I was in a brave, optimistic place this summer. I survived a gall bladder attack and a subsequent surgery and realized I could work in the pool while drinking White Claws and Trulys. There was also an open call from Avon for unagented manuscripts so I decided to shoot my shot, since this was Sarah’s summer. “What are my strengths, self?” I asked and my response was “Antiheroes and underdogs?” I knew I wanted an agent of some sort and to pair him with someone who wouldn’t be impressed, or interested, really. I decided a very tired suburban father would be fun but the more I learned about Grant, the more I realized that his story would be a tough one and that he was the real hero of the book. How does a man end up a single father? There aren’t a lot of good reasons, are there? I decided this was a good time to introduce a character who was beautiful and heroic in a very different way. Grant is a lot like me, and I suspect a lot of my readers, in that he suffers from depression and anxiety. He isn’t depressed or anxious because his husband died or because his neighbors are spies. He’s always struggled with depression and has terrible anxiety, like the hundreds of millions of people around the world who struggle with mental illness in their daily lives. As a result, I told on myself a whole lot, in writing Grant. I even gave him a big goofy dog for a best friend, named Edgar. But, I promise, this isn’t a sad book. Grant’s story is a sad one but our dashing agent sees the hero in him and makes it his mission to make the shy but secretly kinky widower laugh again. There’s also the matter of the Chinese spies living next door and Grant’s daughter, Audrey, and his sister-in-law have matchmaking schemes aplenty. I lost my best friend just as I was finishing The Perfect Cover. My Milo passed away and it was hard to edit a book about a depressed man with a big goofy dog, being a severely depressed woman without her dog. Then, Avon passed on The Perfect Cover and while I was disappointed, I was glad that I could finally share what I think is a sexy, fun and very honest book with my readers. What I wasn’t excited about was the title and the cover. For months, it was called “Hopkins Creek” because I hoped Avon would want it and someone more savvy might help with a decent title and I didn’t even think about covers. God, I hate titles and covers. But once they passed, I had a book to self-publish and sell so I stopped crying and put on my thinking cap. I’ve been on the fence about illustrated covers on romance books but since “Hopkins Creek” wasn’t like my Lake Cliff books I wanted something that would signal that to readers so a different cover made sense. I found some cute illustrated guys and an extremely adorable dog among the stock pictures and my spirits lifted as I tinkered on Photoshop. I used The Perfect Cover as a place holder because I thought I was being cheeky and meta but Melissa loved the title and pointed out that it worked, so I left it! What do you think of the final result? And how about a whole chapter excerpt from The Perfect Cover?
“Don’t ignore the alarm when it goes off. You’ll forget to take your pills,” Audrey scolded absently as she typed on her phone and Grant snorted.
“I think I can remember to take my pills,” he replied and she hummed in agreement.
“I like pretending you weren’t puffy and covered in hives when you picked me up last month too,” she said dryly. “Just take your meds when the alarm goes off or you’ll forget.”
“I will,” Grant promised. It wasn’t just his allergy meds, he got behind with his Effexor and caught up with his depression and anxiety. He spent the last half of the month on the couch watching old family movies and eating ice cream in the dark. “I’m glad it’s just three days this time. A month is way too long,” he complained.
“I’ve got bad news, dad. College is significantly longer than a month and then I’m never coming back,” she said then flashed him a sweet smile. “I’m kidding. I’ll miss you and come home so I can do my laundry at least once a month,” she promised. Grant glared at the windshield. He hated that she was sixteen.
“Why can’t you wait and go to college when you’re eighteen?” He asked and she sighed as they turned into the high school parking lot. Grant parked next to the bus and Audrey unbuckled her belt then hugged his arm.
“It’s just a two-hour hour drive and I’ll call you all the time,” she said gently. He shushed her as he gave her a squeeze and kissed her hair.
“Don’t think I’m not proud of you or excited, just because I’m falling apart. I’ll figure out some way to survive on my own,” he teased.
“I know,” she said as she sat back then waved at her best friend, Ashley, before her eyes flicked back to Grant and narrowed. “You better do something cool this weekend,” she threatened. Grant started to smirk before she pointed. “With someone other than Edgar,” she stipulated and his face fell.
“Why can’t I hang out with Edgar? That’s cool,” he argued and she shook her head.
“Hang out with Walter or Aunt Marcy or… I don’t know, meet a guy,” she suggested nonchalantly and Grant’s face twisted. “Come on!” Audrey begged. “Think about how much better I’d feel!” She protested. “I wouldn’t have to feel guilty for leaving you alone and someone else can remind you to take your pills every morning.”
“Shouldn’t you be going?” He asked flatly and she pulled a face as she leaned in to kiss him.
“I love you and I want you to do something this weekend. You don’t have to do anything radical like go on Tinder, if you’re not ready. But you have to do something nice for yourself or talk to someone other than Edgar. And not on the phone, please,” she added as she gave him a loaded look and he held up his hands.
“I will do my best but I can’t promise my idea of cool will be as exciting as you’re hoping,” he warned but she waved if off.
“Don’t spend the next three days at home, alone. And running by the post office and grabbing coffee doesn’t count. You see the same people and have the exact same conversations every day. Go get a haircut or a pedicure or buy yourself something nice. Whatever. Just don’t stay home,” she ordered.
“Fine. Get out or I’ll throw you out,” he said then kissed her loudly on the forehead. “I love you. Check in when you get there and send me a text goodnight.”
“I will and I love you too,” Audrey said then pushed open her door and hopped out of the passenger seat. Grant waited as she grabbed her backpack and duffle bag from the back then loaded her things into the bus.
“Stay safe, Jelly Bean,” he murmured softly as Audrey and Ashley got on the bus and took their seats at the front so they could help supervise the younger campers. He made a weak attempt to shake the guilt during the short drive from the high school to the town center. It was a lot easier to trick Audrey into thinking he was happy when she was younger, but she noticed and worried more as she got older. Grant parked in front of The Six Beans Coffee Co. and waved at Vanessa as he passed the window then frowned as he reached for the post office door. He didn’t even look, he just waved because he knew she’d be there.
“Morning, Grant! Got your mail right here. Looks like a beautiful weekend,” Rhoda predicted as she handed Grant his mail. He nodded as he took it and she pointed as he tucked it under his arm. “You’ve got the new Pottery Barn catalog there! They’ve got those cute lamps I was telling you about again.”
“Great!” Grant said loudly. He pretended he knew what she was talking about and that the déjà vu wasn’t severe. Marcy put his address and email on Pottery Barn’s mailing list to get a coupon, he suspected. But Rhoda loved Pottery Barn so he went along with it every time a new catalog came in. “I’ll keep an eye out for them when I’m flipping through it.”
“Oh! How’s Edgar?” She asked solemnly and Grant shook his head.
“It wasn’t that serious. The big baby got his foot pinched in Marcy’s fence because he was trying to catch Lola so they could be friends. He needed a few stitches and a few days in a cone to reflect. He’s not too thrilled about it so I let him stay home to preserve his dignity,” he explained and she laughed.
“Poor guy, that cat’s just a hateful thing.”
“I keep telling Edgar but he’s determined to be her friend,” Grant sighed then tapped his mail against his brow. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Rhoda.”
“You have a lovely day, dear. Tell Edgar I missed him and let Audrey know I enjoyed her little article in the paper,” she said as she hurried around the post office counter and got the door for him.
“I’ll tell them,” Grant replied absently as he studied the Audi parked next to him, in front of the coffee shop. Hopkins Creek was full of luxury vehicles but most were SUVs and crossovers. Something about the sharp little sports car made the hairs on the back of Grant’s neck stand.
It took Grant all of two seconds to find the Audi’s owner after he stepped into The Six Beans. He was thanking Vanessa for his coffee then smiled at Grant before he went off to add sugar to his cup. Grant quickly noted the perfect hair, flawless smile, square jaw, expensive suit and the other man’s tall, lean and probably sculpted body and moved along. Like the other mortals in the coffee shop, Grant pretended to be unaware of the walking cologne ad obliviously perusing the display of travel mugs and smiled at Vanessa as he stepped up to the counter.
“How’s it going? Just my usual,” he said. He pulled out his wallet and Vanessa hissed urgently as she waved for him to come closer. Grant frowned as he leaned over the counter.
“He’s definitely single but I can’t tell which one of us should make a move!” She whispered then cocked her chin at the other man.
“A move? Who…?” Grant asked quietly and cluelessly. Vanessa cleared her throat loudly and pointed at the man as she rubbed her nose.
“Him!” She coughed and Grant flinched before he chuckled and shook his head.
“I can’t tell either but I doubt he’d give me his number,” he said dismissively as he slid his card into the reader and punched in his PIN.
“I’d love to give you my number,” a smooth, warm voice murmured from over his shoulder and Grant wanted to shove his face right in his wallet. Grant’s fingers were numb and trembled as he found a $5 for Vanessa.
“Yikes!” She whispered and her eyes were wide but sparkled with delight as they met Grant’s. She giggled as she hurried off to make his coffee and Grant swallowed the giant knot in his throat as he stuffed the bill in the tip jar. He was sweating but he managed a humanlike smile as he turned and Grant was stunned as bright, seeking blue eyes trapped his.
“Sorry to eavesdrop but she whispers loud,” he said then winked at Grant.
“She does,” Grant agreed as his head bobbled. “But the coffee’s really good so we overlook her lack of subtlety.” He laughed weakly then pressed the back of his hand to his head to check if the flop sweat had begun yet.
“Do you come here often?” The impossibly gorgeous man asked as he swayed a little closer and Grant almost looked around to see who he was flirting with. But he knew that aside from Vanessa, Edgar and the Davis sisters, it was just the two of them.
“Just about every day,” Grant said then glanced at Vanessa and silently begged her to hurry. “The post office doesn’t deliver here so I stop in and say hi to Vanessa after I see Rhoda for my mail. I like to take my dog, Edgar, to the park afterwards,” he explained. Why? Grant asked himself and his nose scrunched as he wondered if he could find anything blander to tell the most beautiful man he’d ever met. “Unless the weather’s really bad. Then we just go home,” he added. There you go.
“I’m devastated to see you didn’t bring Edgar with you today. I love dogs,” the most beautiful man replied as he reached into his coat and pulled out his phone.
“Dogs are great,” Grant replied woodenly and his eyes widened in panic.
“Here’s your coffee, Grant!” Vanessa chirped and Grant gasped in relief as he turned and grabbed the cup like it was a life vest and the coffee shop was going under.
“Thank you! I’ve got to go!” He said and her head pushed forward in shock.
“Grant!” She protested.
“Not before I get your number, I hope,” the other man said and Grant shook his head quickly as he backed away from the counter.
“I left my phone in the car,” he mumbled as he gestured over his shoulder then turned and escaped. He pushed open the door and almost ran to his car as he pulled his keys from his pocket. Grant fumbled with the mail and his coffee as he opened the door and ducked into the driver’s seat but he made an otherwise clean getaway. “I left my phone in the car?” He yelled at the windshield in disgust then sneered. “And what was that even about? Asking me for my number…” he complained then waved at the windshield. “That guy would never be interested in me.”
There was a very brief time in Grant’s life when he considered himself “hot”, it was right after college, when he and Chris got their first place together. They still had abs and jawlines and groomed obsessively because they didn’t have Audrey yet. But not even then. The guy in the coffee shop probably dated men with diplomatic immunity and private jets. He wasn’t sure what the dashing younger man was doing in Hopkins Creek but Grant severely doubted he was hunting for a broken forty-two-year-old soccer dad.
“God, he was beautiful, though. And he smelled incredible,” Grant sighed as he turned into his driveway. Edgar was standing on the couch and watching through the window. His whip-like tail swatted excitedly as he waited and Grant’s mood lifted as he got out of the car. He was still disappointed in himself for acting like a total ass but at least he got to spend the rest of the morning teasing Edgar about his silly collar.
The Perfect Cover will be available on December 17th but you can PRE-ORDER it NOW on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2YDQ2bG
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