This is an advanced excerpt from The Romance Report. This is not final, but does provide a glimpse into the our main character, Quinn, and her dating disasters.
Quinn struggled to buckle her 3-inch black Prada heels while holding her cell phone between her shoulder and ear. Sighing, she tossed the phone on her unmade bed and a tinny voice continued to chirp from it. She buckled the straps quickly and slipped the black dress from its hanger and over her head. Quinn picked up the phone. “Uh huh. Yes, I’m wearing the dress you bought me for my birthday.”
“Black is always slimming, dear. As I was saying, your father and I don’t understand why you insisted on taking the job with this half-baked website. We have contacts and could get you a real job.”
“It is a real job with a real magazine, Mom. The world is changing. More publishers are moving to the digital world. Heck. I read you and Dad’s articles online with my morning coffee. It’s great not traipsing out at six a.m. to get the morning edition. I boot up my laptop and there you are.”
“What’s the name of this magazine again?”
“It’s called Under the Radar. Randall Kent, the owner, wants to feature restaurants, clubs and shops that don’t get reviewed, but should. Tonight I’m checking out an Italian fusion restaurant called Marlowe’s,” Quinn said.
“Personally, I think it’s in poor taste to mix work and dating, but tonight was the only night Tad had free while he’s in the city. He’s on track to make partner at the same law firm as his father. You remember T.K., dear. Your father went on that yearly deep sea fishing trip with him and a few others. Good family.”
“I know, mother.” Quinn rolled her eyes. She wondered if her mom realized the only time Quinn called her mother was when she lectured Quinn like she was still twelve. “I promise I’ll behave and not embarrass you. I’m sure Tad mixes business with pleasure, too. After all, isn’t that what corporate lawyers do? Seal the deal over a cocktail and perhaps a pole dancer or two?”
“Don’t be crude. I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” Anne Daniels said curtly and hung up.
Quinn sighed again. Open mouth and insert a Prada heel. It seemed to happen more and more these days when she talked to her parents. Both were reporters for a national newspaper. Her dad focused on the political scene while her mother wrote of world events. Quinn knew they both expected her to follow in their footsteps, but after she finished journalism school, she felt lost. Her three months traveling abroad with Uncle John was intended to shake her out of her funk. Instead, a lingering sense of restlessness remained.
She finished applying her makeup and brushed her long, dark hair into a severe ponytail. She added a deep rouge lip stain that made her pale complexion even paler. “I might not be a fashion model, but I wouldn’t toss me out with yesterday’s fish,” Quinn told her reflection then blew herself a kiss.
Checking the clock on her cell phone, Quinn saw she was going to be late to meet Tad. She grabbed her purse and keys and headed out the door. As she clattered down the stairs from her apartment, she rounded the corner and slammed right into a solid wall. A solid wall that smelled of men’s cologne and wore a suit and tie. Looking up, Quinn saw an amused smile on the face in front of her. An attractive man with sandy brown hair and a hint of a five o’clock shadow on his chin gazed down at her. He held a leather duffel bag in one hand.
“I’m so sorry,” Quinn apologized. “I was in a hurry to meet someone and wasn’t watching where I was going.”
“I think I’ll survive the assault. I’m Zach Taylor. I just moved in last week. You must be Quinn. I meant to come introduce myself before now, but fate has intervened and saved me from bad manners.” Zach held out his hand. Quinn grasped it and was pleased that unlike some men, his handshake was firm, not crushing or clammy and limp.
“It’s nice to meet you. I hate to be rude, but I am already late for a date,” Quinn blurted out.
“Well, I’d hate to keep the lucky guy waiting. Stop by for coffee and a chat anytime. It’s been a pleasure meeting you,” Zach said.
“You, too. And again, I’m really sorry for barreling into you.” Quinn gave a quick wave with her hand and headed down the next flight of stairs.
Exiting her brownstone, she looked around for a cab. Not spotting one, she strode down the sidewalk towards downtown. After two blocks at a breakneck pace, Quinn’s feet already ached. The heels she wore might be smoking hot, but they were torture devices as far as she was concerned. She’d rather wear a pair of flip flops than heels of this height. Marlowe’s was at least ten more blocks away. Thankfully, she spotted a cab letting off a fare and hobbled her way quickly to grab it. A few blissful minutes off her feet later, she was safely delivered to the restaurant.
Quinn spotted Tad Kincaid at a table in the far corner of the restaurant, and waving away the hostess, she made her way to the table. “Sorry I’m late, Tad. I ran into my new neighbor as I headed out the door.”
“I was beginning to think I’d been stood up. There’s a first time for everything,” Tad said. He reached up a hand and smoothed his blonde hair. Quinn hadn’t seen him since he was a teenager. He hadn’t changed much in the intervening years. He still sported the same clean-cut, All-American male look of his youth.
“I’m sorry,” Quinn said again. She longed to take off the offending heels. Her feet felt like two giant sweet potatoes fresh out of a hot oven. Maybe she could loosen the straps. “It’s been a long time. You look good.”
“Thanks.” Tad preened. He leaned forward and whispered, “I don’t know about this restaurant you chose. The chef came out a little while ago and I swear he looked like he just got released from a prison chain gang. He had more tattoos and piercings than a biker. If you want to go somewhere else, we can.”
Quinn reached down and tried to unfasten the buckle on her shoes. “Todd Marlowe is supposed to be the up and coming chef in Italian fusion food. He’s edgy and modern. He went to a top cooking school in Paris, not Prison Cooking 101 class. I’m sure it’ll be fine.” She pretended to get something from her purse. Grabbing the offending buckle, she yanked it open and eased her foot out of the shoe. She glanced down and saw Tad was wearing a pair of Gucci loafers. Without socks. Not even no show socks from what she could tell. Appalled by the imagined stench of his leather bound sweaty feet, she accidentally banged her head on the table as she hurried to rid herself of the image of Tad’s toes. “Ouch!”
“Are you okay?” Tad said with what seemed more like annoyance than concern.
“I’m fine. I was trying to turn my cell phone off in my purse so it wouldn’t disturb us,” Quinn lied.
“Good. There’s nothing I hate more than someone talking nonstop on their phone during dinner. I’m an attorney and my clients need constant access to me, but I draw the line at having the phone on at dinner,” Tad said with a self-important tone. “So, Quinn, what have you been doing since the last time I saw you…what was it? Ten years ago?”
“Just about. I think it was your brother Rodney’s sixteenth birthday party. You were home from university and didn’t have time for us lowly teenagers.”
“Well,” Tad chuckled, “you know what it’s like with little brothers and sisters. They’re annoying until they finish puberty.”
“Not really,” Quinn said. She guessed Tad forgot she was an only child. The waiter arrived and handed them menus.
“My name is Jack and I’ll be your waiter this evening. Our special is a Shrimp Fra Diavolo. It’s jumbo shrimp served in a spicy marinara sauce and garnished with mussels, clams and basil. Would you like to see our wine list?”
“Yes,” Quinn started.
“No, that’s not necessary. We’d like a glass of your house red to start and I’ll take prime rib, rare, with a baked potato and green beans.”
“Sir, we don’t serve prime rib,” Jack said, slightly confused.
“You don’t serve prime rib? Really? Quinn, your mother said you reviewed high-end restaurants online. What kind of four-star restaurant doesn’t serve prime rib?”
“This is an Italian fusion restaurant. It’s Italian with a Caribbean flair, not English,” Quinn explained. “And I try not to let the restaurant know I’m writing about their food. Kind of screws the pooch, you know.”
Tad’s face twisted in consternation as he absorbed what Quinn said. “Hmmm…don’t know that I’m familiar with Italian fusion food, but what the heck, I’m nothing if not open-minded. Jack, give us a few minutes and get back to us. In the meantime, if you could bring us the house red, that’d be great.”
“Jack, hold on. Could you bring me a glass of Chardonnay, please. House is fine, but a glass of water with a twist of lemon to go with it would be outstanding.”
“Certainly. I’ll be right back.” Jack almost saluted as he turned and hurried away from what was quickly turning into a tense evening.
Quinn looked over the top of her menu at Tad. He was exactly the type of guy her mom would adore. Clean-cut, well-educated, good job. A solid middle-class male. She could even see the start of a receding hairline. Tad would be bald as his dad by forty. He was probably boring as hell, too. Mentally, Quinn shook her head. She had promised her mother she would give Tad a chance. After her last boyfriend disaster, anything would be an improvement. Thomas, the hot drummer, turned out to be a little too hot for her to handle. Actually, it was the stolen items in his apartment that were hot. Quinn considered herself lucky that he’d only “borrowed” her bedroom television and not everything she owned. She shook her head as she remembered him calling her to ask for bail money. No more artists or musicians, Quinn promised herself.
“Earth to Quinn. Hello? Is anyone home?”
Quinn realized Tad had been speaking to her. “I’m sorry,” Quinn apologized for what seemed like the hundredth time that day. “I was trying to decide what to order. Everything looks so good.”
“I’m going to stick with the seafood fettucine. I don’t know what half the stuff on the menu even is. I’m a meat and potatoes kind of guy with some pasta every now and then. I’m made in America and I like American food. Nothing weird like octopus or snails for this guy. I run and lift weights three days a week, so I like to load on the carbs every now and then, but give me a juicy rib eye and I’m fat, dumb and happy,” Tad said.
“Wow. I’m impressed. You do look like you’re in great shape.” Quinn threw the proverbial dog a bone. See, Mother, I can flirt with the best of them.
“Yep. Sitting behind a desk all day isn’t good for the old arteries even at my age. Besides, love the old man, but his spare tire is not something I plan to inherit.”
Jack returned with the glasses of wine and Quinn’s water. “I hope you’ll find our house wines to your liking. Mr. Marlowe takes particular pride in stocking the wine cellar with outstanding vintages. Our house wines come from a small winery in the Virginia Piedmont.”
Quinn sipped her wine and nodded in appreciation. “It’s wonderful. Just the right amount of oak with a hint of smokiness.”
“Not bad. Jack, I’d like the seafood fettucine. Quinn?”
“I’m going to be adventurous tonight. I’d like the wild boar asado with sour orange mojo. I love plantains and can’t wait to try this dish.”
“Excellent choice, madam. May I suggest a Grenache with your meal. It pairs well with the wild boar,” Jack said. “We have one from Pasado Vineyards that I guarantee you will love.”
“Sounds great. I’ll trust your good taste.”
“Very good.” Jack took their menus and headed towards the kitchen.
“You know they only suggest those wines to upsell you. I guarantee you the wine he suggested is one of the more expensive wines on the list,” Tad informed her.
Quinn bit back the urge to call Tad a tightwad. She picked up her glass of wine and took her time sipping it. “Don’t worry,” she said sweetly, “it’s on my expense account. After all, this is a business dinner, not a date.”
Tad let out an annoyed huff. “I can certainly afford any wine this place serves. I was trying to be helpful. I waited tables at a swanky restaurant during undergrad. Dad thought it would build character for me to earn my spending money.”
“Writing about food and wine is how I make my bread and butter,” Quinn replied, feeling guilty for thinking Tad a spoiled jerk. She blamed the sockless loafers. They screamed spoiled son of the country club set. She wondered how the leather didn’t shrink from the sweaty feet. “Plus, I spent three months touring the restaurants of Italy and Spain with my uncle whose a chef.”
“That’s right. I forgot about your uncle. Dad was telling me he owned some little diner that received some positive press.”
“It’s a restaurant, not a diner, and yes, it’s received rave reviews. Uncle Patrick is putting a new flair on Irish fare. It’s not mutton and potatoes anymore. Anyway, he and I traveled to some out of the way eateries and met some amazing chefs and home cooks. His plan is to incorporate what he learned and create something new. I’m excited.”
“At least I know you can cook. I’m all thumbs in the kitchen. You’ll have to fix me a home-cooked meal soon.”
Fortunately Quinn was saved from responding to Tad’s request by the arrival of dinner. Jack slid her plate in front of her and she nearly swooned from the intoxicating scent of oranges mixed with spices. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. When she opened them a few moments later, she saw Tad holding his fork in front of his face and peering closely at it.
“My fork isn’t clean,” he said.
“Take mine. I’ll ask for another.”
“No. If you go into an eating establishment, you expect your silverware to be spotless. This,” he shoved the offending fork at Quinn, “has something on it.”
Quinn looked at the fork, but failed to spot any offending dirt or food. “I don’t see anything. Please take my fork.”
“I don’t want your fork,” Tad said each word slowly as if she didn’t understand English. “What I want is a freakin’ prime rib and a clean fork. Instead, I get a dirty fork and crabs.” Tad slammed the fork down on the table. His hand hit the edge of his pasta plate on its downward journey. The plate flipped and the pasta flew across the table and landed all over Quinn.
All conversation in the restaurant stopped. Quinn felt a noodle slide off her head and down into her cleavage. A shrimp somersaulted off the edge of the table and into one of her Prada heels.
“What is wrong with you?” Quinn said through tightly gritted teeth. “You are a pompous, spoiled brat. I can’t believe my mother thought we’d hit it off.” She spotted Jack slowly easing his way towards their table, clearly unsure if it was a smart move or a death wish. She reached down and dumped the errant shrimp from her shoe.
“I’m a spoiled brat?” Tad squealed. “Really? I took you out as a favor to your parents. It’s not like I make a habit of dating flaky chicks in dead-end jobs. You’re lucky I even bothered to show up. I turned down a date with a gorgeous accountant to go out with you, a plain Jane who writes a blog about food.” He threw a hundred dollar bill on the table and stood up to leave.
Quinn felt the blood rushing to her face. A hot anger roiled up from her stomach. “What the hell kind of name is Tad? It’s a frog, for Pete’s sake, not a name for a grown-ass man. And it’s an online magazine, not a blog!” Quinn yelled. She picked up one of her shoes and threw it at Tad. Time slowed as it sailed through the air, toe over heel. It sailed right past Tad and hit smack dab into the head of the gentleman sitting behind him.