So I was asked to write about one of my favorite scenes from my latest novel, By the Rules. Ok…
In By the Rules, one of my heroes is a former male escort who now works as a handyman. He’s had it rough, but he hasn’t let his past get him down. He’s taken a “love me or bite me” approach to his interactions with the world.
AJ has come to rest in a quiet little town called Evergreen Grove. He loves it there, and the people of the Grove are his family. In spite of his brassy attitude, AJ takes being kind to those who gave him his fresh start quite seriously. He’s always willing to lend a hand… even if sometimes this hand-lending doesn’t turn out the way he plans.
It’s hard to choose a favorite scene in By the Rules because I loved them all. Some made me laugh, some made me cry, and even a couple did both. But if I had to pick one where I really had fun, it would be one of the many times when AJ was simply trying to be a nice guy, but things went strangely sideways, like this one at the local hardware store. He’s on an errand for his boss when he runs unexpectedly into some women who need help, and then finds out his love interest, Hayden, has overheard the whole thing:
“Excuse me, young man, do you know about cock?”
I turn to find two older ladies staring with expectant expressions. One is aiming a caulking gun at me. “Oh. Oh. You said caulk.”
I suppose that tells you where my mind has been, but come on. Tell me you wouldn’t have misheard, too.
They nod. The one holding the caulk gun waves it around, pointing at the shelves. “The stuff around my tub is peeling. I heard it was easy to fix, but this contraption looks daunting.”
I huff a breath. “Okay, yeah. I can help you with…yeah.” I can’t say “caulk” again. I’m holding back laughter, and I don’t want these nice ladies to think I’m laughing at them. “Okay, so I’d suggest these smaller tubes over here. You don’t need the big gun for them and they’re easier to squeeze.” Okay, let’s all insert a joke here about squeezing the caulk and move on with our day.
The ladies are nodding excitedly at the tube and thanking me. “I have carpal tunnel. I’d hate for it to be hard to squeeze,” says one with a straight face.
God help me. “Okay, so grab one of those scrapers right there on the shelf. You’ll need that to cut away the old stuff. Make sure the surface is super clean before you lay down the new caulk or it won’t stick. When you’re done, you can press it gently into the seam with a damp cloth, and then you just need to wait however long it says on the tube before you shower. Usually a day or two. Easy stuff.” I grab the caulk gun from her and lay it on the shelf, replacing it with a smaller tube. “I like this kind. Good for tub and tile. Maybe get a couple of tubes to be on the safe side.”
“So helpful! Thank you, young man.” They wander off happy. I head up the aisle to grab my washers.
I’m turning to go when I hear a smug-sounding city-boy’s voice say, “So, know all about caulk, do you?”
By the Rules
Evergreen Grove #3
by Elisabeth Staab
Release Date: 1/19/2016
He thinks I want him because of the rumors around town. Because I think he’s easy. I want AJ, because he’s AJ.
No liars. No suits. Absolutely no straight guys…
AJ Fabin’s list of rules keeps him safe. Since getting kicked out of his parents’ home and attacked by a former escorting client, his rules and his life in the tiny town of Evergreen Grove provide a quiet haven. He may be lonely, and he may stick out like a sore thumb, but the folks like him well enough. When he’s not dodging his old pimp, things are peaceful.
Hayden Price is having a quarter-life crisis. Engaged to a woman he can’t connect to and working a job he secretly hates, he comes to Evergreen Grove to help his mother through a health scare. Returning to his childhood home makes Hayden reevaluate a lot of things, including himself. When he meets AJ and finds he can’t stand the mouthy jerk—almost as much as he can’t stop thinking about him—he has a lot more to change than his career.
To be together, they’ll both have to break all of their rules.
By the Rules is book 3 in the Evergreen Grove series, but reads as a standalone.
When I jogged past the window of Roy’s Gym this morning, I swore I was seeing things. I’ll admit to no one ever that I doubled back and went down Main Street a second time before stopping to stretch my quads. I needed to see this new version of AJ that ran so counter to my previous information about him.
What I knew so far was this snarky, colorful asshole of a kid. This punk with a young face and old eyes who I disliked on principle. Every time I’ve tried to get along, it’s gone sideways. Now I’ve got new information and, as if he’s a guy across from me at the closing table, I’m curious about what’s underneath the rainbow sweatshirt and skinny jeans.
A boxer? A boxer with a chest full of ink. No telling yet if this new information about him is useful, but it’s damn interesting.
I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t a lean chest covered in tribal tattoos and a pair of carved arms. As his friend or coach or whatever walks me into the gym, I can’t stop myself from visually tracing the dark waves and swirls that run over his pecs and down his sternum. This new visual of him knocks the breath out of me like that morning we crashed into each other outside the coffee shop.
When I get close, I can see that the thick ink is uneven in spots. Like someone painted lines over a bumpy road. On his stomach, jagged pink scars snake out from under the blackness, fanning like flames over the ridges of his abs, and disappearing into the waistband on his workout shorts.
I suck in a breath. Something happened to hurt him. That’s the most powerful observation of the obvious I’ve ever managed. But what? Those don’t look accidental. They look like—
“Take a picture, asshole. It’ll last longer.” AJ’s glare actually gives me the shivers. His gloved fists press against one another hard enough to make those lean biceps pop.
I bet I know who he’d rather be aiming those fists at, and it’s not the big guy who welcomed me in the door. “Just surprised to see you without all the bling.”
“And I’m shocked as hell to see you without a ridiculous power tie, but maybe we can all manage to soldier on.” The corner of his mouth lifts into something that’s either a smile or a sneer. He’s actually got a genuinely friendly smile—I saw him use it with my mom—but getting him to pull it out when nobody’s sick must be a rare feat. “So you know how to box or what?”
“I can hold my own.” I grin my ass off in the face of AJ’s responding scowl. Part of me is dying to say more. Negotiating a deal means being able to talk sports. Sometimes it means getting out on the golf course, or the tennis courts, or even being able to go a few rounds in the ring with someone who considers himself a badass.
Never got into golf. Boxing? I can definitely box.
Elisabeth Staab started hunting mutant hedgehogs back in 1842… Oops, wrong bio… Elisabeth Staab digs coffee, saucy stories, and sexy things that go bump in the night. Once, she ate dinner in a jail and liked it. She lives in the Washington DC area with her incredible family and does her best to juggle life while ignoring the laundry.
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