In my regular life, I happen to work in a field where I come across a lot of random press releases and news stories. I saw one the other day that made me think about the ways that romances seem to differ from real life.
The study found that in real life, women use ex girlfriends as a shortcut to judge the fitness of a potential mate. If his exes seem normal, attractive, and still get along with him, it’s a sign he’s a good mate candidate. If those stars don’t align, it’s time to head for the hills. Or so says the researcher. (You can read about it here: https://www.miragenews.com/track-record-predicts-future-romance-554422/)
This made me think of some of romances in general, and how heroines almost never follow this rule. They find men they can change, or they don’t ask questions about past romances, or they discount all those other women because they’re the one who he was meant to be with and the past doesn’t matter.
It’s inane for real life. I mean, really, looking at a guy who has left a string of broken hearts–or worse, a guy who can never seem to get close to anyone–is probably asking for trouble.
But that’s the thing that’s so great about romance. Even though our rational brain is telling us, this has no reason to work out, the story is so compelling and so immersive that it all makes sense. The brooding and deep seated trauma of childhood make our hero better–not totally f***d up and in need of years of therapy, as would be in real life.
And of course, I’m not saying that all romances of fiction lack reality. Many are normal characters who make normal mistakes and have serendipitous love. But, there’s also a whole bunch that would be doomed to failure were there not a deft author pulling strings from above.
When you read romance, what do you prefer–romance that veers toward real life, or romance that’s more fantasy land?
The Bridgerton phenomenon on Netflix helped Julia Quinn’s wonderful romance series find renewed life, which is wonderful. I read all 8 books of the original series, plus three books in the spinoff series (I got them from the library, which didn’t have the fourth book, and I got busy and forgot about it until just this moment, so I’ll see if the library picked it up or just go out and purchase it).
Another romance writer is getting an unexpected boon from her other endeavors. Georgia voting rights activist and gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is getting three of her romance novels reissued. Abrams wrote the novels under the pen name Selena Montgomery in the early 2000s. Back in November, when Abrams was lauded for her work to help get Joe Biden elected, there were several memes going around letting folks know that Abrams also wrote romance novels.
I suspect this created the resurgence in interest in the books that has led her publisher to reissue them. Whatever the reason, I say, kudos.
I love it when romance books get a boost. I picked up two of the books in the series back in December and enjoyed them. Abrams had an easy style and spun an, ultimately, satisfying yarn. I’m glad others will get a chance to read them or consider picking them up.
There’s a lot of great romance novels out there, and it’s wonderful when some get more exposure so that fans can check them out and discover their next great read.
So, if you could decide which romance novel got some extra love and attention, what would you pick? Share in the comments.
I thought 2020 was challenging. So far, 2021 has been just as challenging for me and mine. It’s been a year of coping with the mental health chaos left behind from 2020, and trying to right the ship and self care.
As I’ve been trying to ensure self care, I’ve been reading a few book series, and the question came to mind about what kinds of series people like. In romance, many series are different couples, but all tied together by a thread of a few characters. Maybe all the brothers in a family have a romance, or a group of friends each get a different romance book. However, some romance series are continuations, one couple, as they struggle through different situations–and often an alternate partner who can create a triangle.
They’re both good approaches, and I see the merits in each of them. As I think through the idea a bit, I believe I’m more partial–for romance, at least–of the connected stories, rather than the continuations. I like seeing each couple live happily ever after at the end, and then checking in with my previous HEA couples. For other genres, I think I prefer the continuation series. I like one big long series that keeps going. If the focus is romance and the series continues, they always introduce a foil, a potential mate who one MC is drawn to when the other does something kind of sketchy.
I hate triangles because I never pick the right guy. I’m not down with sketchy stuff, and so when dude one does something shady, and dude two is waiting in the wings and is a pretty good match, I’m not here for dude one. Yet so many people are. (A history of my wrong guy in popular culture: I was Team Jacob in Twilight, I was Team Noel in Felicity; I was team Jax in the General Hospital Sonny/Brenda/Jax triangle). Don’t hate me.
So, now that I’ve unnecessarily spilled my history of bad choices, let’s get back to the question at hand. What’s your favorite type of series?
We’re a bit into the new year, and, for me, I’m just now starting to get back into the flow of a regular work week. I took off that week between Christmas and New Year’s, ate gloriously, stayed up late, and binged all sorts of shows.
I think I’m finally getting my normal sleep habits back so I can wake up for work in the morning and not feel completely addled. Now that I’m in that place, I think I can squarely lay the blame for my difficulties from staying up late binging holiday flicks like Bridgerton (and then reading the first couple of novels).
Rege-Jean Page is smoking hot as the duke and the whole series was a lot of fun, and so very rich. Upon reading the first couple of books afterward, it was disappointing not to see so much of the richness of character they clearly pulled from the later books. Because the Netflix show was a series, they gave you so much more of the Bridgerton side character siblings that it was really fantastic.
In addition to Bridgeterton, I also watched a bevy of other romantic films with a holiday vibe (California Christmas, Holidate, Holiday Calendar, This Christmas, 12 Dates of Christmas).
It was nice to just sit back and watch some fun, lighthearted things, even if they weren’t all perfect movies, but they were fun.
Of all the stuff I binged over the holiday, Bridgerton was definitely my favorite. What was your favorite show to binge over the holidays?
The other day I was telling someone about Winner Takes All, and they asked me if I was going to do a series with it, and I said, well, it’s already loosely part of a series. Then it occurred to me, I hadn’t quite made that clear.
The Romance: Trysts series is four short stories that are seemingly disparate, but the people in each story share at least one connection with someone in another story. For example, the Mrs. Sinn character in Dr. Carter and Mrs. Sinn [FREE] is the friend who tells Blair about the painting in Tristan & Blair. The connections are pretty loose, but I’ve known they were there, and thought I’d like to do longer pieces in the same universe and better connect the dots.
Winner Takes All is the first book in that wider universe. In Winner Takes All, you see Nikki and Mike from the second Trysts story. It’s fun that we get to see more of Nikki in this book (as the short is Nikki’s story), and more of course the main character in Winner Takes All is Tina, Nikki’s best friend.
So, if you’ve read Nikki & Mike and want a tad more, definitely check out Winner Takes All. If you’ve read Winner Takes All and are curious about the other tale, definitely check out Nikki & Mike.
As for other tales in the original trysts series, my next is to delve into Tristan & Blair‘s universe, looking at Blair’s sister, and of course, we’d see Tristan and Blair as well. I don’t know when I’m going to get to this. I have another in the fairy tales series that I need to complete, and so I need to figure out where to focus my energy.
If you have any thoughts on what you’d like to see next (Red Rider, based on a Little Red Riding Hood/Robin Hood hybrid) or the Tristan/Blair universe, let me know.
After a rough 2020, 2021 has finally arrived and many are viewing it as a new hope. After a year with a monstrous pandemic, there is hope that 2021 has to be better. That the year could not possibly be worse than 2020. I hope that logic holds true. I definitely need 2021 to be better than 2020. Personally, it’s been an incredibly hard year for me.
But 2021 is not a panacea. It does not wash away all the lingering effects awfulness of 2020 just by the turn of the calendar. We are still suffering the consequences of 2020s badness. A pandemic is still raging, people are still dying, the U.S. is more partisan than ever, and those who were plunged into a depression over all the losses of 2020 are often still there.
However, the good news about 2021 is that we are seeing light, finally. There is hope there is an end to this tunnel. The vaccine will help, as will competent leadership. But we also need each other to help. We need to show compassion and love to our fellow man. We have to remember that societies function when people work together and care for each other. We have to remember that we, literally, are all in this together.
One of my favorite stories as a kid was the Little Red Hen. It’s about a hen who lives with three other barnyard animals. She asks them for help turning wheat into flour–particularly for cutting the wheat, bundling it, taking it to the mill–and then baking a cake with it (or bread, depending on the version). Each animal refuses to help, and so when the hen finishes, all the animals who refused to help show up wanting a piece of cake, and she tells them no. However, after that, the animals always help the hen when she asks.
And I think that’s the part people forget. The animals learn, and afterwards, they help in the future. Whatever has happened has happened. It’s time for everyone to forget about whether they got cake or not and pitch in to help in making 2021 the best year.
P.S. Don’t forget Winner Takes All is available on Amazon. If you enjoyed the book, leave a review.
Thanks all for bearing with me and giving me the energy to stop procrastinating and just finish up Winner Takes All. The book is now published. It’s available on Amazon for $2.99 or free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.
As a bonus, I thought I’d leave you with one last chapter. Take care.
Chapter 9 – Guilt
She had good ideas. She’d come up with several tactics to market Santiago’s. A lot were low cost, but also very effective.
The problem was, she felt guilty. Tina looked out her office window at the sunny Tuesday morning, and all the happy people below. Only, Tina was sure Javi — as his family had called him — wasn’t happy. He’d looked horrified when he’d realized what she’d come to do. And the truth was, she hadn’t actually thought it would work — courting Santiago’s. She really just wanted to show Javier that she had the chutzpah to play against him on his home turf. A little bit of turnabout was always fair play, right?
She hadn’t expected the father to accept her offer, but the mention of nepotism had apparently hit the right button. In his office, he’d told her that Ben had everything handed to him, and he’d tried to raise a son who worked hard for his own. “I appreciate the fact that someone works hard, and I can tell you’re that kind of woman. Let’s give this a try.”
She’d been surprised, but she’d also appreciated it. For a moment, she’d even bought into the idea that Javier was falling prey to his uncle’s spoiled sloth. Only, when she saw his face, when she saw the hurt, she’d almost turned back and told the elder Santiago she didn’t want the account. Almost. But she needed this job. It was all she had. Well, not all she had. She had her mother, too. Ruby had been clean and sober for two years now. She’d been there when her own mother, Tina’s grandmother, had gotten sick. Ruby had promised to be there for Tina, and even though Tina didn’t really trust her mother’s word, the woman had been a steady presence in recent months.
And even though Josef Santiago had hired her, he still loved his son. That was evident, despite everything else. Josef’s office was covered in pictures of him with his family. You didn’t go to that office every day and look at those photos and not love your family. Javier would have something to fall back on. He’d have that loving father if all else went to hell. Tina only had herself. And she thought Josef understood that. It’s probably why he did this.
She took a deep breath. She wouldn’t let Josef down. Whatever hurt Javier was feeling, he’d get over it. She opened a new document on her computer and started typing.
* * *
It had been a pretty good morning. Tina had some effective strategies she could propose to Josef Santiago, and she’d made a few more client calls. Time for lunch. Tina was about to head out to eat her sandwich and chips at the park across the street, when there was a knock at her door.
“Come in,” she called. The door opened, and in walked Javier.
“Did you have a minute?” he asked, shutting the door behind him.
She wondered if maybe she’d misjudged him. He seemed contrite as he entered. His father had given her a shot last night, so maybe he was a decent guy at heart. Perhaps he’d taken after his father’s side of the family, rather than Ben’s. Maybe he just wanted to start fresh. “Sure,” she said, motioning to him to have a seat in the chair on the other side of her desk.
Javier walked over to her desk, but he didn’t sit. Instead, he stood over her, leaned forward, and said in a low voice, “You got the best of me last night, but it won’t happen again. I’m onto you now, and I won’t forget.”
Tina squinted up at him. She wasn’t even sure why she thought he’d wanted peace. For the briefest of seconds, she wondered if it had been she who wanted to bury the hatchet so she didn’t feel responsible for wounding him the way she so clearly had. But that was moot. He’d come to ratchet things up a level. She stood and looked him in the eye. “What I did pales in comparison to what you did,” she said.
Javier took a step back, confusion marring his face. “All I did was be nice to you.”
“You tried to get me drunk Sunday night, hoping I’d be off my game when you showed up and introduced yourself the next day.”
He shook his head. “I had no idea who you were,” he said too loudly.
“Really?” she said, her face a picture of disbelief. And while outwardly it was clear she thought he was lying, internally, as she watched his expression of shock, she briefly wondered if he could be telling the truth. Was he really in the dark about who she was when they met? “I guess when your uncle owns the place, you don’t bother to do any homework on who’s going to be at your new office. Looking at the profiles on the company website to see who you’ll be working with is just completely unnecessary, eh?”
Anger — with a hint of shame — flashed on his face, and then it was gone. She was pretty sure he actually hadn’t bothered to look at the employee profiles on the Taylor and Thompson site.
“I don’t have anything else to say to you,” he said, turned and walked out of her office.
That was bad. She shouldn’t have fought back. She should have just moved on. Instead, she’d let him get under her skin. He’d managed to crawl there the first night they’d met, yet for reasons she’d hoped would be entirely different. Now he was there gnawing at her, and not in a good way. What she needed was a good lay. A guy who could help her relieve some of the tension while not being clingy or needy. She needed to concentrate on her job right now. Unfortunately, she’d never gotten involved in one of those friends with benefits situations, and she didn’t have a single soul to call for this.
She supposed a good toy would have to do. She had a faithful go-to item, but it was a bit old. She figured she’d order a new one. She had free two-day shipping. She was opening the Amazon app on her cell phone when her office phone rang.
“Tina Jackson speaking,” she said. “How can I help you?”
“You can go on a date,” Nikki said on the other end.
Tina leaned back in her chair as she entered the search on her cell phone while talking on the landline. “That’s how I can help you?” she asked, quite dubious.
“Yes,” Nikki said. “Mike ran into a friend of his from college the other day. He just moved back to town and is looking for some female companionship. And I know you’re looking for some male companionship…”
Tina shook her head. A few options appeared on her phone screen. But were they better options than what Nikki was proposing? “True, I’m looking for someone, but right now, my job is too hectic. I don’t want to get involved with anyone for real. Not until I nail down this VP thing.”
Nikki sighed. “Really?” she asked. “Are you sure, because I think you’d really like him.”
Tina cradled the phone closer. “Do tell. What do you think I’d like?”
“Well, he’s handsome, he’s got a great sense of humor, and he’s ambitious”
“How long have you known him?”
“Mike knew him all through undergrad, and they sorta lost touch, but I did meet him briefly and he was smoking hot,” she said.
Smoking hot. Tina could use smoking hot. She sighed, and tapped her phone to add one of the toys to her shopping cart. She might as well hedge her bets. “Alright,” she said. “Maybe this weekend. I’ll give him a try.”
“Yes,” Nikki said, her voice brimming with joy. “You’re going to love him.”
Tina looked up from her phone and considered the tenor of the conversation. “Why is it that you’re so happy about this? I mean, it’s just a blind date.”
Nikki paused a moment. “It’s just that I’m happy, and I want you to be happy, too. Besides, I’ve missed two years of match-making while Mike and I were living in Oklahoma. I just want to get back on the horse.”
Tina laughed. “Back on the horse. You’ve been in Oklahoma too long, sweetie.” She looked at the clock on her phone. “Listen, I need to get some work done. But I’ll call you when I get home.”
So, this should be the final chapter I post online. It’s one of those sorry-not sorry moments. I finished up all the final touches on the book’s editing, including cleaning up a few consistency issues I found in stuff that was posted here. It’s doing a final formatting, and the whole thing should be available on Amazon starting Tuesday or Wednesday (at the latest).
Enjoy chapter 8, and I hope you’ve liked what you read enough to enjoy the rest of the book.
~ ~ ~
Chapter 8 – Cojones
When Javier had told his mother this morning that he’d stop by the restaurant tonight, he’d actually been excited about seeing Tina. But, given how the day went, he was pretty sure she had zero plans to show up. Let her tell it, he had somehow ruined her triumph.
Part of him felt sympathetic. She’d clearly been told she could have the VP post, but by one half of the partnership. His uncle had never agreed to that. He’d broached the subject briefly with Uncle Ben in the afternoon, and Ben had called Tina a wild card. Good with on-the-ground stuff, and a real whiz at campaigns that were grass root-ish and got young people involved, but not as good at the slick, traditional marketing sector. Yes, times were changing and “new technology needed to be embraced, but you can’t forget the tried and trues of getting people to take notice,” Ben had told him.
Tina had wanted the job and good for her, but Javier was here now. And he wasn’t the reason she hadn’t gotten it. She hadn’t gotten it because Ben didn’t fully trust her. She needed to suck it up and deal, like a grown up. He’d already been burned by one woman who believed she deserved to be top dog and played dirty to get her way. Finding out about Tina today had to have been a blessing in disguise.
He sighed, as he entered the back door of Santiago’s, ending up in the kitchen. He nodded hello to a couple of the regular chefs, guys who’d been there when he’d been in college. He walked through to the back office, looking for his mother. She said she’d be in, but he didn’t find her.
Javier went out to the main dining area. Pretty empty. But Mondays tended to be on the lighter side. No music tonight. Just great food. He glanced over at the bar and saw Tina. Unexpected, but for some reason he smiled. He was glad she was there. Maybe he’d misjudged her. Maybe she wasn’t a spoiled diva who thought she deserved whatever she wanted. She must have realized her anger at him was misplaced. She’d come to dinner. Though, in retrospect, he’d asked her to come whether she was celebrating or commiserating. Perhaps they could commiserate together.
He sidled over to her, a grin on his face, confidence in his step, and leaned on the bar. She turned to him, raised an eyebrow, her mouth a hostile line.
His cheer oozed out like a deflating balloon, but he managed— just barely— to keep the smile on his face. She needn’t see his disappointment. “I’m surprised to see you here,” he said, his voice upbeat.
“Well,” she said, picking up her drink, which looked like something fizzy and non-alcoholic, perhaps a ginger ale, and took a sip. “I thought about what you said today and decided I should come.”
He sat down on the bar stool next to her, looking her over. She was still in her work suit. She hadn’t gone home to change. “What is it that I said that stuck with you?”
She opened her mouth to answer, but then a familiar voice called her name. “Ms. Jackson,” the voice said. Josef Santiago — tall, pudgy, and wearing a short-sleeved shirt that showed off his hairy arms and accentuated his belly paunch — was striding toward them. “Javi?” his father said.
Javier cringed, wishing his father wouldn’t call him that. He was a grown man. Javi was the name of a child. Like Timmy or Tommy or Benny. At some point, you outgrew that shit. He felt his jaw tighten as he spoke to his father. “Yeah, Dad, it’s me.”
Josef Santiago looked from his son to Tina, and then back. “If you’re here as backup, to try to sway me, that’s not going to work.”
“Sway you?” he asked.
Tina smiled and stood, walked toward Javier’s father and shook his hand. “Mr. Santiago, I’m actually here independent of your son. At Taylor & Thompson, we each have individual accounts. As I mentioned to you, I’ve worked there for eight years and have a wealth of experience turning small mom-and-pop businesses into the next trendy location. I think our firm could do wonders for you.”
As what she was doing sank in, Javier felt the heat rise in him. “Are you trying to get my dad’s restaurant as a customer?”
“Yes,” she admitted without the slightest hint of shame. “Of course. This is a wonderful establishment, which I learned of for the first time last night. And as you told me today, it’s not your fault they decided not to hire me for the VP job they promised me would be available. Them hiring you doesn’t impact me. My boss told me if I want to be the VP to bring in some new clients. So here I am, working on that. Hard work. Not nepotism. I don’t have an Uncle Ben to look after me. My Uncle Ben only offers me rice, not jobs that negatively affect other people.”
Javier could feel the vein throbbing in his neck. She had some nerve. Her hard stare was an indication that she had no intention of backing down. If he wasn’t so fucking mad, he might find that look a complete turn on. Like, I want to throw you down on the floor and take you right now turn on. But he was that mad, and no matter how hot Tina was, she wasn’t going to make a fool of him.
“My father’s not interested,” Javier said. He turned to his dad, and his eyes pleaded with him, just this once, to back him. Just this one time, stand with him, rather than against him.
Josef looked at Javier, then at Tina. “I didn’t say that, son.”
He glared at his father. Of course. He should’ve just kept his fucking mouth shut. Or contradicted her, told his dad that doing this would help him out immensely. He opened his mouth to ask his father if they could go to his office and talk.
“Javi,” he heard his mother’s voice call from behind. He turned and she was coming towards him, her arms outstretched. His mother was a hugger. A serious hugger. Every time she saw someone she knew, she wrapped her arms around them. It didn’t matter that she’d last seen the person. Five minutes ago, five hours ago, or five years ago, the next time she saw a person, they got a hug. The only thing the length of absence determined was the length of the hug. Since he’d seen her last night, their hug was brief.
“I’m so glad you came,” his mother said. She was a thin, blonde woman with a pale complexion, a dainty nose and a friendly demeanor. “How’d it go? I didn’t want to call Ben, because y’know, it’s not right for me to ask him. But, I was so anxious. Tell me everything.”
Everything. Where to start? Oh, yeah. How about that chica with cojones the size of bowling balls who decided to come steal his father as a client. He turned back to the bar and saw that his father and Tina were gone. What the hell? Where did they go just that quickly?
“Where’s dad?” he asked.
His mother frowned. “I don’t know,” she said, irritated. “I’m the one who’s talking to you right now. I want to hear about the job. You have to tell me everything.”
He wished he could, but he needed to find Tina and his dad, first. The last thing he needed was his father agreeing to work with her. He’d never live down that shame if that happened. He slowly turned 360, scanning the restaurant for signs of his father or Tina. He didn’t see them. His father had probably taken her to his office. “Mierda,” he cursed.
“Javi,” his mother said. “Watch your language.”
He dipped his head in apology. “Lo siento,” he said. “I just need to talk to dad before he makes a mistake.”
His mother eyed him dubiously. “Your father’s very competent,” she said, touching his cheek with her hand, trying to direct his face toward her, rather than searching the room with what futile shreds of hope he had left that his father hadn’t screwed him over. “What kind of mistake do you think he’s about to make?”
He pulled away from his mother and headed toward the rear of the building, where his father’s office was. He ignored his mother’s irritated call of Javi and walked as fast as he could to the back, where he barged into the office, without even knocking. He entered in time to see Tina shaking hands with his father.
“It’s been a pleasure,” his father said, presumably to Tina, but he’d looked up at Javier just as he’d uttered “pleasure.”
Tina turned and spied Javier. She flashed him a cat-who-ate-the-canary grin and then said to Josef. “Mr. Santiago, I don’t want to keep you any longer. I’m going to go home and get started. I’ll call you tomorrow so we can talk further.”
Javier stood there, speechless, seething. He wasn’t sure who he was angrier at: Tina or his father. He’d done nothing to her to deserve this kind of attack. And surely, she knew it was an attack. A direct hit. Yet his father was worse. He’d gone along with her to ensure the death blow.
She was standing right in front of him now, still smiling, still looking satisfied. “Excuse me,” she said.
“There is no excuse for what you just did,” he whispered, the anger hurtling out in each word.
Her smile faded, and for the first time tonight, she looked like she was having second thoughts, like she realized the depths of what she had done.
“I—” she started, then took a step back.
He waited, his eyes staring daggers at her. If he were that kind of man, he might have actually laid hands on her. But Javier wasn’t that kind of man. He would never touch a woman in anger. Instead, all he could do was offer this glacial hatred that radiated outward, chilling everything in its path.
Tina swallowed. “I meant, excuse me because you’re blocking the door,” she said softly.
He looked at his surroundings. She was right. He was standing right in the middle of the doorway. There was no way she could leave unless he moved. He had a good mind to stand there a minute more, make her live with the discomfort, make her stare at the wreckage of what she’d done. But he didn’t want to give her the satisfaction. He didn’t want her to relish in her triumph by remembering just how childishly he’d behaved. He took one last look at her. He had no more illusions about who she was. All women in this business were the same: heartless and cutthroat. He stepped aside, and she left. She didn’t even bother to look back and say goodbye to Josef.
Once she was gone, he stepped closer to his father, fully prepared to ask him, “Why?” Why on earth would he humiliate him like this? But, as he opened his mouth, he heard the door close behind them and turned to see his mother standing there, a scowl on her face.
“What is going on?” Cathy Santiago asked, looking at her son and then her husband.
Finally, he thought. His mother would fix this. He pointed to his father. “He signed up the restaurant to advertise with Uncle Ben’s firm, using that woman, instead of me.” He couldn’t even bring himself to say Tina’s name.
Cathy looked at her husband, scrunched up her face in confusion. “You hired Ben’s firm to market us?”
His father seemed to recognize he was in trouble and simply nodded. Trying to explain things to Cathy when you were clearly in the wrong was a bad idea.
“Why would you do that, Josef?” Cathy asked her husband.
He shrugged and said, “Because she asked.”
“Ben has asked you before, and you said no”
“And she reminds me of me,” Josef said. “She works hard, she comes from nothing, and she just wants a chance to prove herself. She doesn’t mind putting in the grunt work. She just wants to be given a fair shot.”
Javier saw his mother’s eyes softening at the explanation. Hell no. “I’m your son,” he interjected. “If he was going to go with Taylor & Thompson, he should have gone with me.”
“You didn’t ask me,” his father said.
Javier glared at his father. “You didn’t give me a chance.”
Josef raised an eyebrow. “Were you planning on asking me?”
No. But he didn’t want to say that. Frankly, Tina had beat him at his own game on this. He knew damned well his father’s restaurant was a great prospect, but he’d also known his father had said no to Ben on multiple occasions. He also knew his father didn’t respect people who used their family connections to get things done. So, there was no point in asking his father. It would have been a failed mission.
“See,” his father said, as Javier had spent too long thinking. “He had no intention of asking me, yet he gets upset when a hard-working young woman comes in here and asks.” Josef pointed a finger at his son. “Don’t go getting upset because someone had a better idea.”
Javier couldn’t believe his father. Wait. He could. This was always how his father was. Everything was Javier’s fault. Javier was lazy and spoiled and wanted everything to come easy. According to Josef Santiago, Javier could do nothing right.
“I have to go,” Javier said, walking toward the door. His mother looked at him a second, opened her mouth, as if she planned to speak, but then snapped her lips shut, having apparently thought better of it. She simply nodded, and Javier left the office. He needed to be somewhere else, anywhere else but here.
Thoughts of abandoning ship — of giving in to her baser, more retaliatory instincts — had propelled Tina to her office. With plans of ignoring Nikki’s advice, she looked through her war chest file, and marked off the best bets, even in this tight market. But then an email came to her personal account: an automatic payment notice for the nursing home. She sighed and decided to log into her bank account and look at the statement. Thoughts of telling Javier and Ben off were banished. She had to keep this job.
When she’d lived with her mother, up until she was eight, she’d gone to sleep hungry many nights. Her mother was too busy out in the streets to care for Tina, and even if she were home, there wasn’t any damned food in the cabinets. Tina couldn’t have that happen to her again. Living like that had been… no. She shook her head. She wasn’t going to go there. She wouldn’t think about that life, that old life. That was way in the past. Though, she couldn’t help think about it in times of crisis. One false move was all it took for a life to fall apart, to end up with no money, no food. Her life after age eight was everything she could have wanted. Her grandmother hadn’t been rich, but she’d been able to support Tina and herself, and point Tina on the right path. College, career, a good life.
Tina closed her eyes and smiled as an image of her grandmother, close-cropped white hair, a beautiful, toothy smile, and wrinkles that made her look majestic, popped into her head. She missed her so much. She didn’t regret agreeing to pay for the nursing care for her grandmother, to get her into that place, but the effect those payments were having on her life now, were … frustrating.
Tina was earning just enough to pay the debt and her living expenses. If she quit this job with nothing else lined up, she would end up in the same position as her mother. A grown woman with nothing of her own and no way to support herself. Tina realized she’d been a fool to go out to eat last night. Treat yourself, she’d thought. You’ve been eating beans and rice and noshing on the buffet at all the work-related events. You deserve a good meal. Go to the restaurant. Have a nice meal. Take an uber home, instead of grabbing the subway. You’re going to get that promotion tomorrow and the VP salary that comes with it. At least double her current salary. You can pay these bills and be secure yourself. You can build that financial safety you’ve been striving so hard for.
But no. Javier Santiago came and ripped it all away. She shook her head at the screen and cursed softly. She was in no mood to even work. Blind fury clouded everything she did. But she couldn’t just leave and go home. Vacation time was the equivalent of money and she wouldn’t waste it on a bad mood. If Taylor & Thompson decided to fire people, they’d have to pay out her unused vacation.
She tapped her red nails on her desk. She wasn’t sure why she was thinking this way. Her mind always went to worst case scenario when she got stressed. The company was in pretty good shape. Yes, they’d lost a couple of big accounts when the former VP Rick had left, but they still had a lot of clients. They wouldn’t need to get rid of people.
Tina stretched her neck, first to the left, then to the right. She breathed out and tried to focus. She had to figure out how to get ahead of Javier. She wasn’t going to let him come in and ruin her. Tina Jackson didn’t play that.
* * *
Tina was deep in thought about the best way to market one of the new accounts she’d received from Mark. He’d told her again he was in her corner and that he wanted her to succeed. And this account, from the old VP, Rick, was a pretty big one. If Mark trusted her with it, then she at least had an ally. And that meant she just needed to take a deep breath and focus. Nikki had been right, as usual. They were just covering their basis. She just needed to keep her nose to the grindstone for six months and she’d be a shoo-in. Mark was on her side.
Just then, there was knock on the door.
“Come in,” she said to the door, not looking up from her computer screen
“Hey,” she heard. The voice was quiet, but just as silky smooth as last night.
Tina pursed her lips and looked up.
“Got a minute?” Javier asked, flashing his dimples.
She wanted to smack him upside his head. Instead, she smiled and said, “Come on in and have a seat. Just be sure to close the door.”
Javier shut the door and then sauntered over. Yes, a real saunter! A lean, a swagger about him that said he was all that and a bag of chips. She watched wordlessly as he placed himself in the cushy chair on the opposite side of her desk. She’d picked the chairs to make clients comfortable. Only, she wished now the seats were hard and unpleasant.
He grinned, leaned in, and raised a brow. “It’s crazy that you work here,” he said. “I had no idea last night.”
A lie, she thought. He’s leading with a lie to keep me off balance. “I know I didn’t have any idea you were going to work here. I can’t imagine what your father sees objectionable about working for Taylor and Thompson.”
He sat up a little straighter, seeming stung by her tone. “He’s just old fashioned.”
“In that he doesn’t like marketing? Prefers people discover businesses on their own?”
Javier shook his head, his smile turning into a pensive, thin line. “No, he’s just about hard work. Working your way up from the bottom. He thinks anyone that doesn’t start as a dishwasher or in the mail room, isn’t right for the post.”
She stared at him pointedly. “You didn’t start as a dishwasher?”
Javier chuckled, a genuine one, his head tipping backward. “In fact, when I worked for my father, I did.” He sighed. “But, here, I didn’t start at the bottom. I have experience, of course. Like Ben said at the meeting, I’ve spent five years in New York at Duluth & Parker. The fact that we’re related has nothing to do with anything.”
Tina raised an eyebrow. Related? “I’m sorry, who are you related to?”
Javier stared at her a minute and then, in an epiphany, he said. “You were late. Ben is my mother’s brother.”
She took a moment to work that out in her head. “You mean he’s your uncle?”
“Uncle Ben,” she said and couldn’t help but chuckle. “Like the rice.” She imagined Ben in a straw hat, hunched over rice paddies in a field, like the image on the old boxes of rice. That was something she would love to see.
Javier didn’t speak at first. Then he forced a smile and said, “I wanted to talk to you a bit about the layout here,” he said. “I’ve been talking to some of the other people, and everyone says you’re the nicest, most helpful person to talk to about stuff. And that you’re on top of everything, really connected.”
Tina nodded, and tried to keep the wisp of a smile planted on her face.
“I was wondering if maybe we could grab lunch, discuss how things work, any pitfalls I need to know.”
Tina stood. “Javier,” she said, her voice saccharine. “You know why I was excited last night, why I had to get to bed early?”
He shook his head.
“Because I was supposed to be promoted to VP this morning. Only, when I got here, I’m told by Mark Thompson that you have been hired and the VP search is on hold. I’m guessing, since Uncle Ben brought you in, he wants you to have that VP slot. Well, guess what? You can’t have it,” she said thrusting a finger at him. “If you want help, you better go chitchat with Uncle Ben over a rice bowl. You won’t find it here. Now please leave my office. If you want help with anything, and anyone suggests me, then you need to find an alternative. Goodbye.”
Javier stood, wide-eyed and fish-mouthed. He didn’t move, so Tina walked around the desk and headed straight to the door. She opened it, turned to Javier, smiled and waved him out. “Thanks for stopping by.”
This is super helpful in motivating me to get this book finished. Feeling the pressure every time I post a chapter.
Chapter 6 – No Introduction Needed
All the employees had assembled in the large conference room for the meeting. Ben had told the crew at the small firm that Javier was joining them. Mark, the other partner in the firm, a tall, serious, African American man, was there. As Javier glanced at the other 18 people in the room, he was glad for its size. It would be a cozy environment where people could be friendly, not just cut-throat and vindictive.
Javier had had enough of the cut-throats in New York. He smiled, tried to look personable. As Ben relinquished control of the meeting, asking Javier to say a couple of words, the conference room door slipped open and in she walked. Tina. His eyes locked on hers and she had the same look he probably did: one that said, Is it really you?
He smiled wider. This was shaping up to be a good day, he told himself. He wouldn’t even have to wait to see her until tonight. She was here. She was a co-worker.
A co-worker. Shit. That was bad. He didn’t want another New York.
“Javier,” Ben said, the verbal nudge for attention clear. “You were going to say a few words.”
“Oh, yes,” Javier said, standing. “Like Ben said, I’m Javier and I’ve been in this business for almost 9 years, and I’m coming back from working in New York. I wanted to get back to the D.C. area, and enjoy what this market has to offer. I am excited to be here, and I plan to work hard to keep Taylor & Thompson on top. I may have questions about how specific things work here, and I hope you’ll lend me a hand as I get fully acquainted with how we do things. I’m looking forward to digging in and getting to work.” He sat back down.
Tina stared at him, still, as if she was still trying to process his presence.
“Alright,” Ben said. “Thanks for those words. We’ll go ahead and start our Monday meeting now. Javier, this is where we all discuss what we’re working on for clients and see if there’s any crossover or cross-promotional opportunities. Keeps us all on the same page.”
Ben smiled as he scanned the conference room. “Today though,” he added. “Everyone introduce yourself, including how long you’ve been with the company and what kind of accounts you handle.”
The meeting went smoothly, with Javier taking notes on each person. Any accounts that sounded interesting, or that he’d had previous experience with, he noted. He’d try to be helpful to anyone he could. He was jotting down a note about the previous person — Elizabeth — when Tina spoke.
“I’m Tina Jackson,” she said. “I’ve been with Taylor & Thompson for eight years. I handle grassroots campaigns for urban enterprises. I’ve done everything from nonprofits to tech startups. I’ve got a network of people who I know can churn out results for the right client. This week, I’ll primarily be working Boys on Banneker, a nonprofit that’s helping teenage youths stay out of trouble. They’ve got a small marketing budget, but we’re going to get them some serious news coverage so they’re out there everywhere for two weeks solid. Then, we’ll dive in with the major part of our marketing strategy, which is specifically aimed at the donor community, so they can get some more cash to do good in the community. If you’ll recall, Ben,” she said, looking directly at Javier’s uncle, a laser stare, but a sweet smile. “You weren’t sure their budget was really what we were looking for, but through my initial marketing phase, they secured funding to pay our normal fee for the remaining campaign.”
She closed her mouth and sat but continued eyeing Ben.
“Well,” Mark said. “Anyone got cross-promo for Tina?”
The gentleman sitting two down from Javier spoke up. Javier hadn’t really paid much attention to Alan before, but he was a tall man, very pasty, with brown hair and a slight build. He chimed in with something that sounded like complete bullshit to Javier, but Tina thanked him kindly and said she’d consider it. Though, given how she looked, she didn’t seem like she’d consider it very long.
The rest of the meeting went smoothly and within an hour they were done.