Friday, February 7, 2014

Excerpt from THE WRONG TODD by Donna McDonald

I set out to write a Valentine's Day novella for fun, but ended up writing a longer book instead. I was having too much fun with my quirky, funny characters to quit. The jokes kept rolling and I kept writing. So here the first chapter for your perusal.

It will be released next week, hopefully by February 14.  Happy Valentine's Day!

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CHAPTER 1

Though she hadn’t openly flirted with a good-looking man in a long time, Sabine smiled at the one smiling back at her. Then as casually as she could, she turned her attention back to her emergency phone call.

“So here’s the deal. There’s a cute guy sitting across from me just out of earshot. He smiles every time he catches me chair dancing to the canned music they’re playing. Should I go over and say hello? Do women get to do that now?”

“Depends, babe. How old is he?”

Joe’s excessively loud demand vibrated her eardrum and had her holding the phone away from her head. She glared before pulling it back, but didn’t press it against her head again.

“Stop yelling, Joe. There’s no crowd here.” 


Glancing at the guy, Sabine saw him smile into his coffee. She hoped she was right about him not hearing her conversation. This could get embarrassing fast.

“It’s hard to tell how old he is, but he’s definitely not a kid. Judging by his clothes, he went to work today. But then what do I know? I haven’t dated in over a decade. Maybe he’s hanging out and hoping to pick up chicks,” Sabine reported.

Her description elicited a snarky male chuckle. The phone ended up on her shoulder again as she listened to Joe’s rumbling baritone as he lectured her.

“Listen to me to me carefully, Sabine. If he’s as young as the others you’ve been scoping out lately, they’re hotties or babes to him, not chicks. Saying ‘chicks’ automatically means you’re way too old to talk to him.”

Sabine laughed at the critique. “Point noted . . . oh shoot. Never mind. Some teenage girl in a microscopic skirt just came in and sat down with him. My left leg is larger in circumference than her entire body. I’m hanging up now so I can cry into my coffee.”

When full-out male laughter came through the line, Sabine laughed herself. The younger man she had been ogling slid a covert glance her way, even with his girlfriend present. Her smile back was wide. Maybe single life wasn’t going to completely suck. At least she could legally lust now.

“Sabine, what I have been telling you? Skip the coffee shops and just go to a bar—an adult bar. Find a slightly younger male—not a kid—who’s had a few and let nature take its course. You obviously need to get that youth thing out of your system. Just remember not to take the kid’s lack of attention too personally. The younger ones are all like that—gay or straight. The last cub I dated had the attention span of a gnat. Make him do the deed a second time if he doesn’t get the job done on his first try.”

Sabine laughed. “What great advice, Joe. Glad no one else can hear you giving it. You’ve been very helpful in educating me about navigating single life, but even I know the bar scene doesn’t work very well for straight women my age.”

“Then it’s a good thing you don’t look your age.”

“Now that’s why I keep you around. You’re such a sweetie,” Sabine cooed into phone, smiling as she sipped the dregs of her cold drink.

Despite all his teasing, she had to admit her gay best friend was way more grounded about men than she was. Even after two years of tortuous relationship limbo, her divorce had still rocked her self-confidence. Fortunately Joe hadn’t let her wallow in her failure. Other than her two college-age children, Joe Kendall was probably the best thing she had to show for the twenty years she’d been married to his brother.

“So are you going trolling for grown-up men later? If you want, I’ll come watch and keep you out of trouble.”

“Thanks, but no. When I go trolling, I get hit on by old guys with open shirts and fourteen neck chains. They want a twenty year old, but figure what the hell when they see my long blonde hair and big boobs.”

“Sabine, it works that way for everyone at first. You can pass along the old guys to me. I prefer older men. Neck chains come off—right over the head. And yes, I’ve de-chained my fair share.”

Sabine laughed, drawing her admirer’s covert stare again. “Gross. Give me a thirty year old with lots of energy who can take direction. What’s wrong with that? I just want to feel like my life isn’t over, you know?”

“Yes dear, I absolutely know.” There was a long-suffering sigh in her ear. “Fine. Go back to trolling the coffee shop. With the way you work, your days off are too precious to waste a minute.”

“Oh, I’m just getting started today. I’m moving on to canvassing bookstores this afternoon. Maybe I’ll pick up a young single dad at story time after school,” she said, drawing doodles on her sketch pad.

“God woman, you need help. Meet me at the Haunted Owl for happy hour if you’re still unattached after five. We’ll troll there together and I’ll show you how it’s done. I’ll even try to look really gay this time so they don’t think we’re married.”

Sabine laughed at his offer. “You would have been a much better life partner than your brother even without the sex—no offense.”

“Offense? What offense? You know I refused to attend the wedding. Besides, I tried to tell you that Martin was a player twenty years ago when I still had an open mind about women. Don’t stand me up tonight. I want to ask you for a favor—one that will be fun for both of us.”

“Oh God, I think a chill just ran up my spine,” Sabine said.

“Chicken? I thought you were Sabine Almighty, sassy image consultant?”

“Hold that dare. I’m one more coffee away from an espresso orgasm,” Sabine said.

“You need to do this, Sabine. You’ve almost forgotten what having real fun feels like.”

She hung up on Joe’s laughter and tossed the phone in her purse.

On her way out the door, she couldn’t resist winking at the good-looking guy. His answering guilty blush told her more than anything else that he was definitely too young for her.

***

The Haunted Owl was packed as usual for a Thursday evening. Patrons crowded the bar stools for drinks while their restaurant pagers glowed like fireflies in the low lit room. Sabine lifted her soda and sipped.

“You have officially lost your mind. Saturday is Valentine’s Day, and since I don’t have a date, I’m going to treat myself to a spa. I’m not spending my first love holiday as a single woman bidding on a new boyfriend for you. I love you, but no.”

Sabine grinned when Joe turned puppy dog eyes her way. “You can look as sad as you want, I’m still not doing it. A woman has to draw a line somewhere.”

“The auction is not Saturday, silly girl. The auction is Friday night. The date is Saturday. All you need to do is bid on my Todd for me. I’ll keep the date for you. Come on—this is my chance to be his hero,” Joe said.

“Weren’t you the guy offering to show me how to troll bars this afternoon? Are you really that desperate for a hook-up? The man’s not even out yet, Joe. Why would you spend that much money for a date you could probably get in a hundred other ways?”

“I don’t prey on straight men and Todd is not just another date. And he’s outed himself to me—just not to all of Seattle. His company is making him do this charity bachelor auction. Winning bids will be in all the newspapers and they’re taking pictures,” Joe argued. “Come on, Sabine. It’s a few hundred dollars. I’m good for the money back.”

She laughed and shook her head. “I work for a high profile PR agency. My refusal is about all of Seattle seeing me date shopping at a worse meat market than any bar. Who do you think bids on men at bachelor auctions, Joe? Women do. Women like me do—well not exactly like me. I have never done anything like that in my life. Hell, I’ve even avoided online dating sites so far.”

“Yes, but just think how smashing you would look standing next to a Rundgren VP, Sabine. You could frame the newspaper clipping and put it in your office at work. Your boss would faint when she saw it.”

“I could photoshop that same picture and save myself tons of humiliation,” Sabine declared.

Joe nudged her arm on the bar with his elbow. “Come on. Where’s your sense of adventure hiding? You’ve forgotten how to have fun.”

Sabine laughed. “Fun? I didn’t hear any fun for me in your suggestion.”

Joe grinned. “Todd said he had a younger brother who is definitely straight. I bet I could get you a date with him. You could legitimately feed that youth fetish you’ve got going on just by doing me this one tiny favor.”

Sabine elbowed back. “Do you honestly think I’m desperate enough to trade an expensive date I’m not even going to go on myself for the possibility of one I might or might not get? Nothing you’re offering is a sure thing. What if I get outbid and your mysterious Todd ends up with someone else? What if I buy him and he’s straight after all?”

Joe shrugged. “Life is full of risk. I know this is a strange concept to you because you aren’t taking any at the moment. But I know you, Sabine. If you do this, you won’t get outbid. Go as high as you need to, so long as it doesn’t require me selling my car to pay you back afterwards.”

“You don’t even want to tell me his last name,” Sabine said sternly.

“It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s that I don’t know it. He wouldn’t tell me. The first step is always hard. Most men coming out are cautious about revealing their identity. He told me about the auction thinking I’d never attend that kind of function. Maybe I even said as much—but you would have too, if you’d seen how nervous he was.”

“Then how am I going to know the right man to bid on?” Sabine demanded.

“With less than twenty bachelors involved, you might find a couple Davids, Mikes, or Johns—no pun intended. But it is highly doubtful there will be two men named Todd,” Joe promised.

“First—why would a rational woman agree to such a weak-ass plan? Because she wouldn’t. Secondly—why do you think you can talk me into this?”

“Because while he didn’t tell me his name, Todd did tell me he worked for Rundgren. He’s a VP there—a VP in charge of public relations. This is a golden goose opportunity worth chasing. All I’m asking is for you to save my goose before you pitch your bid to him.”

Sabine blinked. Rundgren was the primo contract her boss had been trying to get for two years. Getting Rundgren as a client would definitely mean the promotion she’d been working toward for ages. The promotion would mean that she could easily replace everything Martin had taken away from her in the divorce.”

“Your brother took half my retirement savings and used the money to buy fake boobs bigger than mine for his flat-chested new wife. This Todd guy of yours better not cost me what’s left. ”

“It’s not going to cost all that much. Todd’s charm is understated, so bidding will be manageable. He’s a definite diamond in the rough kind of guy. I expect he will go for around six hundred—tops.”

Joe lifted his glass, smiling around it as he took a drink.

“Think of bidding on Todd as buying yourself a contract with Rundgren. That might help you feel better about the initial investment. The fun will be priceless.”

Sabine shook her head and closed her eyes. “Shit, Joe. I can’t believe you’ve managed to talk me into getting on your crazy train for a ride.”

“Sweetie, my crazy train is the most action you’ve seen in ages. You should be thanking me for giving you something productive to do with all that pent-up frustration you’re carting around,” Joe said.

Sabine snorted. “Don’t be blowing your paycheck on anything big this week. I need my money back.”

Joe just laughed as she guzzled her second soda.

***

Koka glared at his show’s producer and shook his head. “Are we really so desperate? The ratings cannot be that bad.”

Edwina Winston sighed as she laid her tablet device down on the polished marble counter. “The ratings are down because you’ve cut back on personal appearances. People want to see you up close.”

He ran a hand through thick black hair that badly needed a cut. “You know I have no choice about that. I don’t want to leave Pekala while she is so ill. My kupunawahine raised me.”

Edwina nodded. “I know. Your desire to stay in town so much is precisely why I booked you for our local bachelor auction. This televised event is a lot of bang for the station’s marketing buck, Koka. It’s one date on Saturday and all you have to do is cook a private dinner for the woman. I’m sure it won’t harm your ethics—or Todd Lake’s. You can use the set kitchen for it to make it even more safe for you.”

Koka snorted. “The whole thing is embarrassing. It looks like I can’t get a normal date.”

“Don’t be juvenile,” Edwina said, swiping the air with her hand. “All women want to date you. You’re a walking Polynesian pin-up poster with those muscles and all that tanned skin. We’ve had this discussion many times and I’ve seen you mobbed after appearances.”

“No,” Koka said firmly. “The women want to date Todd Lake—not me. But standing there and letting them buy me—I don’t like the idea of it.”

Edwina sighed and promised herself a sane job with only media hungry clients in the future. She picked up her tablet and gave her most popular, yet resistant celebrity a hard stare.

“You can argue all you want, but it’s a done deal, Koka. The auction is tomorrow night. It starts at six-thirty and you’re bachelor number five. The execs wanted you to go shirtless and wear just your network apron, but I told them no already. So wear a nice suit, will you? Maybe you could even shave and get a haircut before then, to at least give the impression you care. Just don’t forget to pin the show logo to your suit jacket. And make sure the network cameras get a clear picture of it while you’re standing on stage.”

“I will hate every moment of the pretense,” he promised.

Edwina shrugged. “Maybe you will, but you will also make a lot of money for a great charity. Hopefully, the surge in popularity will boost your ratings enough to keep your primetime slot. That’s our goal.”

Koka nodded tightly. “Fine. I will be a good sport—this once. Please don’t ask me to do this kind of event again.”

“Give my best to your grandmother,” Edwina said, knowing better than to make a promise she could never keep.

“I will tell her you said hello,” Koka said as he walked her to his front door.

When he returned to the modest kitchen he had extensively renovated four years ago, his grandmother was waiting for him.

Pekala Whitman sat in her wheelchair as regally as any queen ever sat on a throne.  The woman who had stood in for his neglectful parents said exactly what she thought to him all the time. What wasn’t uttered in regal commands often was advice too wise to ignore.

“I’m sorry if my argument with Edwina disturbed you,” Koka said regretfully. “Would you like me to fix you a cup of tea?”

“Yes, I’d like that very much,” Pekala answered. “But I do not think what Edwina asks is so bad, Koka. Why does doing something silly for charity bother you so much?”

Koka shrugged as he filled the kettle. “The auction has nothing to do with my cooking and everything to do with me selling something that I do not wish to sell. I have enough problems with that.”

His grandmother’s laugh made him smile. “Yet like most men, you quite happily give it away when it suits you.”

“That is different. That is my choice,” he said. Then he frowned into the tea kettle. “And I can’t even recall the last time I gave it to anyone. There are no good women in this town.”

Pekala clicked her tongue in sympathy. “Where is your faith? Perhaps the woman who pays for your company will be a nice person. Perhaps she will even be your Ke Aloha.”

“That would be miraculous,” Koka said stiffly, but then instantly regretted having taken too sharp a tone over her teasing. “I have some fish soup I could warm for you if you’re hungry.”

“No thank you. Just tea, Ko`u Aloha. Just tea tonight,” she said. “I need to go pray to the goddess. I will ask her to send someone to whom you can give what you don’t want to sell on Saturday.”

His grandmother meant well with her teasing. She meant to put him at ease. Koka knew that—he did. But thinking of an audience full of screaming women bidding on him, he rolled his eyes to the ceiling making sure his grandmother did not see.
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