Not to sound too much like a needy, whiny ingrate in need of therapy, but my kids don't understand me. They have no idea why I'm so tired by the end of the day, since I "don't anything all day" while they're at school. I try to explain what I do all day, but about four words in, their eyes glaze over and they stop paying attention--these are the same children who beg me to come to school on Career Day to talk to their class about life as a writer (well, the younger child does; the older one cringes at the thought of my even acknowledging my relation to her, much less having me talk about writing romance books!). If you're a mom (or a dad), you can probably relate to this (even if you don't write romance). I don't know about your schedule, but mine looks something like this:
6:50: Crap, the alarm went off again! Try to make retain some nuggets from the dream that might turn itself into a good story. Get up, stagger downstairs to make breakfast and lunch for Grumpy Child #1. Convince GC#1 that yes, she has to go to school, no, I can't drive her, and yes, she has to let me give her a hug goodbye (in the privacy of my kitchen away from sight of anyone that might see) and that she has to also say goodbye to her father and sister. In between staggering and hugging, provide fashion advice when asked, but duck when she dislikes what I say.
7:15: Somehow manage to say goodbye to Grumpy Child #1 and good morning to Slightly Less Grumpy Child #2. Make breakfast and lunch for SLGC#2, convince her that yes, she has to go to school, no, she can't watch TV or play on the iPad until she's dressed, packed and ready for school. Get dressed while de-itchifying SLGC #2's clothes, convincing her that yes, these are the same clothes she was dying to have me buy at the store and fix her hair after she declares she hates it. Fantasize about "perfect life" of story characters.
8:00: Walk SLGC#2 to the bus, with the dog. Hug and kiss child, while trying not to feel badly that the dog gets a bigger farewell than I do. Plan revenge scene for next book.
8:07: Meet dog's boyfriend for a walk around the lake. Watch as dog's boyfriend tries to stick my dog's head in his mouth and pray it doesn't swallow. Race around lake in attempt to keep up with dog's boyfriend's owner, whose legs are much longer than mine. Refuse to climb hills. Hope the adrenaline will translate into really good writing.
9:15-3:00: Attempt to do multiple errands (while dodging endless construction and following detours created by city planners on crack), Bat Mitzvah planning, school volunteering, Temple volunteering, laundry, housecleaning. Oh, and find time to write. Preferably the sex scenes that are impossible to do with the children around. Market books, write blogs, respond to others' blogs so that they'll read mine. Realize that about half of what needs to get done today will not actually get done today. Add to tomorrow's list (which won't get done either).
3:00: Grumpy Child #1 returns from school, transformed into Moody Child #1. Attempt to keep up with mood swings while listening to her day, feeding her a snack and getting her organized for homework. Realize this is why I don't write YA.
3:20: Slightly Less Grumpy Child #2 returns from school. Not really transformed. Oy. But very hyper. Attempt to follow her around the house without getting motion sick while feeding her a snack, listening to her day and convincing her that homework must get done before TV, iPad or anything else.
4:00-7:00 (on most days): Shuttle any number of children to after school activities, while making sure those who are at home (if any) do homework. Try, unsuccessfully, to get left-at-home child to walk the dog (only to be told they have homework to do). Sigh as phone rings and talk to people who, by all that is holy, should know better than to call during these three hours of chaos. Hang up on telemarketers who have managed to avoid the Do Not Call List. Attempt to make dinner, amid calls of "Ew, I don't want that!"
7:00-9:30: Eat dinner while trying to maintain enough brain power to follow and engage in conversations with children and husband. Try not to explode when kids ask why I'm so tired. Deep breathing exercises during requests to stay up late, watch TV, not shower or skip remainder of homework, music practice or Bat Mitzvah practice (Lamaze comes in handy here).
9:30-11:00: Try to stay awake long enough to talk to husband, watch TV and find some semblance of self before crashing into bed and repeating the process the next day.
Someday, my children are going to find someone to marry and have kids of their own. I'm going to show them this schedule and ask what THEY do all day! And then I'm going to write a book and dedicate it to them, my inspiration. ;)
The last thing Valerie needs, after escaping an abusive marriage to an alcoholic and rebuilding her life, is a broody, secretive, standoffish man. But that's exactly what she gets when she becomes a makeup artist on the set of a hit sitcom and draws the attention of the series' star.
John Samuels hides a terrible past--a life of abuse and neglect. A successful acting career and the affection and support of cast, crew and friends, does nothing to convince him that he is anything other than an unlovable monster.
Will he learn that the life he's been living has been built on a lie or will he be doomed to repeat the sins of his father?
The square, plastic bottle crashed to the floor, the white cap skittered under a cabinet, and bisque-colored foundation splattered across the tile floor, where it made a Rorschach pattern within the large white squares. With a groan and a roll of her eyes, Valerie searched under the makeup table, found the errant cap, replaced it on the bottle, and returned the foundation to the tray. She grabbed a damp rag and wiped up the mess.
She looked at the shooting schedule and smiled as she ran her fingers down the smooth laminated page. Only three weeks into this job, she loved working as assistant make-up artist on "Oddballs," a Top-10 weekly TV sitcom. She double-checked her kit for the supplies she'd need that day. So engrossed in her work, she didn't notice her boss' purple-spiked head in the door of the make-up trailer, or the ever-present smell of hair gel that hovered around her, until Michelle called her name.
"Hey, Valerie, a bunch of us are going out after work. Wanna come?"
Flashes from her past competed with images from the present at the sudden voice and Valerie stiffened. She shook her head to clear the jumble of images.
"Where are you going?" She wiped the remains of the foundation on the short cotton apron over her turquoise shirt and faded denim jeans. Eyes closed, she inhaled. The thick weave of rough fabric scraped her fingers and anchored her in the present, despite her body's momentary lapse.
"Tico's for some drinks. There's about eight of us going. It'll be fun and you can meet some of the crew."
Valerie's hands shook and knocked into the plastic bottles on the tray. They clinked together as the tubes slid into the scissors and destroyed their recent orderliness. She kept her face down, eyes averted, as her cheeks heated and her palms became sweaty. She had dreaded this moment. If they'd been going anywhere but a bar, she'd have joined them, but she couldn't bring herself to go there. So, she had to perform a delicate bal-acing act. Somehow, she had to refuse this invitation, but leave open the possibility for others. Despite their different personal styles, she and Michelle had formed an instant bond. The last thing she wanted was to hurt their new friendship.
"I can't tonight. Thanks for asking though. Maybe another time." She took a deep breath and pasted on a smile.
"Hot date?" Michelle raised a perfectly plucked black eyebrow and grinned. Valerie grinned back. "Just with my laundry."
"You're turning me down for laundry? Come on, you can do that tomorrow."
Valerie shook her head. "I really can't tonight, Michelle. Next time."
Michelle muttered under her breath as she left. Valerie sighed as the door banged shut and left her alone with her memories.
* * * *
That night, after all the scenes had been shot, Valerie waited for everyone to leave. She didn't want to answer questions or receive pity.
She arranged and rearranged drawers and tools. The trailer contained three stations, each with its own make-up chair. A long table ran down one wall, with plenty of drawers for storage space. Well-lit mirrors hung above the table. Un-able to find anything else to do, and convinced by the silence that everyone had to have left, she took out her keys to lock up. She jumped as a knock sounded at the door, the trailer rattled, and a head peeked in.
"Oh, hi, John." She expelled a deep breath and willed her heart to slow its frantic beat. "Do you need something?"
"No." He entered and stood by the door. John Samuels played the lead. At almost six-foot three, he dwarfed the trailer and had to tip his head to fit. He folded his muscular arms across his chest and spread his feet apart. "Michelle told me you were not joining us tonight. I thought I would see if I could change your mind."
Valerie rolled her eyes. "She is persistent."
"You noticed." John's dark eyes twinkled. His mouth widened with a ghost of a smile. Valerie tried not to gasp.
He reminded her of a rugged cowboy--broad-shouldered, with a prominent brow, dark piercing eyes, high cheekbones, and a cleft chin. When he smiled, even a slight trace of one, his eyes looked like liquid velvet and his dimples twinkled like stars in the night sky. A five-o'clock shadow covered his cheeks. Her fingers itched to brush against their rough texture, to tease his mouth into a full-blown grin.
"So, what can I say to make you join us?"
As he leaned against the wall in well-fitting jeans and a T-shirt that left nothing to the imagination, Valerie's mind said, "Sleep with me." Heat crept up her neck, over her cheeks, and continued to the roots of her hair. A thin sheen of sweat dampened the space between her breasts. She felt the sudden urge to fan herself, like a damsel in distress in an old B-movie. Instead, she ignored her traitorous thoughts. Her balled fist pressed into her tight stomach.
"Tonight, not even chocolate will change my mind."
She didn't exactly lie. She had no intention of going to the bar, or of sleeping with him, no matter how her thoughts might try to sabotage her good intentions. She'd been fooled by surface finery before, and it had almost killed her. She wouldn't let it happen again.
"I will remember that," he promised. "But next time you will not get off so easy." His eyes bored into hers for a moment, and then he turned on his heel and left.
* * * *
True to his word, John arrived the following day pre-pared for battle. With a cursory knock on the door, he dangled a bag of M&Ms inside the trailer, but snatched it back be-fore she could grab them. "We are going out for pizza. I will pick you up in ten minutes." Before she could answer, he walked out.
Valerie shrugged as she finished her work. The new Val-eerie never allowed other people to make decisions for her, but she'd practically handed John a permission slip. And, he had M&M's. How could she refuse?
Ten minutes later, he returned, ushered her out the door and down the steps. Although he didn't touch her, she could imagine the warmth of his hand on the small of her back, and feel the gentle puff of his breath against her hair. The angle of his body steered her toward the others in the parking lot as if he had taken her by the hand and dragged her with him. An invisible electric charge pulled her. Or maybe it was his Dial-soap scent. That scent--soap and man--made her stomach flip flop. Her uncontrollable reaction to him disturbed her, especially since he appeared unaffected.
He remained silent, strode toward their meeting place, and studied his surroundings as if he expected someone to pop out of the shadows and yell, "Boo!"
Then she saw the brown bag of M&Ms sticking out of his white shirt pocket. Before he could stop her, she reached around and grabbed them, opened the bag and popped three in her mouth.
"Hey, those are mine!" He reached for the bag, but not fast enough to retrieve them.
"Not anymore." As she danced away from him, she stuck another handful in her mouth.
He brought his hand up to his heart, as if she had wounded him deeply, but the twinkle in his eye gave him away. Valerie had all she could do not to burst out laughing.
"You did not have to take them, you know. I was plan-nine to give them to you later." He pouted and his dark hair fell across his brow, but not before Valerie saw a flash of a smile turn the corners of his mouth up.
"Oh really? When?"
"After dinner, of course. I would not want to spoil your appetite."
As if that were possible. Valerie laughed again and John grunted, a deep hoarse sound that climbed from the pit of his stomach and thrust its way out his mouth.
"What's so funny?" Lara, from editing, asked as they joined the group of friends clustered outside the lot. All other conversation stopped as everyone waited for the answer.
John looked at Valerie and his ghost of a smile disappeared. He remained silent and backed up a pace, as if need-in to put distance between them now that there were others around. Lara rolled her eyes and walked on ahead as Valerie bent over and massaged the stitch in her side. She watched his feet walk away from her, listened to the crunch of gravel be-Neath his shoes as the warm, funny man disappeared.
"What, no laundry tonight?" taunted Michelle when Val-eerie looked up. She smirked and headed down the street with the rest of them as she stared at the broad expanse of John's back up ahead and wondered about John's sudden coldness. The connection she'd started to feel between them disappeared. He walked a pace or two in front of her, his back stiff, his arms held at his sides. With a shrug, she joined in the conversation around her and put John's odd behavior out of her mind.
Three blocks later, they approached a dark, noisy pub. Valerie's stomach clenched as the door opened and the smell of beer floated outside. Spots floated in front of her eyes and for a moment, she thought she would faint. Her throat con-stricter and she paused as she clamped her mouth shut against the bile that rose in her throat. She leaned against the cool brick wall and willed herself to breathe, even as the rough surface dug into her back. Her gaze darted down the crowded street, but before she had the chance to flee, John towered behind her.
"Don't back out on me now," he whispered. "I already gave you the M&Ms." His warm breath blew against her shoulder and she took a jagged breath.
She turned, grateful for the distraction, and stared at his massive chest. Rock-hard muscles confronted her beneath his black T-shirt and for a moment, the clink of glasses on the bar and the grainy smell of beer faded away. All she could see was his immense body; all she could smell was his fresh, soapy scent; all she could feel was his solid chest in her imagination. Imagination wasn't enough.
She lifted a trembling hand to touch him and he backed up just out of her reach. Blue eyes met gray and held for a moment. She swallowed, the gulp audible, and the spell broke. The sights, sounds, and smells rushed back to her. She ran her tongue across her lips, tasted the waxy flavor of her lipstick, and closed her eyes as she swayed.
John frowned and placed himself between her and the crowd at the bar. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched him nod to one or two people who smiled in recognition, but he remained at her side. Together, they walked across the sticky floor and past the loud band up front to their table in the back. He pulled out her chair and sat next to her, and she released a pent-up breath. She felt safe with him close to her. It's not a bar, she told herself. It's a restaurant that happens to serve drinks. She'd be fine.
John turned to her and leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. He clasped his large hands together and looked into her eyes. He held her gaze and as she stared into his thunder-head-colored eyes, she relaxed. "So, how do you like things so far, Valerie?"
"Well, I actually meant at work, but here too."
Valerie blushed as she tried to focus on his words. "Oh, well, I love working on the show. I was a huge fan before I got the job, so it's amazing to be a part of it now." I sound like a babbling idiot.
John smiled. "What may I order for you?" He flagged down a big-bosomed, tight-shirted waitress with bright orange fingernails. She walked over, pen and pad ready. Every-one ordered beers. Valerie ordered a diet soda.
"Not ready to let loose yet, huh, Valerie?" asked Miguel, one of the crew, with a soft chuckle. Valerie smiled, but her cheeks felt as if they would crack and she looked away. John caught her eye and smiled at her. His unexpected warmth re-assured her almost as much as an arm around her shoulders.
She sat back and listened to the conversation at the table. All around her were people from work--Harry, the first AD; Ken, from production; Lara, and Tony, from wardrobe. Tina and Jeremy, John's costars, had joined them as well. She crossed her fingers and joined in.
The waitress returned with their drinks and took their orders. Her ballpoint pen scratched across her pad as each person ordered a personal pizza, but changed the sauce, type of crust, and combination of toppings.
When the waitress turned to her, Valerie ordered a mushroom pie and a house salad.
The waitress paused, expectantly. As the silence continued, she raised an overly tweezed eyebrow.
"Is that it?"
"Yes," Valerie answered.
"Are you sure?"
Valerie furrowed her brow. "Of course." With a shake of her head, the waitress turned to John. She asked for his autograph and after he scrawled his name across a napkin, gave her his order, also simple but large--two personal pepperoni pizzas. During the course of the evening, John kept an eye on Valerie, made sure her drink never ran out, and that she par-tic pated in the conversation. When talk turned to something unfamiliar, he filled her in.
When they finally left, the muggy night air wrapped around Valerie like a cocoon and muffled the smells and sounds from inside. She stretched her spine and threw her shoulders back as she inhaled deeply for the first time all evening. John fell into step next to her and offered to walk her back to her car.
"Are you sure you don't mind?" she asked, as they crossed the street.
"No one should walk by themselves at night."
"Thanks, that's really nice of you." Although they walked next to each other, John left plenty of space between them. In spite of that, his size made her feel smaller than her five foot six frame. He didn't intimidate her, and she peered sideways at him as she considered her lack of fear. Maybe because of the physical distance he maintained around her--he couldn't hurt her if he were far away--or maybe his manners and the careful way he spoke put her at ease. Whatever the reason, she felt as comfortable walking with him as she would have with Michelle.
"Here's my car." She pointed to a blue Honda Civic parked under a lamp. "Thanks again for walking me out."
"See you tomorrow." He waited, hands deep in his pockets, feet spread apart, while she started the engine. He watched her wave and pull away. Something about her intrigued him--more than just her mysterious nerves or her simple pizza order, although those things contributed to it. She didn't behave like the typical LA actor crowd who usually surrounded him. Her vulnerability aroused his protective nature. Not that she'd asked for his protection. She'd never ask him to take care of her, no one would. But still...
When I was a little girl and couldn't fall asleep, my mother would tell me to make up a story. Pretty soon, my head was filled with these stories and the characters that populated them. Each character had a specific personality, a list of likes and dislikes, and sometimes, even a specific accent or dialect. Even as an adult, I think about the characters and stories at night before I fall asleep, or in the car on my way to or from one of my daughters' numerous activities (hey, anything that will drown out their music is a good thing).
One day, I started writing them down (it was either that or checking into the local mental hospital--the computer was way less scary) and five years later, I've gotten two book contracts from Whiskey Creek Press. A Heart of Little Faith came out in June; Skin Deep is coming out in November.
In the real world, I'm the mother of two amazing daughters and wife of one of the smartest men I know. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, reading, traveling and watching TV. In between chauffeuring my daughters to after-school activities that require an Excel spreadsheet to be kept straight, I serve on our Temple Board, train the dog we adopted from a local shelter, and cook dinners that fit the needs of four very different appetites. I also write freelance articles for magazines, newspapers, and edit newsletters.
When all of that gets overwhelming, I retreat to my computer, where I write stories that let me escape from reality. In my made-up world, the heroines are always smart, sassy and independent. The heroes are handsome and strong with just a touch of vulnerability. If I don't like a character, I can delete him or her; if something doesn't work, I can rewrite it. It's very satisfying to be in control of at least one part of my life. My inspiration comes from watching the people around me and fantasizing about how I'd do things differently.
I can be reached at www.jenniferwilck.com or http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jennifer-Wilck/201342863240160. My blog (Fried Oreos) is jenniferwilck.wordpress.com and I contribute to Heroines With Hearts at heroineswithhearts.blogspot.com. My books can be purchased through Whiskey Creek Press www.whiskeycreekpress.com or via Amazon and Barnes & Noble.