Inspiration: Shemar Moore, the Duke of Hastings, and Video Games

This book was never supposed to exist, but this is true for most of my stories, so bear with me as I explain how Confessions of a Gamer Girl came into existence.

When I set out to write Confessions of a Fangirl, it was supposed to be a one and done kinda book. I had an idea for a story, and I wrote it. The end.

But when I wrote Maggie’s character in Fangirl, I knew she deserved to have her own story. The moment Lily’s roommate, Gavin, waltzed onto the page during game night, I knew I would write Maggie’s book next. Both Maggie and Gavin had strong personalities that lit up the scenes they were in. I couldn’t ignore the tension simmering between them.

Fortunately, when I plotted their book, their story flowed naturally. With both of them being avid gamers, their competitive natures brought a great source of contention between them. They were both successful and independent, but they grew to love and crave the benefits a partnership could bring.

Petite Maggie packs a punch. When I saw her in my mind while writing Fangirl, I had a clear vision of her style and personality even though I didn’t have a specific person I modeled her after. Gavin was a completely different creative process.

When Lily introduces her roommate during game night, the first person who came to mind was Shemar Moore. The handsome charmer became the inspiration for not only Gavin’s looks but his personality as well. I loved his portrayal of Derek Morgan in Criminal Minds, so I allowed it to inspire me. I mean, who wouldn’t want him to whisper baby girl in their ear? But he wasn’t the only one who inspired Gavin.

The Duke of Hastings certainly made an impression on me when I watched Bridgerton Season One. Rege Jean Page’s swoonworthy performance in season one held me captive. How could I not be inspired by such a dapper duke? I mean…look at him. *swoon* The combination of these two men served as the perfect amalgamation for Gavin in Confessions of a Gamer Girl.

Now, I’m not going to lie. I was insanely intimidated writing a POC hero. I’ve never written any characters who weren’t white, not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. Fortunately, my best friend and biggest supporter is also a person of color with a rich, vibrant cultural background. She helped me through the process and encouraged me every step of the way. For that, I am eternally grateful. Thanks, Niki.

Since I was a kid, video games have always fascinated me. Because I’m an 80s baby, I feel like video games and I share a lifetime. They evolved as I grew up. Even now, seeing how far we’ve come in gaming is amazing. Now, I’m not a gamer, but I have many friends who are avid gamers and I love watching others play. While Maggie’s obsession with gaming isn’t something I can relate to, I know many people who can.

I watched my brother take on the neighbor kids in Super Mario and battle on our first computer in Duke Nukem and Doom. My roommate in college spent many nights playing Counterstrike, where I’d fall asleep to the sound of gunfire and smack talk. Even my best friend in college was an avid gamer who had an obsession with Legend of Zelda and a tattoo of Link to prove it. And today, I love taking my kids to the local arcade for pinball and watching them play Battlefront and Assassin’s Creed on the PlayStation.

Video games have become an integrated part of our popular culture, and it felt natural to write a story centered on two peoples’ love of gaming. Especially after writing a book heavily focused on the struggles of being a fangirl. But in the same vein of Fangirl, I wanted Gamer Girl to showcase the struggle with finding balance and discovering what’s truly important in life.

Writing this book taught me to reach beyond my own comfortable bubble. I’m proud of Maggie and Gavin’s story. Their characters are dear to my heart. I’m excited to see if they pop up again in future books. One of my favorite things to do is tie in the characters from other book series I’ve written, like I did with Ben, Evan, and Andrew in Gamer Girl. (If you’d like to read their stories, you’ll find Ben’s in A Lockdown Love Affair, Evan’s in A Holiday Love Affair, and Andrew’s in Mistletoe and Mistakes.) You’ll definitely see Gavin, Maggie, Jen, and Shaun again in Lily’s story, Confessions of a Glamour Girl coming in September.

Thanks for all the support and love. Happy reading, my friends.

All my love,

Kirsten

Inspiration: Fangirls and The Hiddleston Obsession

Confessions of a Fangirl holds a very special place in my heart. Well, all of my books do, but this one especially. Ten years ago, I was a little obsessed with an actor who played a villainous role in a very prominent film franchise in 2012. Yup, you know who I’m talking about. Tom Hiddleston, life ruiner extraordinaire.

Now, allow me to clarify. I’ve been a fangirl for a lot longer than that term even existed. Granted, I never wrote fan fiction for Fifth Element, Willow, or Saved by the Bell. Hell, I didn’t even know that was a thing. But I had my celebrity crushes going back into the early 90s. Yes, the world before everyone had cell phones and internet access.

My celebrity crushing reached an all-time peak with Loki. Don’t ask me why? I wish I knew. Blame it on Tumblr, I guess. Having instant access to fan fiction, movie stills, interviews, etc. made fangirling so easy.

This is where the first idea for this book came into existence. Someone posted on Tumblr about the Stages of Fangirling, and my mind started spinning with ideas. What if there was a story that followed the evolution of a fangirl through the fangirling stages?

I made up my own stages reflecting my personal experience.

At first, this idea took on shape as a stage play. I thought the visuals would be more powerful in this format, but here’s the thing: I’m a novelist, not a playwright. So I ended up setting the project aside for a few years.

During that time, my fangirl obsession for Hiddles slowly waned. This is the natural progression for me. Find an actor, obsess, lose myself, find balance, and then have the cycle start all over again with a new actor. It did not surprise me when I picked up the project again to find I fit the profile of the main character perfectly. Jen bore a strong resemblance to me.

Knowing my strengths as an author, I morphed the project into a contemporary romance novel with rom com vibes. But I gave Jen her own life. Her own dreams and desires. Her own personality. The more I worked on outlining this story, the more I realized the depth of her character. Even though I used some of my personal experiences and emotions in this book, Jen dealt with them in her own unique way.

Now, I couldn’t very well use a real person in my book. So I made up an actor and a fandom. Nicholas Hughes became a conglomeration of several actors I’ve admired over the years, as well as his famous role as the villain, Captain Korbin Ransom, in the Space Vendetta Series. Here’s a little sneak peek at the document I used to create the actor of my dreams:

In the end, Hughes and Ransom became amalgamations of Tom Hiddleston and Adam Driver, both in their personal details and their famous roles. Choosing to create an actor and a fandom made the creative process so much more fun.

Jen’s journey doesn’t just follow her obsession with a famous actor. It showcases her relationships and reveals the toll her obsession takes on them, especially with her new boyfriend, Shaun. So while the story is a true blue contemporary rom com, it has deeper roots, revealing the importance of finding balance in our lives.

While you may not be a fangirl, there’s still meaning to be taken away from Confessions of a Fangirl and laughs galore. I’m just thankful I could make sense of my own obsessions and turn them into something positive, humorous, and entertaining. Fangirling can be stressful, but I choose to harness the emotions it creates and channel them into my stories. Thanks to all the actors who inspire us with their roles, you’ll keep me writing for years to come!

And the best part of Fangirl…it sparked a whole series. I couldn’t leave Lily and Maggie just hanging there. *wink* Their stories are coming soon. Maggie’s story, Confessions of a Gamer Girl, releases on June 28th, and Lily’s story, Confessions of a Glamour Girl, releases on September 27th. (New cover coming soon.)

Hope you enjoyed this adventure behind the scenes. Thanks for the support and the love.

xoxo,

Kirsten

Are you in the Mood?

I need to talk about my new favorite thing. Okay, well, it’s not really a new concept, but it is to me.

Anyway…I’ve started making mood boards for each of my books. It helps me get a better picture of the story, the characters, and the overall vibe of the story itself. I started making them in 2020 when I wrote A Lockdown Love Affair, and I never stopped. At some point, I’d like to go back and make some for my previous historical romances, but I just don’t have the time to do that at the moment. Put it on my never ending list of things to do.

Here are my mood boards so far. Let me know if one catches your eye…

What do you think? Do they catch your attention? I know they help me stay focused on the story I’m writing. Just a disclaimer, I’m currently working on Can’t Fight This Feeling. The rest of the books in my 1985 series, She Gives Love a Bad Name, Owner of a Lonely Heart, and Just What I Needed will be releasing next year. So I hope you’re ready for some retro romance. It’s not historical and it’s not contemporary…it’s the 80s baby!

I hope you enjoyed this little visual trip into my writer’s brain. Careful, it’s easy to get lost in there. xoxo

Which mood board is your favorite? Tell me in the comments.

All my love,

Kirsten

Some Writing Meme Levity

I’m a meme/gif kind of girl. It’s the most effective way for me to communicate on social media. There’s a meme or a gif for every occasion. This week’s been a rough one for me, so I’m going to embrace the opportunity to post some funny writing memes I’ve created. Enjoy!

It’s the HEA/HFN life for me. ❤ I hope you have a great week.

Be kind to yourself and others.

xoxo, Kirsten.

Inspiration: A Tumblr Blog, The Trickster, and Wicked Whispers

Once upon a time, I had an unquenchable addiction to Tumblr and roleplaying fan fiction for multiple fandoms. Fortunately for my writing career, it was short-lived. But not before I stumbled across this gem of a blog.

Before you click that link, let me warn you. Some of those posts are highly NSFW and dark, which makes sense, considering they’re about our favorite trickster god, Loki. Proceed at your own risk. I’ve only included a tame one on my blog, but check them out later if you’re so inclined.

First, let me tell you how this blog inspired a trilogy.

There I was, minding my own business, when one of these whispers floated across my screen. I was already a fan of Tom Hiddleston and Loki, but this sparked something different in my mind.

I heard a voice speak to me. No, not speak, whisper. He convinced me to write a few of his whispers down, and from that evolved a full character: Prince Crispin Saville.

The more I explored his whispers and his character, the deeper it drew me into his world. I created Meradin, a small kingdom among the already established kingdoms of the era, placing it where Ireland, Wales, England, and Scotland all converged. Crispin vowed to rule this land even though he was not the first born son of the king. He took on a life of his own complete with strong opinions and no moral compass to guide him.

I created Henry to provide him with an external conscience at the very least. But it was Ruby who gave him a reason to mature and grow.

Alas, he does neither of these things during the course of the first book. However, books two and three provide him with ample opportunity and motivation to examine the state of his soul and set his feet on the proper path. I shall give no spoilers, but I will provide a gentle reminder that while he may be brash, selfish, callous, and spoiled…he finds redemption for all his faults in the end. But they come at a cost.

Loki heavily influences Crispin’s character. If you’re a fan of Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of the Norse god, then Crispin will charm you. But I will reiterate my warning. He is not a good man, nor is he a moral one. There are some scenes that will leave you with conflicting emotions and a thousand questions. Fear not, there will be resolution by the end of Book Three.

This trilogy was difficult for me to write because it’s different from the other books I’ve written. The tone and theme are darker. In the beginning, the hero is unlikable. The conflict woven throughout is heartbreaking. So, after writing the first book, I chose to publish it under my pen name, Jen Bradlee, for fear it would alienate my readers.

Unfortunately, life got in the way, and I could not write the subsequent two books until last year. I never intended for it to take this long to finish.

Determined to give this series the best possible success, I revisited the first book with fresh edits, a new title, and a few adjustments. I also had pretty new covers made for all three books. Once called, The Prince of Whispers, Book One is now His Wicked Whispers, and I’m releasing it on May 10th.

Seduction Most Wicked, Book Two, releases on July 12th, and Reign of Wicked Temptation, Book Three, will release on August 9th.

I kept the pen name as an homage to the author I was then. But Jen and Kirsten’s styles have morphed into something similar, so I no longer felt the compulsion to keep them separated any longer. Although I may not publish as Jen Bradlee with nearly the frequency I do as Kirsten in the future, there will be a few stories that fit Jen’s personality much more than my own. So, I’ll keep the possibility of publishing more stories as Jen Bradlee open for the time being.

It amazes me how one simple meme can ignite a story idea that transforms into something like this: A trilogy with characters who take on a life of their own in a world of my imagination. Inspiration can be a fascinating thing.

Now, go check out that Tumblr blog if your curiosity is gnawing away at you.

If you’re looking for a wicked hero to take you on an epic adventure, join us. The Prince of Whispers awaits your presence, and when he whispers, you will come.

Thanks for stopping by.

With love,

Jen Bradlee/Kirsten S. Blacketer

Inspiration: Secondary Characters, Muppets, and My Husband

People often ask me where I find the inspiration for my stories. It doesn’t take much to spark a story idea in my brain. Most of the time, it’ll be a quote, or a scene from a movie/show. But there are those strange instances where it’s inspired by the secondary characters from a prior book. This is the case for A Holiday Love Affair.

When I started writing A Lockdown Love Affair, I had zero intention of writing a second book. In fact, I had hoped there wouldn’t be any pesky secondary characters to annoy me in Ben and Penelope’s book. But I was wrong. So wrong. As I wrote Lockdown, it became abundantly clear Evan and Lucy would gravitate toward each other if I put them in the same room together. Which is how they ended up getting their own book.

Ben Statler and Evan Waldorf are best friends and business partners. They’re also distinct opposites. Where Ben is dark and brooding, Evan is pure sunshine and positivity. At first, Evan’s presence was merely as fodder to elevate Ben’s irritation with the state of their business affairs during the pandemic lockdown. But as the story progressed, Evan took on a life of his own.

Lucy Mackewitz and Penelope Weiss are besties by accident. Literally. Lucy was the nurse on duty when Penelope’s grandparents admitted to the hospital after a car accident. Their bond formed quickly. Lucy’s presence in Penelope’s book solidified her support network in the city during the chaos and uncertainty of lockdown.

But Lucy and Evan don’t actually meet until Ben and Penelope’s wedding six months later. This is where their romance begins.

What inspired their story? The characters begged me to write it, but more than that, I liked the idea of Evan being the ray of sunshine and Lucy being the perpetual grump. Who said the grump always has to be the hero? Heroines can be just as miserable.

Before I started writing Holiday, I imagined Evan as a Steve Rogers kind of guy. I often post my daily word count on social media as I write the first draft and add a gif of the actor I cast as the hero to the post. For this book, it was Chris Evans. Yes, even Evan’s name is an homage to the actor. I even wrote a log splitting scene. But that’s where the similarities ended.

The more I wrote, the more Evan’s mannerisms mirrored my husband’s. Of all the characters I’ve ever written, Evan is the only one I’ve ever modeled after my husband. They’re both effervescent rays of positivity and charm while simultaneously being classic button pushing antagonists.

While Ben and Penelope’s book takes place in Brooklyn, most of Evan and Lucy’s story takes place in upstate Indiana. I seized the opportunity to use some of my personal adventures with my husband as inspiration for their journey. It was also fun to write Lucy’s POV in the book because she’s a city girl, born and raised. Country life gives her quite a culture shock, and Evan takes full advantage of it. But I won’t give you any spoilers if you haven’t read the book. *wink*

If you recognize the names Statler and Waldorf, you get bonus points. I was stuck, unable to figure out surnames for these two men when an image of the comedy muppet duo popped into my mind. That’s exactly how I imagine Ben and Evan banter back and forth.

Waldorf and Statler

I would say the resemblance is uncanny, if they were thirty years older. In my head, Evan Waldorf is Chris Evans and Ben Statler is Adam Driver. Now that’s in your head too. Another terrifying glimpse into the muddled mind of a romance author.

My creative process is anything but typical, but it works for me. I hope this brief peek into the inspiration for A Holiday Love Affair makes you smile. Most of the time, I have no idea where the next story will come from. It could come from a random tweet or a video posted to Facebook. But most of the time it’s born from the nagging secondary characters demanding I give them their moment in the spotlight. C’est la vie.

Oh, and a side note, if you enjoyed Ben and Evan, then you won’t want to miss Confessions of a Gamer Girl coming in June. The heroine, Maggie, works for Ben and Evan at Solus Inc. And the events take place before Ben and Evan meet their matches.

Authors: Where do you find inspiration for your stories?

Readers: Do you like getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the creation of the stories you enjoy?

Which book should I tell you about next? Or should I have an interview with the main character? Tell me in the comments.

Until next week!

All my love,

Kirsten S. Blacketer

Plotting My Torment, I mean Novel

Over the past fifteen years, I’ve met a vast variety of authors from all different genres. Yet there’s always that one detail, aside from genre, that divides us. A question really. A defining characteristic of our craft.

Are you a Plotter or a Pantser?

When I first started writing, I was a pantser. One hundred percent. I had a vibe, some characters, and a general idea for a plot. That’s what I used to guide me through the manuscript. Well, that and the driving force of NaNoWriMo pushing me through my daily word count. The mission was to get words down, not worry about the quality of the story itself.

I wrote this way for five years. Slowly, my process evolved to include a more cohesive story from the very beginning. Short stories and novellas were easy enough to write without an outline, but novels were tricky beasts and I found myself spending countless hours on edits, rearranging and rewriting scenes that didn’t fit into the story.

I can’t remember the moment I realized I was creating more work for myself in the long run by writing without an outline. But I adapted quickly after that.

There was no guideline, no worksheet, no mentor guiding me. I learned through trial and error what worked for me as an author. I’ve long since learned I should never compare my writing or my writing process to someone else’s. We’re all individuals with our own quirks and motivations. You can take what works, leave what doesn’t, and figure out the best process for you. But if you’re struggling with the same issues over and over, then maybe you should try something different and see if it helps.

My process:

  1. The inspiration.

A lot of times I’ll get inspiration for a book from a quote, a prompt, or a scene from a TV show/movie/book. That single spark often ignites a whole series of what if questions in my mind. This is the point where I write it down. Scribble a few notes and set it aside to marinate.

2. The rabbit hole.

While the idea marinates, I don’t overanalyze it. Most of the time, my subconscious will fill in the blanks and start answering the questions surrounding the scenario that sparked the idea. This is where I take random notes. Then, when I have a few spare minutes, I’ll get out a notebook and just write flow of consciousness.

“What if this happens? Then this? But what’s his motivation here? Why is she doing this? Ooh, what if this happens?”

These questions are the bones of my story. They paint a larger picture of the characters, the setting, and their GMC (goals, motivations, conflict.) It’s from this moment I outline scene by scene.

3. The outline.

This isn’t as hard as it sounds, trust me. I typically write anywhere from 1,500 to 2,500 words per scene in one POV. Again, this isn’t a rule, it’s just how my work flows. So if I write approximately 2,000 words per scene, I’ll need thirty to give me a 60,000 word novel. That number is my guide to outline.

If I’m writing a novella, I shoot for 20,000 to 30,000 words. This is about 10-15 scenes. Knowing my word count helps me balance the story arc for the outline.

Once I have these details, I’m ready to start my outline with the following general arc in mind.

  • Establish normalcy
  • Inciting incident
  • Rising action on the defence
  • Reversal
  • Rising action on the offense
  • Climax
  • Resolution

For every scene, I make note of the key elements. Who is in the scene? Who’s POV is it? Where is the scene taking place? When does this take place? What happens in this scene? Why does it need to happen? Does it push the story forward? Then, I add any details I want included in this scene, including any random ideas or images that pop into my head. Dialog notes can also be made if the characters start talking. Anything goes here as long as you answer those basic questions. It can be as simple or as complex as you want.

Then, move onto the next scene asking what if when you get stuck. I also find that having a brainstorming session with a reader or author friend can help you get unstuck if you hit that block. My editor once told me that if I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, write ten things (no matter how crazy) that COULD happen and see if it helps uncover the direction of the story.

Now, outline.

If you don’t think you can do it, why not try? The worst thing that happens is you don’t end up following the outline as you write because your mind takes you in a different direction. And that’s okay. It happens. My characters deviate from my outline all the time. Granted, they’re minor deviations, but they can be frustrating.

A lot of times when they deviate, it’s actually better for the story as a whole. It’s almost like my subconscious knew before my brain registered. So I don’t get too upset with their shenanigans because it works out in the end.

Plotting your book doesn’t have to be complicated or intricate, with color coded cards or pages of detailed notes for every character and images galore. If that’s your process, then good for you. I’m glad you found something that works. Sometimes just having a basic framework to follow keeps you grounded in the project and motivated.

When I was a pantser, I struggled to write daily because I didn’t know where the story was going that day for that specific scene. But with a general outline, I at least have a direction when I sit down to write. It helps keep me organized and focused on the task at hand.

The beauty of my outlines is that they’re structured, but it’s not too rigid that I can’t change things if I need to as I write. I also get those surprise revelations during the writing process that keep me engaged in the story. It’s a win-win for me, giving me the best of both plotting and pantsing without the hassle of major rewrites.

So tell me. Are you a plotter? A pantser? What’s your process?

If you try my process, let me know. I’m excited to hear your thoughts and experiences.

All my love,

Kirsten S. Blacketer

Sampling a New-To-Me Author

Let me begin with an honest caveat. I’m a self-published author and have spent ten years cultivating my online presence, learning tips of the trade, finding quality partners to help polish and edit my manuscripts, researching the market and my genre, and investing in the health and longevity of my stories. I may not have a well-known publisher behind my work, but that doesn’t make it any less worthy of enjoyment. There are many self-published authors who invest time and energy to ensure readers get the best quality story at a reasonable price.

Self-publishing is not easy or cheap. Cover art, editing, formatting, marketing, and time all come at a price. I’m fortunate to have a husband who supports my artistic endeavors, both emotionally and financially. But I want to show him, and new readers, that my work is a worthy investment. Because it is. And so are the books of many other self-published authors.

With the expansion of self-publishing, it’s becoming harder and harder to have confidence in trying a new-to-me author. I get it. I often encounter this problem as a reader. When I find a book that catches my attention, I’m always cautious before hitting the purchase button. My solution: download a sample of the book.

Sample downloads are a game changer. If you haven’t been utilizing this feature, I highly recommend you try it. Amazon, Smashwords, and most other retailers allow you to download a 15-20% sample of the book before you purchase it.

When I start a new book, if I’m not hooked by the end of the first few chapters, I’m not going to be invested in the story. I used to be one of those readers who would finish a book, even if I wasn’t enjoying it. But I realized life is too short to read books that don’t resonate from the beginning. Thus began my DNF pile, but it also made me painfully aware of the cost of my unfinished hoard of books.

I don’t remember when I started downloading samples. But it changed the way I approached reading for pleasure. There are a lot of sample downloads waiting on my kindle, and that’s fine. I’ll get to them when the mood strikes and should they catch my interest, I’ll purchase the full book and continue reading. No harm, no foul.

With so many wonderful books flowing onto the market, it’s hard to decide what to spend your book money on. I understand it can be a difficult choice. But by downloading a sample, we’re trying a new author at no cost but our time. And since that sample is on our eReader, we’re reminded of its presence every time we open the application. This keeps the author’s name at the forefront of our minds.

Have I found wonderful new authors doing this? Yes. Have I found ones that didn’t meet my expectations or standards? Also, yes. I use this method with all types of authors, traditional, independent, or self-published. Even those with a publishing house behind their name are susceptible to the DNF pile. It’s nothing personal. I just know what I like.

Because I’m a reader, I know this also applies to me as an author. There will be those who find my work too steamy, too sweary, too brash. My books may not be everyone’s cup of tea. That’s perfectly fine. For those who find my stories and fall in love with them, I’m honored to have your support and love. You are my community, and I treasure your presence in my life.

Have you used the sample download feature? Does it help you find new authors to love? Tell me in the comments.

With Love,

Kirsten S. Blacketer

Confessions of a Fangirl Sample

When Confessions of a Fangirl released in December, I was recovering from Covid. So, that whole month was a blur. Allow me to give you a little sneak peek into the Rom Com that reads like a fangirl confessional. This book has a very special place in my heart. It taught me balance, which is a central theme and my new credo. Without further ado, allow me to introduce Jen, her devoted boyfriend, Shaun, and my made up fandom of Space Vendetta accommodating the deboinair, morally gray space pirate, Captain Korbin Ransom. Enjoy…

Chapter One

STAGE ONE: DISCOVERY

Everyone thinks they’ve got their shit figured out until they don’t. Somewhere between my first cup of coffee this morning and the afternoon staff meeting, my mind decided to take a leisurely stroll down Fantasyland Avenue. Unfortunately, I need to get it back in familiar territory so I can focus on the words coming out of my boss’s mouth.

But that will never happen. Thanks to the new guy sitting across from me in his well-tailored suit and rocking dark, wavy hair a tad too long to be fashionable. I bet it’s soft. His attention shifts away from the boss, and I catch his penetrating gaze. A half-smile forms on his lips. Shit.

I readjust the notebook in front of me and scribble a few incoherent phrases down to make it look like I’m doing something productive. My heart slows to a normal rhythm, and I curse myself for not paying closer attention to Mr. Roberts who’s rambling about quarterly reports.

Normally, I dread this monthly meeting when all the department heads gather. I’m flattered my supervisor is considering me to step in while she’s on maternity leave, but it’s been hell getting over this feeling I’m pretending to fit in instead of actually being part of the team. This opportunity will give me a shot at the promotion I’ve been hoping for—if I can focus.

When I glance up at Mr. Roberts, the new guy sits perfectly in my peripheral vision. And like that, my mind is cruising down Fantasyland Avenue again with Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome riding shotgun. I glance at the pad again in defeat.

“That should do it for the moment.” Mr. Roberts gathers his files into a pile. “Before you go, I’d like to introduce you to the newest member of our staff.” He gestures to the new guy I’ve been eyeing for the last hour. “Mr. Shaun Townsend. He’s transferred in from our Denver office to give us a hand in Marketing.”

My gaze shifts to Mr. Townsend who glances around the room with a pleasant smile. His gaze lingers on me for half a second before drifting back to Mr. Roberts.

“Thank you. Glad to be a part of the team.”

Oh, man. His voice. I could sit and listen to him read me the phone book.

“That’ll be all. Enjoy your weekend.” Mr. Roberts dismisses us, and I’m out of my chair in an instant.

I edge toward the door with the rest of my coworkers. Part of me wants to introduce myself to Mr. Townsend, but I remind myself to be professional. Work isn’t an appropriate venue for flirtation and romance as Pamela down in HR reminds us in her memos constantly.

Once I reach my desk, I settle in to work on the orders I started before the meeting. Not even five minutes later, Lily appears around the corner making a beeline for my desk. I envy her ability to rock vintage styles without effort. She slides into the chair beside mine, tugging her polka dot wiggle skirt down her stockinged thighs.

“Hey, Jen, did you see the new hottie in marketing?” She fans herself with dramatic flair.

“Mr. Townsend,” I inform her. “And yes, he was at the department heads’ meeting.”

“Isn’t he gorgeous?” She plucks a candy from the crystal dish and unwraps it.

My mind replays the fantasies I indulged in during the meeting. “Yes. He is.”

“Think he’s single?” Lily’s eyes sparkle.

“I doubt it.” I sigh and pout for her entertainment. “He’s probably married.”

“I didn’t see a ring.” She pops the candy in her mouth with gusto. “Means he’s still fair game.” She pauses. “Unless you want a shot at him.”

“Geeze, Lily, give the man a chance to breathe. He just got here. I’m sure he’s already got half the single ladies on staff drooling over him, not to mention the married ones.” I chuckle.

“You’re right.” She stands and smooths her hands over her hips. “Hey, are we still on for movie night this weekend?”

“Yeah, my place. Six o’clock. The new Space Vendetta movie is on Prime, I think.”

Lily bounces on her toes and claps with excitement. “Yay! I’ve been dying to watch it, plus I need some girl time. My roommates are great, but they don’t seem to get me. Ya know?”

“Why are you living with three guys again?” I lean back in my chair.

“I went to school with them.” She shrugs. “They needed a roommate, and I needed a place to live.”

“Any of them single?” I wink.

Her eyes go wide. “Trust me. You don’t want to involve yourself with these three. I’ve seen the train wreck dates they bring home.” She mimes gagging and laughs.

“Point taken.”

“I’ll see you after work.” She waves and saunters down the hallway toward her own desk.

My first day at Valentina’s, I ended up with a mud stain on the hem of my brand-new cream skirt. I couldn’t start my new job at a trendy, upscale department store looking like a hobo off the street. Without a word, a gorgeous woman who looked like a pinup model from the fifties took my hand and pulled me into the nearest restroom. Within twenty minutes, she’d worked her magic on the stain. Lily saved my ass, and I’m forever in her debt.

Three years later, we’re best friends. She grew up in Manhattan but lives in Brooklyn now. My family is from Staten Island, but I live in a small apartment in Brooklyn not far from Lily’s place. We commute together because single city ladies stick together.

I shake off the slump I feel sneaking up on me and dive back into those reports I promised myself I’d finish before the weekend. I hate having a pile of work waiting for me on Monday mornings. I focus on the screen and drown the office noise into the background.

Two hours later, I hit send on the final report and glance at the clock. Nearly four. I power down my workstation and tidy up before gathering my things and heading for the elevator. I pop by Lily’s desk on the way, but she’s nowhere in sight.

I glance around and then check my watch again. Five after four. Where is she?

As I wander the floor, I pull out my phone and send her a text. I stumble back when I collide with a solid warm wall, dropping my phone and my bag.

A pair of hands grab my arms and steady me. “Are you okay?”

Once I find my footing, I glance up to meet the piercing gaze of Mr. Townsend. My face warms and I curse the natural blush God blessed me with.

“I’m fine. Thank you.”

“It’s dangerous to text and walk, you know.” His lopsided smile makes my stomach flip.

“So I’ve been told.” I pick up my phone as he bends to retrieve my purse. Once we both rise, I offer my hand. “I’m Jen. I work in acquisitions for women’s wear.”

“Nice to meet you.” His warm hand nearly engulfs my own and a spark of need envelops me.

“And you, Mr. Townsend.”

His grip tightens. “Call me Shaun.”

I swallow the lump in my throat. “Shaun.” With reluctance, I release his hand.

A strained pause pulls tight between us, until he smiles. “I don’t want to sound presumptuous, but are you free tonight?”

My heart pounds. Free? Me? Are you kidding? “Yeah, why?”

“Would you like to have dinner with me?” He chuckles and the sound reverberates through me. I’m smitten with the sound of it.

“Sure. I know this great place in Brooklyn if you’re craving pizza.”

“Sounds perfect.” He laughs. “You read my mind.”

Oh crap, I’m beyond smitten. I’m half in love with him. I shake my head when I remember Lily. “Give me a minute and we can head out.”

“Sure. I’ll grab my coat.” He disappears down the hall.

I slump against the wall and text Lily. I’m going out to dinner with a friend. Catch you tomorrow.

After I send it, I close my eyes and lean against the wall. Did I just fall in love with a stranger? What the hell am I doing? I must be insane.

Chapter Two

Within thirty minutes, we’re in Brooklyn, standing in front of the pizza place I told him about. Mario’s neon sign glints from inside the front window. My apartment is in the building above the shop, but I don’t mention it to Shaun.

He opens the door and gestures for me to enter. Butterflies take flight in the pit of my stomach when he smiles. Oh man, I need to pace myself with this one.

I slip inside the door and wave at Johnny working behind the counter. The middle-aged pizza slinger with slicked black hair and a thick Brooklyn accent is like the older brother I never had since I eat here at least twice a week. I can feel his curious gaze sizing up the man entering the shop behind me.

I snag the booth in the corner facing the front window. It’s comfortable and familiar, and yet with Shaun sitting across from me, it feels new and exciting.

My coat is too hot. I tug it off my shoulders and set it aside as Johnny comes up and puts two menus on the table.

“Hey, Jen, how’s it goin’?” He tosses an easy smile at me before eyeing my dinner companion.

“It’s goin’.” I return his smile and smack my lips. “Can I get a Yuengling?”

“Yeah, sure.” Johnny turns to Shaun.

“Same for me.” Shaun leans back with a casual indifference that seems to say you’re driving this car.

“Want the usual, Jen?”

“You particular about toppings?” I ask Shaun before making my decision.

“Nope. I’m game for anything.”

I swear there’s a double meaning behind those words, but before I can chase the thought, Johnny mumbles under his breath.

“The usual is fine. Thanks, Johnny.”

“You got it, kid.” He shoots a glance at Shaun before retreating behind the counter once more.

“I don’t think he likes me much.” Shaun’s crooked grin makes my heart thump against my ribs.

“We’re practically family. I mean, I eat here more than I eat at home, so…” I shrug and my face heats at the confession of how much pizza I consume on a weekly basis.

“Ah.” He nods as Johnny returns with two frosted mugs brimming with lager. “Thanks.”

Johnny shoots me a sidelong glance as he sets the mug down with a look that screams if he tries anything stupid, let me know. It’s nice to know someone’s looking out for me. Once we’re alone again, I take a sip of beer and relax.

“Nice place.” Shaun’s gaze strays for a second taking in the small shop. When it meets mine, my whole body warms through like I took a shot of whiskey.

“So.” I shift in my seat under his perusal. “How was your first day? I’m sure our office is quite different from Denver.”

“It is. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m excited for a new challenge.”

“Are you from Denver originally?” I dig deeper wanting to know more about him.

He shakes his head. “No. I was born in Davenport, Iowa.”

I blink at him drawing a blank. “Where’s that?”

His eyes sparkle when he laughs. “Not many people can point it out on the map. It’s right on the Mississippi River. Just find St. Louis and follow the river north, you’ll run smack into Davenport.”

My face warms. “It’s been years since I’ve been anywhere farther than Pennsylvania. Guess it shows, huh?”

He shrugs it off. “You grow up here?”

“Staten Island. I mean, it’s still one of the boroughs, but it’s a bit more spacious than Manhattan.” I take another sip of the cool lager.

“But you’re a Brooklyn girl now, huh?”

“Yeah. I mean, my apartment’s not much, but it’s in a decent neighborhood.” I gesture to the room. “And the food’s great.”

We sit in silence for a moment, and I can’t help but wonder what’s going through his mind. I mean, I don’t know this guy. But being with him is comfortable and his warm charm makes me trust him. Maybe that’s why they chose him for the marketing director position. His charisma will go a long way in bringing in potential clients.

“You okay over there?” He rubs his thumb across the frosted mug as he watches me.

“Yeah.” I shuffle off whatever doubts remain and remind myself we’re still coworkers.

“You look worried.” He’s intuitive. Damn, that’s kind of hot.

“I don’t want you to get the wrong impression.” I twist the mug in my hand searching for the words. “I don’t normally…”

“Jen.” He interrupts me with a gentle tone. “You’re showing the new guy the best pizza joint in town. It doesn’t have to be anything more than that.”

I groan and hide my face behind my hand. But what if I want it to be more? “Sorry.”

“Why are you apologizing?” He chuckles. “I asked you to join me for dinner.”

“I know.” Open mouth, insert foot. “But I’m still trying to figure out why?”

His eyes darken the slightest fraction, almost as though I’d imagined it. “Because I wanted to get to know you.”

Years of telling myself not to get involved with a coworker fade into a distant oblivion with those simple words. “Do you use that line often?” I tease, unable to stand the tension pulling tight between us.

“I’ve never used that line.” He laughs and the tension eases back into comfortable companionship. “In fact, I’ve always made it a point to avoid mixing my personal life with work. It’s cliché, I know, but it’s true.”

“So you never went out with your coworkers for pizza in Denver?”

“Never.” He scoffs. “What about you?”

“Oh, I hang out with my coworkers all the time outside of work.”

His brow arches, and I kick myself for not being clearer.

“I mean, I have a lot of friends at the office.” Yeah, keep putting your foot in your mouth. I groan. “Maybe I should shut up now. I sound like an idiot.”

“No, you don’t.” He leans forward resting his elbows on the table. “I want to be honest with you.”

Johnny arrives with a steamy, delicious supreme pie laden with veggies, sausage, and pepperoni. He slides it onto the table between us. “Enjoy.”

“Thanks.” I flash him a smile as he walks away. When I turn back to Shaun, his intense expression steals my breath.

“I’ve never broken my rule about dating a coworker.” His focus hones on me like a laser, and I freeze mid-reach for a slice of pizza.

“Dating?” The word feels foreign on my tongue.

“Is that a problem for you?” He reaches across the table and takes my hand. Those soft fingertips brush over my skin making me shiver with need.

“I mean if we were in the same department, maybe, but I don’t know. I’ve never dated anyone from work before. Holy shit. I wasn’t expecting this.” My heart thunders in my chest drowning out the sound of my own thoughts.

“Neither was I.” He squeezes my hand gently and then lets go. “If I’m going too fast, tell me. We can take it slow. I’ve always been told I’m too direct for my own good.”

My hand tingles where he touched me. I miss the warmth already. “Knowing what you want isn’t a bad thing.”

“The question is, what do you want?” His gaze bores into my soul.

“As long as it doesn’t affect work, I’m game for anything.” I throw his own words back at him in an effort to play it cool regardless of the simmering attraction steaming up the window beside us. Oh, no, that’s from the pizza. I reach for a slice giving my hands something to do other than reach for him.

Shaun grins and grabs a slice for himself. “Sounds like a plan.”

We eat in relative silence and hang out to chat over another mug of Yuengling. He’s sweet and conversational. The topics range from his childhood in Iowa to my adventures in Brooklyn and beyond. He asks about my parents and my interests. I reciprocate the inquisition, and we laugh at how different yet similar we are. 

When Johnny finally kicks us out at eleven, I’m stunned at how quickly time passes in Shaun’s company. Finally, a man who doesn’t make me feel inept or defensive. It’s so refreshing. We exchange phone numbers before pulling on our coats.

We stop outside the shop so I can pull on my gloves.

“Can I walk you home?” Shaun asks, his eyes glinting under the streetlights.

“I thought you said we were gonna take this slow?” I sway against him with a nudge of my elbow.

“You’re right.” He grins. “I wanna make sure you make it home safely.”

“That’s quite chivalrous of you. It’s not far. I’ll be okay.” I squeeze his hand. “Thanks though.”

His gaze searches my face like he’s trying to decipher a code beneath the surface of my skin. My whole body ignites and I’m melting regardless of it being a chilly twenty-five degrees in the middle of February.

He steps closer and cups my jaw in his hand smoothing his thumb across my lower lip. My breath catches as he lowers his head and kisses me. The soft brush of his mouth on mine is a welcome invasion. I grasp his lapel and pull him closer. His warm, spicy scent envelops me, tugging at the back of my mind. Gucci Guilty, I think, subtly buried beneath the fresh scent of linen and what I can only assume are his natural pheromones.

Shaun pulls me against him and teases my lips open with the slightest press of his tongue. I’m lost in the kiss, in his arms, drowning in a sea of unexpected bliss, I barely hear the sound of someone coughing behind me.

“All right, you two. Get a room.”

I pull away from Shaun with a start, and he laughs. I turn to see Johnny standing in the doorway with his hands on his hips.

“This ain’t that kind of establishment. Go home, Jen.” He jabs a finger at Shaun. “Don’t mess with her.”

“Sorry, Johnny.” I turn back to face Shaun. “I’ll see you later.”

“Yeah. Sleep well.” He reluctantly drops my hand and retreats down the street.

I watch until he disappears around the corner. With a sigh, I head toward the entrance beside the pizza parlor. My mind spins over the impossibility of the day’s events. If someone would have told me I’d meet the man of my dreams at work today, I’d have called them crazy. Maybe I’m the one who’s crazy. Either way, I can’t complain. Crazy is feeling pretty damn good right now.

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Kirsten S. Blacketer