With equal parts ceremony and exaggerated patience, everyone waited until after dinner before they began demanding a peek at The Book. “We fed you first because we didn’t want to be rude,” Mom said, as we cleared the table, “but the suspense is killing us!”
Nods of assent came from all around the kitchen, general agreement that I was risking their collective lives.
“All right.” I shoved my hands into the back pockets of my jeans. “But don’t feel like you have to read it. I mean, if cookbooks aren’t usually your thing, anyway, I don’t want you to think that, just because I wrote it, you’re obligated—”
“Nonsense,” Dad interrupted. “My little girl is having a book published. I for one will be reading it cover to cover.”
Shoot me now.
“And I’m ordering dozens of copies,” my mom added. “I’ll give them out to everyone I know!”
That should make for quite the Ladies’ Auxiliary meeting.
I went to the foyer and picked up the box, which seemed even heavier than I remembered. I’d no sooner set it on the kitchen table than four pairs of hands reached for the flaps and began extracting copies. My brother got the first one, and his eyes widened at the bright red cover. Lyssa stood on tiptoe to peer curiously over the edge of the table, and Carrie reached out one hand to shield the three-year-old’s eyes.
“Is she wearing anything?” My father, sounding more intrigued than judgmental, stared at the book Eric held.
“Food,” my mom answered, pulling out her own copy.
“Well.” Eric grinned. “Nice rack…of lamb.” He’s often said that being stuck in permanent adolescence is what helps him relate so well to his students.
“Hey!” Mom had opened her book and was inspecting the dust jacket. “There’s a picture of Miriam in here.”
“Is she wearing anything?” Eric smirked in my direction.
My father smacked him in the shoulder with one of the author copies.
Carrie had taken the nonlinear approach of randomly flipping through pages and was reading aloud. “Brownies to Bring Him to his Knees, or any other position you want him in.”
Eric wolf-whistled. “Mom, Dad, maybe you could keep the girls for a weekend sometime soon?”
My cheeks heated. Somewhere in America, there must be parents who would be mortified by their daughter writing Joy of Cooking meets Joy of Sex, but not in this kitchen.
“I wish you’d written this a couple of years ago, honey,” my mother said. “Your father went through this period where—”
“Mother!” I jolted out of my chair, thinking oh, the humanity. “I will never ask you for another thing if you promise not to finish that sentence.”
She blinked at me. “Sorry. I was being supportive. I’m really excited about this book, and the tour. It’s all so unlike you!”
As complimentary as she’d no doubt intended that to be, it somehow felt like a reverse insult.
“Absolutely,” Carrie chimed in. “You’ve always been so closed off, sweetie.”
Closed off? Because I didn’t discuss my sex life over dinner, or sit around asking everyone to analyze a weird dream I’d had or, as Eric was wont to do, pick up a newspaper and make an announcement whenever I headed for the restroom?
When my cell phone chirped, I dove for my purse like a carb-addict for the last croissant. “Miriam Scott.”
“Miriam, it’s Dylan.” His voice poured across the line, whiskey-smooth. “Is this a bad time?”
“In the course of history, there has never been a time this good.”
There was a pause before he chuckled. “Right, then. I wanted to let you know I finished reading your book.”
“Oh.” And what had been his reaction to “Brownies to Bring Him to his Knees”? I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.
“I don’t want to interrupt your evening, but you said you were accustomed to keeping late hours. I’m a night owl, too, actually, so if you aren’t otherwise engaged after the family dinner, would you like to get started tonight? We could meet at your place. You’ll probably be more comfortable there than at my hotel, and we’ll need somewhere private for the videotaping.”
He’d explained last night that one of the first things we would do was tape me, then work from there once we’d viewed the results. Won’t that be fun? I hadn’t been this excited since my root canal in college.
“Or,” Dylan said when it became clear that my un-enthusiastic silence was stretching on with no end in sight, “we can start fresh in the morning. Entirely your choice.”
Spend time with the man who left me tongue-tied, sweaty-palmed and aching to follow every piece of advice between the pages of my book, or stay here and be further traumatized by mental images of my parents’ love life. “How soon can you get to my place?”
The way to a man’s heart is through succulent breasts: Five mouthwatering chicken recipes.
ONCE DYLAN AND I had agreed on the estimated time we both thought it would take us to meet at my apartment, I hung up the phone, struggling to look apologetic about my excuse to leave. My family was understanding, but Mom delayed my departure by insisting she should pack food for Dylan.
“I’m a chef,” I reminded her. “You don’t think I’m capable of feeding a guest? Although it’s probably a moot point, since I’m sure he’s eaten dinner by now.”
“So he can have dessert,” she said as she flipped open cabinets, searching for a travel dish for what was left of the pie. “Don’t underestimate the power of winning a man through food.”
“How could she?” Eric asked from the table. “She wrote the book on it!”
I groaned in my brother’s direction. “Why again would having a man in my life be a good thing?”
Carrie shoved plates in the dishwasher, laughing. “They have their uses. Let me know if you change your mind about wanting one…We have some friends coming in tomorrow for a wedding this weekend, and I think Michelle’s brother is single. Want me to pass on a copy of the book for him? It would give him a glimpse of your picture and your personality, and I can make sure Michelle knows you’re available.”
“That’s not necessary.” Just what I wanted a guy’s first impression of me to be, the big-haired photo and an entire section titled “Asparagus: A Phallic Side Dish with Stamina.” All that plus hints that I was looking to hook up with a stranger? Pure class.
It took a little longer than I’d anticipated to say good-bye, kiss both of my nieces and carry the book box, minus a half-dozen copies, and a plastic container of pie out to my car. I drove home using a somewhat loose interpretation of the speed limit, suddenly aware that my comfy sweatshirt and scuffed jeans weren’t necessarily the clothes I wanted to be wearing to greet Dylan.
Since he was here to consult with me on creating a sexy image, it would be nice if I at least gave him some potential to work with.
Once inside my apartment, I barreled toward my bedroom. I slid open the mirrored door of my closet, eyeing the contents with indecision. I couldn’t even figure out what impression I was shooting for, much less how to accomplish it. Which explained why I needed Dylan’s help in the first place.
I seemed to have a selection of businesslike and formal clothes, which had been appropriate for loan meetings, church, job interviews