was crass and obnoxious and right there, it sealed his fate. No one disrespected my boy in front of me.

“Scott!” I barked across the space, using my Tokyo subway voice, the one that used to carry over the noises from the trains and the milling crowds.

He jolted and spun around, searching for me.

“I’m hungry now.”

He lifted one finger to get me to wait.

“Fuck that!” I snarled as I charged over to the three men, brows furrowed, reaching them and grabbing his bicep, my hand closing around it as I jerked him up against me. “I waited, I did what you wanted, now let’s go.”

He smiled sheepishly at the two men, muttered some half-assed apology and a promise to catch them later, and then yanked his arm out of my grip and stalked away.

I pivoted to face the fortune-teller. “You see him coming again, you walk the other way or I’ll hire some guy to stand behind you all night, every night, and warn off anyone that comes near your table.”

“Aww man, you don’t hafta—”

“I do,” I assured him darkly. “And I will.”

He put up both hands. “Hey, I’m sorry, all right, I had no idea the sweet little chef was spoken for.”

My eyes flicked to his friend who took a step back, shoving his hands down hard into the pockets of his jeans.

“Come on, man, just go already. I promise not to say another word to him.”

I returned my attention to the fortune-teller.

“Neither one of us,” he said flatly. “I swear. You don’t hafta tell me twice.”

I waited, like I always did, like I’d been taught, letting the silence stretch so they both understood beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was capable of more than they knew. Before I went legitimate and became first a construction contractor and then a gallery owner, I had moved and fenced all kinds of merchandise, starting in Tokyo when I was still in my teens. I wasn’t proud of it, but at the time, right after my mother died when I was all alone, I’d had two choices, and the other one was moving drugs. I didn’t want to do that; I’d already lost too many friends to a variety of illegal substances, so I went the other way. It was no more aboveboard, but as shatei—little brother—my options were to work or be an enforcer. The prostitution was just as hard to deal with as the drugs, so I put myself directly in the line of fire instead of in the shadows behind someone else. I wasn’t proud of it, but it had been, for me, the least of all evils.

Now, with those days long behind me except for the tattoos on my body, I no longer needed to carry a gun. The most important part for the two losers in front of me was that I still walked like I was packing, and that combined with my height and build gave them the message loud and clear.

“We get it, man, hands off your boy. He’s invisible from here on out.”

Excellent. “Okay,” I growled, then turned and strode away.

I caught up with Scott after he passed the Court of the Two Sisters, and I was glad that even though he was moving really fast, very obviously pissed, he was walking toward my place and not his.

“Sorry,” I said as I slipped into step beside him and threw my arm around his shoulders, “but they were assholes.”

“They’re just guys, Boone, and I need to get laid,” he explained as we crossed Toulouse.

I would take care of that for him whenever he wanted.

“And I know you don’t need it like I do.”

How could one person be so wrong?

“But me—I need it.”

Taking a breath, calming my pounding heart, I tightened my hold to bring him in closer so I could smell his cologne, the lavender and burnt wood, and then the spices from his restaurant, nutmeg, pepper, all swirled together with the musk that was him alone.

“So the next time I meet a guy—”

“He’s gotta be nice,” I insisted, leaning into him and nuzzling my face into his thick, silky blond hair.

“Fine,” he grumbled, giving up any and all irritation, content as he always was once we were alone.

I shoved him away gently before I was tempted to veer off the street and down an alley to take him right there up against the side of a building. There was no doubt in my mind that we would fit together perfectly; already his head notched easily under my chin. I was sure his legs would feel amazing wrapped around my hips. It was really a terrible waste that he didn’t notice me at all and that I couldn’t make him see me without the worry of losing him. He was in and out of relationships at the drop of a hat, and by the time he broke it off with one and I had talked myself into going for it, there was a new guy to wait out. The end was inevitable, but my timing was crappy. Unless….

“I’m sorry I got pissed. I know you’re just being a good guy and watching out for me. I don’t know what I’d do without you as my guardian angel.”


“You’re the only one who’s always on my side.”

With Scott, it was better to keep him as my best friend than to try and turn him into the dream in my head. A couple of weeks of having him in my bed wasn’t worth missing him for a lifetime after he bailed. At least, that was what I told myself.

“Okay,” he sighed, as we fell into step again, side by side. “Since I apparently can’t pick for crap, you need to find a good guy for me, all right?”

“I certainly will,” I promised.

Author Bios:
RJ Scott
Writing MM Romance with a Happy Ever After...

I am in awe that people read my writing and thank you all for taking the time to read, rate and review. Rj xxxxx

About me...I live in the UK just outside London. I love reading anything from thrillers to sci-fi to horror; however, my first real love will always be the world of romance. My goal is to write stories with a heart of romance, a troubled road to reach happiness, and more than a hint of happily ever after.

Amy Lane
Amy Lane dodges an EDJ, mothers four children, and writes the occasional book. She, her brood, and her beloved mate, Mack, live in a crumbling mortgage in Citrus Heights, California, which is riddled with spiders, cats, and more than its share of fancy and weirdness. Feel free to visit her at, where she will ride the buzz of receiving your e-mail until her head swells and she can no longer leave the house.

Marie Sexton
Marie Sexton lives in Colorado. She’s a fan of just about anything that involves muscular young men piling on top of each other. In particular, she loves the Denver Broncos and enjoys going to the games with her husband. Her imaginary friends often tag along. Marie has one daughter, two cats, and one dog, all of whom seem bent on destroying what remains of her sanity. She loves them anyway.

Amber Kell
Amber Kell has made a career out of daydreaming. It has been a lifelong habit she practices diligently as shown by her complete lack of focus on anything not related to her fantasy world building.

When she told her husband what she wanted to do with her life, he told her to go have fun.

During those seconds she isn't writing, she remembers she has children who humor her with games of 'what if' and let her drag them to foreign lands to gather inspiration. Her youngest confided in her that he wants to write because he longs for a website and an author name—two things apparently necessary to be a proper writer.

Despite her husband's insistence she doesn't drink enough to be a true literary genius, she continues to spin stories of people falling happily in love and staying that way.

She is thwarted during the day by a traffic jam of cats on the stairway and a puppy who insists on walks, but she bravely perseveres.

Mary Calmes
Mary Calmes lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband and two children and loves all the seasons except summer. She graduated from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, with a bachelor's degree in English literature. Due to the fact that it is English lit and not English grammar, do not ask her to point out a clause for you, as it will so not happen. She loves writing, becoming immersed in the process, and falling into the work. She can even tell you what her characters smell like. She loves buying books and going to conventions to meet her fans.

RJ Scott

Amy Lane

Marie Sexton

Amber Kell

Mary Calmes

Tales of the Curious Cookbook(Paperback only)

eBooks of individual stories
For a Rainy Afternoon by RJ Scott

Food for Thought by Amy Lane

Lost Along the Way by Marie Sexton

Cookies for Courting by Amber Kell

Just Desserts by Mary Calmes