Wednesday, May 27, 2015

FREE Fiction: The Best Man

Today, I'm sharing a tender little love story that's all about unrequited love, but not really...

You be the judge. Who's really....

The Best Man

I stare at the groom and hope it doesn’t show—the love I feel for him, the love I’ve always felt. I’m praying I can keep the ardor off my face, even though I know I’ve failed miserably to keep it out of my heart.
The best man obviously lusting for the groom would be, well, just wrong. Especially not when the groom has eyes only for his gorgeous bride, the blond and lovely Alana, in her Vera Wang wedding dress. Now, their eyes are locked on one another and I feel the old paradox I experience every time I look at them—a curious brew of jealousy and happiness at their having found the other.
Love is a rare thing in this world.
Yeah, you heard me right—I’m the best man. That groom up there at the altar? The gorgeous guy in the tux with the close-trimmed red beard, the green eyes, and the linebacker shoulders? That’s my best friend, Kevin. We’ve been together since we were in second grade. I’d lay down my life for the guy. And the sad truth is, I’d lay down for the guy. Period. With my legs thrown in the air. He knows this, yet he continues to call me his best friend, except he says, ‘best bud.’ He even proclaims he couldn’t live without me.
But shame on me for having such thoughts on Kevin’s wedding day! If the poor guy knew the wicked, lustful thoughts coursing through my brain as I stand here, smiling, but jealous as hell, with the other groomsmen, Kevin would be blushing as crimson as the rose in his lapel.
But God, he does look gorgeous! Edible. And I can’t help but think—unkindly, I know; inappropriately, I know—the thought gay guys have had about buff and beautiful straight men for millennia—what a waste!
I’m sure his bride, Alana, would beg to differ.
The music, Pachelbel’s Canon, has just ended and the crowd at St. Aloysius Catholic Church has grown quiet. There are only a couple of coughs here, a whisper there.
We’re ready to begin. Kevin turns to Alana. I can see he’s trembling and my heart gives a little lurch. A lump forms in my throat.
Alana beams beneath her lace veil, all smiles. I try not to think unkind thoughts about her. Jealousy is such an ugly emotion. And so is Alana, in anything backless. Stop it!
I let my mind drift back to a few months ago. A winter’s night when Kevin and I had traveled up from Seattle to the San Juan Islands. We had taken the ferry over on Friday afternoon to Orcas Island where we rented a small cabin at Doe Bay resort. The cabin was no frills and cold. It had rained all weekend. Even our trip to Mt. Constitution was doomed—the stunning vistas from its top blocked out by drizzling banks of low-hanging clouds.
So we had little to do but hang out in the cabin. There was no TV or Wi-Fi, so cards or reading were pretty much the order of the day.
And drinking.
A lot of drinking. See, Kevin had asked me to come away with him that weekend because he had acquired a severe case of cold feet regarding his wedding to Alana that summer. “She’s great,” he’d told me. “But suddenly I’m just not sure I’m ready. Maybe it’s like they say, you know?”
“No. I don’t know.” An evil little part of me just wanted Miss Alana to go away so I could have my Kevin back. I’d missed things like our early morning runs together on the Burke-Gilman trail, with the sun coming up and the world seeming to contain only the two of us. I missed Friday nights with Kevin at his condo in Wallingford, ordering in a meat-lover’s pizza from Pagliacci to go with a nice IPA I’d bought on my way over to his place, streaming old horror movies on his big-screen. We both loved Carnival of Souls.
“Like, maybe I love Alana, but I’m not in love with her. You know what I mean?”
I’d wanted to say that I knew exactly what he meant. For example, I loved Kevin and to my heart’s great regret, I was also in love with him. So yeah, I got the distinction.
I thought our weekend together, somehow, might change things between us. Magically. Maybe it was because I was reading a lot of books lately that featured some butch “straight” protagonist falling suddenly for his buddy and realizing that, while maybe he wasn’t strictly gay, he could be gay for this man he’d fallen for. Like that ever happens
And yet…those stories always had a happy ending. Why couldn’t ours?
Hey, if I read it in a book, it must be possible, right?
And I thought, on our Saturday night here on Orcas, drunk on beer and a good single-malt Scotch, that maybe, just maybe, the same could happen for Kevin and me. Magically. I mean, we’d been practically inseparable since we were kids. We’d played softball together, spent countless nights together, went through the trials and tribulations of high school as one, cheered each other on at our respective events at track meets and cried on one another’s shoulders as we each met yet another disappointment in love. As we grew, we grew closer.
And then Alana came along.
And spoiled everything.
Oh, Alana’s a wonderful woman—kind, sweet, funny. She can curse like a sailor, drink a man under the table, and arrange a bouquet of spring wildflowers like Martha Stewart. And, if you’re straight, she’s a knockout. Hell, if you’re gay, she’s a knockout.  She’s the kind of woman who turns both straight and gay men’s heads when she walks down the street, although the latter, I cheekily admit, might only be wondering if her bag is Prada or Ferragamo.
But that night, as the rain drummed down on the roof of our little cabin, it felt like Kevin and I were the only two people in the world. I remember how, after we finished with the cards, and me beating his ass three straight times at canasta, we relaxed together on the bed in Kevin’s room.
Now, don’t go thinking this was odd. As I said, Kevin and I had had countless sleepovers, starting at the age of seven. Although we didn’t often share a bed, we had fallen asleep next to one another on the couches at one of our houses. I never told Kevin how sometimes, during those nights, I would snuggle close and then, if he woke, pretend to be outraged by what I’d done in my sleep.
So it was not unusual we both were on his bed, our backs against the wall the bed was shoved up against, legs stretched out before us, dangling. We both had that one-too-many tumbler of Scotch in our hands, but we weren’t thinking about the headache and nausea surely waiting for us in the morning, but only how loose and warm it made us feel tonight.
Kevin babbled on and on, finally getting to the topic of our trip up here—his upcoming nuptials to Alana. He told me how he didn’t know if he was ready to give up his independence. He said that she could sometimes be controlling.
I told him these were all good points, worth considering.
He even told me how she wasn’t always so keen about going down on him and I just about lost it. I mean, really? Talk about casting pearls before swine! Was the girl crazy or what?
It just seemed natural to me then, with the lights low, the Scotch making our systems hum in a languid way, and with the rain’s staccato beat on the roof, to turn to Kevin and look into his eyes. I knew they were green, but in the dim illumination, they looked brown. And like wells I could fall into….
I thought something passed between us. A signal, maybe, an understanding.
And I did something I’d never done before. But, damn it, it felt right.
Yeah, you know what I did. I leaned forward and I kissed him. It wasn’t a playful little peck either, but a full-on kiss, with my tongue darting impetuously into his mouth. He was so surprised—and drunk—that, for a second, a delicious, life-altering, wished-it-would-go-on-forever second, he kissed me back. His hand even went up to the back of my neck for a moment.
And, in that tiny, tiny amount of time, I imagined that things could change, that this would be a scene like in one of those books I’d read where the straight guy magically turns gay—just for me.
For all time. Kev and I would have our happily-ever-after. It all flashed by, like they say one’s life flashes by in our final moments—our going back to Seattle and announcing to Alana that we were in love and always had been. The marriage with her could not take place because he was marrying me. The condo we would purchase together on Capitol Hill, overlooking the Space Needle and the Olympic Mountain range. All that stuff. And, of course, the more immediate—both of us hurrying to get out of our clothes, tossing them to the floor in our passion, in our yearning heat to feel the electric satin of a full body press of naked skin.
Kevin pushed gently against my chest and leaned back to break the kiss. He stared at me for a moment and I misinterpreted the stare as lust. I went in for another kiss and he pushed harder against my chest, holding me back.
He smiled and I’m happy to report there was nothing mocking or disdainful in it. “Dude,” he whispered. “You know better.”
And just like that, my dreams shattered, dropping on the floor in tinkling shards of regret.
I moved away from him, putting a few feet between us. I hung my head. “I’m so embarrassed. And ashamed,” I managed to get out.
He moved close to me and he laid a hand on my shoulder. “Look at me,” he said.
I did.
“I love you, man. I always have. As much I love anyone. You’re more than my best friend, you’re family. You know that, right?”
I nodded, feeling tears well up in my eyes.
He touched them away with his thumbs. “Now, I don’t want you to feel weird about what just happened. We were both a little drunk and we can always say it was the Scotch talkin’, but I want you to know I’m flattered. Hey, the fact that anyone finds a big lug like me, who farts constantly, attractive is a bonus in my book.”
We both laughed. Me, reluctantly at first, and then the giggles took over. I fell onto Kevin and soon, we were both short of breath, holding each other. He kissed the top of my head. “You’re my man. Always.”
The next day we said nothing about what had happened.
And now, well, you know the rest of the story. He’s up there, saying his vows to Alana.
And I’m happy for him.
Really I am.
But I can’t look at them. Not right now. It hurts too much. I turn away and let my gaze light on the crowd.
And that’s when I see him. And I’m not imagining it—he’s looking right at me. And when out gazes connect, he smiles.
I smile back and then glance down at the floor, a little embarrassed.
The priest is presenting the new married couple to the crowd. I join in the cheers and the applause.
And I turn to follow Kevin and Alana, the new husband and wife, in their processional out of the church.
He looks at me again as I pass his pew. He’s tall, with dark brown hair, almost black, and eyes so dark the pupils get lost in the irises. He has full lips that shift my mind into naughty mode. His five o’clock shadow gives me a visual cue to how it would feel against my face. His suit, dark blue, hangs perfectly on his lanky, yet broad-shouldered frame.
Our eyes connect in that way only two gay men can have (or two lesbians or a man and a woman who are hot for the other). The milliseconds pass and they cement us together. It’s just a bit longer than two strangers would glance at one another. It acknowledges interest, attraction—potential.
Outside the church, the drizzle that had come down earlier has been pushed away by a brilliant sun. Everything sparkles. There’s laughter, the chatter of a hundred happy voices, raised in celebration and excitement.
Someone taps me on the shoulder. I turn and it’s Alana. She’s beaming at me and her blue eyes project love. She hugs me and I feel just horrible for the thoughts I had about her new husband during their wedding. But hey, they were honest. At least I can say that.
She kisses my cheek and whispers in my ear, “I’m so glad you’re here. You really are Kevin’s best man.”
I have no words. I just pull her close to me.
At last, we pull away. There are too many others waiting to kiss this blushing bride. I step back, thinking to move away, when her hand on my arm stops me. “Hold on, there’s someone I want you to meet.”
She steps aside and it’s him. We grin at each other as though we share a secret.
“This is Ryan, my very best friend from college. He’s out here from Boston, but he’s thinking of moving to Seattle in the fall. He’s interviewing with Amazon.” She pulls me close and whispers in my ear once more, “And he’s dying to meet you.”
I reach my hand out and we touch. And it’s electric. There’s something about a wedding—all that concentrated hope and happiness. It makes me gleeful for the future.
“Ryan. I’m so happy to meet you.”
He winks. “Likewise.”

The End

My latest work is Dinner at Fiorello's (where love is on the menu).

Henry Appleby has an appetite for life. As a recent high school graduate and the son of a wealthy family in one of Chicago’s affluent North Shore suburbs, his life is laid out for him. Unfortunately, though, he’s being forced to follow in the footsteps of his successful attorney father instead of living his dream of being a chef. When an opportunity comes his way to work in a real kitchen the summer after graduation, at a little Italian joint called Fiorello’s, Henry jumps at the chance, putting his future in jeopardy.

Years ago, life was a plentiful buffet for Vito Carelli. But a tragic turn of events now keeps the young chef at Fiorello’s quiet and secretive, preferring to let his amazing Italian peasant cuisine do his talking. When the two cooks meet over an open flame, sparks fly. Both need a taste of something more—something real, something true—to separate the good from the bad and find the love—and the hope—that just might be their salvation.

Pages or Words: 210 pages 
Categories: Contemporary, M/M Romance, Fiction, Gay Fiction

Buy Links: 
Dreamspinner ebook
Dreamspinner paperback
Amazon Kindle

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Cooking, Writing, & Romance and a Good Beef Stew

My books, even the ones that are obviously about food and romance, like Dinner at Home and my latest, Dinner at Fiorello’s, pay homage to the kitchen as well as the bedroom. I see a real link between the heart and the stomach.

Below is an interview I originally did at Prism Book Alliance during the blog tour for
Dinner at Fiorello’s. I thought it was worth repeating here, since it really reveals both my cooking and writing philosophies.

There’s a lot about food in your writing. Was cooking a big thing in your family growing up?

Oh yeah. I grew up with a Sicilian mom and, for Italians, food is at the heart of not only every celebration, but also daily life. Not only did my mother’s simple southern-Italian cooking she learned at the apron strings of her aunts and grandmother (her mom died at a very young age, so my mom was raised by other relatives) help inspire me and guide me on my journey toward loving and respecting food, but it also showed me how you could show your caring for someone by ensuring they ate…and ate well.

Whenever I visited Italian relatives as a kid, we rarely sat in their living rooms. It was always around a big kitchen table. And there was always plenty of food—especially around the holidays—which you better dare not refuse. An Italian woman who wants you to eat cannot be refused!

So, yeah, food was and continues to be a big deal for me.

What are some of your favorite dishes?
I am pretty much indiscriminate when it comes to loving different cuisines (some might say a food slut, but I prefer the term foodie). I mean, there’s very little I won’t eat, unless it’s processed or fast-food crap, and I love all different nationalities’ cooking. My favorites, though, I think would have to be Vietnamese and Korean (easy to find here in Seattle, where the Asian population is huge). And when it comes to my own cooking, it’s simple, nourishing, and comforting. I love to make my mom’s spaghetti sauce and meatballs on a Sunday, letting it simmer all day and fill the house with memories of other Sundays. I make really good soups and stews, often from scratch and assembled from what’s on hand in the fridge and pantry.

Who cooks more, you or your husband? And who is the better cook?
I would say I do about 98.9% of the cooking at our house. Bruce does the cleanup and we are both very happy with this arrangement (well, at least until I use three saucepans, two skillets, a baking sheet, and four mixing bowls to make dinner). But I enjoy doing all the cooking. I read somewhere someone had three rules in the kitchen: shoes off, music on, and a glass of wine at hand. I ascribe to that philosophy. It just makes me happy to feed my loved ones.

And I don’t think Bruce would mind a bit if I admitted that I am the better cook. Yet, when he puts his mind to it and gets in the mood to cook, it’s always wonderful. His roast chicken is a thing of beauty that not even I can rival.

Who taught you how to cook?
My parents. Both my mother and father were excellent cooks. So I never had the sense that cooking wasn’t something for boys. My mom, who was Sicilian, showed my how to cook with love and that the simplest and freshest things were often the best. She taught me how to make the good, hearty peasant-type food the Sicilian aunts and grandmother who raised her made. My dad was more of the chef. Like me, he loved reading recipes and getting ideas, getting inspired.

Do you follow recipes or do you prefer to make up your own dishes?
Ah, definitely the latter. Even when I follow a recipe, I seldom stick to it—I have a need to add my own touches. Since you asked, here’s one of my own recipes and a personal favorite (we eat low-carb these days, so this recipe accounts for that and omits white potatoes—I guarantee you will not miss them!):

Rick R. Reed’s Beef Stew

2.5 lbs. beef stew meat
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 large sweet potato
1 cup baby carrots
2 parsnips, peeled and diced
1 turnip, peeled and diced
1 cup red wine
1 can beef consommé
2 T Better than Bouillon (Beef)
3 T Worcestershire Sauce
2 T tomato paste
1 T garlic powder
1 T onion powder
1 T dried thyme
2 T Herbes de Provence
Salt and pepper to taste


1.     Sear beef in a little oil in a heavy skillet or Dutch oven; do not crowd—do in batches if necessary.
2.     Remove beef to platter or plate. Deglaze pan with red wine and a little Worcestershire. Reduce down to a syrupy consistency.
3.     Add vegetables, wine, consommé, tomato paste, bouillon, and seasonings to slow cooker.
4.     Add meat, pour reduction over all.
5.     Cook on low 8-9 hours.

Thanks for having me. Hope people will consider taking a bite out of Dinner at Fiorello’s!

Henry Appleby has an appetite for life. As a recent high school graduate and the son of a wealthy family in one of Chicago’s affluent North Shore suburbs, his life is laid out for him. Unfortunately, though, he’s being forced to follow in the footsteps of his successful attorney father instead of living his dream of being a chef. When an opportunity comes his way to work in a real kitchen the summer after graduation, at a little Italian joint called Fiorello’s, Henry jumps at the chance, putting his future in jeopardy.

Years ago, life was a plentiful buffet for Vito Carelli. But a tragic turn of events now keeps the young chef at Fiorello’s quiet and secretive, preferring to let his amazing Italian peasant cuisine do his talking. When the two cooks meet over an open flame, sparks fly. Both need a taste of something more—something real, something true—to separate the good from the bad and find the love—and the hope—that just might be their salvation.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Now hear this! 
The audiobook for my psychic thriller THIRD EYE just got a rave from MM GOOD BOOK REVIEWS! In part, the review said, "I highly recommend to anyone that likes murder, mystery and suspense stories." 
Who knew that a summer thunderstorm and a lost little boy would conspire to change single dad Cayce D'Amico's life in an instant? With Luke missing, Cayce ventures into the woods near their house to find his son, only to have lightning strike a tree near him, sending a branch down on his head. When he awakens the next day in the hospital, he discovers he has been blessed or cursed - he isn't sure which - with psychic ability. Along with unfathomable glimpses into the lives of those around him, he's getting visions of a missing teenage girl.

When a second girl disappears soon after the first, Cayce realizes his visions are leading him to their grisly fates. Cayce wants to help, but no one believes him. The police are suspicious. The press wants to exploit him. And the girls' parents have mixed feelings about the young man with the "third eye".
Cayce turns to local reporter Dave Newton and, while searching for clues to the string of disappearances and possible murders, a spark ignites between the two. Little do they know that nearby, another couple - dark and murderous - are plotting more crimes and wondering how to silence the man who knows too much about them.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"Just One Look. That's All It Took." An Excerpt from Dinner at Fiorello's

When it comes to love, I’m all about that moment when two people first lay eyes on one another. If the relationship is going to become something special, there’s usually a little magic involved in that moment. Or awkwardness. In Henry’s case, it was the latter. Read on to see how Henry and Vito first saw one another in Dinner at Fiorello’s

Maybe one day they’ll look back on the moment and laugh.

EXCERPT—“Just One Look Is All it Took”

Carmela came back just a few minutes later. Henry looked down, expecting to see a printed application form in her hand and maybe a pen, but there was nothing. His immediate thought was that whomever she talked to in the back had told her they weren’t looking anymore, or that Carmela had said he was completely wrong for the job.
“Got somebody already lined up?”
“What? Oh! For the job? No.” Carmela scratched her head. “Rosalie wants to talk to you.”
“Oh. Okay.” Henry’s nerves ratcheted up a notch. “Why?” He mentally kicked himself under the table for asking such a dumbass question.
“Oh, I don’t know. She thinks you’re hot. We got kind of a casting couch situation for new hires here.” She winked. “Rosalie digs all kinds—boys, girls, you name it.”
Henry shuddered. “Really?”
“No, of course not, you twit.” She reached out and grabbed Henry’s wrist, digging her fingernails into it hard enough to make him wince. He snatched his arm away, rubbing at the red marks she’d left.

Carmela said, in a low voice, “Don’t you dare mention I said that. Not even joking!”
Henry stood up from the table, and Carmela moved back to let him pass. As he went by her, she said, “Just so you know, she wants to talk to you about the job.” Carmela said the words slowly, enunciating each word with exaggerated precision. Henry didn’t know whether he should love or hate this girl. Right about now, he was leaning toward the latter.
He headed into the kitchen and paused once he passed through the swinging doors. It was like stepping into another world. Where the light was muted and warm in the dining room, here the illumination was harsh from overhead fluorescents. In the dining room, there was the murmur of people talking and cutlery clinking on plates, all underscored by a muted backdrop of Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, and a bunch of others Henry was much too young to know the names of. Out there, dishes came out perfectly plated, garnished with fresh herbs and slices of lemon. But in the kitchen, it was organized chaos. A very tall, husky man Henry took to be the chef, clad all in black, stood at the stove, flipping ingredients expertly in two different sauté pans. He had a mop of curly black hair, and Henry was amazed at his dexterity and concentration. Down from him a bit, a short guy, probably only a little older than Henry himself, chopped vegetables and herbs at a cutting board. His hands were a blur with the chef’s knife, and Henry checked quickly to see if the guy had all his fingers.
He did.
The man at the stove turned for an instant, presumably to see who had entered his domain.
And Henry’s heart just about stopped. While Antonio in the front of the house was good-looking in a slick, player sort of way, the chef was—how could Henry put it? Rough-edged? His eyes, the color of whisky, were fierce and penetrated into Henry’s core with the simplest of glances. He had a heavy shadow of beard across his face and strong jawline, too heavy to be called five-o’clock shadow. Maybe nine o’clock or even ten. This brute probably needed to shave three times a day.
But he was gorgeous. There was something brooding, dark, and exotic about him. Henry wondered what the chef would look like clad in, oh, maybe just an apron. Shame on you! Get your mind out of the gutter!
Henry smiled weakly at him and he nodded, lifting his chin only once. If Henry hadn’t been staring so intently at him, he might have missed it. But he couldn’t take his eyes off the man. He suddenly understood what the term “awestruck” was all about. And that was maybe why he didn’t see the fifty-pound bag of yellow onions on the floor as he moved toward the chef, hoping to at least shake his hand. Henry tripped and went down hard on one knee. He grabbed for the counter as he fell and knocked off a ceramic mixing bowl, which shattered.
Henry stood, hands shaking, and then bent over to reach for the broken pieces of bowl at his feet.
“Leave it,” Carmela hissed.
Henry stood up straight again, wiping his hands on his pants. He knew his face must be cherry red because his cheeks were burning with a kind of four-alarm intensity. He looked to the chef, to give him a sheepish grin and, he hoped, get a little sympathy.
The guy had paused, but only to stare at Henry as if he were some specimen in a zoo. A chimp, maybe. He rolled his eyes, and his lips turned up in a smirk. The chef returned to his pans, and Henry felt dismissed.
Henry Appleby has an appetite for life. As a recent high school graduate and the son of a wealthy family in one of Chicago’s affluent North Shore suburbs, his life is laid out for him. Unfortunately, though, he’s being forced to follow in the footsteps of his successful attorney father instead of living his dream of being a chef. When an opportunity comes his way to work in a real kitchen the summer after graduation, at a little Italian joint called Fiorello’s, Henry jumps at the chance, putting his future in jeopardy.

Years ago, life was a plentiful buffet for Vito Carelli. But a tragic turn of events now keeps the young chef at Fiorello’s quiet and secretive, preferring to let his amazing Italian peasant cuisine do his talking. When the two cooks meet over an open flame, sparks fly. Both need a taste of something more—something real, something true—to separate the good from the bad and find the love—and the hope—that just might be their salvation.


Note: This excerpt originally appeared on Joyfully Jay.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Cover Reveal: Charlie's Hero by Nic Starr

Schoolteacher Charlie Matthews returns to his hometown, looking to regain a sense of community, reconnect with friends, and settle down. It looks like his dreams have come true when paramedic Josh Campbell attends an accident at the school. It’s love at first sight, and a romance begins.

But Josh’s reluctance to come out to the brother who raised him, puts pressure on their fledgling relationship. While Charlie understands Josh’s concerns, he can’t help growing impatient. After all, Charlie came out years ago.

 It’s not until Charlie confronts his own parents and realizes he hasn’t come to terms with their rejection that he fully understands what Josh has to lose. But Josh is Charlie’s hero, and Josh will do anything to prove to Charlie that he doesn’t need his parents to be part of a family.

COMING OUT THIS JUNE!(drumroll...)

He only glanced their way for a second, obviously reluctant to take his attention away from the little girl who needed him, but that was enough. Their gazes connected, his warm brown eyes seeming to look straight into Charlie’s soul. The surge of emotion that flooded through him took him by surprise. The paramedic blinked and the spell was broken. They moved swiftly past Jenny and Charlie, then loaded the gurney into the back of the ambulance.​ 

Read more exclusive excerpts of the book on -

RELEASE DATE: 17th June, 2015

Dreamspinner Press

Nic Starr lives in Australia where she tries to squeeze as much into her busy life as possible. Balancing the demands of a corporate career with raising a family and writing can be challenging but she wouldn’t give it up for the world. Always a reader, the lure of m/m romance was strong and she devoured hundreds of wonderful m/m romance books before eventually realising she had some stories of her own that needed to be told! When not writing or reading, she loves to spend time with her family.
Facebook Page:
Twitter: @nicstar000

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Here's an interview I did at the amazing blog, Hearts on Fire on the day Dinner at Fiorello's released. It told so much about the book, my writing process, and why I wrote this particular combination of love and food that I wanted to share it with you here as well, just in case you missed it. And if the excerpt, about Vito Carelli and his secret pain, doesn't get you, then I haven't done my job....

Rick R. Reed Interview in the Kitchen

We’re here with Rick R. Reed in his Seattle kitchen. Here are his treasures—his Wusthof knives, All-Clad pans, and Kitchen-Aid stand mixer. His Fiesta ware, from the area where he grew up, has a place of honor in his cabinets. Rick spends some of his happiest and most creative hours in this room.
And just down the hall from the kitchen, a distance of only about fifteen feet, is another room where Rick also spends some of his happiest and most creative hours—his office. Here are his essentials, his Mac computer—which is the repository for all of his creative work—his view of Lake Union from his window which both calms and distracts, and the little bed on the floor to the left of his desk, where his faithful muse and writing assistant, his Boston terrier, Lily, snores away while Rick writes.

Today, we’ve put a few cooking- and writing-related questions to Rick, after which we’ll step out onto the balcony and enjoy a few of Rick’s favorite cocktails—Pimm’s Cups—on the balcony.
So let’s get started!

When you were writing Dinner at Fiorello’s, did the plot lay itself out, or did your characters take you in directions other than what you wanted?
As you know, two of my favorite topics in the world are food and love and often in that order. So, I started with the idea that I wanted to combine the two in a story that would make readers laugh, cry, open their hearts, and whet their appetites.

When I write a book, I always have a general idea of what the plot arc will be and what I want to do with the story,  but for me, it’s really all about the characters. In Dinner at Fiorello’s, I started with my two love interests, Vito and Henry (in fact, that was the working title for the book). I knew that Henry came from an affluent background and that his growing desire to cook for a living, coming to the forefront the summer he graduated high school, would make for a great conflict. Then, I thought it would be cool that he not only gets an entry-level job in a restaurant kitchen, where he sees he was correct in following his passion and not his family’s desire for affluence, if he also found another passion—his first love. Because the course to true love never did run smooth, I knew that Vito would be a troubled man, tormented by a secret he kept buried inside. And, in a way, I knew that my main characters, in finding love, would also find the road to their own personal happiness, hope, and healing.

As a writer, what is your biggest inspiration?
The idea that loving and nurturing another person (or people) is really what makes life worth living.

Do you have a big cookbook collection? What is your favorite?
You know I do. A huge collection—there’s a whole bookcase at our house that’s only cookbooks. And you know what? These days, I almost never refer to any of them! For one, the Internet has made it so easy to find what I want to make that I have a sort of one-stop shopping experience online for recipes. Usually, even if I’m thinking of making something I know is in one of my cookbooks, I can find it online. Plus, propping my iPad up in the kitchen is easier than grappling with a cookbook.
The other reason I seldom use cookbooks anymore is that I’m happiest when I’m just creating something from scratch. I read a lot of recipes—on food blogs and more—and these days, they’re most inspiration rather than step-by-step instructions. I look at something and wonder how I can put my own personal spin on it. I love it when my husband looks up from whatever I’ve made for dinner that night and tells me something is crazy good and asks where I got the recipe. Little makes me happier than being able to tell him, “I made it up.”

But if there’s one cookbook I would suggest everyone have, it’s Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. It’s indispensible and the title is spot-on. It’s equally good for the beginner as well as the accomplished chef. I refer to it more than any other cookbook.

Who taught you how to cook?
My parents. Both my mother and father were excellent cooks. So I never had the sense that cooking wasn’t something for boys. My mom, who was Sicilian, showed my how to cook with love and that the simplest and freshest things were often the best. She taught me how to make the good, hearty peasant-type food the Sicilian aunts and grandmother who raised her made. My dad was more of the chef. Like me, he loved reading recipes and getting ideas, getting inspired.

What’s next for this series?
As you probably know, I have another Dinner at… title, Dinner at Home. I anticipate writing a whole series of books combining food and love. Although they will have different characters and plotlines, the common thread running through all of them is the way food and love work together and what they have in common. Dinner at Fiorello’s is the next in the series. There’s another one on the way and I’m not at liberty to share the details, but expect it by the end of the year.

This was fun, but I need a drink. Shall we step outside and I’ll mix us up a couple? Or a couple dozen?

Henry Appleby has an appetite for life. As a recent high school graduate and the son of a wealthy family in one of Chicago’s affluent North Shore suburbs, his life is laid out for him. Unfortunately, though, he’s being forced to follow in the footsteps of his successful attorney father instead of living his dream of being a chef. When an opportunity comes his way to work in a real kitchen the summer after graduation, at a little Italian joint called Fiorello’s, Henry jumps at the chance, putting his future in jeopardy.
Years ago, life was a plentiful buffet for Vito Carelli. But a tragic turn of events now keeps the young chef at Fiorello’s quiet and secretive, preferring to let his amazing Italian peasant cuisine do his talking. When the two cooks meet over an open flame, sparks fly. Both need a taste of something more—something real, something true—to separate the good from the bad and find the love—and the hope—that just might be their salvation.

Pages or Words: 210 pages 
Categories: Contemporary, M/M Romance, Fiction, Gay Fiction

Vito came to the door that led to a set of stairs that would take him to his big two-bedroom, above a dollar store at street level. He unlocked it with his key and trudged up the stairs. Vito was a big man, and his tread was heavy. Every night, it alerted his girls, Gabriella and Concetina, Gabby and Connie for short, that he was home. Vito permitted himself a smile as he heard them send up a chorus of barks and whining. Connie would always scratch at the door when she realized her master was making his homecoming, and Vito knew if he ever moved, he’d need to paint that door before taking his leave.

It was nice to know that someone was happy to see him, someone wanted to welcome him home. Even if they were just two mutts, hungry for their suppers.

Vito sighed. He hated leaving the girls cooped up in the little apartment all day, even if Victor, the old man living next to him, took them out for walks a couple of times a day. They were big girls, German shepherd and pit bull mixes, and Vito often wished he could give them more room to frolic and roam.
He tried to make up for it by showering them with love and affection. And he spoiled them! They slept on the bed with him, and every night he brought home food from the restaurant for them. It was usually scraps and leftovers, things that would have been thrown away anyway, but what dog would complain about a veal cutlet, a bit of roast chicken, say, or a nice piece of flank steak?

Vito pressed his key into the lock and, as usual, had to jam his shoulder hard against the door to open it, since the girls were frantically pushing on it, jumping in their excitement to see him.

Finally he got the door open and slipped quickly inside. He fell to his knees before the dogs, hugging them and allowing them to lick his face all over. The welcome never failed to make him laugh. The girls were so excited they were whimpering.

But the welcome also saddened him, because it always brought about the memory, not so long ago, when he was greeted at the door with human kisses, human touches, excitement, and love.

He couldn’t allow himself to think about that. Think about that, and he might just be tempted to go throw himself in bed and pull the covers over his head. He might stave off the night licking his wounds and wallowing in sorrow. He kissed each dog’s forehead and clumsily got to his feet.

He smiled down at the girls and said, “You ready to go outside? And then we have our supper, no?”
He was sure the dogs understood every word. To prove his point, they both moved over to the area opposite from the door, where their leashes and harnesses hung from hooks on the wall. Vito took them down and suited Gabby and Connie up.

They tugged at his hand, eager to get outside, to do their business and see what new smells awaited them. He remembered a certain little dark-haired boy saying they were reading their “pee-mail” and shut the memory quickly from his mind.

Outside, the girls led him straightaway to the spot near a streetlight where they often peed. Both squatted, and Vito indulged them by saying, as he always did, “Brave raggaze,” or “good girls.”
They trotted on, stopping here and there to sniff. Tonight he had brought home some ground veal, left over from that day’s special—meatball subs. He couldn’t wait to watch the girls enjoy the meat, although it would be gone so quickly, he would wonder, as he always did, if they even tasted it.

Later, after the dogs had eaten their feast, everyone was in a mellow mood. Vito was curled up on the couch with the latest Lee Child thriller he was attempting to get through on his chest, and the dogs lay at his feet, Connie snoring loudly. “Sawing logs again,” he whispered. Sometimes the dog snored so loudly at night she woke him, but the evenness of her breathing, fortunately, almost always worked to lull him back to sleep.

He couldn’t concentrate on the book. Times like these, he thought, shutting the book after dog-earing the page where he left off, were the hardest—when it was quiet, when his hands and mind were unoccupied. It was part of the reason he loved working in a busy kitchen. There was always something to do and scarcely a free moment to think. There was always another order. That busyness was a blessing.

He told himself, as he had a thousand times before, he shouldn’t do it, but he got up carefully off the couch, placing his feet so he didn’t awaken his girls, and headed for the bedroom that wasn’t his. “Why do you do this to yourself?” he wondered aloud.

He crept into the bedroom softly, almost as though he were afraid he might wake its occupant, but the moonlight streaming in through the single window bore witness to an empty room. The silver light showed, in a kind of black-and-white reality, a twin bed, neatly made up with a Sesame Street comforter. Atop the bed was a stuffed rabbit, one ear up, one down, its synthetic fur worn down in spots, demonstrating that it was much loved. Above the bed was a poster, a framed blowup of the cover from one of the Harry Potter books. Opposite the bed, a bookcase, filled partially with Golden books and paperbacks of Harry Potter. There was also a collection of all the Wizard of Oz books. Interspersed with the books were toys: a fire truck, a baseball and glove, a battered Candy Land board game, and more stuffed animals.

Vito sat down on the bed, which creaked under his weight. He put his head in his hands and wept. The visitation to this room was one he tried to avoid, because this was always what happened when he broached the doorway. He lost control. He could never keep the tears at bay.

He cried until his throat felt raw, sore, and his eyes burned. He lifted his head and tried unsuccessfully not to allow himself to remember sitting on this same bed, reading a chapter from one of the books in the room to a little boy with serious eyes, who would always urge him to read just a little more, just a little more, until Vito would tell him that enough was enough, kiss his forehead, and tuck him in tightly. “Buona notte e sogni d’oro,” Vito whispered every night after the kiss, and he would ruffle the little boy’s hair. Good night and golden dreams….

Would Vito ever have them again?

Wearily, he got up from the bed, feeling as though his very bones weighed more, such was the effort to drag them across the room.

He paused in the doorway and thought, for the thousandth time, he should get rid of all the toys and kiddie books. He could donate them to a charity where some child could actually get some joy out of them, instead of having them lie fallow here, like museum pieces.

He could turn the room into a study for himself, perhaps get a leather recliner and a reading lamp, a nice side table, and come in here and have a glass of wine or a grappa, read at night, instead of brooding over what could never be changed.

He sighed and left the room, closing the door behind him.

Buy Links: 
Dreamspinner ebook
Dreamspinner paperback
Amazon Kindle

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Monday, May 11, 2015

HIGH RISK Now Available in Audiobook--Get a FREE copy!

High Risk is one of my stranger novels...dark, sexual, and breathlessly suspenseful, it really defies categorization. Here's what the story's about:

Her secret life... 

Beth Walsh seems like such a demure housewife. The young woman is someone you'd meet at a church social, the type to take care of her attorney husband or do volunteer work. But Beth has a secret life. While her husband works, Beth slides into what she calls her "slut clothes" and goes on the prowl. She becomes a completely different woman, wanton and uninhibited, with dozens of handsome strangers...until she meets the one blindingly gorgeous stranger who will make her more than sorry for her secrets and lies.

Abbott Lowery is every woman's dream: handsome and muscular, with intense blue eyes that contrast with his thick, black hair. Women want him. Men want him. But Abbott is deeply damaged, and inside lurks a monster just waiting to be released. When Beth Walsh pursues him, it pushes a deeply buried rage to the fore, and he becomes determined to punish her. Beth and Abbott 's meeting lights the fuse on a bomb. Its explosion leads to a tale of terror and desperation so intense, it will sear everyone who knows them. High Risk is a story of secrets, tainted histories, murder, and kidnapping. Its ending is so brutal and shocking that listeners will be left breathless.

Listen as narrator Miles Taylor brings you into the world of High Risk--and see if you aren't immediately hooked!

To the first ten people who write me at and answer the following question (which you can get by listening to the sample at the Audible), I'll give you a coupon worth a FREE download of the book.

So, the question: How old is Beth Walsh's husband, Mark, as the book opens?

That's it! Just send your answer to and I'll see you a download code for one free copy.

Don't want to bother with the contest? Download your copy here:

BUY High Risk at Audible (also available at iTunes).

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Friday, May 1, 2015

Food and Love

Do you believe there's a connection between food and love?

To kick off my new release, DINNER AT FIORELLO'S (where love is on the menu), I'm talking today on the Dreamspinner Press​ blog about the connection. Stop by, leave a comment, and be entered to win a free copy of my other food/romance concoction, DINNER AT HOME.

Read the post.

And here's a little more about the book:


Chapter 1

Henry Appleby stared at the Craigslist ad on his iMac screen. No, it was not in the Men Seeking Men or the Casual Encounters section. Henry had perused those ads, but at eighteen years old, he found most of those ads were more for education, titillation, and fantasy. He couldn’t imagine the guys who posted them, nor could he picture the brave souls who had the courage to respond. Still, they showed Henry a part of the world he was curious about, even if he was not ready to take such a seedy plunge, if he ever would be.
No, the ad that had caught Henry’s eye was in the Jobs section. More specifically, it was in the “food/bev/hosp” subsection. It read:
General Kitchen Help Wanted
Fiorello’s, Rogers Park Fine Italian Dining destination, is looking for general front-end and back-end help. You’ll do everything from wash dishes and bus tables to food prep. Pay is minimum wage, but it’s a great way to learn the food industry from the ground up. High school graduate or GED required; past restaurant work desirable but not necessary. Please call in person at the restaurant between the hours of 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. No phone calls, e-mails, or postal inquiries, please.
Henry had been staring at the ad for more than fifteen minutes. The only break had been the few minutes he took to leave Craigslist to Google Fiorello’s and locate their address on Jarvis Avenue. Even though Henry lived in Evanston, only a short drive away from Rogers Park, Chicago’s farthest-north lakefront neighborhood, he had never been by the place.
Henry’s father, Theodore, but known to everyone else as “Tank,” startled Henry out of his reverie. Henry jumped a little as his father swept into the room without warning.
“You looking at porn sites again? Damn, to be young!” His booming voice intruded on the sunny early June morning.
Henry quickly shifted the Google tab on his computer to the website for NYU and turned to give what he knew was a sheepish grin to his strapping father. Even though he had been doing nothing close to what his dad had suggested, heat still rose to Henry’s cheeks. “What? No, no, of course not.”
His father, already dressed in his Ermenegildo Zegna suit, crisp white shirt, and rep tie, whacked him playfully on the back of the head. “Lighten up, kid. I was just kidding.” He laughed. “And if you’re lookin’ at a little T&A, who am I to complain? You’re a red-blooded American male, just like your dad.”
Henry could only keep grinning stupidly. Porn would have been one thing. His father would have accepted, maybe even welcomed, his son looking at the ubiquitous one-handed art so prevalent on the Web, but he would have had a shit fit if he had known his son was getting excited over a employment ad for kitchen help.
Now there was horror. Kitchen help was not appropriate. Not in the Appleby family.
His father moved back toward the entrance to Henry’s room. “That summer help position at my law firm is still waiting for you. I told the partners you could start next week. You okay with that?”
Henry still could not find a single word to say. He knew his father wasn’t really asking if he was okay with it; he was simply reminding Henry of his obligation. Henry scratched his blond hair as if fleas had suddenly invaded it. He kept grinning and wondered if he resembled a chimp. He nodded weakly. “Sure, Dad,” he finally managed to utter. In a bold move for Henry, he added, “I’m just considering all my options for the summer. You know, last time to be free and all that.”
“What options?” his father asked in a chiding voice. “You’re prelaw at NYU this fall, right? What could be better than working for one of the best investment law firms in Chicago? That’s some solid résumé shit, son.”
“You’re right, Dad.” Henry said the words but experienced a sinking sensation, as one does when one speaks something that comes from the head but not the heart.
“Well, enjoy the life of Riley for a few more days. I don’t blame you. They’re gonna work you to the bone down there, but you’ll learn a lot.”
“Sounds great,” Henry said without much conviction. He let his gaze roam back to his iMac screen, staring at the Craigslist tab. Could he dare?
“See you later, kiddo. The early bird and all that. And by the way, what the hell are you doing up at 7:00 a.m.?”
“I don’t know, Dad. I was awake.”
“And decided to go online before anything else. You kids. Typical.” Tank ran his fingers playfully through his son’s mop of hair. “We’ll need to get this cut before Monday. Go see Giovanni,” he said, referring to his barber on Main Street.
Henry’s shoulders relaxed, and he let out a long breath as his father exited the room. He got up and crept to his bedroom door, watching as Tank descended the winding staircase. His father paused to pick up his metal briefcase from its place in the foyer, slipped the Wall Street Journal under his arm, and then headed outside.
The sound of the Lexus starting up in the drive let Henry know it was safe to go back in his room and return to Craigslist, where he could ponder such an outrageous position as “General Kitchen Help.” 
In the kitchen, their housekeeper, Maxine, was making herself some breakfast. Henry paused to watch the woman who’d been a part of the Applebys’ daily life since he was a little boy. She was what his mother would call “pleasingly plump,” with broad shoulders—like a linebacker, his dad joked—and even wider hips. She didn’t wear a uniform but always came to work dressed the same: black polyester slacks and a polyblend loose-fitting top, usually floral-patterned. Her hair, once a startling shade of red, had dulled over the years and was now shot through with gray. Still, it was a riot of curls, and Henry thought that a few extra pounds or gray hairs could not diminish the vibrant beauty he saw in their housekeeper.
He watched as she cracked eggs one-handed into a bowl, whisked them, then added a few torn basil leaves, some grated cheese, and a handful of cherry tomatoes, cut in half. She poured the egg mixture into a pan Henry knew would be coated with a thick layer of melted butter.
“I know you’re watchin’ me, kid. That’s why I made enough for two.”
Maxine turned and bestowed upon him one of her trademark grins. The gap in her front teeth made her look impish. The one thing that never aged about Maxine was her smile. It had the ability to illuminate a room and made Henry feel warm all over, loved. The smile he gave in return bore no relation, he thought, to the sheepish grin he must have given his father moments ago.
“Thanks, Maxine. You have to show me how you do that sometime.”
“This? This is nothin’. Tomorrow you can cook for us. Just don’t let Mr. Appleby see.” She laughed.
It was like a donkey’s bray, and Henry giggled, a little boy again. But she was right. His father would have ridiculed him, at best, if he saw his son cooking in the kitchen. Cooking was work for the help when they were at home or for kitchen staff when they went out to a restaurant or to their country club.
Maxine finished up with the eggs in short order, jerking the frying pan rapidly toward her over and over until, like magic, a perfectly rolled omelet appeared. She pulled down a couple of plates from the cabinet, loaded them up, and handed one to Henry. They sat on stools at the kitchen’s marble-topped island to eat. “You want some toast with that?” Maxine asked after a while. “Just take me a minute. I got sourdough.”
“Nah, I’m good.” Henry went back to eating. Maxine had been with the family since Henry was eight years old and was kind of like a mother. Unlike his own mom, though, this was a woman with whom he could talk and share secrets, knowing she would never pass judgment.
“You’re kinda tight-lipped this morning,” Maxine said once they’d finished their amazing eggs. They were soft, buttery, and silky, unlike any other Henry had ever had. There was something delicate about their texture, yet the taste was a melding of layers: sweet herb, acidic tomato, salty Parmigiano-Reggiano. Henry swore Maxine threw a little handful of magic into everything she cooked.
“Just thinking about all I have to do today.”
“Right.” Maxine covered her mouth as she belched. “What’s on your agenda? Wait. Don’t tell me. The beach with Kade? A bike ride along the Green Bay Trail? Maybe head out to Old Orchard, charge up your dad’s Visa at Nordstrom?” She winked. “Get somethin’ for me. I could use a new pair of shoes. Size ten. Kitten heels. I like red.” She giggled.
At the mention of Kade, Henry’s thoughts went dark. He hadn’t spoken to his best friend since the night of Henry’s graduation party ten days ago—but who was counting? What had happened between them on the beach after all the guests left was something Henry had been at first gleeful about, but as time wore on with no calls, texts, or e-mails from Kade, Henry had begun to worry he had pushed things too far and maybe lost his best friend. Yet he could still recall the satiny feel of Kade’s skin against his own, the seawater-sweet taste of his come.
Had it been worth it? If he had lost a buddy he’d had since boyhood, no. But he couldn’t help but savor the memory of that night, a fantasy he had never thought would come true.
Maxine nudged him, knocking her shoulder into Henry’s. “You mind putting the dishes in the dishwasher? Your mother wants me to clean floors today, and the marble ones are a chore—especially with only bein’ allowed to use vinegar and a little water.”
“Maxine, cleaning up breakfast dishes is not my son’s job. It’s yours.”
Henry turned to see his mother enter the kitchen. As always, when he saw her he was confounded by his perception and mix of feelings. For one, Megan Appleby was beautiful. She was only in her early forties but looked closer to someone in her thirties, maybe even twenties if the light was right. Her blonde hair was like silk, hanging to her shoulders, fashionably cut and woven in with strands of gold, brown, and platinum that looked perfectly natural but cost well over a hundred bucks every time she visited her “colorist” in Winnetka. Her face was very much like her only son’s: full lips, startling blue eyes, and a nose that was slightly too long but gave her an aura of aristocracy. Both she and Henry had fine bone structure, strong, but where Henry’s was chiseled, his mother’s was more delicate. Her skin was, to labor a cliché, like porcelain. That was as it should be too—Megan spent a lot of money on not only expensive toners and lotions, but saw a doctor, also in Winnetka, for regular Botox injections.
Today she wore a form-fitting floral dress that seemed too formal for a hot summer day. Henry wasn’t sure if his mother even owned a pair of jeans.
In spite of her head-turning beauty, there was something cold about his mom, something that kept people at a distance. Like right now. What need was there to talk to Maxine that way? Maxine was like family. He hated to see the way Maxine stiffened at the sound of his mother’s voice.
Henry moved away from the table, hands up, knowing it wouldn’t be prudent to grab the dishes from the island anyway.
“Sure thing, Mrs. A.” Maxine busied herself running the dishes under the tap and loading them into the dishwasher. Henry couldn’t see her face, but if he could, he was certain she’d be rolling her eyes.
Megan walked over to Henry and gave him a kiss he barely felt on his cheek. She smelled subtly of lavender and money.
Maxine closed the dishwasher. “You want anything for breakfast, Mrs. A? I can make you some eggs or pancakes.”
Pancakes! Henry wanted to bust a gut at that one. He knew Maxine was making fun of his mom without her even knowing it. Pancakes would no more pass Megan Appleby’s lips than a cup of hemlock.
“Thank you, Maxine. I’ll just have a cup of green tea, if you wouldn’t mind putting the kettle on.”
“And a carrot?” Henry couldn’t resist asking.
Mom wagged a finger at him. “Henry,” she chided. “You know I’m trying to shed a few pounds. It’s beach season, after all.”
Henry thought if his mother succeeded in shedding a few pounds, she would waste away to a skeleton, but he kept his own counsel.
Megan sat down at the island and fingered the pieces of fruit—pineapple, bananas, mangos, and kiwis—before drawing her hand away from them as though they were something distasteful.
“Have one, Mom. It won’t kill you. That’s healthy stuff.”
“It’s all sugar,” she said softly.
Getting his mother to eat was mostly a lost cause. Somehow she managed to subsist on green tea and rice cakes, with the occasional stalk of celery if she was feeling wild.
Henry started out. “Well, I think I’m gonna head back up to my room. See what I can get up to today.”
“Yes. That’s a good idea. Enjoy your free time while you have it. Your father wants you at the firm bright and early Monday morning.”
If Henry had any guts at all, he might have said to his mother, “Well, that may be what he wants, but what about what I want?” But all he said was, “Right.” He hurried from the room with the sound of Megan’s musical voice instructing Maxine to use only vinegar and water on the windows. Windex was toxic, she said.
In his room, Henry debated: what to do with his day, what to do with his life, what to do about his summer employment. He lay down on his bed and pulled the sheet over himself.
There was a thrumming in his veins even as he lay on his back. He didn’t know if the surge was due to dread or excitement.
First, there was dread. He could do what every North Shore kid was probably doing today—this glorious early summer (technically still spring) day when the rigors of school were but a memory—head out the beach. Bake in the sun. Dip his toes in the frigid waters of Lake Michigan. Maybe he’d run into Kade there. Maybe they could talk, clear the air.
Maybe not. The thought filled him with both longing and trepidation.
Sure, he could spend the day leisurely working on his tan or wandering Old Orchard, the outdoor mall in Skokie, or just go out in his family’s backyard, which faced Lake Michigan, and plop down in one of the Adirondack chairs out there and read all day. He was in the middle of David Sedaris’s latest, and that guy always cracked him up.
Henry recognized all these things for what they were—distractions. He made a list of things he didn’t want to think about.
The first was getting on the train Monday morning with his father, wearing a Brooks Brothers button-down shirt, khakis, and sensible shoes, looking like the little junior attorney his father was expecting him to be.
The second was talking to Kade. He and his best friend had gone skinny-dipping in the freezing waters of Lake Michigan after Henry’s graduation party. They had emerged near the boulders bordering the beach, and, in a bit of a tipsy state, Kade had remarked that neither of them seemed to be suffering the effects of “shrinkage” from the frigid waters. One thing led to another, as they say, and Henry had ended up somewhere he had always dreamed of being, on his knees between Kade’s spread thighs. At the time, Henry thought the act might bring their friendship to a new and more intimate level, but the radio silence that followed their brief tryst had proved otherwise. Still, he needed to make things right with Kade, show him he wasn’t a threat and they could go back to where they were before.
But could they? Could anyone after they’d been intimate? Henry was too inexperienced to know, and he certainly had no one to ask.
Not going to Fiorello’s and applying for a job he thought he would love was third on the list of things Henry didn’t want to think about. Sure, the work would be hard, he imagined, and sweaty. It would be tedious. He’d be treated like the underling he knew he’d be. But he would be around food and cooking all day, things he was passionate about. In his wildest fantasies, he imagined being a chef, somebody like Grant Achatz or Rick Bayless or even someone as big as Thomas Keller. He was already, with Maxine, honing his knife skills, learning the difference between a dice, a mince, and a julienne.
When Henry dreamed, he dreamed about food.
Not once had he ever dreamed about investment law.
Henry knew spending the day doing what other rich North Shore kids do would only take him away from pursuing his dream.
But that dream went against the core of what his family wanted for him. He’d always been the golden boy, doing exactly what his family expected. He felt like no one really knew him, knew his passion for food, for cooking (well, except for maybe Maxine).
As people often do when faced with life-altering decisions or yielding to temptations that may or may not be the right thing to do, Henry tried bargaining in baby steps for what he would do with the day.
I’ll just hop on the ‘L’ and go down there, check the place out. Maybe I’ll even have lunch. And if I like what I see, maybe I could ask for an application and fill it out. Odds are, they won’t even call me. I don’t have any real-world experience. They’ll probably have lots of other people with years under their belts lining up for that job, even though it sounds like grunt work, entry level, or bottom of the barrel, depending on your point of view.
So why do I want it so, so much?
Never mind. Just go there. See what it’s like. You may not even want to apply once you see it.
Henry got up from his bed, stripped out of his plaid boxers and T-shirt, and headed for the shower in his bath. He had to admit to himself that there was a certain relief in thinking that, by going to the place, he would see it for the dismal work environment it was and would come home with more enthusiasm for working downtown at his father’s law firm.
Part of him even wished for that outcome.
Life would be so much easier.
He switched the shower on and waited for it to get hot. Once the temperature was as he liked it, he slid under the showerhead and turned under it. He closed his eyes, trying just to let himself relax and not think.
But one thought stayed with him—it won’t hurt just to go see. No one has to know.
Back in his room, Henry debated what to wear. He knew his father recommended a suit and tie for any interview situation. But Henry didn’t even know if there would be an interview. If he even wanted to fill out an application, all he might be faced with would be filling in the blanks.
His mother always said, “I never apologize for being overdressed.”
Yet Henry didn’t want to walk into the place looking like some privileged, private school, North Shore teenager—which he was. That could be off-putting, especially since he was imagining Fiorello’s as a small family restaurant. Otherwise, why would they be looking for a jack-of-all-trades kind of kitchen person?
In the end, he thought he couldn’t go wrong with a pair of soft gray jeans and a pink button-down shirt, tucked in. He’d wear his Cole Haan black monk strap shoes. They were comfy and not too dressy, he thought. All in all, he thought he’d look neat and not trying too hard.
Besides, the pink of the shirt set off his skin, blue eyes, and blond hair in a very fetching way. Dressed, he turned in front of the mirror and thought he didn’t look too bad, not too bad at all.
Now his only challenge would be getting out of the house unnoticed by either his mother or Maxine. Both women would be immediately suspicious if he left the house in anything other than board shorts and a tank top.
That’s why we have a back staircase to the kitchen, he told himself, creeping down its carpeted length. Besides, if I run into Maxine, I can confide in her if I need to. She’d understand. Mom, not so much.
As if to allay his worries, he heard the sound of his mother’s Mercedes two-seater convertible start up. He hurried over to his window to see her pulling out of the driveway onto Michigan Avenue.
It’s meant to be, Henry thought.
The kitchen was empty. Maxine must be in the foyer, scrubbing the floor.


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