Good News, a Good Read, and Good Food

Dec 07, 2023 by Karen Janowsky, in Chris Evans

I've got so much to be grateful for.  I'm writing this in my cozy little home office, surrounded by books and cats. There's a cup of tea next to me. I also have a head cold, so I have no clue whether this is coherent or if I'm babbling. Bear with me. I'll keep this short. I've been ridiculously busy,  jotting notes for a new book in-between grading Freshman Composition papers. The next book will happen once the fog in my head clears up and I have some time to breathe. 

Meanwhile, Dear Prudence has won a third award now! I'm super-proud and graterul for the recognition it's getting. Check out my newsletter for Shawn's family recipe for potato latkes (they're simultaneously heavy and addictive).

And in the blink of an eye, Her Name Was Lola will be out before the holidays. In the newsletter, I  promised a sneak peak. The book should be available everywhere pretty soon, so be on the lookout for it.  Most of all though, may everything be merry and bright for you.  I'm so thankful that you've stuck with me. 

My gift to you: Her Name Was Lola

Chapter One



Once upon a time

So far in her life, Lola Nelsson had made two major decisions. The first had been when she was seven. She’d chosen to believe in fairy tales—not the helpful, adorable mice kind, but the real ones—the ones that usually ended in blistering carnage for the villains. She was certain that magic existed in the world and it usually rewarded the good guys.

Then three things happened. First, at age nine, she’d read the original The Little Mermaid with its tragic ending. That same year, her beloved eighteen-year-old brother had packed up his things and gone off to college, leaving her and her little sister behind. The greatest blow, however, had been when she was eleven and her mother died. The world became even darker and harder to navigate than fairy tales would have had her believe.

She’d made her second major life decision four days ago, which was to act her age. As of tonight, Saturday, August 26, at twenty-two-years-and-three-days old, she was going to do adult things. Such as attend parties that didn’t involve multiple kegs and clouds of nicotine and weed. She’d dress like a grownup rather than in her usual student attire of jeans and T-shirts. By the time she graduated from Jewett College, she’d be a grown woman who was fun to be around but who engaged the world with dignity.

Tugging at her shimmery teal cocktail dress, Lola took a test walk around the hotel room. The bunched-up seafoam-green quilts on each full-size bed were like puffy oceans with crumpled white sheets cresting toward the ceiling. She stepped around the beds, careful not to snag her black kitten heels on the plush beige carpet or trip over the open suitcase her oldest and dearest friend Naomi had left in the middle of the floor.

Imaginary talking mice chittered away, scampering beneath her skin and leaving itchy trails of sparkling fur and wet mouse snot in their wake. Tonight, you will be dignified and fundignified and fun, they squeaked on a loop.

“Let me fix your hair.”

Lola turned toward where Naomi stood outside the bathroom with an armful of hair products. Her friend’s straight shiny blonde hair grazed her bare shoulders, and her little black dress hugged her hourglass curves. With her bangs, black eyeliner, and brick-red lipstick, she was a classic femme fatale.

“You look incredible,” Lola said.

“Thanks. That dress on you, though. Wow.” Naomi assessed her as she walked closer. “You’re going to be the belle of the conference. You’ll certainly get GQ’s attention tonight…if that’s still what you want.”

GQ, as they’d dubbed him, was a man Lola had noticed several times at the New England Small College Conference, an annual gathering for regional intelligentsia. He was tall and trim and had dark brown hair, high cheekbones, and just square-jawed enough of an oval face. While she’d passed him a program at a check-in table on Thursday morning, he’d been talking to someone else. When he smiled, he looked like he could be a model from GQ Magazine. He’d accepted the pamphlet without seeming to notice her in her black shirt and slacks and her nameless Student Volunteer badge. Why would he?

Lola sat on the backless stool in front of a small vanity and Naomi came around with her arsenal. Naomi’s perfume wafted from her—faint notes of juniper berries, jasmine, cedar, and tonka bean.

Lola glanced at her friend in the mirror. “How is it that even the way you smell whispers sex goddess when no matter what I do, I broadcast unicorns and rainbow-sprinkled cupcakes?”

Naomi pulled a can of dry conditioner from her bag. “You do not. You just need more confidence.” She fiddled with a pair of silver hair sticks with tiny carousel horses on the ends. “You have a zillion shades of copper and brown. The horses look like they’re running through a hairy sunset.”

Lola laughed as Naomi stepped back to admire the French twist she’d created.

“That color dress makes you look like a glamorous mermaid with feet.”

Lifting her legs, Lola rolled her ankles. “The Little Mermaid’s feet felt like swords piercing through her. Between the narrow heels, the thin soles, and pointy toes, these shoes almost fit the bill.”

“You’ll get used to them.” Naomi leaned in until her face was close enough that she looked like a cyclops. “You need darker lipstick and something to highlight those chocolaty eyes. Don’t move.” She disappeared into the bathroom again.

“GQ won’t pay me any more attention than he already has,” Lola called after her. Shaking off her shoes, she spread her toes and watched the shimmery black nylon of her stockings stretch. “He might not even be there.”

“He will.” Naomi returned with her makeup bag. “He was staring at you from a window opposite a conference room today when we were at the pool. You looked like an old-time movie starlet, complete with retro bikini.”

“I doubt I was the one he was looking at.” Lola thought about it and grinned. “If I was, though, maybe that’s what I should wear tonight.”

“You’d certainly turn heads.” Her friend laughed.

“Do I want to know how your boyfriend magically got us passes to this?”

“Clay hacked the guest list.” She pulled out a small eyeshadow brush and swirled it over one of the pots in her makeup bag. “Close your eyes.” She swept the soft bristles over Lola’s lids. “He got a few of us nobodies the green light. Open your eyes and look up.” Naomi applied mascara and bottom eyeliner.

Lola tried to keep still as her friend worked her magic. “If he sees me, maybe we’ll hit it off and one thing will lead to another.” She sucked in her cheeks while Naomi applied highlighter to her cheekbones. Releasing them, she felt songbirds and furry critters peck and nibble around her stomach. “At least I can make it happen on Planet Lola, here in my head.”

“I think there’s a decent chance of it happening in the real world. Bear in mind, he’s gotta be about thirty.” Naomi gripped Lola’s chin. “Keep your head straight.”

“I’ve been trying for years.”

Chuckling as she applied dark pink lip gloss, Naomi said, “Back to sexy time with GQ. We have no idea whether or not he’s a serial killer who keeps a knife under his pillow.” She let go of her face. “At least let me vet him for you.”

“I love your mixed message optimism, O Worldly One.”

Naomi took a step back, folded her arms, and nodded. “Your fairy godmother has done her magic. Take a look.”

Lola didn’t recognize the glamorous adult staring back at her from the mirror. She hugged Naomi. “Thank you.” Lola added, to the floor, “I’m sick of being the token virgin among all my friends.”

“That’s a terrible reason to jump into bed with a stranger.” Naomi perched on the edge of the bed. “An enduring relationship after a one-night stand is a longshot.”

“But not impossible.” Lola plopped onto the bed next to her, causing the hem of her dress to creep to mid-thigh level. “I get dumped when people find out about me, as if I’m defective.”

“You attract the wrong men.” Naomi stood. “I should’ve rethought this dress. Ugh.” She yanked it from where it hiked up near the tops of her thighs, then sat again, negating the effort. “Those guys are users.” Leaning back on her forearms, she watched the dress slide higher.

“I want to be normal, without having to put myself on display.”

Her friend stood again. “Oh screw it.” She grabbed her hem and bunched it around her waist.

Lola couldn’t help grinning. “The corset-tutu combo is an interesting fashion choice.”

Turning to the vanity, Naomi put away her hair and cosmetics supplies. “To your point, putting out for some jerk has to be a deal-breaker. You know that.” She headed into the bathroom with her ass sticking out, then poked her head from the threshold. “And you’re a gorgeous, sexy woman. There’s nothing wrong with a little window dressing.” She turned, stuck her butt out and waggled it, then disappeared into the bathroom.

When she returned, Naomi stretched her arms into a V, dress still hiked around her midsection. “How about you wear your swimsuit, I wear my dress this way, and we head downstairs?”

Abdomen shaking with laughter as she visualized it, Lola held her arms across her stomach and flopped backward.

Naomi stood over her and pursed her lips in an obvious attempt not to laugh. “Stop it. Don’t screw up your makeup before Prince Charming gets a good look at you.”

Slowing her breathing, Lola sat up. “If GQ wants to have sex, maybe we can date after that. If he’s older than me, he’ll be more mature.” She dabbed her eyes, checking for makeup smudges. “At least if I look the part, maybe I won’t feel like a kid trying to sit at the adults’ table on Thanksgiving.”

“As much as I encourage spreading your wings, if not your legs, you’re putting the cart before the horse.” Naomi readjusted her dress and smoothed it out.

Lola chuckled. “I hope you don’t decide to sit while we’re downstairs. Unless, of course, you’re going for the exposed undies look.”

Narrowing her eyes, Naomi drew near and patted Lola’s arm. “You’re hilarious. Whatever you decide, I’m here for you.”

Slumping, Lola peered up at her friend. “Look, I don’t plan on jumping into bed with anyone within moments of meeting them. Even if I’m brave enough to talk to him and he wants to, both of which I doubt. But if one thing leads to another, maybe we’ll have something like you and Clay have. You guys started as a one-nighter.”

Yanking on her hem again as she perched on the edge of the bed, Naomi sighed. “In retrospect, I was stupid about that. Think about how many pints of ice cream we’ve gone through while I cried over all those other disastrous hookups.”

“It can happen, though.”

Whistling a few bars of “Beautiful Dreamer,” Naomi stood, grabbed her key card and phone and dropped them into her tiny sequined purse. “I’m never sure whether to take you by the arm and yank you out of your shell or stand guard and not let the world touch you. But I’ll check him out and let you know if it’s safe to talk to him, at least.”

“That’s my point.” Lola tried not to sound exasperated. “I’m through being the princess in everybody’s tower.”

“Well.” Naomi waited for Lola to grab her keycard and slip it into the tiny pocket hidden in the skirt of her dress. “Let’s find you a rope to climb down tonight so you don’t end up jumping.”





Chapter Two



Vance straightened his tie, cracked open his hotel room door, and scanned down the hall. No Terri in sight. The Humanities lecturer from Connecticut had been trying to corner him since Thursday evening at the conference mixer. When they’d hooked up last year, she’d been unnervingly clingy. So far, he’d avoided her after exchanging a wave or a few pleasantries.

He once again considered staying in. These parties were usually loud and boring. The prospect of a tumbler of brandy and a few episodes of PBS Masterpiece Mysteries was a tempting alternative.

Shutting his door and sitting at the edge of the bed, he loosened his tie and undid his top button. Housekeeping had made the bed with military corner precision, even accounting for the puffy aqua comforter and pillows. He kicked off his shoes and gave the top sheet and blanket a few hard tugs until they came loose.

To binge watch, or not to binge watch? Whether tis nobler to suffer the drunken come-ons and bad jokes of outrageous colleagues, or to take arms against them by staying inside, under the covers all night, to sleep, perchance to dream?

He glanced back and forth a few times between the nightstand clock and the door. Downstairs were publishers, journal editors, and university administrators. He had to network with them because, until he had tenure, his job was up for grabs by other barely-out-of-grad school PhDs. That was if he wanted to be stuck at a teaching college—even a well-regarded one—for the rest of his life. He stretched his legs and wiggled his toes. If he were to jump colleges or careers, he’d do it on his terms, with no unemployment in between. He’d seen enough poverty in his life to never walk along that ledge again.

Sighing, Vance redid his shoes, tie, and shirt. He stepped in front of the bathroom mirror, pulled his jacket sleeves straight, and pushed his hair back. I should’ve worn a darker suit so I could stay hidden in plain sight. That would, again, defeat the purpose of attending this last night of the conference. It was a moot point. His light gray suit fit him better since he’d changed his workout routine. If anyone asked what he’d done all summer, the answer would have been boring. In between trips to the gym, he’d buried himself in mountains of scholarship, all in the name of his tenure package.

He opened the door again. No one was around. Maybe if he played his cards right, he’d avoid Terri and find some other woman to ride back up the elevator with if schmoozing and networking were a bust. Patting his keycard in his pocket, he stepped into the corridor.

The elevator bank, which resembled a miniature nineteenth century parlor with its Victorian style settee and ornate end tables, was empty. He pressed the down button and hooked his thumbs into his pockets.

Charming and professional. Charming and professional. Silently repeating the mantra didn’t help him want to go downstairs.

He smelled Terri’s nicotine-laced floral perfume before he heard her crackly voice from behind.

“There you are.”

Trying not to groan, he turned his head toward her. “Indeed. Here I am.”

When she grinned, he could easily see the yellow stains on her front teeth and the way her foundation and lipstick sank into the lines around her mouth. She wore an electric blue low-cut dress with a hem that came past her knees but had a long slit up to her mid-thigh. Mentholated stench permeated from her skin and her whitish-blonde updo. Terri sidled up to him and linked her arm around his.

He took his hand out of his pocket, unthreaded his arm from hers and stepped away.

She pouted. “I’ve been trying to get you alone all weekend.”

He focused on the interminably slow descent of numbers on the elevator. “I’m aware.”

Closing the distance between them, she produced her keycard and waved it in front of him. “I figured we could reacquaint ourselves tonight.” Her voice had that strangled husky breathiness common to heavy smokers.

He reminded himself that she was less than ten years older than him. She wasn’t this—something—last year.

“You never returned my emails,” she cooed, still pouting.

“True.” He glanced at her keycard and pushed her hand away. “No, thanks.” He mentally kicked himself. She’d obviously had a rough time of things between last year and now. Turning her down with a little compassion wouldn’t kill him.

“What do you mean?” She lifted her chin. “Haven’t you missed me?”

Willing himself to keep his mouth shut, he focused on the elevator’s progress.

She put her hands on her hips. “I’ve been thinking of nothing but you for a year, Vance. Are you saying you don’t feel the same?”

Glancing at her, he raised his eyebrows.

“No?” Her too-pink lips trembled as she batted her fake eyelashes.

Was she this over the top a year ago?

“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

“Look, Terri.” He tried to sound gentle. “We had fun. I’m flattered, but I’m not interested.”

Biting and releasing her lip, she stepped forward. “But I thought it was so good between us.”

“We hooked up once.” Vance firmed his tone and retreated another step. “There’ve been other people since then, and I don’t like reruns.” He flinched at his coldness, but that did the trick.

“Making a face on top of the insult was uncalled for.” Her nostrils flared. “You think you’re Mr. Sexiest Man in Academia, but let me tell you something. I’ve had better sex with better-looking men than you.” Terri folded her arms.

“That’s Dr. Sexiest Man.” The back of his neck heated. Why does this have to be an argument? Why would anyone think that would change someone’s mind, ever? “Just because you stopped at the MA and can’t get beyond a lecturer position doesn’t mean it’s true of the rest of us. Go find someone else to sink your claws into, please.”

As she fumed, he slunk away to find the stairs. Taking his time through the blank, cool stairwell, Vance headed down a few flights as he fought off a headache. Five flights down, his toes rubbed against the hard leather of his shoes—another argument in favor of going back to his room.

But she might show up.

He wasn’t even sure whether the woman he’d noticed was part of the conference. Whoever this hotel guest was, she had long, golden-brown hair that hung in loose spirals and waves. Every time they’d crossed paths in the lobby around lunchtime, she was with other people. There was never a way to get her alone. One of them would leave as the other entered through the doors of the hotel restaurant or adjoining elevators. He’d glimpsed the outline of her breasts and waist as her violet sundress swirled past her calves.

His treatment of a former lover in favor of a potential new one wasn’t lost on him. He’d behaved like a dick, and it was no use pretending his career was his primary concern right now. Still, he couldn’t shake thoughts of earlier in the afternoon, as he’d waited for the next session to begin and he'd seen her through the window. She was lying on a lounge chair, floppy white canvas hat tilted partway over her face and one slender knee bent. She’d worn a 40s-style high-waisted red two-piece with a halter top. Sunlight bounced from the large kidney-shaped pool, sprinkling sunlight across her thighs. Her purple mirrored sunglasses reflected dark turquoise water. He’d decided to skip the next panel discussion and go outside to talk to her, but her blonde friend had dragged her to the deep end before he’d even loosened his tie. Her skin shimmered, a modern Naiad, as she dove and disappeared beneath the water’s surface.

And here he was now, diving after her via musty concrete stairs.

He needed to give his feet a rest.

I need to give this entire venture a rest. What was he doing, running after a complete stranger like some lovesick kid? His focus had to be on his career. Briefly, he recalled the prince in everyone’s favorite Andersen story—at least the pop-culture version. The prince in The Little Mermaid became enamored of a woman he’d glimpsed for a few seconds, to the point of obsession. He’d always thought that characterization was especially stupid.

When he got to the sixth floor, he left the stairs and walked toward the elevators. One of them opened within moments of him getting there. Two other men were already in the car. One looked about his age, lanky and wearing a brown suit with pants legs and sleeves that were too short. His name badge was hidden by his lapel. The other was middle-aged, a couple inches shorter than Vance, and had a salt-and-pepper beard.

The older man smiled. “Have a good conference so far?”

“More or less. Hello Dr. Vasquez.”

“That’s me.” Dr. Vasquez had given a spirited rebuttal of a paper that argued support for a “student as client” educational model.

“I enjoyed your paper,” Vance said. “I agree with your arguments against pursuing capitalism as pedagogy more than it already is.”

The younger man shoved his hands into his pockets. “A Marxist approach to teaching is untenable because in this postmodern, digital age of global—”

“Thank you,” Dr. Vasquez said to Vance. “Although you look too young to be that old-school about teaching style.”

“And yet.” Vance grinned. “The I talk, you listen and take notes method is my exact classroom model. I have different reasons to embrace it than you, but your arguments were sound.”

“That isn’t old-school, it’s antiquated.” The younger man’s voice rose. “Next you’ll tell us you’ve never seen a movie produced after the 1950s.”

Shrugging, Vance turned to him. “I do like Turner Classics a lot.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Speaking of, this is going to sound like a weird question, but have either of you noticed a modern-day Hedy Lamar around the hotel? I wasn’t sure if she was part of the conference.” He didn’t add that her eyes were a little wider and more luminous and her nose narrower and more graceful than the actress.

“Who’s that? Are they famous?” the tall man asked.

Dr. Vasquez chuckled. “Ah, youth.” The elevator stopped on the ground floor and they all got out. “No, but I hope you find her.”

Vance stood in the elevator bank and watched his colleagues chat and laugh as they walked through the doors to the event. He’d give it forty minutes, tops. If he found her, or at least met someone else to make the dress-up function worth his while, great. After that, he was leaving no matter what. He rolled his shoulders back, took a steadying breath, and headed toward the party.





Chapter Three



“Open bar. Sweet.” Naomi pointed toward the far end of the hotel’s vast rear courtyard.

Lola blinked as she tried to focus against the hanging incandescent lights that cast shadows over the floor. She gazed up at a black starless sky. The half-moon seemed to be made of mirrors, sending dark, flickering auras around everyone and everything as guests milled about. Wasn’t this what Hell was supposed to look like, complete with all the overdressed apparitions? She almost tasted brimstone when she inhaled the strong citronella surrounding the patio.

Naomi stepped in front of her. In the cloudy moonlight, her hair was almost silvery instead of blonde and her dark red lips made her teeth glint dangerously. “Want a drink?”

“No, thanks.”

“I do. I’ll be back.”

Late summer humidity clung to Lola’s arms, and sweat trickled along her neck and chest. Shifting her weight, she glanced around for a place to sit and rest her aching feet. No doubt she’d have blisters on her toes by the end of the night. Clusters of people lounged on plush red couches and armchairs or crowded at the bar like ants on a watermelon rind. In one corner was a dance floor where the DJ was playing oldies. She contemplated taking off her shoes.

A hand landed on her shoulder, and she jumped.

“Having fun yet?” Naomi sealed her lips over the straw in her narrow neon green drink. The liquid had reduced to about two-thirds by the time she took a breath and grinned.

“Not really.”

Naomi took another long draw from her glass. “C’mon.” She took Lola’s hand and moved toward the middle of the courtyard, Lola stumbling along like a foal following a mare.

Better than the imaginary mice. Squeak, squeak. Interesting and fun. Interesting and fun.

A Beyoncé song came over the sound system.

“You should be out there dancing,” Naomi said. A gurgle emitted from the straw as she finished her concoction.

As Lola thought it over, a wide smile spread across her face. “Dance with me then.”

“Now you’re talking.” Naomi set her empty glass on a nearby table as Lola grabbed her hand and they moved onto the dance floor.

The satiny mixture of perfumes, musk, and sweat drifted around them, and the colored lights strung overhead glimmered as Lola and Naomi moved. Soon Lola wasn’t aware of much else as she raised her hands, twirled her wrists, and rolled her shoulders. They laughed and circled around each other, making figure eights with their hips. After three songs, they staggered off the floor, giggling. Naomi’s cheeks were pink and Lola’s were warm.

“I’m going upstairs,” Lola said. “I don’t think he’s here.”

“Isn’t that him? He was watching you dance.” Naomi pointed at the bar.

GQ was leaning on it, facing out. He had on a light gray suit with slacks that hinted at firm hips and a trim waist. His jacket button was open, revealing a long, lean torso beneath a dark blue shirt and a merlot-colored tie. He laughed at something the bartender said, tossing his head back, exposing a sharp jawline and graceful neck. As he recovered, he and Lola locked eyes. He turned toward the bar.

Throat tightening, Lola grabbed Naomi’s arm. “He’s completely out of my league.”

“There is no league. Give me a minute. If he comes to you, it means all systems go.” Naomi took a step forward when a tall woman with short black hair sat on a stool next to him. She was wearing a lavender dress with such a deep V that it barely held her breasts in. She traced her index finger from along her collar bones to just above her cleavage as she said something, smiling like a purple Cheshire cat in heat.

“That’s an abort mission.” Lola looked over her shoulder at the exit. “He’s a cross between Chris Hemsworth and Henry Cavill, and Lavender Boobs over there isn’t some little girl playing dress-up.”

Her friend shook her head, making her hair swish across her shoulders. “No, it’s not an abort mission, and you look like that forties actress who invented stuff.”

“Hedy Lamarr. And I’m so far from being like her that—”

“I’ll get rid of Boobs over there.”

The woman was leaning in as she talked. To his credit, GQ’s eyes never seemed to wander from her face.

Lola wasn’t sure she wanted to know what her bestie had planned. “You’re sure he’s not a murderer?” Imaginary mice raced around her stomach. Squeak.

“Highly doubtful. But text to let me know you’re not dead if you leave the party. If I don’t hear from you by the stroke of midnight, this fairy godmother will go Rambo on the hotel.” Naomi gave her a playful shove.

Stumbling and righting herself, Lola watched Lavender Boobs sidle closer, touching GQ’s knee. He flinched.

“Nope. Bye.”

Naomi tsk’d. “This is your time to shine.”

“Hey ladies.” Clay, who looked like a cross between a fraternity’s golden boy and a blond thickly-jawed mafioso, waved as he approached. When not smiling, he had what Lola called resting mobster face. He took two big steps and put his arm around Naomi’s shoulders. “You were looking good out there.”

“Girlfriend can shake it like she’s got no bones.” Naomi winked.

Laughing and grateful for the subject change, Lola swiveled her hips. “Like a tambourine, baby. Love me some Spearhead.”

“That’s the spirit.” Naomi turned to her boyfriend. “Honey, do you have condoms with you?”

Waggling his eyebrows, Clay grinned. “You’re ready to go already?” He slid his hand to Naomi’s lower back. “You don’t have to ask me twice.”

“Not for me, for Lola.”

Lola hoped her expression toward Naomi communicated WTF.

He took a half-step forward. “Lola, if you’ve just met some random dude—”

“Seriously, Clay?” Naomi put her hands on her hips.

Exaggerating a sigh, he dug into his pocket and held out a foil wrapper.

Lola darted her eyes.

“Take it.” He took another step closer, whisper-singing, “Girl, you’ll be a woman soon.”

Laughing, Lola pretended to slap her hand over his mouth. “Not the crooning—anything but the crooning. Now I’ll have that song stuck in my head.”

“The Neil Diamond, or the Urge Overkill version?” Without waiting for her to answer, he kept singing. Apparently he knew all the lyrics.

Lola saw GQ look away from their general direction. She took the condom and slid it next to her keycard. “Just to make you stop singing.” To her best friend, she added, “This is a bad idea.”

“He’s into you,” Naomi touched Clay’s arm. “She’ll be fine. Go wait for me by the dance floor, Mr. Astaire.”

Popping finger pistols at her, he said, “You got it, Ginger.” He patted Lola’s shoulder. “Go get ’em, tigress. We’re a text away if you need us.” He walked away, now whistling the Neil Diamond song.

Lola grabbed her friend’s wrist. “Why are you pushing this?”

The lavender woman’s hand was on GQ’s. He was staring at it with a puckered brow.

“Because if you don’t at least talk to him, we’ll be dissecting your paralyzing indecision forever. Hold tight, I’ve got your back.” She sauntered to the bar and stopped in front of them.

GQ slid his hand from beneath Lavender Boob’s and grabbed the edge of the bar as he laughed. The woman’s shoulders sagged, and she gave Naomi a look that could flatten the Himalayas and left. A few moments later, Naomi headed toward the dance floor.

This was her cue to get out of Dodge. Innocence intact, she had a night of BBC Mysteries and a mind full of what-ifs to look forward to. At least she wouldn’t be in these miserable shoes anymore. She hesitated and scanned the room. GQ was gone.





Chapter Four



From behind Lola, a pleasant male tenor voice said, “Hi, I’m Vance.”

She turned around and found her five-foot-four self face-to-solid-chest with GQ. Taking a step backward and sure she’d turned pale, she looked up at him. The peeling name badge on his lapel said M. Vance, but his last name was hidden by a shadow. “Oh, hi. I’m Lola.”

Vance held a shot glass in each hand. He was smiling, lips pulled back a little too much, as if he was unsure of himself. “Your friend told me I was being very obvious about staring at you and to go introduce myself. She said to give you this.” He handed her a whiskey.

His eyes were the color of freshly mown grass with silver flecks of dew at sunrise. When they locked on hers, her hands began to sweat, making the glass slip through her palm when she took it from him.

She grabbed it with the other hand at the last second. “Oh. Okay.”

He clinked his glass against hers, downed the shot, then smiled at her again. His upper lip had a minutely askew cherub’s bow.

Knocking hers back as well, Lola did her best not to react to the five-alarm fire scorching through her esophagus. She was reasonably sure smoke was about to billow from her nose and ears. Then that warm melty feeling crept in.

Okay, Naomi. Here goes. “To be honest, I was watching you, too.”

“Were you now?” He arched his eyebrows.

Silently thanking Naomi, Lola asked, “So, are you a visiting speaker?”

“I’m attending. I teach at Jewett College. You?”

“I’m at Jewett also. Library science department.” Hopefully he wouldn’t ask what she did there. She’d tell him the rest later…if they hit it off.

His fingers lingered over hers as he took the drink glass from her hand. “Another?”

One was her usual limit, and balancing on heels after two was inadvisable. “Yes, please.” She let him guide her through the crowd surrounding the bar.

He offered her an empty barstool and stood next to it as he waved at the bartender. “How long have you been at the college? I don’t recognize you.” He lowered his eyes and raised them to her again, offering an uncertain smile as he smoothed his hand over his thigh.

Looking down, she noticed her topped-off glass. “I’m going into my fourth year.” Lola swirled her fresh drink and watched the amber liquid make slow, wavy circles. She saw a chip in her pale pink nail polish and fought the urge to tuck it into her palm. “What about you? Where do you work?”

“In the English Department.”

GQ—or probably Dr. GQ—Vance—shivered a little when he slid his hand toward hers until their fingertips were millimeters apart. A tiny static spark jumped between them and they both chuckled.

Lola drank half of the shot. “What do you teach?”

“Comparative and European literature. My specialty is fairy tales.”

“I’ve been obsessed with fairy tales—the real ones, not the kids’ ones—for as long as I can remember.”

Vance leaned against the bar. “Same.”

A new song began, and they listened as he played with his tie for a few moments. “After watching you in action, I’m not sure I can keep up, but feel like a dance?”

Lola blinked then nodded. The rest of the room bobbed slightly with her head. She slid off the stool, and he rested his hand on the small of her back as they wound through the crowd. Heat radiated through the thin fabric of her dress.

He took her hand in his. They were about five paces from the dance floor when a man caught her shoulder, causing her and Vance to stumble backward.

“You’re not gonna pass by without a hello, are you?” The tall thin man had brown roots and blond tips. His hand was sweaty and his words slurred.

Vance looked at her. “Do you know him?”

Sobering, she shook her head, grateful that the world didn’t move with it.

The man sidled closer and squeezed her shoulder more tightly.

Letting go of her hand, Vance took a step toward him.

Lola tugged her shoulder away and pulled a hair stick from her updo. Stepping closer, she waved the tapered end at the stranger.

He gasped and stepped backward, letting go of her shoulder.

“Leave me alone.” She kept her voice as quiet and stern as she could.

The man muttered, “Slut,” as he retreated.

Lola replaced the stick through what was left of her updo.

Vance licked along his teeth. “You’re already full of surprises.”

The night’s cool dampness draped around the crowded dance floor, covering them like an airy shawl as they found their way to an open space.

“Remind me never, ever to upset you.” He spread his fingers over her mid-back and held her hand to his chest. His heart beat against her palm as he held it there, his hand cool and dry.

They looked at each other and smiled. He said ever” As in future tense. As in long term. I should probably let him know I’m a student now. That could wait a few minutes more. She inhaled a mix of tangerines, leather, and something else—ginger, maybe—that she could almost taste as his scent hovered between them. She moved closer, and their hips touched. There was an unmistakable twitch against her. She was sure it was a trick of the lights that made him appear to blush.

This might happen.

He took a half-step back, face pink against the white lights that outlined him. She imagined using her finger as a silver gel pen around his jaw, under his cheekbones, and across his forehead, illuminating his face. He brought his hand farther down her back.

She raised her voice over the music. “So, what’s your favorite fairy tale?”

He lowered his head closer to hers. Their mouths were centimeters from each other. “What?”

She asked again.

He said something.

She tilted her head up. “Didn’t catch that.”

Chuckling, he leaned in until his mouth was close to her ear. Cupping it, he repeated, “It’s hard to talk here. Do you want to go somewhere quieter?” The whiskey on his breath had mellowed to spiced caramel, and his voice melted through her.

The mice under her skin morphed into butterflies. “Okay.”

Holding her hand, Vance led her into the lobby. Her heart thumped like a scared rabbit’s as he threaded his fingers between hers. She glanced toward the quieter, emptier bar, but he kept going straight toward the elevator bank.

“Grimm, Andersen, or Perrault?” Vance winked.

Lola bit her lip and released it. “Why do you ask?”

Vance seemed to stare at her mouth. Narrowing his eyes, he stopped and gave her a closed-mouthed smile. “Good to know whether you’re into physical pain, mental torture, or happy endings.”

“What?” Lola froze as her jaw dropped.

Vance tilted his head back and laughed. “I’m kidding.” He headed toward the elevators again, but Lola couldn’t move. He stumbled back. “I’m harmless. I promise.”

She glanced around the vast lobby, checking for security officers.

“I didn’t mean to upset or scare you.” Leaning in, he lifted the back of her hand to his lips, then smiled that same smile that had dissolved her into a puddle the first time she’d laid eyes on him.

“All right.”

He led her into an empty elevator.

This is happening.

Inside, he let go of her hand and took a step back. “Is it okay to go up to my room? I should’ve asked first.” He gave that earlier, uncertain smile, revealing a tiny dimple in his right cheek and lighter green bands surrounding his irises.

“That sounds perfect, Vance.” Lola’s mouth and throat went dry as he hit the button for the eleventh floor. For the first time in her life, she was going to say Yes.