Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Hookup Hoax by Heather Thurmeier

The perfect guy. The perfect girl. The perfect lie.


Excited to have my friend Heather Thurmeier back on the blog today, celebrating the release of her newest, The Hookup Hoax. Heather's stories capture real life - or the real life we all wish we had - and I'm always happy when she comes out with something new. Check it out...


Blurb


Sawyer Sterling needs a girlfriend. With the family cabin up for grabs, he's desperate to prove that he could be the guy to “pass it on.” Of course, Sawyer also has a tendency to treat relationships like a contagious stomach flu that should be avoided at all costs. Now he needs a girlfriend-for-hire. Someone he can trust. Someone he could never, ever fall for...

Someone like his best friend's sister.

Sawyer's offer is exactly what Olivia Morgan needs. After traveling around the world for the last five years, the promise of a job and free accommodations is heaven. And sure, maybe Sawyer's a super-hot, charming guy with dimples made for kissing, but he’s not willing to be the guy—or relationship—she needs.

All it takes is one hot hook-up before this little hoax gets blown all to hell...     

Buy Links


Amazon   -   B&N   -   Kobo   -   iTunes


Excerpt


Turning her back to Sawyer, she opened the cabinet and reached up to the middle shelf. She never really thought of herself as short until she had to perch on the balls of her feet to reach something, feeling the stretch through her entire body, like a yoga instructor. Just as her hand circled the glass, a cool breeze blew across her right butt cheek.

Her exposed right butt cheek.

Why did I wear a thong today? Couldn’t I take two seconds to put on pants?

Quickly, she lowered her arm. As she did, the soft cotton of her nightshirt slid back over her rear, covering her. She swallowed hard.

Did he see? Please be looking anywhere else...

She turned, gripping her newly acquired glass.

His gaze hit her right around the tops of her thighs then slowly traveled up the length of her body before settling on her eyes. Every nerve ending came to life under his scrutiny. His jaw muscle bulged as if he was clenching his teeth.

Oh, he saw. Everything.

“I...” she said, then closed her eyes while trying to think of something appropriate to say. Sorry I just flashed you my ass? Thongs, huh? Can’t depend on them for coverage!

She bit her lower lip and forced her eyes open. She was a big girl. Surely she could face a minor awkward moment head on. Olivia met his gaze while pulling a quivering breath into her tight lungs.
“I...”

“I’m going to bed,” he said quickly, holding her gaze. His eyes sparkled in the bright kitchen lights, like the sun reflecting off the ocean. “I have an early meeting. Tomorrow, I’ll get everything sorted out for your new job and bring home any paperwork you need to fill out. You can start first thing next week, okay?” He stared at her for a moment before pushing off the counter and walking out of the room with what she thought was a sigh.

Could’ve been a quiet groan.

“Thank you,” she called weakly after him, thrilled for the change in topic, and for his chivalrous behavior concerning her wardrobe malfunction... until she realized that not only had her platonic, fake-boyfriend and roommate just seen her naked ass cheek—so had her new boss.


Bio

Heather Thurmeier is a lover of strawberry margaritas, a hater of spiders and a reality TV junkie. Born and raised in the Canadian prairies, she now lives in New York with her husband and kids where she’s become some kind of odd Canuck-Yankee hybrid. When she's not busy taking care of the kids and pets, Heather’s writing her next romance, which will probably be filled with sassy heroines, sexy heroes that make your heart pound, laugh out loud moments and always a happily ever after. She loves to hear from readers on social media and her website at heatherthurmeier.com!

Author Email:  hthurmeier@gmail.com
Author Website:  heatherthurmeier.com





Monday, May 25, 2015

Crossing Lines by Elley Arden

Starting Monday off with a fantastic new release from my buddy Elley Arden. Crossing Lines is book 2 in her Cleveland Clash series - Book one is Running Interference - and you gotta love stories about women who play football! (Also, read the excerpt, because I'm still snickering over the last line...I'm such a juvenile...)



Blurb:

Party girl and standout wide receiver Jillian Bell sees no problem with her "no rules" lifestyle as long as she's scoring on the field. But her sexy new offensive coordinator doesn't see it that way.
Former marine turned successful restaurateur Carter Howl agreed to whip his father's undisciplined women's full-tackle football team into shape out of guilt. But the job comes with more trouble than he bargained for thanks to one spitfire of a wide receiver who challenges his every play.
When Jillian's little sister begs her to come back to their small-minded hometown and be on her best behavior at a family event, she unexpectedly enlists prim and proper Carter to help her keep her cool. But two days and one pretend engagement later, this straight-laced former soldier is doing all sorts of things he normally wouldn't. Is the wrong girl the right girl for him?
Sensuality Level: Sensual

Crossing Lines Buy Links

Amazon   -    B&N   -   iBooks   -   Google Play


Excerpt

Coach Howl replaced Coach Malloy with his son!

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Jillian said a little too loudly, then grabbed her sore neck and rubbed. What was that bit about the apple not falling far from the tree? If that was true, then their passing game was doomed.

The younger Coach Howl looked at her, and—ooh!—those magic eyes produced a heat that pierced through her to the center of her neck pain, until she couldn’t even feel her toes.

I’m cured, she thought, followed by, maybe he won’t be so bad. In fact, maybe he wasn’t anything like his father at all. Maybe he was the black sheep in his family—just like she was.

He looked away, patted his father on the shoulder, and then stepped up to address the team. “Ladies, I’m honored to be here,” he said. “Rather than bore you with details about my football background, let me just say that I have plenty of experience with both the sport and the discipline needed to get the job done. Winning isn’t rocket science. The team that wins works harder and longer than the losing team, and the team that wins knows how to stay out of trouble—on and off the field.”

Why the hell was he looking at her?

She rolled her eyes. He narrowed his.

“You were late,” he said.

She looked behind her, knowing full well he was talking to her. “Barely late.”

At her response, he stood straighter and narrowed his eyes until they were slits. “Late is late, and it’s not tolerated on this field.” He made a whirling signal with his finger. “Laps ... until I tell you to stop.”

He had to be kidding. She was the best player on this team. She’d scored every single one of the twenty-one points they’d scored so far this season.

She crossed her arms and looked at Coach Howl. He was no help. The faintest smile curved his lips.
“I miss Coach Malloy already!” she yelled as she threw her helmet to the sidelines and started jogging around the track.

By the time Thor deigned to release her from lap running, stretching was over and her mood was foul. She got in line and readied to run routes.

“Partying got the best of you this weekend, didn’t it?” MJ asked.

“Never.” They just had a new OC with a stick up his ass. Or a hammer. She looked at him and snickered.

He paced the sidelines, watching the team’s every move, looking way too serious for his own good. He’s going to have a heart attack, she thought. Which wouldn’t be terrible. At least then he couldn’t coach anymore.

He stopped pacing and stood with his feet shoulder width apart, a position that showed off strong thigh muscles beneath his thin athletic pants. She bet he had a six-pack. What a shame. God had formed a whole lot of fine man around one big asshole.

Bio





Elley Arden is a born and bred Pennsylvanian who has lived as far west as Utah and as far north as Wisconsin. She drinks wine like it’s water (a slight exaggeration), prefers a night at the ballpark to a night on the town, and believes almond English toffee is the key to happiness.

Elley has been reading romance novels since she was a sixteen-year-old babysitter, sneaking Judith McNaught and Danielle Steele novels off the bookshelves of the women who employed her. To say she’d been sheltered up to that point is an understatement. No one had ever told her women could live bold, love freely, and have sex lives that were exciting and fulfilling. (They don’t teach these things in Catholic school!) Now that she knows, she’s happy to spread the word. The women she writes about may be fictional, but the success, respect, and love they find on the page is a universal right for women everywhere.

Elley writes books with charming characters, emotional stories, and sexy romance. Visit The Bookshelf for a detailed listing.

You can connect with Elley on her website, Facebook, or Twitter.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday Fiction - The Ring Toss Pt. 2



A last-minute change lands Mack in a long white dress, but can she commit?


So last week I posted the first installment of The Ring Toss, a short story sequel to my holiday story The Santa DragJump HERE if you want to check out Part 1.

This time, Mack's been cast to play a bridesmaid in an equity-waiver production of "Something Borrowed, Something Blue", though the play's director wants to talk to her. Sorta like being called to the principle's office, but not as relaxing...



Dusty Squires, our director, had commandeered the only room with a window. It was a narrow slice of sunshine set high in the wall, an opening that would let in all the smog anyone could want. The room itself was smaller than most of the others, with barely enough space for a computer desk and a rolling rack for costumes. Dusty directed plays at the Houstonian a couple times a year and had turned the room into his space.

I put a few solid raps on the door before I pushed it open, knowing Cheyenne had headed in this direction. She and Dusty were a very affectionate couple and I so didn’t want to catch the two of them between “costume changes.”

“Hi-ho,” a deep baritone voice called in response to my knock.

I pushed the door open. “You beckoned, oh fearless leader?”

Dusty stood behind his desk, his precision haircut just barely flecked with grey. Between his voice and the way he carried himself, I half expected him to be wearing a beret and a cashmere scarf wrapped around his neck, even though eighty degrees and sunshine would discourage both of those things. Cheyenne was across the room, leaning against the wall with her arms crossed.

“Well if it isn’t the girl of the hour,” Dusty said. I heard Cheyenne tsk as she re-crossed her arms.

“What’d I do now?” I glanced from him to Cheyenne and back. She didn’t look nearly as sprightly as she had when we’d met up at the back door. Something was wrong. I shook my head, indicating he should go on.

“Candi’s flying out in the morning to shoot a series of Coke commercials up in the Bay area.”

“That’s fabulous,” I said, even as my mind was putting the pieces together. “We open tomorrow.”

“Yeah, so, like, I figure you can take over the role of Brittney.” He only sounded a little desperate.

“The bride? I…um…I guess.”

“I’ve got the part memorized already,” Cheyenne blurted.

Okay, issue identified.

“Cheyenne, sugar, the costumes won’t fit and, well, I want Mackenzie to do it.” So there was a downside to dating someone in the cast. Dusty’s smile was a mix of chagrin and embarrassment. This dirty old man wasn’t going to get any sweet, young loving tonight.

“I can manage it,” I said, bringing them back from the brink of war. “You want me in all of Candi’s costumes?” I sure hoped not, because that meant wearing a trashy little dress for the party scenes and a wedding gown at the end.

Dusty showed me his inner hard-ass. “Yeah, because I’m going to play Kenley so I’ll need your jeans and things.”

I looked away so he wouldn’t see how fast my eyes were rolling.

“I’ve done drag before, Mackie, and God knows I remember your lines better than you do.”
He had me there. “I guess, sure. I’ll do my hair quick and look over the script.”

“I can do your hair, Mackie.” Cheyenne squared her shoulders and did her best to act like there was nothing bothering her. Kudos to her for that.

“Cheyenne.” Dusty would die before he’d grovel, but something in his voice came close. I made for the door, figuring Cheyenne wasn’t going to make things easy for him. I didn’t want to get in the middle if I could help it.

“Great,” I said, and gave her a half-smile. If she could play nice, so could I.

She crossed the room in about three strides. “Worked as a hair stylist back home. We’ll get you fixed up in no time.”

Dusty smiled at me, trying to share his bulletproof confidence as I followed Cheyenne out of the room. He was right about one thing. My raspy, lady-tenor voice sounded masculine enough no one was likely to notice the difference with him playing Kenley.

“Someone should pinch his head off and use it for bait,” Cheyenne whispered as we walked up the hall.

I totally knew how she felt.



An hour later I was perched on a folding chair in front of the big mirror in the dressing room. Cheyenne was behind me, making my hair a whole lot straighter than God had ever intended. She was also pulling just hard enough I could tell she was still pissed Dusty had asked me to play Brittney. I wanted to sympathize, but it was hard when I was worried about losing my hair.

It took some negotiation and a lot of patience to find the right position and hold still. The fan was at the opposite end of the room, too far away to do me much good, and I wasn’t quite sure how I’d avoid sweating off the make-up before I hit the stage.

In between strokes with the flat iron, Cheyenne was feeding me lines. “C’mon Brittney, the limo will be here in a minute.”

With barely a pause, I responded, “I want more champagne. Can we drink champagne in the—” My cell phone chirped and I jumped, blowing my concentration and making her swear. “Joe.”

It’s beer-thirty. Where are you?

I’d never been so happy to see a text message. I ran my fingers quickly over the keys, letting him know about the change in my role. He was in New Orleans filming a zombie-vampire thing, about two weeks into his eight-week shooting schedule. Even with the time difference, he must have knocked off early. He described his role as “second hellspawn on the left.” I scolded him for making fun, because it was a speaking part and he was making decent money. Meanwhile, Miss Lonely Bits—that would be me—was making do with daily text messages and the occasional phone call.

“Type faster. You’ve got a couple more scenes to run.” Cheyenne had found her inner schoolteacher and was coming at me full force.

 She’d see me in the mirror if I rolled my eyes, so I blinked slowly a couple times to get over the temptation. “I totally miss him.”

“Must be living in a state of textpectation.”

I laughed. “What?”

“When you’re expecting a text, it’s texpectation.”

I groaned and she came close to chuckling.

She shifted around to reach the next section of my wavy hair. “Yeah, texting is good for some things, except when you want a little lovin’. Then you need ‘em right up close.”
I groaned even louder. “The other night I tried to get him to send me a picture of his…you know…so I wouldn’t forget what it looked like.” I laughed. “He wouldn’t do it.”

Silence. I looked up, but her eyes were stuck on something behind my back. I slowly turned. Geneva stood beside the rolling rack of costumes in the middle of the room. Her normally polished semi-smile looked a little tight, betraying the fact she’d just heard me say I’d wanted her ex-fiancé to text me a picture of his johnson. Timing is everything and all that.

“Hi Geneva,” Cheyenne said, waving the flat iron like an oversized spatula.

Geneva stared at me like I was a bug. “Dusty thought maybe we should run through a couple of scenes.”

I scrambled up from my seat and faced her, hoping the movement would distract her from the burning blush washing up my cheeks. Geneva is gorgeous with high cheekbones and the body of a swimsuit model—which she is. She also has a remote, Mona Lisa quality men can’t get enough of. Joe might be the only guy in history who had broken up with her. Because of me. The thought made my brain hurt. “Are you about finished with me, Cheyenne?”

“You know, I think I could use a pop.” Cheyenne propped the flat iron on the nearest tabletop and zipped out of the room.

Geneva raised an elegant eyebrow and smiled after her. “Does pop refer to something she and Dusty do together?”

I answered with a surprised huff of laughter. “I think she means soda—like, soda pop.”

“I hope so.”

“Nah, she’s not looking for Dusty. She’s pissed at him because he’s got me playing Brittney.”

“Aha. Ambitious little kitten, isn’t she?” Geneva pulled a chair closer to where I had been sitting and opened her script. She was in a turquoise sports bra and a pair of black yoga pants that slid down over her butt like fabric paint.

“She told me once that to save enough money to move out here, she only allowed herself twenty dollars a week for spending money.” I turned my chair to face Geneva’s and sat back down. It was way easier to talk about the other actors than to acknowledge the elephant squatting between the two of us. Geneva had always been nice to me, and in fact she’d married a studio executive a year ago. Guess she figured a guy in a suit would help stabilize her lifestyle. Even though she wasn’t the competition, she still made me uncomfortable. Which made her uncomfortable.

“Came all the way out here to hook up with Dusty Squires.” Geneva shook her head.

“Yeah, well, it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. He’s helping her make connections and she’s, well, twenty-two.”

“And he’s forty.”

“She’ll have her SAG card in about another minute. It’s kind of surprising he didn’t give her the part.”

Geneva sighed. Getting older in this town sucked. “Okay, what scene do you want to run?”

We smiled at each other without any particular warmth. Truce declared. In all honesty, I knew most of the lines in the play just from having heard them so often. There was only one scene where she and I were the only characters onstage. If things were going to get weird, it would likely happen then.

“Since it’s just the two of us, let’s go to the third act, after Brittney runs out of the nightclub.”


She turned to a page near the end of the script and we got to work.

Isn't it nice how fate is giving Mack the chance to work out her bridal issues? Check back next Friday to see how she's coping...
Happy Weekend!
Liv

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

KING STUD LIVES!



So Wednesdays I usually make a promo post, but this week's a little different. I'm not promoting someone else's work. I'm celebrating my own! A little over two years ago, I stared a project about a woman who inherits her grandmother's falling-down Craftsman house. She takes a hiatus from life in L.A. and comes home to Seattle with the intent to clean the place up and get it on the market. She doesn't realize how big the project's going to be, and she doesn't expect to fall madly in love.

With her best friend's (much) younger brother.

Oops.

I loved the concept, but once the first rush of words had passed, I had some trouble sticking with it. In order to motivate myself, I made a series of Six Sentence Sunday blog posts (starting HERE) and the warm fuzzy feedback I got on them gave me the push to keep going. I workshopped the story in Margie Lawson's Fab 30 class, and about a year later, the project helped me get me a contract with my agent Margaret Bail.

After several re-writes - and much patience on Margaret's part - she took the novel shopping, and today I'm thrilled to announce that King Stud has found a home with Evernight Publishing! I don't have much in the way of details yet, but I'm excited to be working with Evernight. They have a great reputation for supporting their authors, and their cover art is amazing.

And so....drumroll....I present...

King Stud: An O'Connor Family Novel

Blurb

Danielle’s got a deadline. She’s got three months to make her Grandmother’s rundown Craftsman house livable. Her game plan is to get in, get grubby, and get back to the job she loves in L.A. She needs help, and a high school friend’s younger brother is a skilled carpenter, so she hires him. It’s hard to ignore the buffed body under Ryan’s paint-splattered sweatshirts and worn jeans, but her friend declares her brother’s off-limits and Danielle doesn’t want anything to distract her from getting back to her real life. 

Ryan doesn’t have the cleanest record, either. His recently ex-ed girlfriend wants him back, and he has a temper, though he’s trying hard to lose the reputation for brawling. He’s also had a crush on Danielle since he was a kid. Despite their nine-year age difference, she triggers something deep, something he knows is worth pursuing.

It doesn’t take long before the paint under Danielle’s fingernails starts feeling more natural than the L.A. sunshine, and she faces a tough decision. She’ll have to navigate the professional drama, the plumbing disasters, and the cranky best friend to find something she hasn’t had before: a real home, and a man who loves her.


As soon as I know more - like the cover reveal and release dates - I'll be sure to spread the word. In the meantime, thank you to Margaret for all your input and for getting the deal, thank you to Rhay & Amanda & Michele & Ellen & Debbie & Synithia & all the Fab30 students for beta reading - and I might have forgotten someone and if so I'm sorry!!

You can probably tell from the title that this is the first in a series, which means I gotta get busy. Thanks very much for all the support. I'm so looking forward to having King Stud out in the world!

Cheers!
Liv

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Setting Can Screw You: A Cautionary Tale

So last week I dug down into my TBR pile and found a popular book by one of the big names in m/m romance. I've read and enjoyed several other books by this author and trusted that I'd be in for a few hours of fun.

Sadly by about half-way through, I wanted to bounce my kindle off the floor.





You want to know why?


Because one of the heroes lived in Seattle, and the other worked in Tacoma, and they drove up and down Interstate 5 and never once complained about the traffic. For someone who lives in Seattle, that's sort of like neglecting to mention the rain or the Starbucks on every corner.

In a Seattle Times article last March, a group called the Tom Tom Navigation Company said Seattle had the 5th worst traffic in the country. We were right there behind Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Honolulu. This is not a new problem. We've been in the top ten for the last twenty years at least. 

But seriously, as much driving around as the guys in this book did, most of the action would have had to take place in the FBI agent's SUV, because they would have been spent the whole novel on the freeway.




I don't mean to get ranty about Seattle traffic - although it does suck - but when a character in Tacoma agrees to meet someone in Seattle by 5:30 on a Friday afternoon, their first thought better be "How soon do I have to leave?"  Because if I had to drive those 45 miles, I'd give myself an hour or even ninety minutes. Though I loved the interaction between the characters and thought the plot was clever and suspenseful, in my mind the author missed something pretty basic.

And as a writer, that kind of scares the crap out of me, because you don't know what you don't know.


You know?





Regardless of the setting - or the time period, for that matter - I want to get the details right, to avoid bumping the reader out of the story with something as dumb as a missing traffic jam. Either I limit myself to writing contemporary stories set in Seattle, or I better have some strategies for ensuring my own accuracy.

I dug around to see if I could find information about how to keep from making setting errors, and to a large extent, it's a problem of worldbuilding. 


But Liv! Wait! 


Worldbuilding is for fantasy novels or science fiction, not contemporary settings. Right? 

Apparently not. 

The post Check Your Facts on The Editor's Blog is a great resource for preventing setting errors. It also reads like the mirror image of Patricia C. Wrede's list of worldbuilding questions. Ms. Wrede's list asks, "what kind of animals are in your world?", while the Editor's Blog post asks "are the animals in your story appropriate to the world?" They're coming from different angles to get at the same information.

(Janice Hardy's also got some good information on developing your setting in this Worldbuilding 101 post on the Fiction University blog.) 

When you're working with a contemporary setting, I think the tendency is to assume things are pretty much the same as your own reality. Grinding down to the level of detail suggested in any of the sources I've mentioned would take a whole lot of work, and most of the information you develop would never make it onto the page. Maybe the answer is to streamline some, to tackle the most pertinent bits of information and make sure you get them right.

But how do you decide what's pertinent for a place you've never been to?

  • Research
    • Thank God for the internet! More importantly, thank God for GOOGLE! I read as much as I can stand about all aspects of my chosen setting, and will even take screenshots of specific locations from GoogleEarth. I save the links in Evernote, organized by topic, or on the Pinterest board for that story.
  • Visit
    • All the research in the world can't replace actually standing on the ground. It may not always be economically feasible, but visiting the location of your story is the best way to get the nitty-gritty details that can make a setting pop. Google is very, very good, but it can't replace your own five senses, nor your experience of a place.
  • Beta-reader
    • If you're serious about writing, you know the value of a good beta reader, but I would argue that if you're going to set a story outside of your own home town, you should try to find a local to read through it. My urban fantasy novel Hell...The Story is set in L.A., and after one of the final editing passes, I sent a copy to my sister who lives there. Her whole assignment was to take a red pen to anything that didn't ring true, and her ideas and suggestions were invaluable.
I'm pretty sure I would have had all kinds of helpful suggestions if the author of the traffic-less book had asked me to beta read it. Maybe I should track them down and offer to help with future projects...

My list of suggestions for how to keep the setting real is by no means exhaustive. Do you have any ideas to add?

Cheers!
Liv





Friday, May 15, 2015

Friday Fiction - The Ring Toss Pt. 1





So last Christmas I put one of my short stories up on Amazon. The Santa Drag had first appeared in an anthology for Still Moments Publishing, but when they went out of business, I got the rights back. Publishing it on Amazon was a bit of a whim, and I had a lot of fun with the process. At the time, I'd intended to follow up by publishing the sequel, The Ring Toss.


          


In the meantime, I ran my story Aloha, Baby here on the blog in eight installments. And as much fun as I had publishing The Santa Drag, running the story on the blog was more satisfying. Given that, I decided that rather than publish The Ring Toss, I'd start by putting it up here. It's a wedding story, so we're at the right time of year, and it picks up about three years after The Santa Drag ended...


A last-minute change lands Mack in a long white dress, but can she commit?


THE RING TOSS


The Play – Something Borrowed, Something Blue: A Bachelorette’s Adventure

Director: Dusty Squires
Assistant to the Director: Donald Loudemilk

Cast:
Brittney (the bride): Mackenzie Reed
Mara (the maid of honor): Geneva Louise
Kenley (the bride’s sister): Dusty Squires
Caitlyn (the bridesmaid): Cheyenne Miller
Salvatore (the stripper): Julio Lorenze
Pete (the groom): Julio Lorenze
Synopsis: Brittney is gearing up for the biggest day of her life with the help of her friends and her older sister. The girls head out for one last, wild night and things get a little out of hand. Will Brittney pass the test and make it to the church on time?


It wasn’t the little Mexican girl’s fault. She just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I was stopped at a light on the corner of Union and Court Streets in front of Our Lady of Loretto, the big, old Mexican-Catholic church in my neighborhood. The girl and her whole fam-damily crossed the street in front of me. Teased, sprayed, and dressed in a whirlpool of white lace studded with glitter, she held tight to an older guy with a slicked-back ponytail. He looked to be about my age and I guessed he was her father. Three young girls walked behind her, their bright satin dresses ruffled like a bouquet of bougainvillea, flowers so fragile they wouldn’t survive in a vase. A Quinceañera. The girl was fifteen years old and dressed like a bride. I was over twice her age and never had that chance. Seeing her set off a rolling boil in my belly.

It was my own fault, really. Joe had asked. Twice, not counting when we were twenty-two and he begged me to move to L.A. with him. I turned him down that time. When we ran into each other back in Seattle three years ago, I said yes. To moving, not marriage. He asked me to move to L.A. despite the fact that when he kissed me my lips tasted like spirit gum remover from the Santa Claus beard I’d been wearing. He never complained— gotta love a guy who can overlook something like that.

The light turned green and, after waiting for the last of the little bride-lette’s family to move past my car, I headed up the street. I was on my way to the dress rehearsal for A Bachelorette’s Adventure—an equity-waiver production I’d signed on for to fill time while Joe was out of town.

Mackenzie Reed, ironic bridesmaid. It was perfect casting. Sometimes I asked myself why a girl who had the stones to play Santa in a mall was too chicken to be a bride in real life. Wish I had the answer to that one.

I was headed for the Houstonian Theater which is at the end of Theater Row on Santa Monica Boulevard. It isn’t much more than five miles from my house, though the never-ending rush hour turned the drive into a much longer trip. I’d heard a SIG Alert for the one-o-one, which is L.A. speak for “stay off the freeway, fool.” Traffic was still slow. There must have been some unlisted road work happening on my secret back route, so I had plenty of time to bond with my neighbors as we crawled past billboards, strip malls, and palm trees. Driving with the top down on my ancient convertible Peugeot, the early June sun tried to bake away my negativity. Who needs sunscreen?

Parking took so long that if I were a teakettle, the roiling boil in my stomach would have had me squealing higher than a dog whistle. Driving a cool, old car meant sacrifice and my baby wasn’t much for air conditioning. When I finally climbed out, my crinkled cotton skirt was pasted to the backs of my thighs. I peeled it off and settled it over my hips, leaving my layered tank-top/T-shirt combo untucked. The shirts ended about an inch above where the skirt began and that was fine with me. My plain, old belly button was cute, even without a tattoo or piercing.

Despite the traffic and my cranky attitude, I arrived on time. “Equity-waiver” means few seats and no budget. I was getting paid in good karma and didn’t want to blow it by showing up late. Good karma and the chance to be seen by a casting director who might hire me for something that actually paid money.

The theater has a deco-style clay façade fronting a plain brick box, with a parking lot on one side and an alley in the back. I crossed the parking lot in front of the brown-skinned, Betty-Boop-like mural painted on the theater’s wall. Betty’s eyelashes were longer than my arm and she was shilling for Paramount, advertising some new movie that might yet go straight to video. I’d seen her around town a lot, a freaky mélange of street art and advertising which wasn’t quite as cool as her designers might have hoped.

I was punching in the code to unlock the back door of the theater when Cheyenne came up behind me. She was brand new to L.A., an ex-cheerleader who’d transplanted herself from Chadron, Nebraska. She was also dating Dusty Squires, our play’s director.

“You look a little pickled, Mackie,” she said as I pushed open the door. All the theater people call me Mackie because Joe calls me Mackie. I’d gotten so used to it I forgot to introduce myself to people as Mack.

“Exhaust-fume toxicity.” I held the door for her to come in, and then gave the handle a good tug to get it completely closed.

“Yuck.” She laughed. “See you in the dressing room.”

She headed in the general direction of the director’s office while I went up to the communal dressing room. Cheyenne has the wide, brown eyes and turned-up nose of a kitten. Underneath I could see the bones of the cat she would become after a few more months in Hollyweird had buffed the country off her. She brought out my big-sister instincts. For starters, I wanted to get rid of every pair of little ballerina flats and as many of her prissy, tailored jeans as I could. We’d donate them to the Salvation Army or something and I’d take her shopping for some real clothes. I’m helpful that way.

Backstage, the Houstonian was a warren of small rooms and dim hallways. The white walls had been tarnished by time and use. The hallways were covered with dark-grey carpeting and the rooms had tired, hardwood floors. We had a dressing room staked out and everybody except Dusty shared it. Julio Lorenze, the only man in the cast, didn’t appear ’til the second act so we were usually decent by the time he arrived. Wouldn’t have mattered, though. I’ve been in plays where the costumes were kept in the alley out back.  Semi-public displays of nudity come with the territory.

The dressing room was a windowless rectangle. I knocked once on the door—to be polite—and pushed it open. The door was at one of the short ends of the room and each of the long walls had a mismatched collection of old bookcases and tables pushed up against them. A couple of rolling racks of costumes ran down the center and chairs were set randomly around. The short wall opposite the door was covered with a full-length mirror.

I dropped my bag on the nearest chair and noticed a note pinned to the mirror. Going closer, I saw it was for me.

Mack—come C me—D

I translated it as an invitation to head to the director’s office. I shrugged and did a couple shoulder rolls, trying to expel some of the bubbling tension twisting in my gut, then wasted a little time by checking to make sure my costumes were where I left them. Everything was in the right place so I eyeballed my phone for a text from Joe. Nothing. Bummer.

I gave the shoulders one more twirl. It was time to put on my big-girl panties and go see what Dusty wanted.

Hmm...I wonder what kind of trouble Mack's going to get herself into this time. If you're curious, jump HERE for part 2...
Cheers!
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