In honor of the day of love–or Oregon’s birthday, whichever you prefer–I have excerpts from three of my books. Each scene is Valentine’s Day themed. Want more of the book? Just click the cover picture to be taken to the Amazon.com product page.
“What are you doing for Valentine’s Day?” Jill Halsey’s voice tinkled like windchimes on the phone. “Because we’re putting on a party that you won’t want to miss. You could bring that new cutie of yours.”
Antonio groaned inwardly. “I don’t have a new cutie, Jill. I’ll be celebrating Oregon’s birthday alone.”
“February 14th, 1859.”
“Nope. It’s an important holiday.” Antonio tried to sound light-hearted. “I celebrate it every year with all the other pathetic singles in the state.”
Jill laughed. “You’re so funny. But what about that lovely new neighbor that the boys were raving over?”
Palming his face, Antonio sagged back in his recliner, relieved the boys were in the other room and couldn’t nag him to go. “When is this going to be?”
“Duh, Antonio. On Valentine’s Day.”
“That’s next week.”
“Yeah, so?” He could hear her eagerness through the phone. “Mabel and Mendel insisted we do this at their place in West Salem, and we can’t be there without you.”
“Jill, I don’t have a significant other.”
A beat of silence followed. “You do know that you’re Antonio Seneca, right? I mean, you could probably go stand in the middle of the grocery store and ask if anyone wants to go to a Valentine’s Day party with you, and pretty much every woman in the place would drop her broccoli and come running.”
Antonio snickered despite himself. As persuasive as she was beautiful, Jill made refusing hard.
He cast his eyes downward shyly, then brightened. “Hey, I remember those socks.”
“You gave them to me for Valentine’s Day.”
“You kept them all these years? That’s crazy.”
Willa shrugged. “They were a really sweet gift. You knew I collected silly socks back then and you gave me socks instead of flowers or chocolate like everyone else.” Her eyes lingered in his. “It was more personal. I couldn’t just throw them away.”
They sighed in unison.
“Are you hungry? I’ve got some leftover Chinese in the fridge.”
A smile bloomed on his face. “Are you kidding me? Just what I was craving.”
“We’re two wontons in a pot, then,” she quipped. She stood, taking in his profile with a sideways glance. Did he remember how he used to call them that?
The curve of his lips told her he did.
Mac followed her into the kitchen, and she could feel the weight of his gaze as she busied herself pulling the cartons from the fridge and fluffing their contents with a fork before putting them into the microwave. As she transferred each one, he passed her the next. When their eyes met and locked, she thought she’d melt into the grout between the tiles.
The microwave dinged for the last time, and they both reached for the door, their knuckles grazing until he withdrew.
“Sorry. Your house.” He leaned his hands back on the counter, a gesture that pulled his shirt taut across his pecs in a disconcertingly hot way.
Willa swallowed. “No worries. It’s like old times, racing to get the plate of Pepperoni Puffs first.”
His smile ticked up on one side. “Those were good times.” Turning, he opened the nearest cupboard and extracted plates.
“How’d you know where to find them?”
“Same general place you used to have them in your house as a kid.”
Mac faced her directly, his eyes suddenly intense. “I remember everything about those days. They were my happiest.”
Dad’s tidying the kitchen counters and looking at me with a funny expression I can’t read. Like he’s happy and sad and excited and worried all at the same time.
“My little baby is growing up,” he says.
He gives me an exaggerated frown. “Don’t make fun of me. This is the first time you’ve had a valentine that wasn’t me.”
My eyes pop wide and my mouth falls open. I’d never thought of it that way, of course, and it might sound dorky to others, but for Dad…? Well, he doesn’t have anyone else.
I rush forward and throw my arms around him. “Dad, you’re always my first valentine. I love you most of anybody on the planet.” I add a big kiss on his cheek for punctuation.
He squeezes me tighter and longer than usual, and when he lets go, there’s a sigh in his voice. “I love you, too, honey. And I’m glad you chose Oliver. If I have to hand the baton over to anyone, he’s an excellent choice.”
“Dad, we’re not getting married. We’re going to Taco Bell and then coming back here to rock out to Raging Rabbits. You can even join us for that part. That’s all we’re doing. Nothing super fancy.”
His lips twitch. “If you say so.”
The doorbell rings right on cue, and I run to greet it. I may have understated my excitement about this Valentine’s Day date. I mean, I even did my hair and put on my nicest jeans and a red blouse Dad got me for Christmas. No socks in my bra, but extra deodorant and a breath mint.
When I throw open the door, I see instantly that Oliver tried a lot harder. He looks amazing, and I don’t even know exactly why. The collared shirt and grease-free jeans are nice, but the glow in his eyes and the massive bouquet of bright flowers are making me a little swoony.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Miss Fletcher,” he says with extra formality. “I trust you’re feeling well after our torturous run in P.E. today?”
This cracks me up, and I grab the flowers and press them to my nose like the ladies in movies always do. I’m glad the flowers cover my face because I’m a little disappointed that they don’t smell “heavenly”.
As if he can read my mind, Oliver holds up a hand. “These aren’t roses, sorry. They were all sold out. But I thought the bright colors and kind of random styles reminded me of you anyway. You’re not boring like roses. You’re crazy.”
Behind me, Dad places his hand on my shoulder. “Why Copie, that’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard. Wish I’d thought of it myself.”
I swing the flowers at Dad like a baseball bat, and he backs away laughing.
“Shall I put these in water and await your return, fair princess?” he teases.
“Yes, knave,” I command.
Oliver picks up on the vibe and holds his arm out all chivalrous to lead me to Wally’s car. I pause at the end of the driveway and look back. “I love you, Dad!”
He waves the flowers at me and blows a kiss.
When I turn back, Oliver is holding the back-passenger door open for me. I slide in, and he piles in after me, sitting as close as when we were bungeed in the back of the Mustang despite the spacious back seat.
“Do I smell cologne?”
Oliver gives me a shy smile. “I borrowed Dad’s aftershave.”
Wally leans an elbow over his seat. “I told him he overdid it. It’s a fine art, getting the splash amount just right.”
I laugh. “It’s okay. Thanks for taking us, Wally.”
“No worries.” He starts the engine. “Besides, if he overdid the aftershave, it’ll make up for the aftermath of burrito butt later.”
“Dad!” Oliver shoves the back of his father’s seat, obviously embarrassed.
As we drive, I muse about how different this Valentine’s date might have felt if we both had TV moms who gushed over every little detail. Frankly, I’m glad we have clueless dads. They keep expectations more real, and they’re funny.
“Whatcha thinking about?” asks Oliver.
“How lucky we are.”
It registers in my brain that he slipped his hand around mine while I was staring out the window. Wow. Taken out of the context of my thoughts, that declaration sounded like serious mushy stuff. I hope he doesn’t throw up.
Oliver doesn’t barf. He gives my hand a little squeeze and rests our tangled fingers on his knee. His thumb caresses mine, and I smile at the vision, just as pretty as the flowers.