This weekend my next novel, Not Another One Hit Wonder, will be published.
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When best friends Jamie Eckert and Derek Duran realized they were in love, they took their relationship to the next level. But then Derek’s budding music career took off, and so did Derek.
Twenty years later, Jamie still lives in the small town of Ashbury, Virginia, where he grew up. He’s grown up and moved on — now he owns the family funeral home business and is raising Riley, his six-year-old adopted daughter.
But emotions Jamie thought long buried are stirred up again when he gets an early morning removal call. The deceased is Derek’s mother and Riley’s babysitter, Mrs. Duran. Now Derek’s back in town for the funeral, and he turns to Jamie for support … in more ways than one.
Angry at Derek for not keeping in touch, and angrier at himself for still loving the man who left him behind, Jamie is torn between his professional duty and his feelings for Derek. Will he be able to put aside his past with Derek to carry out Mrs. Duran’s final wishes? Or is Derek interested in rekindling their relationship after all this time?
Throughout dinner, Riley focuses intently on her pizza, smacking her lips and making little mm-mmm! sounds after every bite to let us know how much she’s enjoying it. Normally when she does that at the table, I tell her to knock it off and just eat, but it’s obvious she’s putting on a show for Derek. “I love pizza so much,” she announces, diving into her second piece.
Derek holds out his slice, which threatens to buckle beneath the amount of toppings on it. “Want to try ours?” he asks. “It’s yummy.”
Riley wrinkles her nose. “Ew, no!”
“You like pineapples,” I point out.
“Not on pizza, Daddy!” she cries. “That’s just gross!”
Derek looks over at me, grinning. “Someone else once thought so, too, but I managed to change his mind.”
“Well, I’m not eating it,” Riley says. “Not ever.”
For all her carrying on about the pizza, she fills up after just two slices. Fortunately she likes cold pizza, and she’ll have some for breakfast. If Derek and I don’t finish it off, first. The pie we share is gone before we know it, and I see Derek eyeing hers “not long after he finishes his last slice. Riley will complain if he eats any, though.
That is, she will if she sees him eat it.
When she flops back against the booth and rubs her stomach to tell me she’s full, I suggest, “Why don’t you go in the living room and color?”
“What’s for dessert?” she asks.
Derek laughs. “Eat another piece of pizza if you’re still hungry.”
“She isn’t,” I tell him.
“I’m not hungry for pizza anymore,” she explains. “That part of my stomach is all full up. But the ice cream part is empty.”
I slide out of the booth. “Hm-mm, and it’s going to stay empty, too.”
“Daddy!” Riley whines. “But I ate good!”
“Riley,” I warn. She pouts at me, her lower lip stuck out almost comically. “Honey, we don’t have any ice cream, okay?”
With a hopeful look, she asks, “Cookies?”
“No. No dessert. I’m sorry.”
Her lower lip trembles as if she’s ready to cry. But I’m not buying it.
With a wave of my arm in the hopes of getting her moving, I say, “Come on, get out. Go color, will you?”
“You can always do the dishes for me,” I tell her.
That shuts her up. Sliding out of the booth, she hollers, “No!” and, giggling, races out of sight.
I shake my head. “Kids. You have any?”
I turn to find Derek had scooted into the booth a bit, sitting closer to the corner now. One arm is stretched across the back of the booth; the other is propped up on the table in front of him, his hand tugging at his lower lip in that brooding way of his that always made my stomach flutter when we were younger. Hell, who am I kidding? It does the same thing to me now.
He stares at me with unreadable eyes, as if he’s working through how to answer. Before I can retake my seat, he gives me a little jerk of his head and says, “Come over here and sit by me.”
“Do you think that’s a good idea?” I counter.
A slow smile spreads across his face. “Don’t worry. I won’t bite.”
I really shouldn’t. This time next week he’ll be gone and I’ll still be here, and the last thing I need to do is let him distract me. I have my work, my daughter, my life that no longer includes him and hasn’t for quite some time. I should focus on burying his mother — the real reason he’s here, remember; he didn’t come back to Ashbury for me. We’re no longer dating, no longer even really friends. I know I shouldn’t …