First Look: Save The Best For Last
I’m proud to announce the upcoming publication of my newest novel, Save The Best For Last.
THE LAW AND THE LADY . . .
Graphic artist Genevieve L’Esperance has got it all together, even by tough New York standards: A thriving career, a spacious Upper East Side condo, even a sort-of boyfriend named Barry. But the one thing she doesn’t have is something Americans take for granted . . . and if she’s found out it’ll mean the end of life as she knows it. And now the law is closing in on her . . . .
THE LADY AND THE LAWYER . . .
Gen’s friend Barry comes up with a solution and quickly moves her to a rented room uptown while he finalizes arrangements to keep her safe. While Gen is grateful to him, she can’t help feeling that she’s sold out her future. But then Barry’s master plan gets delayed, and when she mets Dexter Gray, the struggling law student who occupies the other room on the floor, things really start to get complicated . . . .
This is a project I published myself under my business name, Bunderful Books. It is a print-on-demand book and is available online only. The book packager I used does not work with any of the book distributors, so you will not be seeing this book in your local store.
You’re probably wondering why an author with 15 published novels and who is still under contract chose to publish her own book. There are several reasons, so let’s run them down:
First, it happens to be a damn good story. Two years ago, when I was informed that Arabesque Romance was changing direction, leaving no place for me, I was invited to write for Kimani Romance. I made a few stabs at it, but the bottom line is that I am not a category romance writer. I have difficulty writing a fantasy romance; it just isn’t my forte. Length is also a problem for me (more about that later). Save The Best For Last represents a story idea that’s been kicking around my head since the beginning of this century. It’s been seen by more editors than I can count, all of them at various lines within Harlequin Enterprises. My agent and I both felt that this story was too good to be put away in a closet to gather dust, simply because it didn't fit into a tightly defined category. Earlier this year I decided to take the bull by the horn, put my money where my mouth is, and publish the damn thing myself.
This proved to be much more difficult than I anticipated. First of all, I quickly learned that if I wanted to keep expenses to a minimum (and who wouldn't, not knowing what the response would be?), those book packagers who offer expensive editing services, charge three times the actual cost of a copyright, etc., were out of the question. That meant being responsible for everything myself: the writing, the editing, the back cover copy, the proofing . . . everything. Despite my best efforts, I’m sure I missed a few things.
This book was put together by three people: Myself, Kimberly Rowe-Van Allen, who has pre-edited most of my books; and author Sean D. Young, who in her other life is a talented graphic artist (by coincidence, the same profession as my heroine). Between the three of us, we created a quality product that I’m proud to have my name on, but as the author, most of the work was done by me. As a result of all the hours put into this project I now find myself writing like crazy to meet my Dafina Books deadline for my 2010 women’s fiction release.
Reason #2, There are only so many ideas to go around in romance. I don’t want to give too much away about the plot and deliberately kept the back cover copy vague (although some of you might have guessed what it is Gen needs so desperately), other than to say that I’ve never seen it used before in a contemporary romance, at least not African-American. A possible reason for this is the hero’s circumstances, which are much more modest than most. Eventually, someone is going to write a similar story, and probably be praised to the heavens for it. I try not to let ego get in my way, but I'm vain enough to want my copyrighted story out there first.
Reason #3, Because I could. This story, conceptualized as a 65,000-word short novel, ended up at 90,000 words (did I mention I’ve determined I’m not a category romance writer?). This meant it was long enough to submit to publishers who put out lengthier romances, but by then I'd already decided to publish it on my own. Because I’m the publisher, I’m not bound by any restrictions, length or otherwise, only by my own imagination. So why not?
Okay, now that my reasons for this craziness have been addressed, here's an excerpt:
Genevieve was toasting a bagel on a Saturday morning when she heard the sound of running water. She immediately thought of the stacked washer and dryer in the alcove. If a hose had burst, the entire floor would be flooded.
She rushed out to the hall, but found it dry. The problem had to be coming from the bathroom. She took a few tentative steps toward it, but stopped abruptly, covered her mouth in shock, and quickly turned around.
A man, his back to her, stood relieving himself in front of the toilet. She returned to the safety of the kitchen, tented palms covering her mouth. How incredibly gauche. How dare he use the bathroom and not close the door! Surely he’d been told someone had moved into the vacant room and he no longer had the entire floor to himself.
Her bagel popped out of the toaster. At the same time she heard the unmistakable sound of a toilet flushing, then more running water and a swishing sound. In spite of her annoyance she found herself smiling. At least the lout believes in washing his hands afterward.
She managed to put the unpleasant picture out of her mind as hunger took over. No way would she allow a stranger’s boorish behavior spoil her appetite. She spread a generous amount of her favorite cream cheese with chives onto her sesame seed bagel.
Uh-oh. Her head rose automatically at the sound of a male voice she knew was directed at her, but she didn’t turn around right away. It would be embarrassing to face her floor-mate in light of what she just witnessed, and she dreaded it. If she hadn’t had a bagel in the toaster she would have merely gone back to the privacy of her room and closed the door.
With a soft sigh, she slowly turned around.
Genevieve’s eyes widened at the sight of the man who stood before her. He was handsome, yes, to the point where she could momentarily forget she’d be sharing a bathtub with him — not at the same time, of course. But when she looked a little closer he was hardly the typical college student, which raised concerning questions of identity. While his lanky build suggested a freshman or sophomore majoring in Getting Laid, his face reflected the maturity of an adult male . . . one who, based on his tall frame, curly if unruly black hair – personification of the term ‘mop top’ – and perfect nose, could still get lucky virtually anytime he wanted. She put his age in his early thirties, too old to be the college student Brenda had described. But if he wasn’t her neighbor, who was he and what was he doing in her bathroom?
All right, so she knew what he’d been doing. But why had he been doing it in her bathroom if he didn’t live here?
“I apologize for startling you,” he said, his hands stuffed awkwardly into the pockets of his jeans. “I’m really very sorry. I wasn’t aware Stan and Brenda had rented this room. I’m afraid I allowed myself to get a little careless while I was here alone.”
“So you do rent the other room?”
“Yes. Didn’t they tell you, or did they let you think you had the floor all to yourself?”
“No, they told me. You just . . . .” she groped for something tactful to say — “You look a little different from the way I imagined you. Brenda said you were a student.”
He nodded. “So you thought I’d be nineteen or twenty, not thirty-two.”
Genevieve began to regret not having simply gone out for breakfast. First she’d walked in on him in the bathroom, and now she’d essentially told him she felt he was too old to be in college. This situation was growing more discomforting by the minute. “Frankly, yes.”
“I’m a student, but I’m in law school.”
Now it was her turn to nod. “I see.” But she didn’t. At his age he was certainly old enough to be finished with law school by now. Maybe he had taken a sabbatical to ‘find himself,’ a frequently used respectable-sounding explanation for indulging in wine, women, and generally hedonistic behavior. He certainly looked bohemian, with his wild mop of hair that coiled into tendrils, plus a growth of stubble covering the lower part of his face. He reminded her a little of the pop singer Yannick Noah, whose signature dreadlocks were a shorter chin-length during his days as a tennis pro and who, like this man, stood well over six feet tall.
“Go ahead with your breakfast,” he said. “I was going to fix something myself. Do you mind if I join you?”
I’d rather undergo a pelvic exam. “No, not at all,” she said brightly.
“My name’s Dexter, by the way.”
She giggled, momentarily forgetting her self-consciousness at the dual embarrassment of having witnessed his intimate act and putting her foot in her mouth. He looked totally clueless as to her name, something Genevieve had grown accustomed to. Americans always mispronounced her name. “Zhuhn-vyehv,” she said phonetically. “It’s French. But you can call me Jeh-nuh-veev if it’s easier. Or even just plain Gen.” Her parents and friends, both the ones from Paris and the ones from New York, had called her that. Barry, on the other hand, preferred the French pronunciation of her full name, shortening it only when he was trying to placate her, a practice she found irritating. The clients she’d worked with frequently enough to be on a first-name basis also used her full name. It would be refreshing to be called by her longtime nickname by someone for a change.
“Gen it is,” he said.
The moment having passed, she went to the refrigerator, wishing there was a way to get out of this awkward situation while she poured herself a glass of orange juice. She stole a glance at Dexter as she poured. He looked perfectly comfortable as he reached in the cupboard and put something he got from there into the toaster. He’d clearly managed to put their rather awkward encounter of just a moment ago behind him. Genevieve sighed softly. She should probably do the same.
She carried her plate and glass to the bistro table and bit into a bagel half, closing her eyes and letting out a contented sigh. The deli cream cheese was expensive, but worth it. She’d never tasted better. Sometimes she felt like she could spoon it right out of the container and into her mouth, like yogurt. The flavor of sour cream and chives floated up to tantalize her nostrils. She took another bite, and her contentment this time came out as a little moan. Twice.
Her eyes flew open, suddenly aware of the sounds she’d been making, which she belatedly realized bore a strong similarity to those of making love. The unveiled amusement on Dexter’s face left no question that he’d made the association. Now it was her turn to be embarrassed. How could she have forgotten that she wasn’t alone in the room?
“Excuse me,” she said with as much dignity as she could muster, trying to put aside her mortification. “It’s just that this cream cheese is very possibly the best in the world.”
“Where’d it come from?”
“There’s this little family-owned deli in midtown, near one of my clients. They bake their own bagels and mix up different flavors of cream cheese. Zabar’s has nothing on them,” she explained, referring to New York’s famed Upper West Side deli.
“So your work involves calling on clients?”
She found herself relaxing as she answered his question. “Yes. I’m a freelance graphic artist.”
“I’ve always admired people who were artistic. I’ve never gotten any further than stick figures.”
Genevieve suppressed a smile. From what she could see he was a stick figure, although certainly a good-looking one. She took a few moments to chew and swallow. Now she understood exactly what Dexter meant about getting careless when you thought no one was around. She hadn’t bothered to disguise the utter joy to her taste buds from the flavored cream cheese. But with her next bite she didn’t sigh, and she certainly didn’t moan. A quick lick of the inside of her mouth had to suffice, plus the tingling she felt from her throat to her belly. Sometimes food could be almost as satisfying as sex . . . or maybe it had just been too long since she’d had sex.
“My second grade teacher sent a note home to my parents telling them she thought I might have a special gift,” she explained. “They enrolled me in extracurricular art classes almost immediately.”
The toaster buzzed as it raised its contents. Not even looking at his food, Dexter automatically lowered the lever for a second go-round. He wore a sleeveless muscle shirt, and she noted that his arms were surprisingly muscular for his thin build. She wondered what he looked like shirtless. Just because a man wasn’t beefy didn’t mean he had to be scrawny, and Dexter clearly wasn’t. Those definitely weren’t the arms of the proverbial ninety-eight-pound weakling. He could probably lift her without difficulty . . . .
Whoa. Where did that thought come from?
I hope you enjoyed that little peek at Save The Best For Last. This book will be available sometime next week from my e-store, and in coming weeks from Amazon, and some time after t for the Kindle. I also plan to make it available for order through my web site, which is in the process of being redesigned.
As always, I wish you good reading!