Grotesque Success

Phew!  After many grueling days of procrastinating, I finally managed to:

  • Rewrite the first half of Grotesque.
  • Edit the second half of Grotesque to accommodate the rewrites.
  • Reread Grotesque twice in order to edit, proofread, and check for continuity errors.

It’s finally done.  And I am so much happier with the result than I thought I’d be.  It’s honestly very difficult to write a book without rereading at all until you’re done, because the whole time you’re writing, you’re thinking…

Book Ruiner

My fears were assuaged after my first read-through of the completed draft.  I’m not exactly going to post a compare-and-contrast look at the old manuscript and the new one, but here’s a list of problems I addressed:

  • Historical inaccuracies
  • Forensic inaccuracies
  • Pacing problems
  • Repetitive/formulaic plot
  • Unresolved subplots
  • Underdeveloped characters (namely the villain and love interest)
  • Unbelievable scenarios (Grotesque waking up with instant knowledge of the world around him, ability to walk, talk, eat, etc.)
  • Other things as well, probably.

What I want to talk about in this post is the method I used to bring the changes I wanted to see into fruition.  My friend Evelyn taught me a method of outlining called “story beats.”  It’s my kind of outlining because you literally just write a numbered list of things that are going to happen in the book, in the order that they happen.  You can use casual language, and you can write out details that will help you to write the book, even if those details are never explicitly stated in the manuscript.

I’d like to provide an example from the story beats I wrote out for Grotesque, so what you’re going to see is two story beats (written in block quotes so you can identify them easily) and then the corresponding section of book.  It’s amazing how much you can get out of just one paragraph of quick description of a scene.  The text of the book sample is going to be in italics because this part of the book happens to be in all italics.

2. Bastien returns home after a long day, ignores his parents as he goes straight to his room. He opens and closes the door very quickly. His room is strewn with books, and there is a large shelf stocked with potion ingredients. A small toy knight is sitting on his bed waiting for him. When it sees him, it jumps up and down, making tiny clanking noises. Bastien urges it to hush and calm down. His parents can’t hear what he has done because it was illegal.

3. Flashback: Bastien remembers going before the council. He has been researching the art of creating life for years, and he believes he can master it. He believes that with the right technique, certain objects could be made to understand and carry out tasks, maybe even help fight should another war begin. Some of Bastien’s cold ruthlessness begins to shine through as he talks. The Council is outraged by his speech and they tell him if he ever attempts anything like that, he will be banished or jailed or something.

That job had taken much longer than he had hoped. The moon and stars were shining brightly from the inky black sky as he walked home.

“Sweetheart, you’re back late,” his mother said as he pushed his way through the front door.

Bastien didn’t even glance her way as he headed to his room. He slipped inside as quickly as possible, shutting the door firmly behind him.

Little Lance was sitting on the bed, his tiny metal feet dangling over the edge of the mattress. He jumped up when he saw Bastien, ran over to him, bounced excitedly. Bastien tried to shush him. Little Lance was small – his head barely made it to Bastien’s shin – but his every movement resulted in metallic clanking that was loud enough to draw suspicion.

“Hush now,” Bastien said, patting the knight’s tiny helmet to calm him. “We can’t let Mother and Father hear you. Why don’t we do some quiet reading?”

The knight nodded its head excitedly, its miniscule visor flapping up and down with the movement. Bastien lifted him up and put him on the desk. The knight used his miniature lance – for which he’d been named – to help him balance as he crossed his legs and sat down. Bastien took off his robe and hung it by the door. He looked at the gold bands on the sleeves and the crown that was embroidered onto the right shoulder. A symbol of his rank. He was one of the most important crafters on the council. But it didn’t matter. It hadn’t mattered at all in the end. When he’d gone to them, asked them to listen to him.

♦     ♦     ♦     ♦     ♦

“Manus knew it, too,” Bastien had said, referring to the man who had trained him in this trade. “We are taking on too much responsibility, Head Councilman. Many people here work the jobs of three men. I have been studying this subject for years. I can do it. Think of the possibilities!”

“That is enough, Councilman Garrison,” said Head Councilman Stefan Wiel. “Just saying these things out loud borders on illegal. You have been honored with the position of Royal Healer. Your lack of gratitude is disgraceful.”

“Why should I be grateful for a job that was forced on me?” Bastien demanded.

Stefan’s eyes had gone cold. “You will do a job that is worthy of the crown on your shoulder, or you’ll be stripped of your title and your council status. We will leave you with nothing. Do I make myself clear?”

♦     ♦     ♦     ♦     ♦

Bastien let the memory fade as he reached out and ran his hands over the robe that had been made just for him when he was inducted into the council.

“I don’t know how much longer I can do this,” he said, turning to Little Lance.

The knight cocked his head at him. Bastien sighed and shook his head.

“You wouldn’t understand. Don’t worry about it.”

[End book passage]

There you have it.  Hopefully you were able to see the difference between a story beat and the polished writing that comes out of it.  I highly recommend this method because it helps to prevent writer’s block before it even happens.  You set up the entire plot ahead of time, and it’s much easier to edit and tweak the story because instead of changing an entire book you’re just deleting/editing/moving a bullet point.  Over all, this method makes it much easier to put words to paper.  I am going to use it from now on.  That’s right.  I’m finally going to start outlining.  Hell probably just froze over.

So that’s that.  Oh yeah, I’m still selling my steamy romance novel, Demon Heart.  All you have to do is click here, and then enter coupon code “writeright” (one word, no quotation marks) to buy the book for one dollar.

I also have an Etsy shop full of artwork and greeting cards and the like.  All of my art is incredibly affordable, so please do give it a look.  I highly encourage custom orders, and I love a good challenge.  Like this walrus.  That was tough but fun!

That’s all!  I’ll write again soon.

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A Curious Inkling

This post is mainly a shop announcement, with a special surprise at the end!  I want to talk about how editing Grotesque is going, but I’ll do that next time.

Yes, it’s that time of year again.  I’ve opened another Etsy shop.  This one does not sell jewelry however.  If you’ll recall from a couple posts ago, I started doing some art using calligraphy markers and water.  Well, I decided to try my hand at selling that art.  I don’t have a fancy camera to help me take pictures of it or anything like that, but I’m hoping the beauty of the work will shine through regardless.  I encourage custom orders.  I also do stationery and save the dates.  Below are some pictures.  Click on them for links to the shop!

A Curious Inkling

Rebecca and rose



Gwen and Linda


So yeah.  That’s what I’ve been up to.  And there’s other stuff to look at.  More stuff to come!

And now for the special surprise!

My book, Demon Heart, was rejected by Harlequin!  But it was a really nice rejection.  I don’t often say that.  The editor said, “While I found much to like about this project, I’m afraid that it is not suited to our current editorial needs. Aspects of the story are promising—but we’re going to have to pass on this one. However, I thought your writing was promising, and if you have any other projects for us to consider, I would be happy to take a look.”  So that’s pretty nice.  She probably says that to everyone she rejects, but I’d like to think she only says it to the people who truly show potential.

Anyway, the good news is that now I can sell the book for all of $2.00 on Gumroad.  But wait, there’s more!  I programmed in a promotional code.  Readers of my blog get a discount!  Use coupon code “writeright” (One word, no quotation marks) to get $1.00 off!  That’s right, ladies and gents!  You can buy my sultry romance novel, Demon Heart, for just one dollar!  Click on the image below to go buy it!  And don’t forget your coupon code! IF YOU ARE RELATED TO ME BY BLOOD OR BY MARRIAGE, PLEASE READ THE DISCLAIMER BENEATH THE LINK!!!!

Demon Heart001


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The Art of Criticism?

Since my last post, I think I figured out what inspired me to want to talk about criticism.  But I’m only 90% sure.  However, since the post has to do with a book that has “tiger” in the title, and I just so happen to have finished a tiger painting, I figured I might as well go for it.  It’s nice to get a cohesive theme going every once in a while.

If you are unfamiliar with my latest hobby, you can click back to the post before this one.  A couple people have suggested I open an Etsy shop, but I’m not sure yet.  My last Etsy shop didn’t go over so well, but maybe this time it’ll be different?  My father requested a tiger, so I did one up for him.  Here’s the progression of the tiger from start to finish:

Tiger 1 Tiger 2 Tiger 3 Tiger 4

And now the book I want to talk about

I will admit that the cover art was a big part of the reason why I bought this book.  Don't you go telling me that thing about judging books and covers.  Covers are meant to be judged.  That's the whole point of them.  You shouldn't judge people by their appearance, but books aren't going to get their feelings hurt.

I will admit that the cover art was a big part of the reason why I bought this book. Don’t you go telling me that thing about judging books and covers. Covers are meant to be judged. That’s the whole point of them. You shouldn’t judge people by their appearance, but books aren’t going to get their feelings hurt.

Tiger’s Curse by Colleen Houck.  This is an unusual review because I have to admit I only read the prologue and the first two chapters, so I’m not going to be talking about the book as a whole.  What I want to talk about (and what I think I wanted to talk about back when I started reading this book) is the importance of first impressions.

In my opinion, the first thing that a reader is going to ask when they start a book is something along the lines of “Why should I care?”  It’s been my experience as a reader that if I don’t have that question answered by the end of the first paragraph, I lose interest very quickly.  Now, that doesn’t mean that I instantly care about the characters of the books I do like, but the book offers me something in return.  It says, “You might not know why you should care yet, but I am going to give you a reason to keep reading.  I’m going to make you feel like you’re willing to find out why you should care.”  That’s why those first few paragraphs are so important.  They have to be compelling.  And Tiger’s Curse just didn’t compel me.  I was bored.

First of all, the book starts with the poem, The Tiger, by William Blake.  Not only is that ridiculously predictable, but this is not the only book that has used that poem in some way or another.  That poem is overused, in my opinion.  But that’s me nitpicking.  Let’s look at the opening paragraph, found in the prologue, which is titled “The Curse.”

The prisoner stood with his hands tied in front of him, tired, beaten, and filthy but with a proud back befitting his royal Indian heritage.  His captor, Lokesh, looked on haughtily from a lavishly carved, gilded throne.  Tall, white pillars stood like sentinels around the room.  Not a whisper of a jungle breeze moved across the sheer draperies.  All the prisoner could hear was the steady clinking of Lokesh’s jeweled rings against the side of the golden chair.  Lokesh looked down, eyes narrowed into contemptuous, triumphant slits.

So here’s my impression: I’m clearly supposed to care about the prisoner, but I don’t get his name.  Instead I get his captor’s name.  I don’t care about his captor’s name.  If the prisoner’s name is meant to be kept a mystery, that’s fine.  Don’t even give me the captor’s name then.  It’s not like that name means anything to me at this point in the story.

Second, look at all that excessive description!  I don’t care at all about the room they’re standing in.  I want to care about the prisoner, but I’m too distracted by the decor surrounding him to be able to.  The opening line alone is weighed down with globs of exposition that serve to inform, but not intrigue.  Don’t inform me about stuff until you’ve given me a reason to care about said stuff, okay?  There are way too many adjectives and adverbs.  Pillars tend to be tall.  You don’t have to point that out.  And I challenge you to narrow your eyes in a way that is both contemptuous and triumphant.  In my imagination, those two expressions are vastly different.  Plus we already know that he’s looking down “haughtily” so it makes “contemptuous” redundant.  And the fact that the throne is gold is mentioned twice!

Here’s how I would write it:

The prisoner stood with his hands tied in front of him, his stance proud despite his fatigue and the beatings he’d taken.  His captor looked on from a lavish, gilded throne, his eyes narrowed into contemptuous slits.  Immense pillars stood like sentinels around the room.  Not even a whisper of a jungle breeze interrupted the pervasive stillness.  All the prisoner could hear were his captor’s rings clinking steadily against the side of the throne.

So when do we find out the prisoner’s name?  That he has “royal Indian heritage”?  What his captor’s name is?  What his relationship to his captor is?  Well, this book is 403 pages long, so take your pick.  That information can come out anywhere, anytime.  In fact, the very next paragraph starts with “The prisoner was the prince of an Indian kingdom called Mujulaain.”  So why was it necessary for the first sentence to include any of that information?

In conclusion: What is the art of criticism?  Criticism should not be used to put someone down.  “Criticize” and “Insult” should not be used synonymously.  The former should be used for a purpose.  Critical analysis should lead to the betterment of the work.  And I guess I wanted to make that clear because I think a lot of people take and/or give criticism personally, myself included sometimes.  I’m not immune.

From as objective a standpoint as I can offer, this book starts out poorly.  And it is for that reason that I stopped after two chapters, and probably why I will not try to finish it.  It’s apparent that this book needed some more editing.  As you can see from this lengthy blog post, I’m not one to keep things brief.  But this is a more casual setting.  In novels every word must count, and you must make sure you do not overstuff your book with excess fluff.  Start out with “Why should my readers care?” and work your way out from there.

Books are meant to be about imagination.  It’s okay to use some description, but you shouldn’t be leading your reader around by the nose either.  “The pillow was small, soft, and pink, and it was hand-embroidered with an image of two koi fish by an elderly Japanese woman back in 1972.”  It’s too much!  Let your reader decide what a soft, hand-embroidered pillow would look like, okay?

I acknowledge that there are more factors that go into enticing and captivating a reader, but I think what I have just addressed is one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle.

That’s all for now!

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Other Things I’ve Been Doing

After my last post displayed me sitting in a corner, gathering dust, I decided to showcase a couple other things that I’ve been up to.  That way I won’t appear quite so lazy.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m plenty lazy.  Just not that lazy.  Even I have my limits.

First, I made a teeny tiny change to my personal appearance.  Some may remember the picture below from this post.  I actually fixed it up a little bit since I know how to use Photoshop better now.  And by “better” I mean I learned what the smudge tool was.


Well… now there’s an even bigger problem…

Me and Me 2

Yeah, I got a haircut.  Once every few years or so I get bored with looking like Cousin Itt, so I get all my hair cut off.  The problem is exactly what Mini Bex is saying above: I now look nothing like my adorable little doppelganger.  Other than her signature purple shirt, her only real distinctive trait is her long, messy hair.  So does that mean Mini Bex will be getting a haircut, too?


Nah.  She’s just fine the way she is.  I’m pretty sure no one would recognize her if she had shorter hair.  They’d be all like, “Wow, is there a new character in this blog?  Follow up question: Did she steal Mini Bex’s purple shirt?  Follow up to the follow up: Did she murder Mini Bex for her purple shirt?”

So Mini Bex gets to keep her long hair.

What else have I been doing?

Art, of a sort.

It all started when I was doing some calligraphy practice using chisel tip markers.

Original Aliens

Then, days later, I accidentally set something wet down on top of the paper.  This led me to discover something neat, and I started adding more water.


Then I decided to take it a step further and start doing this stuff on purpose.  I chose to work with a line of poetry that I saw back in high school.  I never Googled where it came from until now.  The top search was “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” so I think that’s where it’s from.

Someone had used it for an art project.  They drew a picture of a person with their index finger hovering above a big red button, and they included the words “Do I dare disturb the universe?”  Those words always stuck with me.  So I did my own version.

Do I dare disturb the universe

Then I thought, “Why not take it a step further?”  So I started Googling some tribal tattoo designs for animals.  I started by making a tiger for my sister, which she put in an amazing frame:

Calligraphy Tiger

Then I made a dragon for my brother, which is also in an awesome frame right now:

Calligraphy Dragon

I did a horse for myself and an owl for my husband:

Calligraphy Horse

Calligraphy Owl

Then I decided to stop taking other people’s designs and start doing my own.  I’m really good at copying stuff, so when my sister-in-law requested a walrus, I drew one of my own.  Then I created my own tribal-inspired design for it, copied it with calligraphy markers and voila:

Calligraphy Walrus

To those artists out there who originally created the designs I used for the dragon, the horse, the owl, and the tiger:

I’m sorry I used your art without your permission and without crediting you.  I did not sell any of these drawings.  They were all gifts.  If it bothers you that you did not receive credit, please do send me an email and I will happily offer credit where credit is due.  Unfortunately it is hard to track down the original designer of a tattoo when said tattoo was found on Google Images.  I’m sure a person much smarter than I could do it, but I do not want to risk offering credit to the wrong person or website.

From now on, I will only be creating my own designs.  Now that I have the hang of it, I think I’ll be able to do a decent enough job.

Currently I’m working on a coyote, so I thought I’d show you the creative process now that I’m doing my own art.

Step 1: Sketch a coyote and his surroundings, then go over the lines with Sharpie to make them easier to trace.

Coyote 1

Step 2: Trace over the Sharpie coyote with pencil and begin developing shapes, rather than hard lines.

Coyote 2

Step 3: Go over pencil lines with Sharpie, eliminating the designs that don’t work.

Coyote 3

Step 4: Trace again, this time on parchment paper using a chisel tip calligraphy marker.  (In this case, multiple chisel tip calligraphy markers.  I find black creates the coolest effect, but sometimes a little color is nice, too).

Coyote 4

Step 5: Use paint brushes, a kitchen sponge, paper towels, and fingers to apply water.

Coyote Wet

Step 6: Wait for picture to dry.  Retouch certain lines and add last-minute details.

Coyote Dry

It’s a really fun pastime, though I must say it leaves its mark.

painted fingertips

On the sponge, too.

painted sponge

But my favorite part is looking at what happens to the paper towels I use.  This is the closest I’ve ever gotten to making art out of paper towels.

Paper Towels 1

Paper Towels 2

Paper Towels 3

So that’s what I’ve been up to!  Now you’re all caught up.

See ya next time!

P.S. I just glimpsed through my post with the flowchart from April, and at the very end I said something about wanting to talk about the “art of criticism.”  I must have had something in mind at the time, but for the life of me I can’t remember what that is.  If I figure it out, I’ll do a post on that next.

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Dusting off the Cobwebs

Hello again.

It’s been months since my last entry, hasn’t it?  I checked and my last thing was that flowchart in April.  Jeez.  Where have I been?  What have I been doing?  Surely whatever was keeping me occupied was important, otherwise I would have been updating this blog regularly.

Easy Chair


I wrote an 80,000 word romance novel in three weeks and submitted it to Harlequin?

They haven’t written back.  I don’t think they’re gonna.  But the status on their website still says “In Progress” whatever that means.  I didn’t really have high hopes for it.  It was just a side project that was fun to write.  If Harlequin rejects it I’m just gonna publish it on Gumroad for $2 a pop and forget about it for the rest of my life.

Let’s see, what else?

A serendipitous event led me to meeting a woman by the name of Evelyn Gabai.  You probably haven’t heard of her, but I guarantee you’ve heard of some of the cartoon shows she’s worked on.  I was talking to her on the phone about a completely different project when I happened to mention Grotesque. I said something like, “It’s based on this really old show I used to watch called Gargoyles” and her reply was something along the lines of, “Oh, how funny!  I was part of the team that developed that show for Disney.”

At this point Bex transformed into the spazziest fangirl who ever existed.  I full out thirteen-year-old-girl-seeing-Rob-Pattisoned this woman.  After a lot of stuttering and squeaking, I asked if I could write about her on my blog.  She agreed, bless her, so now I get to tell the whole world (or the ten people who read this) that I met someone who worked on the show that inspired Grotesque!  It was absolutely amazing, and she is a fantastic person.  So knowledgeable about the animation business and the process of story writing.  I learned so much from her and it was such a stroke of good luck that I met her.

Naturally I sent her Grotesque so she could read it.  It’s still not polished or edited yet, but I’m sure she’ll get the idea.  And hopefully she’ll be able to confirm that Disney won’t sue me for any similarities they might notice.  Which I have to admit are very few and far between.  Disney doesn’t have a monopoly on inanimate objects coming to life or things turning to stone, though perhaps they’d like to.

Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve been working on lots of little side projects, but haven’t been doing anything that merits sharing at the moment.  However, because I’m a generous soul, you can read the first chapter of my super steamy romance novel, Demon Heart, right now!  And before you start laughing at me and my cheesy book, remember: It’s a romance novel.  It’s supposed to come with an extra side of cheese.



“I’m not looking for anything in particular. Just maybe a copper chain with turquoise stones? On the shorter side, but not a choker. Nothing too flashy. I need it for a wedding.”

Naomi nodded along with what the young woman was saying, trying to maintain her smile.

“Maybe something from my newest collection?” she offered, steering the young blonde over to a display by the register. “I use a lot of different stones and metals in these necklaces, and they’re very delicate. Not overbearing or flashy at all.”

The girl looked them over, taking her time to try on each one as she inspected herself in the mirror from all sides. Naomi glanced at the clock. She had just opened up shop, so Farrah wouldn’t be arriving to start her shift for another hour.

“Which do you like better?” the young customer asked, drawing Naomi’s attention once more.

She held up two necklaces that were nearly identical except for the number of stones. Naomi never made exact duplicates, but this style of necklace had been selling well so she’d been sure to make a set of similar ones. It seemed her instincts had been right.

“Hmm…” she mused, pretending to mull over the decision. “The one on the right has more potential, I think.”

That sounded like something Farrah would say. Naomi couldn’t believe that a teenager who was approximately seven years younger than her would have taught her so much about sales.

“How much?” the girl asked, looking at the tiny white tag. “Forty-five? Oh, I don’t know…”

“There are some earrings over on the other display here that I can give you for half price if you buy them with the necklace.”

“Oh! Let me see.”

It didn’t take long for the girl to select a pair – chandelier, brass and turquoise, two and a half inches long – and take the jewelry to the register.

Finally, something Naomi was good at. She happily rung the girl up and made sure to wrap her purchases in tissue paper so they wouldn’t be damaged.

“Enjoy the wedding!” she said, trying for cheeriness but coming off a little too manic.

“As if,” the girl said. “This is the third one.”

She left without offering any further details, and Naomi breathed a sigh of relief. Just forty-seven more minutes until Farrah arrived.

With no other customers in the shop, Naomi returned to doing inventory, which the early shopper had interrupted. She settled back into her usual rhythm, embracing the cold comfort of numbers and percentages while the shop’s ambient music wafted around her.

She didn’t look up from what she was doing until the shop bell trilled again.

“Welcome to Sarla’s,” she said without looking up.

“It’s just me,” Farrah said.

Naomi glanced up at her, shocked. “Is it ten already?”

“Yeah. You been crunching the numbers again?”

“Oh…yeah. It’s that time of the month. I mean…not…not that time of the month.”

Farrah laughed as she hung her coat on the rack by the door.

“I love you. You are so crazy.”

“That’s me,” Naomi mumbled.

The younger girl pulled her wavy chestnut hair into a ponytail. Even pulled back, her hair hung well past her shoulders. Naomi envied the girl. Her brown hair was rich and thick. She also had the ability to tan in sunlight, rather than burning. And her hazel eyes changed color in certain lighting.

Meanwhile, Naomi had to deal with deathly pale skin and stick straight red hair. Her eyes were a boring shade of brown, too. Nothing spectacular there. At least she had a slender nose and nice lips, in her own opinion, but Farrah’s overall look was much more enticing.

“I thought Sarla had the morning shift today,” Farrah said conversationally.

“She called me last night. Her son has the flu and she doesn’t want to leave him alone.”

“Oh, wow. So are you working a double?”


“Jeez. On a Friday, too.”

“It’s alright. I would’ve been closing tonight either way. It’s not like I had plans.”

“Maybe you should start making some plans.”

“My social life is none of your concern.”

Farrah pressed her lips together and nodded. Naomi felt her stomach clench with guilt. She hadn’t meant to snap at the girl. If it weren’t for her, Naomi and Sarla wouldn’t have been able to keep the shop running.

Farrah had come in to browse a couple weeks after Naomi and Sarla had opened the shop. They hadn’t been looking to hire help at the time, but Farrah managed to sell one of Sarla’s handmade gowns and a matching bracelet – made by Naomi – to a fellow customer. After conferring in the back room, the two women had decided to offer the girl a job. She had readily accepted, and they had worked with her to create a schedule that wouldn’t interfere with Farrah’s classes.

That had been a little over a year ago.

The shop’s success had floored Naomi. She couldn’t believe that only a few years ago she was renting a kiosk in the mall, peddling her homemade jewelry to random passers-by.

She had thought Sarla was just another customer, there to browse but not buy. But Sarla had something else in mind.

“You do well here?” she asked, her words lilting from her Indian accent.

“I make enough to get by,” Naomi said carefully.

“You could do better. You make all this yourself, yes?”

“Uh-huh. I converted one of the bedrooms in my apartment into a workshop.”

“I do the same. With clothes. I’ve been thinking of opening a boutique, but that is too much for one woman to handle, don’t you think? Have you ever considered opening a shop?”

“Uh…uh no,” was Naomi’s flabbergasted reply.

“When do you get off?” Sarla had asked. “Let me buy you dinner and we can talk. But first I will buy these bangles. They are lovely.”

Sarla purchased the bracelets and handed Naomi her card, all business.

“Call me when you are done with work. We will talk.”

Naomi had watched the woman flounce away, her new bangles clinking along with her steps. The business card was clutched between her thumb and index finger. She almost crumpled it up and threw it away, but she didn’t.

Later that night, she called Sarla and agreed to meet her for dinner.

In no time at all, they had opened a shop in a strip mall that got a lot of foot traffic. They named it Sarla’s. Naomi’s suggestion. It was all Sarla’s doing that she was even in this position, and she was so grateful. She was able to return the favor by starting a Facebook and Twitter account for the shop, which happened to generate a lot of business. Especially since every one of Sarla’s female family members had liked and shared the Facebook page.

Sarla, unlike Naomi, had a very large and welcoming family.

Naomi had her dad. And he lived in another state.

“How long are you staying today, Farrah?” Naomi asked.

“‘Til three. I have class at four.”

“Okay, that’s good. That means you can watch things while I grab some lunch later.”

“Aren’t you the one who makes up the schedule?” Farrah asked, teasing.

“Your schedule changes every semester. Don’t ask me to memorize it.”

“But you do, don’t you? In a week or two, you’ll know which classes I have better than I do.”

“I just pick up on things.”


Naomi was saved from further conversation by the arrival of a string of customers, which kept Farrah occupied for the next couple hours. She took a break from budget reports and inventory to man the register when it was necessary, but for the most part she sat at her desk and got work done. It was a very productive morning.

Around one in the afternoon, when there was a lull in the rush, she told Farrah she was going to run out to get some lunch. Farrah suggested picking up something to eat for dinner later as well, but Naomi just shrugged. They closed at eight, so she’d pick up a late dinner after locking up.

There was a Panera that was located in the center of the strip mall. It was probably going to be busy from the lunch rush, but Farrah said she was fine if Naomi needed to take a little extra time. It would be her only break in the day, after all.

The line wasn’t too long, thankfully. There were a couple people in front of her, giving her plenty of time to decide what she wanted to get. She had to lean to one side in order to see the menu around the tall guy standing in front of her, but that was a minor inconvenience.

When it was the tall guy’s turn to order, Naomi was close enough to hear that his voice was very deep. It was almost melodic. She wondered if his face was as attractive as his voice, but there was no subtle way to sneak a peek.

Then he was done and moving out of the way. She pushed the thought of his possibly handsome face from her mind. No time for relationships anyway when one is running a business.

She placed her order with the teenager at the register, accepted her receipt, and went to wait off to the side for her food.

While she waited, she pulled out her phone to make sure Farrah hadn’t called. She had a text from Sarla asking if all was well and thanking her again for taking the extra shift, but that was it.

“Those earrings are awesome.”

Naomi jumped and looked up from her phone right into the twinkling gaze of the sexy-voiced man who had preceded her in line. No need for a subtle peek at his features after all.

His skin was a shade darker than tan, and his hair was jet black. It was styled with a little gel so that it spiked upward, but it was cut short enough that it didn’t look too obnoxious. His biceps bulged under his tight blue shirt, and his eyes were a tantalizing shade of green. He was smiling at her, his lips accented by a faint scar.

She had been silent for too long.

“Thank you,” she said. “I made them.”

“I thought you might have. You look like the creative type.”

“And what does that type look like?”

He shrugged. “Unique jewelry. Quiet. Observant. It was pretty much the earrings that tipped me off.”

“Oh. Well…hm.”

She didn’t really have anything else to say. The guy seemed to fill up the room. He was ridiculously handsome, and she kept noticing more scars on his exposed skin. There was also the hint of a tattoo beneath his sleeve. Barbed wire perhaps? And a piece of unique jewelry around his neck.

“Yours, too,” she said, suddenly.

“Mine, too, what?” he asked.

“Sorry. Your necklace. Your necklace is also…um…cool.”

He had a single charm hanging around his neck by a black leather cord. It also looked handmade. Lots of looping metal. It almost looked like a Celtic knot, but something about it was different. It was unlike anything she’d seen before. And it had the added bonus of giving her an excuse to stare at his perfectly sculpted chest.

“Thank you,” he said, smiling like they were sharing a joke.

His buzzer went off then and when he left to grab his food she thought that would be the end of it. But then he returned to her.

“You sell that jewelry anywhere?”

“Oh! Y-yes.”

Naomi bit her lip, not sure if she should divulge the location of her shop. This guy was intimidating, and he seemed way too interested. She knew nothing about him. He could be a rapist or a thief. She doubted he had gotten all those scars from a weekly sewing circle.

He raised his eyebrows, waiting for her to continue. She couldn’t think of a way to avoid telling him that wouldn’t be completely rude.

“Is it an online store or something?” he prompted.

“Ah. No. I’m still working on the website. It’s…uh…it’s actually a shop called Sarla’s. It’s four stores down from here.”

“Oh, cool. I’ve seen that place. Any reason you didn’t want to tell me about it?”

She opened her mouth to respond then closed it again. What could she say? She wished Farrah were here. She could distract him while Naomi ran.

Thankfully her buzzer chose that moment to go off, saving her from responding.

“I have to go,” she said quickly.

She rushed to the counter, snatched her food, and dashed out the door.

When she returned to Sarla’s, she was panting. The few customers in the store eyed her curiously for a moment before returning to their shopping.

“You okay?” Farrah asked as Naomi made her way to the back. “You look like you’re going to be sick.”

“I’m fine,” Naomi said quickly. “Just hungry. You doing alright here?”

“Absolutely one hundred percent alright. Go eat.”

Naomi slumped into her desk chair and took a second to breathe. Something about that guy had rattled her. She wasn’t usually a genius when it came to social interactions, but that one had been especially tough.

Pushing the image of his knowing smile from her mind, she began eating her lunch. She found time between bites to text Sarla back and let her know that everything was going fine.

When she finished eating, she pulled up her webpage designs and tried to get some work done on getting the site up and running. She had learned a lot about computers and coding in college, and she had picked up some books at Barnes & Noble when she needed a refresher.

The steady tinkling of the shop bell soothed her as she sank into her work. Knowing Farrah was able to man the sales duties meant she could worry less about the comings and goings of potential buyers.

In her downtime, she sketched ideas for new pieces. She was working on drawing out an intricate necklace when Farrah burst into the office.

“Naomi!” she practically shouted.

“Ah! What?”

“How? How did I scare you?” Farrah demanded, exasperated. “You saw me come in.”

“You’re just a surprising person, Farrah. What do you need?”

Farrah’s face brightened again as she remembered her reason for the intrusion.

“The hottest guy in the universe just walked in, and he is asking for you! Oh my God when did you meet him? Are you dating? Can we take turns?”

“First of all, um…I don’t even know who you’re talking about. Is it the guy from Panera?”

“Yeah, that’s what he said.”

“Well, no, we’re not dating. I don’t even know his name.”

Farrah squealed. “Does that mean I can have him?”

“Don’t you have a boyfriend?”

“Who Rich? I’d dump him in a second for this guy.”

“I think he’s a little old for you,” Naomi said, stalling. She did not want to have a second confrontation with this man today.

“I turn twenty next month,” Farrah said defensively. “He’s probably only a few years older than me.”

“Right, well…if he’s interested, you’re welcome to him,” she replied, heaving herself out of her chair.

Sure enough, she glimpsed Panera Guy towering over the displays in the front of the store. Steeling herself, she put on what she hoped was a friendly and not-at-all-terrified expression and went to greet him.

“Hi…again,” she said.

“Hey,” he said, smiling like he was meeting up with an old friend. “Sorry to crowd you. I just felt weird about the way we left things. Thought I could come over to apologize and introduce myself.”


He held out his hand. “My name’s Kai.”

She shook with him, feeling the roughness of his skin. It didn’t shock her. Jewelry making had left its fair share of calluses on her own hands.

“Naomi,” she said.

“Nice to meet you, Naomi. Do you mind if I look around? Not at the dresses, but maybe the jewelry?”

“Sure. All the jewelry is at the back of the store. We have a small collection of rings and necklaces just for men. Farrah can help you if you need anything.”

She gestured to Farrah, who was hovering conspicuously close to them, then beat a hasty retreat to the office.

When she’d first started out, she hadn’t concentrated on making any jewelry for men. She hadn’t thought there would be a market for it, but after the store gained popularity, she started receiving a lot of requests. Men came in shopping for themselves, or women came in insisting that they wanted to find matching sets of jewelry for themselves and their boyfriends. So she had made a point of designing a small, male-oriented collection. It turned out to be a good move. She sold several pieces from the men’s collection every week, and it was easy to keep stocked, as men’s jewelry tended to be simpler.

When Naomi saw the time on her computer, she groaned. It was a quarter past three. Farrah was supposed to have clocked out already. She took a deep, fortifying breath and returned to the sales floor.

The girl in question was drooling over Kai while he inspected one of the ring displays.

“You’re going to be late for class,” Naomi said.

“What?” Farrah asked, distracted. Then she looked at the clock. “Ah, crap. Thanks, Nomi. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Have fun.”

Farrah darted around clocking out, grabbing her stuff, and pulling on her coat. Then she was out the door.

“Nomi?” Kai asked.

For one blessed second, she had forgotten he was still there.

“Nickname,” she replied.

“It’s pretty. I like it.”

He held up a ring – worn silver with an opal set into the center, size ten – and asked, “How much?”

“Thirty-five,” she replied automatically.

“I’ll take it. I like the stone.”

“Opal. Good for protection.”

Naomi’s mouth snapped shut. That was the fifth time this month she’d let that tiny phrase slip out, and she never knew why she said it. She never said anything weird about other stones or gems. Just opals.

“You don’t say?” Kai commented, inviting her to elaborate.

“I really don’t, actually. I have no idea why I said that. You can come up to the register if you’re ready.”

She turned away so he wouldn’t be able to stare at her burning red cheeks any longer and met him at the counter. His fingers brushed hers as he handed the ring to her, and she tried to ignore the tingle that ran up her arm. Her imagination conjured images of his fingers brushing over other parts of her anatomy, parts that had been neglected for quite some time. She frowned slightly as she busied herself with the transaction, trying to push the errant fantasy out of her brain.

He stopped her when she went to put the ring in a jewelry box.

“I’ll wear it out,” he said, reaching out to take it from her.

There was no way to avoid feeling his touch again, the roughness of his skin, the way it made her warm inside.

He slipped the ring onto his right hand and flexed his fingers a couple times, inspecting it.

“It’s perfect,” he said.

Naomi’s eyes traveled over his body once more, trying to memorize every contour, knowing she’d never see him again. Perfect didn’t begin to cover it. Her hand moved to the delicate chain around her throat, and she began twisting it around her fingers. It was a nervous habit. Whenever she touched it, she heard her mother’s voice.

That necklace looks so good on you, dearest. Promise mommy you’ll take good care of it. It’s going to keep you safe.

Kai’s eyes traveled down to her neck and his expression hardened, his brow furrowing.

“What is…where did you get that?” he asked.

“My mother made it for me,” she replied quietly, not liking the intensity of his scrutiny.

Her mother had died when she was eight years old. She had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. A mugger killed her while she was leaving work.

A few months before she died, she had given Naomi that very necklace. It was a simple charm. Two interconnected circles, almost like a Venn diagram, except the circle on the right looked more like the outline of a sun. It had points going all the way around it.

Naomi’s mother had told her the necklace would protect her, that she should wear it all the time. And she had. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d taken it off.

Kai licked his lips, his eyes glued to the simple charm at the base of her throat. It had been a lot longer on her when she was a child. Her mother had made it long on purpose so she’d grow into it. She was always thinking ahead, planning everything out before taking action.

“Thank you for the ring,” Kai said finally. “It was nice meeting you, Nomi.”

“Naomi,” she said quickly, correcting him before she could stop herself.

A shadow of his earlier smile came to his face. “Naomi,” he repeated quietly.

He withdrew from the shop, leaving Naomi wondering what on earth had just happened. She was confused and aroused at the same time, and it was really pissing her off. Her body had no right to react this way. She didn’t even know this man.

After a moment, she shook herself and returned to her work. It was done now. She was never going to see him again, anyway, so it wasn’t worth worrying over.

But the memory of his gentle touch lingered much longer than she would ever admit.

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