Tea with Emma by Diane Moody

Fresh from a Jane Austen tour in England, Maddie Cooper returns home to Texas, determined to bring a touch of “Austen to Austin.” But an airport mishap with a cranky Englishman gets her off on the wrong foot (quite literally), especially when he moves into the university guest house across the street. Can Maddie find a love for her unapproachable new neighbor, or has she finally met her match?

Targeted Audience: Romance readers

Author Bio:
Born in Texas and raised in Oklahoma, Diane Hale Moody is a graduate of Oklahoma State University. She lives with her husband Ken in the rolling hills just outside of Nashville. They are the proud parents of two grown and extraordinary children, Hannah and Ben.

To date, Diane has penned thirteen books with several more projects vying for her attention. She and her husband Ken, who writes as McMillian Moody, founded OBT Bookz in 2011.

When she’s not reading or writing, Diane enjoys an eclectic taste in music and movies, great coffee, and the company of good friends.

Visit Diane's website at dianemoody.net and her blog, “just sayin’” at dianemoody.blogspot.com.

What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
My love for Jane Austen

Read more, including a sample from the book
Sample from Book:

Another interruption. Great. Just great.

“Can’t a body get five stinkin’ minutes without a phone call or someone knocking at the stupid door?” I muttered, my teeth clenched. “Hold your shorts. I’m coming!”

I shoved my office chair back from my cluttered desk, avoiding eye contact with the calendar hanging above my mess. September lurked a few pages back, breathing down my neck. Only three months to go and not a chapter written. If Samantha made one more inference about “writer’s block” in that graveled editor’s voice of hers, I would throw my keyboard at her in a New York minute. Never mind that she was 3000 miles away in the aforementioned Big Apple.

I quickly finger-combed my wild hair before throwing open the front door. “Hey, Mark,” I greeted, sounding much more cheerful than I felt. “Sorry it took me so long.”

“No problem, Lucy. Buried in another novel?” My UPS guy smiled as he keyed in something on the big scanner gadget in his hands. I noticed a medium-sized box resting on the weathered bench beside my front door.

“I wish. Can’t seem to get this one off the ground.” I signed the gadget using the special pen he handed me. Samantha was a stickler for receipts, insisting on delivery confirmation, so I was used to this little ritual. Except I noticed this one wasn’t from her. It was from my dad.

I glanced up just in time to find Mark staring at me. His eyes quickly darted back to the scanner as I passed it back to him. Normally I looked forward to his deliveries. Even though his visits were brief, in typical UPS oh-so-rushed fashion, he’d always been friendly. Always asked about the books he delivered fresh from my publishing house. Once, when he was ahead of schedule, he even sat down on my wicker porch chair and waited while I opened a box of my newest release, an Australian romantic comedy. I signed one for him to send to his sister who was living in Sydney at the time.

Did I mention he’s also a dead ringer for that guy who played Sawyer on LOST? Yeah. That guy.

“Working on another sappy love story?”

Our running joke. He assumed I wrote strictly romance. Probably a sexist remark, but I always gave him a pass on it. Getting lost in those killer dimples for a couple minutes seemed like a fair trade-off.

Most of the time, that is. Today? Not so much. I felt irritable and tired, and I needed to get back to work. So I played along. “Yeah, nothing but sap. All that yucky, mushy stuff. You know—hey, how are you, I think I love you, will you marry me, happily ever after stuff. Same old, same old.”

He lifted the box easily and handed it to me. “Hey, don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it. Sometimes that yucky, mushy stuff can be good medicine.” He tossed me a wink as he turned to go.

“I’ll remember that. Have a good one, Mark.” I couldn’t help but notice the tanned muscular calves as he sprinted down the driveway. Gotta love the warm summer months when the UPS guys wear those manly brown shorts . . .

“You too, Lucy. Happy writing!”

The box felt surprisingly light. As I made my way back in the house, I admired Dad’s perfect handwriting. Normally I didn’t have to sign for anything from him, so I was intrigued. Dad, what are you up to now?

I’d missed his call the other night and only now realized I’d never listened to my voice mail or called him back. When he called, I’d been in the midst of another Migraine Hell, third time this week, and chose to keep the pillow over my head rather than be sociable. He was always a good sport.

“Gertie, whatcha think?” I asked my Scottie as I set the box on the kitchen table. She wagged her tail vigorously, cocking her head to one side to study the mysterious box. “What would Dad be sending us? Another weather radio to protect us from the storms?” I grabbed some scissors out of the kitchen drawer and snipped the packaging tape. “Another deadbolt for our back door?” Gertie barked. I scratched behind her left ear. “I’ll take that as a no. Hmm, perhaps a case of Mace to carry on my next trip to New York?” Two barks. She knows him well.

With the tape sliced, I opened the box, pawing through an enormous supply of Styrofoam popcorn. “Good grief, Dad. What could possibly need this much packing?”

My hands searched through mounds of the white stuff until I touched something wrapped in tissue paper. I pulled it out, knowing immediately what it was.

Tears stung my eyes. For a moment, I had trouble finding my next breath. I blinked away the moisture blurring my vision and unwrapped the many layers of tissue. A delicate bone china teacup, with tiny hand-painted flowers in rose and amber resting against airy green fronds. Ornate oval frames scrolled in gold surrounded each small cluster of flowers here and there. Behind all of them, a deep red-on-red design contrasted against the cup’s creamy white background. A narrow gilded leave-like pattern rimmed the scalloped edge of the cup. Sophisticated and elegant, every hand-painted brush stroke more beautiful than the next.

“Aunt Lucille . . .” Her name escaped my lips. As I closed my eyes, I saw her. Seated across from me at the miniature table in the guest room she’d decorated just for me. Her red hair, always in a perfect updo of curls with a big bow in the back, wouldn’t dare allow even a hint of gray. Never mind the stash of Just My Shade in “Light Auburn #2” I’d discovered in the bathroom cabinet. Her secret was safe with me.

She always took time first thing every morning to apply makeup to her pale complexion. A little reinforcement to the eyebrows, a dash of blue shadow on her crinkled lids, a wisp or two of mascara to her fine lashes. Then came the rouge she so loved, kissing those powder-dusted cheeks. And the ever-present Parisian Rhapsody highlighting her lips, always the perfect companion for the bright shades of purple and turquoise she loved to wear.

In my mind, I watched as she lifted the cup I now held in my hand, her pinky raised, taking a sip of hot chamomile. I watched a much younger version of myself mimic her every move. We had tea parties in my room every afternoon at four o’clock—tea with cinnamon scones or wedges of her mouth-watering Scottish shortbread. She’d collected vintage teacups from her travels all over the world. Each cup and saucer had a story—anecdotes she eagerly shared with me, her eyes aglow with memories of exotic trips abroad.

It was the summer of my tenth year. My parents were overseas for a conference, and I had been so thrilled to take my first airplane ride to Chicago. There I would stay with my aunt and uncle while Mom and Dad were away. Aunt Lucille’s only child, my cousin Stephen, was off at college. And for those four glorious weeks in July, I was the daughter she’d never had.

And I adored her.

She spoiled me rotten, and I loved every moment of it. We toured museums. We browsed the wondrous aisles of Marshall Fields downtown. We explored fabric shops tucked in the Garment District of the Windy City. We went to a theater in the round.

And twice a week, we shopped at the fresh market downtown, buying luscious fat blueberries and strawberries, seedless watermelons, asparagus and pole beans, and the biggest, juiciest tomatoes I’d ever seen. Lucille was an accomplished cook, and I loved sitting atop the stool in her kitchen, watching her work her magic on dishes I’d never heard of before, let alone tasted. Best of all, I got to witness the miraculous assembly of her Hazelnut Almond Torte, an extraordinary masterpiece with twelve layers that took three days to make—a cake for which she was famous.

I caught myself licking my lips, remembering the blended flavors of that incredible delicacy.

I looked down, fingering the exquisite cup cradled in my hands. “I remember,” I whispered, recalling its story. When Lucille was younger, she’d found this little treasure in a quaint shop in England near Jane Austen’s hometown. My aunt loved to read. And her love of books was highly contagious that summer. She told me all about Miss Austen, the English author whose famous Regency romances had captured hearts for centuries. That summer Aunt Lucille bought me my first Jane Austen book—a delightful comedy called Emma.

It was the beginning of my life-long love affair with the written word.

Just one month ago today, my father called to tell me his sister, my precious aunt and namesake, had died in her sleep.

The funeral was a blur to me now. I returned a few days later, leaving Mom and Dad to sort through her will and all of her possessions along with Stephen and his family. I was already way behind deadline before I left for the funeral. When I returned, I plowed into a brick wall instead of a manuscript. I must have deleted at least a dozen false starts, each one as bad as the one before it. I just couldn’t settle into a story line I liked. I began to hate the characters that kept vying for my attention and gladly deleted them off the page. Which, of course, left me with nothing but empty pages.

I just couldn’t find my mojo. Whatever the heck that was. Something was missing. And as I marked each day off the calendar, the pressure mounted, making my creative juices quite literally disappear. I wondered if they’d left for good.

That was three weeks ago.

An envelope floated to the surface of all that popcorn. I opened it, reading Dad’s short note. “Lucille specified in her will that these teacups were to go to you. I know you’ll cherish them as much as she did. Love, Dad.”

As I carefully finished unwrapping each of the cups and their matching saucers, I kept thinking back to those tea parties with Aunt Lucille. The delicious chats we had. Her endearing patience as I rattled on and on about my serious crush on Rodney. Or was it Jared? The spell-binding stories she shared about the handsome Northwestern student who courted her, married her, then enlisted in the Army Infantry after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I always hung on her every word.

Oh my goodness.

That’s it!

These teacups! The stories . . .

Suddenly my head began to explode with ideas. Lots of them. I set the cup down and stared at it. Then I grabbed my head between my hands and closed my eyes. A whole library of movie-like scenes fast-forwarded through the camera lens inside my mind.

A hopeless romantic in a modern-day twist to Jane Austen’s Emma . . . in Austin?

A misfit couple of journalists thrown together . . . on the Oregon coast?

A fresh start in a small town . . . and a pastor who rides a Harley?

And a familiar love story set against the heartbreaking backdrop of World War II.

“STOP!”

Gertie started barking, no doubt wondering why I’d yelled. I dropped into the kitchen chair, staring off into that no-man’s land where authors often discover their characters. They paraded by, one after another, already outfitted in their respective costumes, each trying to tell me something about themselves.

Each one carrying a teacup on a saucer.

Hands down, the strangest thing that’s ever happened to me.

My eyes tracked back over to the collection of my aunt’s teacups. Don’t laugh, but I’m pretty sure I could hear their voices calling out to me. Some even had English accents. As if teacups could talk.

As if teacups could talk . . .

I grabbed the first cup and saucer I’d held, the one with the red and gold design, and took it to the sink. I washed and rinsed both pieces, then carefully dried them. I heated some water in my stainless steel teapot, and a few minutes later, a bag of Lipton tea brewed in the dainty cup I carried back to my office. I cleared the clutter and set it down, allowing it to brew a few minutes more as I opened a new file on my computer.

If teacups could talk . . .

I was amused to find those characters had all followed me into my little office. We were a bit cramped, but that’s okay. We needed to get to know each other up close and personal. It was also rather noisy, what with them all still chatting among themselves.

She should tell our story first. It was our idea, after all . . .

It’s the renegade wheel off my luggage. You don’t want to know . . .

Okay, don’t be alarmed but I smell smoke in your clothes.

Anyone bring the Glenn Miller records?

Is that egg nog homemade?

Mentally, I told them all to zip it so I could think. Even Gertie yipped as she hopped up onto her favorite chair. She sniffed the air suspiciously then nestled into her afghan. Did she notice our imaginary guests as well? Their whispers floating around the room?

“Hush!” I scolded them. “I mean it. Not one more word from any of you. We have work to do.”

I took a sip of the steaming tea, almost crossing my eyes as I studied the details of the tiny paint strokes along the rim of the cup. Then I gently put it back on its saucer, rolled up my sleeves, and starting typing.

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