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About the author:
When not writing, Matthews occupies her time with her amazing husband and young son at their home in lower Michigan. She tries her hardest not to leave the house if there is snow on the ground, but you can still only buy so much on Amazon. For now.
What inspired you to write your book?
I wanted to see more normal guys as heroes. Smart, real, nerdy, and fun guys that are more down to earth but just as hot.
Here is a short sample from the book:
How do you tell if a cucumber is good? Should it be firm or have a slight give to it when squeezed? My whole eating healthier plan is harder than I thought it would be. There are so many mysteries to fruits and veggies. I put down my first cucumber and select another one from the bin. This one is larger and a bit firmer when I squeeze. Is firmer a good quality?
“Depending on what you’re going to do with that, it should be mostly hard.”
A short, white-haired elderly woman stands to my side and I almost fumble my vegetable when she speaks. Her eyes fall to my hands as they tighten around the green phallic object. Oh my god. I’ve been caught feeling up vegetables by a grandmother.
“Sandwiches!” I shout in her direction. “Just sandwiches.” I put the cucumber back in the bin and wipe my hands on my pants. As if the action will somehow remove my embarrassment over what this little old lady thought I planned to do with the thick veggie.
Unfazed she reaches in and grabs my original cucumber. “Here, sweetie. This is a good one for sandwiches.” She emphasizes the word sandwiches a little more than needed. “It’s a good size and should give you at least two uses.” She places the cucumber in a small, clear plastic bag and hands it my way.
I drop the bag in the basket hanging from my arm. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. I take care in selecting my fruits and veggies as well.” She ends with a wink. A wink!
I’m still horrified by the vegetable exchange as I reach my apartment building twenty minutes later. Not used to city living where I have to carry all my purchases with me, I bought too many groceries at the street store. I struggle with the door and my two full bags of food and have to use my butt to keep the door open. I’m one step inside the building as the bag on my left arm starts to slip. In some ill-fated attempt to stop the inevitable, I try to realign it by leaning forward. Physics never was my strong subject in school. The side of the brown paper bag folds over. All my carefully selected fruits and vegetables roll through the lobby as I stand by and watch.
Well, at least my Wednesday at work was better. This is my first spill of the day. I set both bags down and begin the hunt for all my missing produce. Arms loaded with oranges, apples, and that damn cucumber, I try to place them all back in my paper sack, but notice the rip too late. They tumble right back out again through the tear.
“It looks like you could use some help.” Finn’s deep voice settles around me before he closes the distance across the tiled lobby floor.
I don’t want Finn to think I’m incapable of simple tasks such as crossing the road or carrying groceries upstairs. So I lie. “No, I’m fine. Really.”
“I hate to break it to you, but you don’t look fine. You appear to have a fruit situation going on here. Let me help.” He bends over and starts collecting the errant items.
“Thanks. Another day, another chance to save me.”
“Nonsense. I enjoy playing the white knight. This is much easier than slaying a dragon.” Finn spots the bag tear and turns it to his chest blocking off the hole. Smart man. He takes care in placing each small bagged fruit in the paper bag so they don’t spill out again. “Cucumber? What do people use these for?”
Not the cucumber again. I swear, I’ll never purchase a green vegetable as long as I live. “Sandwiches. Cucumber sandwiches. You know with mayo?” My voice raises as I continue, “Has no one in Northern California heard of them before?”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to insult your cucumber. He looks hearty, a fine specimen.” He hurries to load all my produce in the sack and stands.
“No, I’m sorry. It’s… well, it’s a rather long story.” I can’t explain my cucumber mishap to Finn and retain any of my dignity.
“Okay. Come on. I’ll help you carry these up.”
“You don’t have to. I’ll be okay, I promise.” It’s four floors up, and it’s clear he was on his way out. I don’t want to be a damsel that needs to be saved. I’m a strong, independent woman living in the city. At least I want to be.
Finn heads toward the stairs. “I think I do. Besides, I’m just on my way to meet some friends. They can wait.”
The building we live in is an old warehouse, recently converted to be luxury condos and business space. The ground level is a series of store fronts — a clothing store, coffee shop, and small used book store. Our small lobby is carved out in the middle, and the staircase rounds itself through the central part of the building. The second and third floors house standard condos. The penthouse uses the entire fourth floor with a small area cut out for my apartment.
“Too bad we don’t have an elevator, huh?” I joke as a way to distract me from Finn’s musky cologne. I trail behind him as close as possible to catch as much of the delicious smell as I can.
Turning back to look at me, Finn’s face constricts and his lips tighten, like he has a secret. “We actually do. I’m sorry. I should have let you use it yesterday. The penthouse has a private elevator at the back of the building. It opens up in the living room so you’d have to walk through the condo to get to your place, but you could use it. I don’t care.”
Of course the penthouse would have their own private elevator leaving us little people to hoof it up the stairs. Even so, it’s incredibly nice of him to offer it to me. A part of me wants to accept, but there is no way the offer would be extended when the penthouse’s true owner returns. I’d rather not get used to the privilege.
“Thanks, but I’ll keep walking. It’s good for me and besides, I have a feeling using the elevator is not on the list of acceptable rules, per my lease. Why are you taking the steps if you have technology at your fingertips?”
“Stairs are technology. Old technology, but still a marvel in their time.” He has a point, but doesn’t wait for me to acknowledge it, “but I need the exercise. Plus, I wouldn’t want to miss the chance to see you again.”
His words give me a thrill and a grin slides onto my face. Seriously, this guy is either the biggest undercover player or the nicest guy on the planet. He doesn’t have a clue how sweet he is.
“Okay, I agree. Stairs were a great invention.” I decide to ignore his “chance to see you again” part. I have no idea what to say back to that. My flirting skills have abandoned me. Not that I’ve ever had any. Cute guys have always had a way of making me lose twenty IQ points.
“So, here I am helping you again and I left the umbrella this morning. Even if you didn’t need it, the intent was there. I’ve racked up some serious brownie points. I deserve to know at least one of these rules Ryland has saddled you with.”
It hasn’t rained today, but outside my door this morning was a bright pink and black polka-dotted umbrella. I peeked a look toward Finn’s door as I tucked it away in my large black purse. I wondered if Finn had dropped it off last night or early this morning and then promptly forgot about it this afternoon.
How did I forget the umbrella? Rather than show my appreciation, I had him carry groceries for me. “Thank you for the umbrella. I love the polka-dots and pink is one of my favorite colors.” I rush out.
We stop at the fourth floor entry while Finn shifts his bag and types in the code. “You’re welcome. You felt like a pink person. You’re happy even with a scraped knee. Now, don’t change the subject. Give me one good rule.”
His kid-like happiness over my living situation makes me laugh. “Okay. Okay. Let me get these inside first.”
I unlock my door and dump my bag on the kitchen counter. There isn’t room for a dining room table in the tiny space, but I do have two tall pine stools tucked under the breakfast bar area. Finn follows my movements but makes sure the fruit stops before any roll off the side.
“Okay, so Rule 2 is no playing music past nine at night.” I’ve delayed as long as I can, but I want to start him off small. I hope the fallout of this conversation won’t be me losing my apartment should Finn decide to tattle on me.
“That is so lame. No one wants to listen to their neighbors’ loud music at night. I need a better one.” Finn starts to unpack my grocery bag by placing everything on the counter. “Ryland lives in his own world and he thinks everyone else should too. He made you agree to something crazier for sure.”
I move deeper into the kitchen and watch him over the counter space. “No, you don’t understand. The rule says I can’t listen to music. Any music past nine o’clock. I’m allowed to watch television, but only if the decibel is at a level to not be heard in any adjoining room.” I quote from my lease agreement.
Finn still doesn’t look shocked by my declaration. “Trust me. I’ve been friends with Ry for most of our lives, he’s one of the pickiest people I know. He can do better than that. You have good ones you aren’t sharing.”
I’m caught. “Okay. How about I’m not allowed to have more than two people over at any given time?”
That makes Finn laugh. “Now there’s a Ryland rule. How does he even plan to regulate it? Random searches?”
His laugh is infectious and soon I join in, “I don’t know. I didn’t ask. I only know a few people in the city so I wasn’t too worried. No wild keggers for me.”
“I want to test these rules with you. Can you get special permission for family visits? How many siblings do you have? Can we pack them all in here? What if they all stand in the hallway? Does that count?” he asks as he pulls out a stool and takes a seat. His mind is obviously whirling through nefarious options.
“No. No, testing the rules. Remember you promised it would stay between the two of us?”
“All right, fine, but we could have some serious fun with this in the future if you change your mind,” he says.
I can’t stop myself from looking at him every few moments as I put away my groceries. Finn isn’t wearing the glasses he had on yesterday and I miss them. They added to his boyish, carefree look. He’s again in a pair of jeans and a thermal shirt. Red this time. I’m starting to think the combination might be his signature wardrobe choice. “Don’t hold your breath. My brother and his wife are my only family so even with all of them I wouldn’t break the rule.”
“Yeah, but what if your parents visit?” he presses.
I hate sharing this part of my story. I don’t want to see the pity that colors every eye after they learn I’m an orphan. My brother is all the family I’ve needed in years. I’ve come to terms with it and I wish everyone else would too.
“Um, I don’t have parents. They died in a car accident when I was six.” As I knew they would, the words suck all the humor from the room.
Finn’s lips fall and right on cue, pity stretches across his features. “I’m sorry. You were so young. Who raised you?”
I go back to my groceries so I don’t have to continue eye contact. “It’s okay. I’ve had years to deal with it. I grew up in Maine. The roads were icy and it was dark. My dad lost control of the car.” The words are said without emotion. I’ve told the story so many times I can recount the incident without breaking face. It’s as if it’s someone else’s story now.
“My grandmother raised me and my brother in Southern California until she died and then my brother took over until I turned eighteen.” My Grandma’s death is still fresh and reducing her story to a sentence makes my heart hurt. She was so much more to us both. “Do you want a drink?” I need to keep busy so the memories don’t take over. Crying is a real mood killer.
Finn fidgets as he gets up from his stool. Great, now I’ve made this awkward. “No, thanks. I normally would, but I have to meet my friends before they turn out a search party for me.”
“Right. I forgot. Thanks for your help with the groceries.”
He makes his way to the door and turns before he lets himself out. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Aspen. Be ready to share another rule. I’ll get them all out of you eventually.”
My, “Goodbye,” follows him out the door.
Everything was going great until I had to go and ruin it with my gloomy history. Regardless of what he said, I am never going to see Finn again. People often cut and run when they don’t think they know the right sentiment to convey. As if there is some magical set of words to heal all the pain from losing loved ones.