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.
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.”
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?”
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.
“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.”
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.