Let’s Play Beat the Clock… Will This Romance Be Free?

The pandemic has made it so that I’ve lost a little bit of gusto in writing and editing. So, in order to give myself a bit of a deadline and force me to just get it done, I’ve decided to arrange a little game of beat the clock.

How will this work? Well, my novel Winner Takes All has been in a bit of a holding pattern in finishing up the rewrites and edits. So, to motivate me to finish it up, I decided to post a chapter every few days. That way, I have incentive to make sure I get the book completed properly and up for sale. And if I can’t get it published in time, then it will end up being fully published on the website.

So, it starts here. Today. This is chapter one of Winner Takes All. And I’ll keep publishing a chapter every Sunday and Wednesday until it’s ready to go online as an ebook.

Chapter 1 – An Abrupt End

Tina sat across from Quentin and watched his lips move. They were gorgeous, thick lips — plump, moist, soft — attached to a hella fine, chocolate man, with pretty white teeth, brooding mahogany eyes, and a flawless face. He smiled at her, cupping his long, thick fingers together on the tabletop. His voice rang out velvety smooth.

When he’d asked her out to dinner after bumping into her at the coffee shop, she’d been elated. Things were going right on her job, with her being a shoo-in for an upcoming promotion. Now all she needed was for things in the love department to pick up. And she’d thought Quentin would be the answer. Even the name sounded regal. Only, the time they’d spent together tonight had shown just how mistaken Tina had been. Quentin was a pretty package hiding the ugly beneath.

“So, enough about me,” Quentin said with a smile, one he probably thought looked bashful. Actually, it looked phony. “Tell me about what you do.”

She smiled back at him, hoping the ruby red lipstick, aptly called “sinner” by the cosmetics line, drew his eyes to her lips. She glanced at her watch, before locking eyes on him.

“We’ve been here, in this restaurant, for 30 minutes, and this is the first time you’ve asked about me,” she said. His smile faltered, and he opened his mouth — she presumed to apologize. Tina held up her hand to shush him, her manicured nails glinting in the dim restaurant lighting. “You asked what I did. I’m a marketing executive at a small, but respected, DC firm. I manage marketing campaigns for clients, and I have exactly three seconds to capture the attention of my product’s target audience. Not three seconds to sell to them. Three seconds to capture their attention. Then, I have about 10 seconds before they get bored and go on to something else. So, I’ve learned to say what I have to say up front and say it quickly. I’ve learned to cut to the heart of matters, so that my most important message is heard up front and when it matters. I’ve learned to make that message compelling. So, Quentin, we are done.”

He leaned back, his eyes widening,

She leaned forward, her eyes never leaving his. “You have talked about yourself nonstop for 30 minutes. You have been rude to the waitstaff. You were condescending to the valet — a person you just left your very nice Lexus with. You are boorish, self-absorbed, and seemingly uncaring. I have no interest in spending another moment with you, and I would have left sooner, except I have been working on bringing my professional demeanor to my personal life. In the past, I have been known to be too quick to react in my desire to be decisive. I want to thank you for the drink,” she said as she lifted the glass of white wine and took one last sip. “However, I will not be staying for dinner.”

She stood, and as he stammered futilely, Tina walked right out of the crowded, upscale dining room and through the front door.

Once outside, the heat slammed into her like a brick wall. The conditioned air inside the five-star restaurant had made her forget these were the waning days of a Washington, DC, summer. The outdoors felt like a sauna. She debated taking a cab home, but she wanted to eat. And not at that place. She was confident that the fancy establishment, with pressed linens and men in stuffy-jackets, served overpriced food in portions that wouldn’t fill her. She wanted real food. Good food. She walked away from the restaurant, being sure to turn the corner in case Quentin decided to get up and follow. Though, she doubted he would. Her read on him was that Quentin was not the kind of guy who followed when spurned. He didn’t try to make amends or fix things. He was a save-face-at-all-costs kind of guy. She imagined he would stay at the restaurant long enough to pay the check, and then go home, eat buffalo wings, and write her off as a “crazy bitch.” Tina didn’t care. She’d been called worse.

She walked a couple blocks as she searched for the ride-sharing app on her phone and tried to figure out where she wanted to eat. She was in Adams Morgan, a restaurant district known for cozy, authentic eateries. Rather than take her to a trendy, quiet place, Quentin had opted for a shi-shi foo foo place that had opened up in hopes of getting the tourist who heard it was trendy but actually wanted traditional.

She’d gotten the app and was considering just calling for a ride and scarfing down a bowl of cereal at home, when she heard salsa music. She turned in the direction the harmonies were coming from: a little place just a door down. Drawn to the music, Tina soon found herself in a clean, bright, tiny restaurant. Though only about half full, it held a decent sized crowd. The customers were a mix of people who appeared to range from the young 20s to the fun-loving forties. Small square tables for two dotted the restaurant. The tables were pushed together in spots to accommodate foursomes and could probably be configured to fit larger groups, if necessary. Customers were enjoying plates of what looked like Mexican food: things rolled in tortillas and covered in sauces and cheeses. Bean dishes that looked heavenly nestled on festive plates. Tina scanned the restaurant, taking in the atmosphere. Most people ate family style, a couple of dishes in the middle of their table, with large serving spoons to ladle out what they wanted.

There was a bar to the left. The salsa band was on a stage in the back of the room. They’d actually stopped playing at the moment. She wondered if they’d just been warming up. It was too early for them to be done.  As Tina looked around, she didn’t see a podium for a hostess, but after a moment, a young woman in a black skirt, and green shirt holding a menu walked over to her, and asked, “Would you like a table or did you want to eat at the bar?”

Tina wasn’t sure. “Is the band going to play again?”

As Tina got a closer look at the woman, she wondered if she was a high school student, she looked so youthful. Though she had the poise of someone older. She nodded in response to Tina’s question. “Yes, they’re warming up. They don’t start officially for about twenty minutes. Then we move out the tables closest to the stage so people can dance. It can get pretty crowded, once they start.”

Tina nodded at the lady, who was pretty, with olive skin and a thick mane of curly black hair. 

“So, what kind of food do you serve here?”
“Authentic Salvadoran food.”

The dishes she’d spied on the tables looked scrumptious. She could get down with that. Tina surveyed the room. The tables were alright, but the bar looked perfect. It had the best vantage point. She could eat, watch the band, and see the dance floor. She might even decide to shake her booty. This evening didn’t have to be a complete waste after all.