Why, yes. Yes, it is!
You see, Cherry Stem is coming out on Tuesday, this Tuesday, and since my hands finally seem willing to cooperate with me, I thought I’d talk about it a little bit. If you don’t feel like reading my ramblings, feel free to skip ahead to the sneak peek.
The first line of Cherry Stem popped in my head one day, and I knew I had to write a story about it. I knew nothing more about my leading lady than that she’d be a vampire. I sat down to type that first line — as I’ve done for many many other stories that haven’t progressed much further — and suddenly an outline was pouring out of my fingers.
Saying the story wrote itself would be a blatant lie, but it outlined itself alright. A few hours after I’d jotted down that opening line, I had a full outline, complete with a last scene. That was when I knew I could write the story: when I had the ending spelled out in front of me. Sure, things changed along the way, characters I initially didn’t care for gradually came to life, to the point that taking them where I’d initially intended would be out of character — it feels weird saying that about my own characters, but it’s true — but the ending never changed.
Early on, I was lucky to meet a wonderful British lady, a writer herself, who offered to look each chapter over for me and advise me on writing techniques and possible plot weaknesses. Later I crossed paths with another wonderful lady, American this time and a teacher for many years, who helped me figure out several of my syntax issues and taught me grammar rules I didn’t know existed. Without those two, I don’t think I’d ever have the guts to send my manuscript to a publisher.
Eventually the story was finished, and in true Sotia-fashion, I was itching to send it out there. The few friends who’d been acting as a focus group liked it, and so did my husband. What else did I want, right?
Well, I wanted it to be received with open arms by the first agent I emailed it to. That was what I wanted. And I was — naturally — disappointed when I didn’t even hear back from that first agent. The second one said they weren’t interested in paranormal romances right now. That was when I decided I didn’t want an agent after all.
Another amazing lady helped shape up my submission letter, which previously consisted more of hopes, dreams, and puppies than actual information, and I was lucky that Loose Id was the second publisher I approached. I was even luckier that Venessa, yet another awesome lady who was to become my editor, read and liked the partial I submitted. I still remember my squealing when I received the request for a full and my particularly embarrassing happy-dance when I got the acceptance letter. Venessa was extremely patient with me, pointing out mistakes as well as why they should be corrected. There where times when I’d have kicked my ass for not getting it, but she kept explaining and urging me on. I think she did a great job. While writing the sequel to Cherry Stem, I keep thinking, “Would V. approve of this phrasing?”
And now we’re less than four days away from Cherry Stem’s launch. I still can’t believe it, and I don’t have the words to thank the lovely ladies from around the world — because I’m blessed to know lots of them — who kept me from giving up hope. Or my husband, who still says okay when I tell him I won’t be talking to him for the next four hours because I need to write. Or my mom and dad, who grumble about my love for paranormal stories, but are still proud I’m writing and want to rub in my high school essay teacher’s face. Or my sis, who’s now walking my dogs — again — so I can finish this post.
I think the pregnancy hormones are making me sappy though, so without further ado, here are the first couple of scenes from Chapter One (edited by Loose Id) and one more look at the cover, because it’s stunning:
My mom always told me not to play with my food. I try to keep that in mind.
She never told me not to let my food play with me, however, so I would let tall, dark, and handsome — with gray eyes, a brilliant smile, and killer cheekbones — flirt with me to his heart’s content. Then I’d let him take me to his place.
Then I’d feed.
By the time he woke up in the morning, he’d remember having great, anonymous sex and nothing else.
That was the plan, at least. That had always been the plan.
Until things changed.
* * * * *
I was just about to leave my apartment when there was a knock at my door. I opened it, and Dotty, one of the second-floor tenants, burst into the room. We weren’t friends per se, but she’d occasionally pop by for some girl chat. I’d told her I worked nights and that I needed my beauty sleep, so she wouldn’t disturb me during the day, but she’d never before come by after nine in the evening, either.
“I need your help.” She gasped for breath as she turned to face me, running a hand through her short, spiky black hair.
At nearly six feet tall, on the heavy side, and with a square jaw, Dotty never seemed to need anybody’s help.
“What can I do?” I secretly hoped whatever it was could wait until my stomach was full. Her outfit somehow made me doubt my hopes would be justified; she looked ready to go out. As did I, which I prayed she’d notice.
She bit her lip, then said, “The sitter was with Mark until now but she had to go, and my date — ummm.” She blushed. “I invited him upstairs for a drink and he’s in the car waiting.” She inhaled deeply, then blurted out the actual reason for her visit. “Can Mark stay here for an hour?” Finally taking in my short leather skirt and bustier that left little to the imagination, she pouted. “I guess not.” With a sigh, she turned for the door.
Even though she turned slowly enough that I knew she expected me to stop her, I felt bad. “Okay, but only for one hour,” I said to her back. I’d looked after him before.
The words had barely left my mouth when she opened the door again and let Mark, her pudgy six-year-old son, inside. “I owe you big-time,” she told me over her shoulder, blew Mark a kiss, and rushed out before I could change my mind.
“Why aren’t you wearing pajamas?” the boy asked, tilting his head to the side. “Did you just come back, like Mommy?”
I swear he would have had a brilliant career with the Spanish Inquisition had he been born back then. Since I always believed in treating children like adults, I opted for the truth. “Nope. I’m going out as soon as your mommy picks you up.”
“Why are you going out after dark?” His thin eyebrows were furrowed, the sharp expression looking out of place in the adorable roundness of his face.
“Why not?” I asked innocently. Ha! I could beat him at his own game.
“My daddy says only bad people go out after dark.” Crossing his arms in front of his easily breakable chest, he looked at me smugly.
I understood why his mother never asked her ex-husband to babysit. “Your mommy was out until now,” I said with a saccharine smile. “Is she bad?”
He apparently took offense, because he stomped his foot. “No!”
“Well, then, your daddy is wrong.” There. I’d had the last word. How would he beat that argument?
“But it was day when my mom went out.” Smug again.
I was tempted to try my brainwash gaze on him but thought better of it. Instead I said, “If you don’t talk again until your mom comes to get you, I’ll give you ten bucks.”
I saw him consider it. “Twenty.”
I should have started lower, but it was too late for that now. “Fifteen, and you never tell her about our deal.” Hey, I said I’d looked after him a couple of times; I never said I was good at it. I’d have to find another way to work around his questions next time. He was getting too expensive!
Dotty wasn’t late to pick him up. She was disheveled and grinning like the Cheshire cat, but not late. I grabbed my keys, stuffed them in the front of my bustier, all but tossed Mark to her, and was out of there.
** * * *
The Gridlock was one of my favorite bars, which meant I visited it only every couple of months. It wouldn’t do to be seen leaving with a different man every night, especially if said man didn’t remember me the following day.
Spacious and dimly lit, the Gridlock was decorated in shades of red and black. Drapes separated a few private stalls, and the upper floor housed the supersecret VIP area. Get your minds out of the gutter; the place wasn’t a sex club. The VIP area was only secret because celebrities often chose it to unwind when they needed to stay away from the public eye for a while — no orgies took place there as far as I was aware. What added most to the bar’s appeal, however, were its patrons: mostly young professionals who weren’t out to get wasted. Pretty people who took care of themselves, looked and smelled good, relaxed on leather armchairs, and the music was to my taste. As was the bartender, but he was off limits.
Heads turned as I entered, but I maintained my cool. The outfit I’d chosen was at odds with the surroundings, but by the time I’d left home, I’d been in too much of a hurry, and the club I’d initially had in mind was too far away. I might have gone through the trouble of finding another place that suited my attire, but a phone call earlier that evening had jarred me — always, always change your cell number after breaking up with someone, or they can bug you for years. I looked too cheap for the place, but it was too late to do something about it now. Holding my head high and keeping from swishing my butt too much, I made my way inside and pretended not to notice the glares a group of women in their thirties, in skirt suits and with perfect coiffures, threw my way. I was there for a reason.
I moved toward the bar with deliberately slow steps, only occasionally glancing around. Gaze not lingering on a face for more than a split second, I tried not to let anyone know I was looking for someone to fulfill my needs for the night.
I spotted the perfect guy within twenty-five seconds of scanning the room. I was sure I’d never seen him around before. Believe me, I’d remember if I had. He was a head taller than everybody else, and his shoulders looked as wide as my bed. He was leaning casually against the bar, holding a bottle of beer.
Even at a distance, I could see his eyes — fringed with long, dark eyelashes — were the same charcoal gray as his shirt. And they were locked on me. The first phase of the plan was complete: the prey had seen me and was attracted.
Phase two consisted of faking disinterest until he made a move. If I took the first step, he might deem me too easy, and that often wasn’t enough of an ego booster to make a man take me home, as I’d discovered in the past. Although, if I played my cards right, it might be more than enough to make him follow me into the ladies’ room.
With the rent deadline approaching, I needed money that night almost as much as I needed blood, so the ladies’ was not an option.
Oh, the blood thing reminded me, there’s something I should have said earlier.
My name is Cherry, and I’m a vampire.
Sadly, with society these days not really brimming with jobs for an ex-catalog model turned aspiring porn star turned vampire, I often found myself in need of cash. When that happened, I looked for someone to serve as a…sponsor rather than merely a blood donor. For the day, not indefinitely.
Despite having been in a couple of adult movies, I was never a sex worker. Most of the guys I fed on got nothing other than the promise of sex. If they turned me on, I might do them as I fed, but I never did it because I thought I had to. Letting someone cover my expenses in the long run would change that dynamic.
So would falling in love with someone. A breathing someone, with a pulse and an expiration date.
It would screw things up majorly, which was why I’d never slept with a living guy more than once since I’d become part of the living dead. The living dead. It sounds so very ominous, however, some of us are nice.
But I’m digressing.
One of the coolest vampire powers is mind control, which some swear is the best way to a healthy relationship. I, however, prefer not having to wipe my lover’s brain clean every so often. A steady human boyfriend from whom I’d have to hide my true nature would, therefore, be out of the question.
Male vampires, on the other hand, mostly have relationship issues. The way I see it, knowing you’ll be around for a very long time makes you extremely picky as to whom you want by your side.
And they are patronizing, controlling assholes with superiority complexes.
And they cheat on you.
I admit, I only know one of them that well, but I’m making an educated guess.
I approached the side of the bar farthest from the guy and ordered a Bloody Mary. Silly private jokes like that, lame though they are, always give me a weird sense of accomplishment. I know; I need therapy.
Drink in hand, I tapped my foot to the rhythm of the music and observed the crowd dancing — slowly swaying, to be more precise — mentally counting the seconds it would take for him to approach me. When he hadn’t moved any closer after sixty whole seconds, I turned and gave him the squint.
The squint is a leftover from my short days as a catalog model, before I decided on a major career change and made my first of two adult films. To achieve it, you narrow your eyes just enough to make your gaze look focused and promising. Overdo it, and you look myopic. Combine it with a slight pout, and you have guys eating out of your hand.
Or flashing you a smile, as was the case now.
His smile was dazzling. Straight, white teeth — I’m a vampire; we pay attention to teeth — and a lower lip that begged me to nibble on it. And oh those cheekbones!
I clenched my jaw and made a show of turning away. You want me, buddy? You have to come and get me.
He didn’t, but a fifty-something man with alcohol-laced breath and red-rimmed eyes appeared out of nowhere and cornered me against the bar. Just my luck. There was one person in the establishment who hadn’t bathed for a couple of weeks, and of course he decided to make a pass at me.
“Can I buy you a drink, honey?” His words were slurred, and he stood too close for comfort.
I could have ripped his head off his shoulders within seconds, but I don’t generally like violence. Placing a hand on his shoulder to keep him at arm’s length, I indicated my glass. “No, thanks. I’m set,” I said with a smile, allowing just a bit of fang to show. He couldn’t possibly have enough credibility to expose us.
The drunk stumbled back, hands held up in the universal giving-up sign, just as the yummy male specimen made his way to us. I saw Yummy’s face fall and thought, Aha! Hero complex.
“I was coming to save you,” he said, “but I see you handled him yourself.” His voice complemented the rest of him. Deep, masculine — the voice you’d want whispering dirty things in your ear.
The ball was in my court. “Maybe you should stick around, in case I can’t handle the next one.” I smiled. No fangs.
He grinned, giving me a better look at his pearly whites. Yup, still flawless. “I’m Alex. Alex Marsden.”
“Cherry.” No last name for me. There was no reason.
Up close, he looked even better. I figured he was in his late twenties, thirty tops, and it seemed like he worked out. His fingers, which I got a good look at when he raised his beer to his mouth, were long, and I couldn’t help but imagine how his big hands would feel on me.
“So, what do you do?”
His question threw me. People didn’t usually care what I did when I was dressed in leather and thigh-high boots. I wondered how he’d react if I said I was a lawyer.
I took a sip from my overpriced, alcohol-laced tomato juice. “Used to model. I’m between jobs now.” Had been for a long time, since my maker hadn’t bothered to ask about my future plans before turning me. At first I’d been really pissed off to wake up dead while at the peak of my career.
Meh! I may as well be truthful here. I hadn’t been at the peak, just at the beginning. I’d filmed two highly erotic movies as an extra and had just been given the starring role in a third one. And the main reason I’d been pissed off for the better part of six years was that I’d been turned before getting the lipo and boob job I’d planned on pampering myself with for my twenty-fourth birthday. Now I was doomed to go through eternity without the perfectly flat belly and double D breasts Dr. King had promised me.
Alex nodded and looked me up and down. “You look familiar, and I don’t follow fashion. Have we met before?” To his credit, his gaze didn’t pause anywhere but on my face during his perusal.
Classic pickup line, although he actually might have seen me before. I couldn’t really ask him if he liked porn, so I just shook my head. “What do you do?”
“I’m a cop. Detective.” He shrugged like he was saying nothing special.
A detective. That could be bad. Those guys have good memories as a rule, and he might have seen my missing person report. Still, I wouldn’t panic. I’d gone from blonde to redhead for Knotting Cherry Stem — hell, I’d changed my name for it — and had bangs now and forever. No, he wouldn’t recognize me.
And no, I’m not telling you my real name.
“Sounds exciting,” I drawled, all wide-eyed. “You should tell me more.” To stress how interested I was, I ran the tips of my fingers down his bicep. Nice and firm. Yum squared!
As if he didn’t even notice, he began saying something about my eyes. Most guys would be all over the chance to touch me back, but not him. I could see he was the type to really take his time with a woman, and it intrigued me. I suddenly wanted to find out for sure. Would he take his time with everything?
I cut him off, pointing to the speaker booming overhead. “It’s too loud in here. Maybe we should go somewhere quieter?”
His left eyebrow arched, but he put his palm on the small of my back. The touch gave me goose bumps, and that’s a real feat when talking about a dead girl. “My place is quiet.” Ah, he got the hint at once. Smart man.
As soon as I left my drink on the bar, he caught the bartender’s eye and paid for us both. I didn’t offer to cover my half, but I made a mental note to thank him properly once we were alone.
“Do you have a car?” he asked as I let him lead me to the exit. “You can follow me in it, or I can drive you back here…” His voice drifted off. What would he say? What could he say? Later? After? I decided the fact that he hadn’t finished his sentence was for the best.
Not all of us can fly but only because some cannot fathom lifting off the earth and therefore can’t focus their will enough to achieve it. I can. I’d flown to the bar, but I couldn’t really tell him that. “No car. I took a cab.”
“Are you okay with taking my car? Riding with strangers and all?” He was so thoughtful, and I had to try not to swoon until he added, “We could go to your place, if you’d feel more comfortable.”
No no no no no. No. It was bad enough that I was still going through with my plan even though he was a policeman — but he was so hot, who could blame me? Bringing him to my apartment would take risky to a whole new level. “I wanna see how a cop lives.” A bat of my heavily made-up eyelashes and the deal was closed.
* * * * *
That’s all. For now.
Till next time,