Tag Archives: family drama

New Release Blitz: Why Can’t Life Be Like Pizza? by Andy V. Roamer

Why Can’t Life Be Like Pizza? |Andy V. Roamer

The Pizza Chronicles #1

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Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: March 30, 2020

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 55,100

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Blurb

RV is a good kid, starting his freshman year at the demanding Boston Latin School. Though his genes didn’t give him a lot of good things, they did give him a decent brain. So he’s doing his best to keep up in high school, despite all the additional pressures he’s facing: His immigrant parents, who don’t want him to forget his roots and insist on other rules.

Some tough kids at school who bully teachers as well as students. His puny muscles. His mean gym teacher. The Guy Upstairs who doesn’t answer his prayers. And the most confusing fact of all—that he might be gay.

Luckily, RV develops a friendship with Mr. Aniso, his Latin teacher, who is gay and always there to talk to. RV thinks his problems are solved when he starts going out with Carole.

But things only get more complicated when RV develops a crush on Bobby, the football player in his class. And to RV’s surprise, Bobby admits he may have gay feelings, too.

Excerpt

Why Can’t Life Be Like Pizza?
Andy V. Roamer © 2020
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One—Why Can’t Life Be Like Pizza?
Why can’t life be like pizza?

I’ve been asking myself the question a lot lately. I love pizza. Pizza makes me feel good. Especially since I discovered Joe’s. Joe’s Pizza is quiet and out of the way and allows me to think. And Joe’s combinations are the best. Pepperoni and onions. Garlic and mushroom. Cheese and chicken. And if you really want that little kick in the old butt: the super jalapeno. Mmmm, good. Gets you going again. And lets you forget all your troubles.

What troubles can a fourteen-year-old guy have? Ha! First of all, I’m not a regular guy, as anyone can guess from my taste in pizza. My parents are immigrants who are trying to make a better life for themselves here in the United States. Besides the usual things American parents worry about, like making money and having their kids do well in school, my parents spend more time worrying about the big things: politics, communism, fascism, global warming, and the fact they and their parents survived violence and jail so I-better-be-grateful-I’m-not-miserable-like-kids-in-other-parts-of-the-world.

Grateful? Ha! As far as I’m concerned, life is pretty miserable already. Instead of thinking about the World Series or Disneyland, I worry about terrorists down the street or the dirty bombs the strange family around the corner might be building.

I don’t know why I worry about everything, but I do. It’s probably in my genes. Other guys have genes that gave them big muscles or hairy chests. I got nerves.

And then there’s my name. RV. Yeah, RV. No, I’m not a camper or anything. RV is short for Arvydas. That’s right. “Are-vee-duh-s.” Mom and Dad say it’s a common name in Lithuania, which is the country in Eastern Europe where my parents were born. A name like that might be fine for Lithuania, but what about the United States? Couldn’t Mom and Dad have named me Joe, or Mike, or even Darryl? My brother, Ray, has a normal name. Why couldn’t they have given me one?

I even look a little weird, I think. Tall and skinny with an uncoordinated walk because of my big feet that get in the way and make me feel like a clod. Oh, yeah. I’ve been getting some zits lately, and I wear glasses since I’m pretty nearsighted. Not a pretty sight, is it? At least the glasses are not too thick. Mom and Dad don’t have a lot of money to spend, but they did fork up the money to get me thin lenses, so I don’t look like a complete zomboid.

What can I do? I try my best, despite it all. I’m lucky because I’ve done well in school, so at least my genes gave me a half-decent brain. Hey, I’m not bragging. It’s just nice to feel good about something when most days I feel pretty much a loser at so many things. When I was in grammar school, there were enough days when I came home from school and cried because some big oaf threatened me, or I got hit in the stomach during my pathetic attempts to play ball during recess.

Mom always tried to comfort me. “Nesirūpink,” she would say. “Esi gabus. Kai užaugsi, visiems nušluostysi nuosis.” We talk Lithuanian at home. Translated, that sentence means, “Don’t worry. You’re smart. When you grow up, you’ll show them.” Actually, not “you’ll show them,” but “you’ll wipe all their noses.” Lithuanians have a funny way of expressing themselves. Not sure I aspire to wiping anyone’s nose when I get older, but that’s what they say.

Whatever. I’m determined to put all that behind me. I’m starting a new life. My new life. Today was the first day of high school. I’m going to Boston Latin School. You have to take an exam to go there, so it’s full of smart kids. Besides smart kids, it has heavy-duty history too. It was founded in 1635, a year before Harvard. They already gave us a speech about that.

And about pressure. The pressure to succeed with all this history breathing down our necks. Pressure, ha! Doesn’t scare me. I know all about pressure. I’ve gotten pressure from cretinous bullies at school. I get it from cretinous Lith a-holes, who Mom and Dad keep pushing me to hang around with because they say it’s important to be part of the immigrant community. And I even get pressure from cretinous jerks in the neighborhood.

Cretinous. A good word. That’s something else about me. I like words. Real words and made-up ones. There’s something cool about them. Yeah, yeah, I know what people would say. You think words are cool? Kid, you’ve got more problems than you thought.

Well, I’m sorry. I do think words are cool. There’s something fun about making them up or learning a new one. Kind of unlocks something in the world. And I like the world despite all my worrying. It can be an okay place sometimes.

Okay, okay, I’m getting off track. I want to write about my first day of school. Mom and Dad gave me this new—well, refurbished, but new to me anyway—computer for getting into Latin school, and they keep after me to make good use of it. So, I’ve decided I’m going to write about my new life. My life away from cretins—Lith, American, or any other kind.

The first person I met at school today was Carole. Carole Higginbottom. She’s in my homeroom. She was sitting in the first row, first seat, and I was sitting right behind her. We started talking. She’s from West Roxbury, too, which is where we live.

West Roxbury is part of Boston. You have to live somewhere in Boston in order to go to Latin school. West Roxbury is a nice neighborhood, for the most part, with houses, trees, grass, and people going to work and coming home. Kind of an all-American place, I guess. We used to live in a different, tougher part of Boston, but Mom and Dad moved away from there because they said the neighborhood was getting too rough. They promised I wouldn’t get beat up so much in West Roxbury. I don’t know. West Roxbury is better, but I still have gotten a few black-and-blue marks with “made in West Roxbury” on them, so as far as I’m concerned it isn’t any perfect place either.

Carole lives in another part of West Roxbury, near Centre Street, which is the main street in the area. People like to hang out there. Mom says that part of West Roxbury is a little dicey. (Mom thinks a lot of neighborhoods are too dicey. Maybe that’s where I get my worrying from.) Anyway, Carole sure doesn’t seem dicey. As a matter of fact, she’s a little goofy. Tall and skinny with red hair, red cheeks, and a million freckles. And she has a really sharp nose that curves up like those special ski slopes you see in the Olympics. But I get the feeling she’s smart. She says she likes science. That’s good because I might need help with science. I’m better with other subjects like history and English.

Our homeroom teacher is Mr. Bologna, Carmine Bologna. He’s a little scary with slicked-back dark hair and even darker eyes that stare at you forever. He looks like he’s part of the organization we’re not supposed to talk about—you know, the scary one from Italy that’s into murder, racketeering, and drugs. Two guys were horsing around in the back of the class and Mr. Bologna came right up to them, said a few words under his breath, and just stared at them. Boy, did they settle down fast. I’m no troublemaker, but I’ll really have to watch myself. Don’t want to deal with the Bologna stare if I can help it.

Today was mostly about walking around, learning about our subjects, and meeting teachers. Besides all the regular subjects, I have to take Latin. I don’t have anything against it per se, but is it really necessary to learn a dead language? And then there’s the teacher, Mr. Aniso. He’s kind of light in his loafers. That’s another new phrase I learned recently. It refers to gay guys, and Mr. Aniso is so gay it hurts. I just hope he can’t tell anything about me. I don’t wave my wrist around the way he does, do I?

Yeah, that’s something else I have to come to terms with. I might be heading in that direction. Yeah, me. I can hardly believe it. Me! Why? It can’t be true, can it? I’ve been praying to God, asking Him not to make me gay, but I don’t think He’s listening. If He exists, that is. Maybe He’s not answering because He doesn’t exist.

I don’t know. People on TV and in books say being gay is okay. Movie stars and rock stars are gay. There are gay mayors and other gay political types. That’s fine for them, but they don’t live with my family. Mom’s a heavy-duty Catholic. Dad’s a macho, “what-me-cry?” kind of guy. And my younger brother, Ray, well, Ray probably doesn’t care one way or another, but he doesn’t count anyway since he hates everybody. And then there are all those Lith immigrants, the community that’s so important to Mom and Dad. Most of them are so Old World and conservative. I don’t think being gay would go down well with them.

Not that I am gay for certain. I’m just saying it’s crossed my mind because…well, because I think about guys sometimes. And I notice them. Notice how they look when they’re coming down the street. Notice their eyes or their hair or the way they move. Just notice them.

Oh, I notice girls, too, but something about guys is different. I can’t put my finger on it, but I think about them as much or maybe more than girls. And I want to be with them. Is that normal? What’s normal anyway? To be honest, I’m so inexperienced. Never dated. Never even kissed anyone. Not like that anyway. No, I’ve spent my time worrying about communism, terrorism, and global warming. Like I said, I’ve always felt a little out of step with the rest of humanity.

Dealing with all this is just too much. To be nervous about things the way I am. To be speaking a language most people haven’t heard of. To have a strange name. To wear glasses and look nerdy. And now I might be gay? It’s all too confusing. I might as well start on antidepressants, or something stronger, right now.

But no. I try to look on the bright side of things. Take Carole for instance. She seems nice and fun, and maybe we’ll be friends. And if she likes me, I can’t be too weird, can I? I guess I’ll find out. I better not think about it. There’s enough to worry about as it is. I just have to take a breath and focus on my homework. Yeah, we got homework already. At least that’s one thing I’m good at. And when I go to Joe’s, well, life’s not so bad, at least while I’m eating my chicken and cheese or super jalapeno slice.

About the Author

Andy V. Roamer grew up in the Boston area and moved to New York City after college. He worked in book publishing for many years, starting out in the children’s and YA books division and then wearing many other hats.

This is his first novel about RV, the teenage son of immigrants from Lithuania in Eastern Europe, as RV tries to negotiate his demanding high school, his budding sexuality, and new relationships.

He has written an adult novel, Confessions of a Gay Curmudgeon, under the pen name Andy V. Ambrose. To relax, Andy loves to ride his bike, read, watch foreign and independent movies, and travel.

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New Release Blitz: The Prince’s Consort by Antonia Aquilante

The Prince’s Consort by Antonia Aquilante

Chronicles of Tournai #1

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Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: March 16, 2020

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 103,300

Buy Links:

NineStar Press | Amazon

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Blurb

Legends tell of large cats defending the principality of Tournai, but such creatures are only myth.

Or are they?

Prince Philip inherited the throne of Tournai at a young age, and since then, his life has centered around ruling his country and resisting those pressuring him to do as they want both in matters of governance and those more personal. He’s become isolated and lonely. Amory is the second son of a wealthy merchant who has never approved of anything about him or had any use for him. Until now.

When kind-hearted Amory is offered to the prince in exchange for more time for Amory’s merchant father to complete a commission, both Philip and Amory are horrified. But Philip agrees to keep Amory at the palace, where they gradually become friends, then lovers. For the first time in his life, Philip is free to share not only his heart, but the magical shape-shifting ability that runs in the royal bloodline—something the royal family has kept secret from all but those closest to them for generations.

Neither Amory nor Philip imagined falling in love, and they certainly don’t expect what those who oppose their relationship will do to keep them apart—maybe even resorting to murder.

Excerpt

The Prince’s Consort
Antonia Aquilante © 2020
All Rights Reserved

Amory giggled as he and Tristan practically fell through the garden gate. He slapped a hand over his mouth, but Tristan must not have heard. If he had, he would have teased without mercy, as was his right as Amory’s closest friend. But Tristan tugged him along, barely giving him a chance to latch the gate behind them so the lock spell would reengage.

All morning, Tristan had been in high spirits—unusual as he was usually the more focused one in classes. But when Amory asked him what was going on, Tristan only shrugged. Maybe it was the weather. All of Jumelle seemed livelier since the warmth of spring had burst over the city.

He let Tristan pull him down the stone path to a secluded corner of the garden shaded by large trees. The walled garden was blooming, giving them plenty of dense foliage to duck behind. With a wicked grin, Tristan turned and pushed him back against a sturdy tree. Before Amory could say a word, Tristan sealed his mouth over Amory’s in a breath-stealing kiss.

The kiss wasn’t a surprise, not then. They had been kissing a lot over the past year or so. The first time had been a surprise, even for Tristan who’d seemed shocked at his own actions. Amory never thought his friend would want to kiss him. He hadn’t thought Tristan saw him in such a way, was attracted to men at all. Their first kiss had been tentative and awkward. They’d gotten better at it quickly.

Much better.

He moaned into the kiss and pulled Tristan closer, urging him to settle his weight against Amory and relishing the feel of Tristan’s firm body against his even as it pushed him into rough tree bark. But who cared about tree bark when Tristan was kissing him as if he wanted to consume him? Deep and passionate, with tongues tangling and teeth nipping. Yes, they had definitely gotten better with all the practice.

“Tris,” he gasped when Tristan pulled back. He wasn’t done with the kiss. But Tristan said nothing, just began kissing along the line of Amory’s jaw. The light little kisses made him shiver and stifle another moan. Though they were in a back corner, away from the house, they were still in his family’s garden, and he didn’t want anyone finding them. They should go somewhere else. A nip to his earlobe made him shudder, and a nuzzling kiss under his ear drove the thought right out of his head.

He grabbed the back of Tristan’s neck and pulled his lips back to Amory’s own for another kiss. Tristan’s slightly larger frame still pressed him into the tree, but Amory took control of the kiss, deepening it and exploring Tristan’s mouth with his tongue. He nearly laughed when Tristan whimpered, loving his ability to provoke such a reaction in the other man. Tristan pulled back with a gasp, and they leaned there together, panting.

“I love kissing you,” Tristan gasped.

Relief exploded in Amory’s chest. Tristan hadn’t said he loved Amory. Tristan was his best friend, but even with all the kissing, Amory wasn’t in love with him. “Me too.”

Tristan grinned and dropped a quick kiss on Amory’s lips. “I want to do more.”

“M-more?” His cheeks heated at the stutter.

Tristan grinned and kissed him again. “Yep. More.”

Amory’s nerves didn’t abate at the confirmation, though he wasn’t sure where they came from. In all the time since that first awkward moment, they hadn’t done anything but kiss. Oh, they touched a little, but never on bare skin and never below the waist. They’d never discussed the concept of “more” before.

The idea did intrigue him. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t thought about what it would be like—he had. But imagining it and doing it were two separate things, and the idea of doing more with Tristan made him vaguely uncomfortable. He wasn’t sure why. They were best friends, and they’d come this far. There was no reason not to go a little farther.

Tristan watched him, his blue eyes intense and a little quizzical. How long had Amory stood there, not saying anything? He smiled past his nerves. “Like what?”

Tristan grinned, slow and wicked, and reached out to unfasten Amory’s pants without a word. Before Amory could protest, before he could decide whether he wanted to protest, Tristan had his hand inside Amory’s pants. He gripped him and began a tight, slow stroke. The feel of another man’s hand on him for the first time stole Amory’s breath, and when he got it back, all he could do was moan.

Tristan’s grin widened at the sound, and his hand sped up, working Amory faster. After a few moments standing there, struggling to breathe, Amory realized he wasn’t doing anything for Tristan. He scrambled to unfasten Tristan’s pants with fumbling fingers as Tristan whispered encouragement. Finally, Amory wrapped his hand around Tristan’s hard member and began to stroke him in time with Tristan’s strokes. It felt awkward at first, different from touching himself yet not so different, but Tristan didn’t voice any objections.

“Yes, yes, yes. Amory,” Tristan gasped into Amory’s ear.

It didn’t last long. Amory might have been embarrassed at how quickly he found his release if Tristan didn’t finish just as fast, spilling over Amory’s hand, and collapsing against him. He was glad of the tree at his back, rough bark and all, because his wobbly knees didn’t have a chance of holding both of them up.

He didn’t know what to think about what they’d done. He’d enjoyed it, but the uncomfortable feeling still plagued him. Before he could begin to analyze it, Tristan was chuckling, low at first, quiet in Amory’s ear, his body shaking against Amory’s chest. Tristan pulled back enough to look at him. His eyes sparkled with happiness, and Amory’s laughter bubbled up to join his friend’s.

The laughter eased the way as they fumbled for handkerchiefs, cleaned themselves up, and neatened their clothes again. Then they leaned against each other and the tree, still laughing a little. It was Amory who moved for another kiss. Both of them were grinning when their lips met, and they couldn’t seem to stop laughing as they kissed, as they kept kissing. But the laughter was soft and light, like the kisses, and Amory relaxed into them, wrapping his arms around Tristan. Telling himself he would think about everything later.

“Good afternoon, brother.”

The unexpected voice and its snide tone had Amory jerking away from the kiss. The back of his head thunked into the tree trunk behind him. Tristan jumped back, separating them much more effectively. Amory almost wished he hadn’t. The short distance between them seemed like a vast gulf, and Amory felt very alone as he straightened away from the tree and turned to face his older brother.

Alban’s handsome face was twisted in a sneer even more disgusted than the one he habitually wore when looking at Amory. He studied Amory and Tristan in silence while Amory struggled not to squirm. No use saying anything to Alban, he knew from bitter experience.

“Now I know why you wanted no part of that pretty little maid last week.” Disdain dripped from Alban’s every word. “You’re more of a disappointment than I thought. Worthless. How are you even my brother?”

With a shake of his head, Alban turned and strode away, likely heading directly for the house. Amory remained frozen for a long moment, not even blinking.

“He’s going to tell your father.” Tristan’s voice was flat, so different from its usual exuberant, almost musical quality. The shock of it broke Amory’s paralysis, and Amory turned to face him. Tristan still stared at the spot where Alban had stood.

“Yes, he is.” Amory ran a shaking hand through his hair and slumped back against the tree. Alban hadn’t hit him, which was a pleasant surprise, but the consequences were still going to be bad. How would Father react? With disappointment, certainly, but that was nothing new. Most likely with anger as well. However disgusted Alban was, their father would be ten times more so.

“Do you think they’ll tell my father?” Tristan turned fear-filled blue eyes on Amory.

“Tris.” Amory reached out. He couldn’t bear seeing him so afraid, and though he couldn’t say much to reassure him, he couldn’t stand by while Tristan was upset either.

But he stepped out of Amory’s reach. “Do you?”

Amory tried to hold back a flinch. “I don’t know.”

Tristan groaned and scrubbed his hands over his face. “He can’t. I don’t know what my father will do if he finds out I prefer men. I’m his oldest son. I’m supposed to take over for him in the business, get married. Have sons to take over the family business after me.”

“You still can. All right, the children part would be difficult if you don’t marry someone who can carry them, but you can still take over the family business.” He didn’t bother mentioning that Tristan had four younger brothers and a younger sister. Surely at least one of them would have children someday who could inherit the family’s business if Tristan never had any of his own and his father insisted on an heir of their blood. But Tristan took his responsibilities as first son seriously. Too seriously. He wouldn’t want to hear that at the moment.

“Not if he disowns me.”

“Now you’re being dramatic. Preferring men is not illegal. It’s not wrong. Your father loves you. He’s proud of you, and you’ll be the same son he’s proud of after he finds out.”

“You don’t know that, Amory.”

No, he didn’t. But Tristan had a better chance of everything working out fine than Amory did. Tristan’s father was proud of his accomplishments, which was more than Amory could say.

“I may not, but I believe it will be all right. Don’t borrow trouble. My father and brother might be too busy killing me to remember to tell your father.”

Tristan huffed out a half laugh and whacked him on the shoulder. “Don’t joke about that.”

“Who’s joking?” Amory smiled crookedly. “Seriously, though, I do think everything will be all right with your father.” He took Tristan’s hand and squeezed and then let go before Tristan could pull away.

“Maybe. I need to go.”

“All right. I’ll see you soon.”

“See you.” Tristan slipped out of their little corner of the garden and was gone before Amory could get another word out. He tried not to think about how unsure Tristan’s parting words sounded. He didn’t want to lose Tristan. Not when he would likely need his friend more than ever.

He didn’t think Father would kill him, but he couldn’t rule out Father hitting him. It was partly why he was so surprised Alban hadn’t—his older brother was a perfect replica of their father in every way. But even without actual murder, Father could make Amory’s life miserable, and Amory wouldn’t be able to do anything until he came of age next week. A week seemed like a short time but was long enough for his father to…

He needed to think about his options. Father would never accept his preferences. Once his father knew, Amory’s time in his family’s house was limited. He hated to leave his younger siblings, especially Adeline, but he doubted he would have much of a choice. It might be best to leave before he was thrown out.

Sighing, he pushed himself away from the tree and started for the house. He hoped he could avoid Father long enough to spend a little time with Adeline and make some plans. And to get his hands to stop shaking.

About the Author

Antonia Aquilante has been making up stories for as long as she can remember, and at the age of twelve, decided she would be a writer when she grew up. After many years and a few career detours, she has returned to that original plan. Her stories have changed over the years, but one thing has remained consistent—they all end in happily ever after.

She has a fondness for travel (and a long list of places she wants to visit and revisit), taking photos, family history, fabulous shoes, baking treats (which she shares with friends and family), and of course, reading. She usually has at least two books started at once and never goes anywhere without her Kindle. Though she is a convert to e-books, she still loves paper books the best, and there are a couple thousand of them residing in her home with her.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Antonia is living there again after years in Washington, DC and North Carolina for school and work. She enjoys being back in the Garden State but admits to being tempted every so often to run away from home and live in Italy.

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The Princes Consort Now Available

New Release Blitz: The Weight of Living by M.A. Hinkle

The Weight of Living by M.A. Hinkle

Cherrywood Grove #3

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Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: February 17, 2020

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 79,500

Buy Links:

NineStar Press | Amazon

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 Blurb

When she arrives in Cherrywood Grove for a working vacation, shy photographer Trisha Ivy expects to kick back and relax, enjoying her last summer of freedom before turning into a real adult with a mortgage and a nine-to-five.

After all, her real life is back in Chicago with her best friend Bella, not a sleepy small town. But Trisha keeps running into beautiful, confident Gabi Gonzalez, a caterer working all the same weddings…and she’s the daughter of Trisha’s favorite local TV star. Trisha can’t resist getting to know her. After all, she’s only in town for the summer, and Gabi is straight. What harm could it do?

Gabi Gonzalez has spent most of her life trying to escape Cherrywood Grove and find something bigger and better. During an internship in Milwaukee, she thought she’d finally found it. But after her father’s sudden death, she returns home and tries to squeeze back into the same childhood roles: kid sister, cool aunt, tireless worker.

She’s just resigned herself to going through the motions when she meets Trisha, someone who finally sees Gabi for her own self instead of putting her in a box. Can Gabi open up to Trisha about what she really wants before Trisha leaves town for good?

Excerpt

The Weight of Living
M.A. Hinkle © 2020
All Rights Reserved

June
2015, Three Months Before: The Time Gabi Was a Grumpy Tomatillo

Gabi had expected Soledad to laugh when she came in the room, and she was not disappointed. “What is your outfit?” Soledad asked, putting her hands on her hips. “I didn’t even know you owned a dress.”

Gabi busied herself rolling up the sleeves of her cardigan. She had short-sleeved ones, but none of them had been washed recently, so they smelled musty like the closet at her parents’ house. When she left for her internship, she’d only brought blazers. “I own several, as it happens. You remember how I used to dress. This is for business.”

Soledad glanced at her own outfit—a bright, short-sleeved button-down and her favorite gold chain. Gabi would have called it a self-conscious look if she didn’t know Soledad so well. “Well, sorry, I thought this was a TV show, not a board meeting.”

The twist to her voice was surprisingly nervous, and Gabi glanced at her again. “You don’t have to change. You look great.”

The idea of Soledad looking anything but great—except maybe elbow deep in week-old fryer grease—was unfathomable. Soledad’s hair was always sleek and freshly gelled; her shirts were always bright as jewels against her brown skin.

But she still didn’t relax; she was twisting the gold chain between her fingers, a gesture usually reserved for long talks on the phone with her latest girlfriend.

“You look fine,” Gabi repeated. “I have to dress this way to make my parents happy. You saw how my mom reacted when she noticed my short hair.” She affected a high-pitched voice, which sounded nothing like her mother but made the point. “‘Ay, mija, tu pelo! What did you do to yourself?’”

Soledad winced. “I thought I wasn’t supposed to remember.”

“She didn’t mean it.” Though Gabi’s mother certainly had. Gabi’s hair hadn’t been shorter than shoulder-length since a classmate rubbed gum in it in kindergarten. “Anyway, it’s too late to change, so they can’t say anything even if they want to.”

Gabi’s parents wouldn’t say a word. From the moment they laid eyes on Soledad, they had adored her. They’d spent the whole weekend hanging on her every word and laughing hysterically at her jokes.

Gabi clapped Soledad on the back. Touching her so casually seemed strange, but no stranger than Soledad’s nerves. She hadn’t even blinked when one of the guys in their internship group nearly cut off a finger slicing ham. “Come on, chill. This really isn’t a big deal.”

“Easy for you to say.” Soledad let Gabi nudge her toward the kitchen anyway. Today, they were filming in the big industrial kitchen on campus, which Gabi had hoped would put Soledad at ease, but no dice. “You’ve been on TV since you were, like, five.”

“Six.”

Soledad shot her a look, but before she could tell Gabi off, Gabi’s father Carlos swept into the room. As usual, several members of the crew trailed him trying to get his attention, but Carlos ignored them, making a beeline for Gabi’s side. He gave her a loud smacking kiss on the cheek, and Gabi dutifully rolled her eyes. She’d missed it since she’d been away for almost a year now, but her dad would get a big head if she let him know.

“There’s my girl. Or one of them, anyway.” He turned to Soledad. “I’m outnumbered, and it only keeps getting worse. I prayed and prayed Soledad would have a boy, but alas. Oh well. There’s always you, Gabi.”

“Not planning on kids, Dad,” said Gabi.

He draped an arm around her shoulders. “You haven’t met the right man yet, mija. I thought I would be a bachelor forever too, but here I am.”

Soledad snorted, and Gabi’s father wagged a finger at her. “Your opinion does not count, Señorita Rivera! Although when Sarah’s old enough, I will appreciate your help vetting her choice of woman.”

Gabi caught Soledad’s eye, both of them startled. Sarah was only seventeen, and their internship was nearly over. They hadn’t discussed the future, but it probably didn’t involve either of them hanging out in Cherrywood Grove.

Before Gabi had to figure out how to drop any bombshells on her father, Sarah popped up at his elbow. “Abuelo, I’ve already had three girlfriends.”

“Si, si, mijita, I know, but high school does not count.”

Sarah puffed up, a sure sign she was going to lecture all of them on exactly how serious she could be. And also, probably ageism or something. Gabi would have to step in. She loved watching Sarah unleash herself, and so did Carlos, but they were on a tight schedule today.

“Sarah, you said yourself you broke up with them because they weren’t mature enough for you.”

Sarah’s shoulders relaxed. “It’s true, I suppose. But Abuelo’s right about your boyfriends, Gabi. They were all garbage.”

Soledad did nothing to hide her smirk. Gabi pretended not to notice.

Carlos let go of Gabi, but only so he could pull Sarah to his side instead. “Now, have you got notes for me, hmm?”

“Yep.” Sarah held up her binder, labeled Talk of the Town in her impeccable handwriting. “Although I still couldn’t decide on one part. I know you said you didn’t like this line—” She flipped through the pages until she found one highlighted in blue. “—but I couldn’t think of a better substitute. Yours doesn’t roll off the tongue.”

“Ah! Lucky for us, our resident tiebreaker is here!” He reached out for Gabi again, holding one girl in each arm.

Soledad caught Gabi’s eye, her hand covering her mouth to hide a laugh.

Gabi made a face at her to indicate, I will deal with you later. To her father, she said, “Okay, okay, let me see.”

Her father passed her the binder. The line in question was a scientific explanation about egg proteins. Sarah’s version involved the actual names; Carlos’s was more simplistic. He never liked to go into too much detail in case it lost people’s attention. But his was patronizingly vague.

“Sarah’s is better,” Gabi declared. “But ditch the scientific terms. Call them proteins. We can put a graphic up with their proper names in a post if it’ll bother you so much.”

“It will,” said Sarah, though not as sharply as usual since she’d won the argument. “Don’t go anywhere, Abuelo. I have more notes.”

Gabi took the chance to duck out from under her father’s arm. Soledad was clearly still ill at ease, which would make for a stiff and uninteresting performance. And Gabi was the resident problem-solver, after all.

“Good, good, let’s talk.” Carlos touched Gabi’s elbow before she managed to slip away completely. “Oh, Gabriela, your sister was looking for you.”

Gabi waited until Carlos walked away, an arm still around Sarah’s shoulders, before letting out a disgusted sigh. “Of course she is.”

“Rosa’s pretty cool.” Soledad was only trying to tweak Gabi’s nose, but Gabi could never resist the bait.

“And beautiful and talented and blah blah blah.” Gabi adjusted the sleeves of her cardigan again, already sliding down. She’d forgotten how fussy feminine clothes were. “You only like her because you think she’s hot.”

“And you’re only cranky because she’s older than you and can challenge your authority.”

“Don’t you start rubbing in the age difference. My parents are bad enough. I can only handle being called their little surprise so many times in one week. And you wonder why I needed a break.”

Gabi shooed Soledad out the door over to the prep area, where Gabi’s sister, Rosa, was bent over a row of papier-mâché tomatillos painted with faces. Despite the barely dry paint, she was wearing a far fancier dress than Gabi’s, tied with a sash at her waist emphasizing her curves. If Gabi wore a similar dress, she’d look flat as a board. Or like Frankenstein’s monster.

Soledad tilted her head. “Are these supposed to be your family?” she asked, picking up one with Carlos’s distinctive broad nose.

“Oh, of course! And there’s you over here.” Rosa picked up one tucked behind the others with Soledad’s dimple in her left cheek. “You can take it home after the shoot if you’d like. A little memento. Otherwise, it’ll end up lost in Papá’s house somewhere. He’s less organized than I am.”

Gabi found her own. “Why am I frowning?”

“You’re unripe, obviously. Papá wanted some models to demonstrate how to shop for fresh tomatillos. See, he’s bruised, and Mamá is overripe.”

“You have way too much fun with this stuff.”

“Are you kidding me? She’s living the dream.” Soledad gently replaced her tomatillo next to Gabi’s. “Hell yeah I’m taking my mini-me home.”

“We’ll have to find a safe spot so your roommates don’t trash her.” Gabi poked Rosa’s arm. “Now what did you want me for?”

“What did I want you for?” Rosa tapped her cheek and then brightened. “Ah. Yes. Carry this, please? I’d ask one of the tech guys to help, but something always ends up broken.” She pointed at a box of miscellaneous props. “Also, it’s your turn to hide the armadillo. Several times over, but we’ll let it slide.”

“Can I do it?” Soledad asked, picking through the box. “It’s my favorite part.” She found it near the bottom and held it up, grinning. It was one of Rosa’s first props for the show and thus a little worse for wear, but it still worked.

“You have to be sneaky. Dad keeps his eyes peeled better than you’d think.” Gabi started to pick up the prop box, but her sleeves had slipped down again. She growled and shrugged off her cardigan.

“Bare arms? The scandal!” Soledad winked at her.

“I’m simply glad she’s wearing real clothes again,” said Rosa absently, picking up a tiny paintbrush to touch up a detail on Carlos’s tomatillo. “I have no idea where you got the outfit you arrived in, mi amor, but it should have been burned.”

Gabi caught Soledad’s eye and mouthed, I told you so. She grabbed the box. “Stop messing with those. We’ll need them sooner than you think.”

“All right, all right.” Rosa stepped back. “I’ll be there in a moment.”

“If you aren’t on set in five, I’m sending one of the tech guys here.”

Rosa flapped a hand at her, already inspecting another tomatillo to doubtless make a minuscule change no one else would notice, even in HD.

Rolling her eyes, Gabi nodded at the doorway, and Soledad headed out first, though she lingered in the hallway instead of walking right back into the kitchen.

“Getting cold feet after all?” Gabi asked, though she could never imagine Soledad intimidated. Then again, she’d never imagined her nervous either. “Say the word and you can leave. It’s not going to mess anything up.”

“Don’t be silly. This is awesome. It’s—” Soledad traced the swirling patterns painted on the armadillo, her expression thoughtful. When she spoke, her voice had softened. “You’re lucky, you know? I wasn’t sure what to think when you invited me to visit, but your family’s as good as it looks from the outside. It’s pretty cool. You’re so much less awkward here.”

Gabi adjusted her grip on the box, unsure what to say. She and Soledad rarely discussed personal topics. She wasn’t even sure why she’d invited Soledad to come visit during their break. Soledad was the only one without family to visit over the holidays, yes, but she’d been excited for the break from her roommates. Her own parents were nothing to write home about.

“I guess,” Gabi said, when the silence threatened to turn strange between them. It happened sometimes, both of them holding their breath for no reason Gabi could make sense of. “I’ve never thought about it.”

Soledad’s expression didn’t change. “I’m not surprised. It makes you even luckier.” As fast as it came, her mood passed, and she lifted her head, flashing Gabi one of her signature cocky grins. “It’s your job to distract your papá while I hide this.”

Gabi grinned back. “I see how it is. I’m always stuck playing the sidekick.”

“Damn straight you are.”

When they got back to the main filming area, Carlos had apparently decided on the finalized version of the script and settled on a good area to film the intro. Sarah waved them over to the corner, out of frame.

“Are we interrupting something?” Soledad whispered. She’d gone tense again, and now it was too late to do anything to loosen her up. Oh well. Most of the guests were bad on camera too.

“He’s not started yet. Trust me, you’ll know when.” Gabi sat in a folding chair beside Sarah; Soledad turned hers around and propped her arms on the back, as was her way.

“They’re only testing the acoustics in this room right now,” Sarah said, making notes in a different, rainbow-colored binder. “It’ll be a while before anything interesting happens.”

Still, they all quieted when someone called for silence, and the cameraman counted down like they were truly filming. Soledad leaned forward in her chair, mouthing the words along with Carlos: “¡Hola! I’m Carlos Gonzalez, and you’re not, coming to you live from the greatest kitchen in the world.”

They had recently tweaked the intro for this episode, and Gabi ought to have paid attention. Yet she found herself watching Soledad, her eyes bright with excitement, and when Carlos forgot a line and the whole crew broke up in laughter, Gabi realized she hadn’t heard a word he said.

Meet the Author

M.A. Hinkle swears a lot and makes jokes at inappropriate times, so she writes about characters who do the same thing.

She’s also worked as an editor and proofreader for the last eight years, critiquing everything from graduate school applications to romance novels.

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