Friday, July 1, 2016
Blogiversary Excerpt: It's Getting Hot In Heir by Jenny Gardiner
IT’S GETTING HOT IN HEIR
It seemed Gabriella Puccini, Contessa of Castiglione di Girasole, couldn’t unwrap the sleeve of her Girl Scout Thin Mints cookies fast enough. Which sucked, cause when a girl wants a quick pick-me-up after a devastating breakup, the last thing she needs getting between her and her heartache-therapy cookies is stubborn cellophane. After trying to pull apart the seal to reach her binge food du jour the logical way, she decided to cut to the chase and open the whole damned stack with her teeth.
“No one else is even going to have a chance to get near my saliva-contaminated cookies,” she said with a grimace as she placed the sleeve edge in her mouth and bit down. “Besides, no doubt the whole damned box of them will be floating in my stomach long before someone else might happen upon them.”
But still, the wrapper wouldn’t give despite Gab’s repeated valiant attempts to tear it with her incisors.
“All right. Looks like this calls for the big guns,” she said, grumbling, as she pulled out a serrated knife from her silverware drawer. With a hard stab—maybe administered with a slight sense of revenge?—she gouged the blade into the package right between two cookies to ensure she’d get to the source with no more false starts this time. The plastic wrapper finally yielded without a fight, and Gabriella managed to make a healthy dent in that measly little mound of cookies in about four minutes flat. Within the hour, she’d ingested the entire stack and was well on her way into the second.
“Milk,” she said under her breath, rifling around the sink for a quasi-clean cup in the pile of dirty dishes that had accrued since she’d learned her fiancé was no longer interested in being her fiancé two days earlier. “Need. Milk. Now.” She unearthed a cup that didn’t look too dirty, gave it a quick rinse, poured a slug of milk into it, and dropped a cookie in to soak.
But it didn’t take long for her to realize that milk and cookies weren’t gonna do it alone this time.
“Wine,” she finally said, fumbling for an opener. She verbalized this as if it hadn’t already dawned on her that she’d officially bypassed the bury-your-emotions-in-food stage and was now moving on to the drown-them-in-alcohol phase of her freshly-anointed Miserable Rat-Bastard Fiancé Detox Program.
Gabriella found a bottle of her favorite Sangiovese on the wine rack and mercifully opened it with greater ease than she did the cookies. Pulling a glass from the cabinet, she slopped the liquid nearly to the rim. “What’s one little glass of wine between friends?” she said, wrinkling her nose as she looked down at Butterball, her yellow Labrador, who stared up at her with ever-adoring eyes.
“Salute,” Gabriella said to the dog, tipping her glass as wine sloshed over the brim onto the kitchen floor. She took a big gulp, shook her head against the wince that inevitably came with guzzling a drink meant to be savored in small sips, and helped herself to some more. Butterball whined in solidarity. With a sigh, the dog plopped down on the floor to lay her head on her paws and close her eyes. Even Butterball wasn’t interested in commiserating with her.
“Ah well,” Gab said, bracing for a full-on bender. “Bottoms up.”
Gabriella woke hours later, curled up on the dog bed, her chestnut hair crumpled in a bird’s nest on her head, her face creased by the acrylic pile fabric. Butterball’s paws were pressed up against Gab’s stomach, dog breath hanging in the air a little too close to Gab’s nose for comfort.
Gabriella let out a moan loud enough to scare Butterball out of her deep sleep.
She scruffed the dog’s head. “Back to sleep, girl,” she said, rubbing her own throbbing head as she lifted herself off the floor and took a good, hard look at the mess in her apartment. It seemed all the more symbolic of the shambles her life had become in such a short time. A trail of discarded dirty clothes was scattered throughout the place. A telltale path of food wrappers and crumbs dotted the countertops, a little Hansel and Gretel trail of her misery. Days’ worth of dishes were piled all over the sink and counter. It hadn’t helped that two days earlier, she’d cooked a veritable feast for her and Matthew’s six-month engagement anniversary, making use of just about every pan, mixing bowl, utensil, and measuring spoon she owned. Unfortunately those dishes now only served as a painful reminder of how quickly you can go from what you thought was the pinnacle of joy to the dregs of heartbreak.
She closed her eyes as the whole scene replayed itself in her head yet again. She’d spent the better part of that day fixing the meal, a pappardelle with duck ragù like her mother used to make when she was a child. The whole time she prepared the duck—seasoning the legs, browning them, chopping the onions and carrots and celery and garlic, even searing the crap out of her fingertips as she pulled the meat off the bone once it had all cooked down on the stove—she’d thought about how much she wanted what her parents had in a marriage and how thrilled she was that she was finally going to get that with Matthew.
Matthew… They’d fallen in love on the metro, of all things. Somewhere on the Red Line between the Woodley Park-Zoo stop and Union Station. She remembered the first time she noticed him. She was engrossed reading the online version of the Italian newspaper La Republicca on her iPad, catching up on the news from home, but had glanced up to catch him staring at her. She was on her way to her job with a nonprofit that helped resettle war refugees. She’d started working with the organization years earlier through her cousin Zander’s charity, the Prince’s Trust. Before then, she’d managed a large soup kitchen facility in Rome with her friend Giulia, but eventually wended her way to the States after trying unsuccessfully to shake off the lingering gloomy clouds following a breakup with her boyfriend Giovanni from university days. Unfortunately for her, Giovanni joined the Royal Guard in Monaforte after graduation, with plans to travel nonstop for the indefinite future, leaving no time for a life with Gabriella.
Gab should’ve realized then that she wasn’t great at choosing the right guy for a long-term relationship. After all, Giovanni had picked his career over a future with her, which smarted, badly. The only thing that finally helped her get over that soured relationship was fleeing to America for a while and starting a new life in a new place.
So there she was, living in Washington, on her way to work and minding her business while catching up on the news from back home, when her curiosity was piqued by the man who kept staring at her. This went on for several days during her morning commute, and each day the cute, dark-haired stranger seemed to move a little closer to where she sat. Finally, after at least a week, he sat down next to her and started up a conversation. Told her he thought her hazel eyes were mesmerizing. What a line. That night, they went out for dinner and a movie, and before she knew it, they were dating exclusively.
Matthew had worked as an assistant legislative director for a senator, and his work hours were burdensome. Which ultimately helped to land Gabriella where she found herself only moments earlier: zonked out on the dog bed with an encroaching Girl Scout cookie- and alcohol-induced hangover looming like an approaching hurricane. While Matt’s commitment to his job was admirable on one level, it also meant pretty much every time she was counting on him to be home on time, he wasn’t. It was like living with an obstetrician who was constantly called out to deliver babies at inconvenient hours.
If Congress was in session and she and Matthew planned something special like a weekend getaway, they were guaranteed that at the last minute, some stupid crisis at work would crop up, killing their plans. In theory, the hours he worked when Congress was in session meant he was able to slack off when they weren’t, but it seemed more and more lately, Matt had erred on the side of all work and no play just to keep his boss happy. And that made Gab unhappy. Especially after she’d gone to all the trouble to cook an amazing feast, something that resurrected in her so many memories of her childhood spent both in Monaforte and in the tiny Tuscan town of La Quercia Castiglione di Girasole.
By the time Matt had finally made it home that fateful night, Gab had not only eaten her share of dinner and powered through three generous glasses of a Super Tuscan she’d been saving for the occasion, she’d also fed her fiancé’s portion of duck ragù to Butterball, who clearly enjoyed homemade pappardelle more than Matthew apparently did. At least someone—or thing—would enjoy her culinary skills.
Matt tried to give Gab a hug when he finally showed up three hours late, but she turned a cold shoulder to him.
“What?” he said to her, an air of annoyance in his voice.
“I think you know what,” she said, frowning. She started to turn off the lights in the living room, having zero interest in discussing anything with him, but she knew it was inevitable.
“Look, Gab, we should talk,” he said.
“Yeah, maybe we should,” she said, rethinking the “no discussion” thing. It was time to lay it all out on the table because she had no intention of becoming a political widow for the next forty years. “I think it’s time for us to go back home. You said you’d be willing to move to Monaforte or Italy with me, and I think this proves the time is now. Unless we go back there, you’ll just worm your way further and further into this black hole of work and the next thing you know we’ll be complete strangers.”
Matthew’s brows furrowed. “Move to Monaforte? Or Italy?”
She nodded. “Remember? We talked about this early on when we started dating,” she said. “We’d stay here for a few years then go back home. I think that time has officially arrived. It’s time to go home.”
“Monaforte or Italy might be your home, Gabriella, but they’re not mine.” He shook his head. “I have an important career here. I just found out our legislative director is leaving to go head up a committee, which means I’ll take over his job. And with the senator about to move into an election cycle, well, I’m not going anywhere but to work.”
Gab’s eyes grew wide. “You mean even more work than you already do?” She threw up her hands in exasperation and shook her head, completely dismayed. Americans and their notion of working until they die, no pleasure, no relaxation, just work, work, and more work—it drove her up a wall. “There are hardly any more hours in a day in which to work! Unless you’re planning to go home and sleep in the senator’s bed and make him breakfast every morning.”
“So funny,” he said, frowning. “No need to get cynical about it.”
She shook her head. “Cynical? Are you crazy? Here you are, this man who woos me on the subway and promises me this wonderful future with him and asks me to marry him and six months later, instead, with you constantly postponing wedding plans, you’re telling me now that basically you’re planning to be married to your career and not your fiancée?”
Matthew pursed his lips and furled his brow, running his hand through his hair in evident exasperation. “Look, Gabriella, why don’t we just talk about this tomorrow?”
“Because you’ll be gone to work long before I’m up. And you’ll be back well after I’m in bed. So when will we discuss it? After the election? In a year or so?”
“Gab, this is what I want to do with my life,” he said, his hands outstretched. “I need you to support me with that.”
It sounded suspiciously similar to what Giovanni had said to her back in her university days. Why was it Gab always had to be the one to be subsumed into the man’s world? Why was it that her time, her career, and her wishes took second place?
She shook her head. “Uh, sorry, Matthew. I love you, really I do. But I’m not going to sit alone every night for years on end while you work yourself into burnout. And for what? Some egotistical politician who views you as completely disposable tinder for the political fire he’s building, and when he’s done with you he’ll merely discard you like he does everyone else who becomes useless to him?” By now she was pacing the floor, having realized what should have been obvious to her long ago. This relationship was never going to work out.
Matthew crossed the room and grabbed her hands in his. “Gabriella, sweetheart,” he said. “You know you mean the world to me, babe. I love you so much. But I need to do this. For me. I need to see where this can take me. And I need you to be by my side and not complain about it, okay?”
She shook her head. “I’m sorry, Matthew. I just can’t be the invisible woman in your life.”
With that she dropped his hands, removed her engagement ring, and placed it in his palm, then turned away, flicking lights off as she went. “I think you know your way out.”
Thank you so much for checking out my books! I hope you will find some that keep you from doing the dishes, or vacuuming, or maybe even cause you to stay up later than you'd planned to (although I covet my sleep, so I'd feel guilty if I was to blame for that too often!).
My novel SLEEPING WITH WARD CLEAVER won the Romantic Times/Dorchester Publishing's American Title III contest. And my novel SLIM TO NONE was a #1 Kindle bestseller (it even surpassed a John Grisham novel for a day!).
I've also written these books: the IT'S REIGNING MEN contemporary romance series, including SOMETHING IN THE HEIR, HEIR TODAY GONE TOMORROW, BAD TO THE THRONE, LOVE IS IN THE HEIR and SHAME OF THRONES (book 6, THRONE FOR A LOOP, comes out in March); ANYWHERE BUT HERE; WHERE THE HEART IS; the memoir WINGING IT: A MEMOIR OF CARING FOR A VENGEFUL PARROT WHO'S DETERMINED TO KILL ME (Simon Spotlight/March 2010), which is now renamed BITE ME: A PARROT, A FAMILY AND A WHOLE LOT OF FLESH WOUNDS; as well as the essay collection NAKED MAN ON MAIN STREET. I have two contemporary romance novels I wrote under the pen name Erin Delany: ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE, and COMPROMISING POSITIONS.
Lastly, I have a short story in Wade Rouse's fabulous anthology of humorous dog stories, I'M NOT THE BIGGEST BITCH IN THIS RELATIONSHIP featuring authors Jen Lancaster, Rita Mae Brown, Sarah Pekkanen, Wade Rouse and more. And I've got many more novels in the works!
I've had pieces appear in Ladies Home Journal, the Washington Post, Marie-Claire.com, and on NPR's Day to Day. I honed my fiction writing skills while working as a publicist for a US Senator. Other jobs I've held have included: an orthodontic assistant (learning quite readily that I wasn't cut out for a career in polyester), a waitress (probably my highest-paying job), a TV reporter, a pre-obituary writer, and a photographer (once being Prince Charles' photographer in Washington!). Oh I'm also the volunteer coordinator for the Virginia Film Festival, which is a great one!
I live in Virginia with my husband and a small menagerie; we have three grown children, one of whom lives in Australia and I dream of visiting her there. I love all things Italian, regularly fantasize about traveling to exotic locales, and feel a little bit guilty for rarely attempting to clean the house.
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