Chapter Two – Scene Two – When She Gets Hot

“That was longer than a minute,” Fern patted the seat of the chair she’d saved for Tootsie.

 The conference room was filling up. Tootsie looked around as most of WCLS’s employees filed in.

“I stopped by my office to drop off some papers.” The ones she didn’t need, and the ones she didn’t want to look at.

Fern took out a small, pink, battery-powered fan she kept in her skirt pocket and turned it on. Its whirring, plastic blades set wisps of her red hair dancing around her cheeks. “Will you please tell me why they call it the Change? It’s more like after a lifetime of service to men and children, God decides to set you on fire from the inside out.”

“And ignores you when you ask why.” Tootsie’s mouth shaped the words of an ‘I’m burning up script’ she and Fern had developed over the last month in comradeship and sympathy, when her hot flashes had started in earnest.     

Murmurs behind her had her turning. Here came Robert, walking alone to the front where a long, narrow table stood with three chairs behind it and three glasses of water on it. He slunk into the middle seat.

“What’s this crap about, Toots?” whispered Lenny Tolliver, easing into a seat behind her, his headset slung around his neck. “I’ve got commercials to edit. Asshole Michael needs them on the air yesterday.”  

Tootsie half-turned toward him. “You’ll find out.”

Lenny snorted. “Pull the other one. You know and don’t want to say.”

Too true. But it would do no good to say anything that would fast track Lenny. Lenny liked nothing better than to heckle. Today was not a heckling day.

She leaned toward him. “Here’s a suggestion. Whatever is about to happen, keep your opinions to yourself.”

He curled his lip. “I don’t like the sound of that.”

As people settled in, there was an undercurrent of whispers that ebbed and flowed with the scraping of chair legs against the tile floor.

Fern turned off her fan, reached into her purse, and pulled out a tissue. Blotting her forehead, where her copious red curls had plastered themselves to her skin despite the fan’s best efforts, she said, “Do you want to make a bet that our dear program director isn’t going to show?”

Tootsie glanced at her watch. “When did Marc Antonio ever come in before noon? If he showed now, he’d be two hours early.”

“You have a point. About Marc Antonio… is Michael going to press charges against him for the chair incident on Friday?”

“I doubt he will, but if I know Michael, he’ll whine that he’s being forced to toil away in a hostile work environment.”

“Excuse me.”

Speaking of…here was the bane of Marc Antonio’s existence. Michael Le Boff, the perfect model of a modern general sales manager, taking a seat at the end of Tootsie’s row. His three henchpersons—sales staff—slunk in at the same time and took seats behind Michael. Each one was more smarmy, silver-tongued, and shallow than the other. As for Michael, if the man blinked, Tootsie had never seen it. Though she knew nothing about his private life, she’d had the occasional thought that the bed he slept in was shaped like a coffin.            

There was a flurry of activity at the back of the room.  Tootsie stiffened. The men those glasses of water had been set out for had arrived. She came around in her seat to see if she was right, and yes, she was.

There they were, the Slasher Twins, Jim and Chuck Petrocelli. In fifteen years, Jim hadn’t changed. He was still an ugly little troll. As was his brother Chuck, who she’d never met.   

Don’t bother thinking this is a good time to hit me up for a better job. I don’t hire women managers.

Should she worry that he would remember what he’d said to her? She wiggled in her chair, nerves jangling.

Looking neither right nor left, they marched to the front of the room as if they owned it. Which they did. Or would. At any moment. They were both short and fat. It amazed Tootsie that two men who resembled bowling balls with five appendages—head, arms, legs—could wield as much power as they did in the industry, and could cause as much havoc. Each flanked Robert and sat.

Robert came to his feet. “Thanks for coming, everyone.”

“You’re welcome.” Lenny, of course.  

Robert gave Lenny an anxious glance, and cleared his throat. “As you know, these last months have been tough for WCLS.”

“That’s because your father had the nerve to die and leave you in charge.” Again Lenny. This time slightly louder.

There was a snicker somewhere in the back of the room.

Robert plowed on. “The whole radio industry has been under siege. What I found out, after my father passed, is there aren’t as many people listening to WCLS as there used to be. Our listeners, our seventy and eighty-somethings, now have Spotify accounts. That’s bad for WCLS’s bottom line.”

Lenny tapped Tootsie on the shoulder as Robert went on with his so sad story-telling. “What’s he talking about? Plenty of people listen to the station.”

“Zip it for once!” Tootsie hissed through clenched teeth. If Lenny would just stifle it, maybe he could keep his job while the Petrocellis fired everyone else. Every station needed someone to produce commercials.

Robert scoured the room, looking, no doubt, for a friendly face. There were none. “Expenses were high. You all know that.”

“Robert. A question.” Vito Marconi came to his feet from a chair he’d been sitting in against the wall at the back of the room, “Did you discuss this with the Committee?”

Robert looked away.

Tootsie frowned. As Robert droned on about music testing, she leaned toward Fern and whispered, “Aren’t you on the Committee?”

Fern shook her head. “I used to be. Before Stan died. The last discussion I remember we had was about how someone brought his cat into the studio and Lauren broke out in hives so bad she had to go to the hospital.” She turned and glared at Lenny.

Lenny glared back. “How did I know she was allergic to cats?”

Tootsie ignored Lenny and leaned toward Fern. “Is there something about the Committee I don’t remember that I should? Why would Vito bring it up, now?”

Before Fern could answer, the bowling ball to Robert’s right lumbered to his feet. He put his meaty hand on Robert’s shoulder and forced him to sit. “Okay, enough. I’m Jim Petrocelli. My brother and I are taking over this radio station.”

Chapter Two – Scene One – When She Gets Hot

Tootsie had met Jim Petrocelli when she first began working at WCLS. Stan had sent her, his brand new marketing director as his representative, to the annual Tri-State Media Award Dinner. She’d been seated at Petrocelli’s table. To make conversation, she’d introduced herself.

He’d looked her up and down and said, “You work for Stan Hillman, do you? A word of advice? Don’t bother thinking this is a good time to hit me up for a better job. I don’t hire women managers.”

After that, for the rest of the evening, she was stunned into submission and silence. Because after all, what was there to say or do? She didn’t have the juice and definitely not the guts to challenge a bully. Because there would be consequences. Just like now. Today. Same bully. Different time and location. Still there’d be consequences.

Sold to the Petrocellis. She swallowed hard. The Petrocellis owned a crap load of radio stations, of every size. They kept on buying and “reorganizing” them in the name of profit. Just like at every other station they bought, WCLS staff would be ‘scaled back’, meaning pretty much all 35 of the men and women who had poured their hearts into their work at the radio station would be fired.

Tootsie stared down at the papers Robert had thrown at her. They were still clutched in her hand. In the other, her to-do list. She exhaled a humorless laugh. “Well, Toots. There’s no need to check inventory.”

She stepped out of the promotions closet into the hallway. The red light, mounted above the door to the on-air studio, which was across the hall from the promotions closet, flicked on, a warning for quiet in the hallways. Voices had been known to carry even with the door closed. Tootsie eyed the light, knowing Lauren Peralta, morning drive personality, had potted up her mic and was reminding listeners what they’d just heard. Next she’d pimp the four commercials, scheduled for this stop-set, and cue up whatever concerto, symphony, or overture came next.

The red light above the studio door popped off. “So.” Tootsie whispered. She wound her arms around her waist and squeezed. “So,” she repeated. “What’s to be done?” Nothing. Because no one could stop the disaster coming their way. Not anyone. And certainly not her.

She pushed away from the wall on which she’d been leaning and paced down the hallway to the ladies room. Good. It was empty. She threw Robert’s pages down onto the counter next to one of the sinks along with her worthless to-do list.

What a strange thing Robert had said about never having to worry about unexpected things and that being a reason for selling to the Petrocellis. That made no sense. But when had Robert ever made sense?

There probably was more to the story, but nothing she could think of, probably because the shock of it all was still settling in.

She braced her hands on the counter next to the sink and stopped thinking about Robert. Dropping her head down, a feeling of helplessness swamped her.

Be a girl who does the right thing.

She picked up her head to stare at herself. It was no surprise that her subconscious heaved up those words at her. They were her grandmother’s words, handed down to her long ago in a letter. Tootsie had gotten good at ignoring them because she knew doing what was right caused nothing but pain. And pain meant loss. She’d spent thirty years running away from pain, so she did what she always did when those words resurfaced. She ignored them.

The door opened. “Tootsie, what’s taking so long?” Fern took a step in.

“Robert’s sent out an email. He’s called a meeting in the big conference room. The email said it’s about the future of WCLS. I’m nervous. You need to come. Right now.”

“I’ll be there in a minute.”

“Hurry. I’ll save you a seat.” The door closed with a snick.

Oh, yeah. She definitely wanted to hurry just so she could watch the Petrocelli train come barreling into the station. The people she’d worked with for fifteen years were about to be crushed by a pair of heartless rich men, whose goal in life was to become richer. All she was going to be able to do was watch.

She squinted some more. All she saw in the mirror was herself, she of the pointy-chinned, too-thin face, small nose and small mouth, large, dark brown eyes that were a match for her short, brown, newly-colored curls, peri-menopausal thinning eyelashes, and those damn upper lip and chin hairs she now had to pluck every other day to forestall looking like she needed a shave.        

She turned and let herself out of the ladies room. After one last look, she whispered, “Happy birthday, Tootsie Goldberg.”

Scene Three – When She Gets Hot

Tootsie power-walked past the program department, so distracted thinking about what could be up with Robert, she didn’t respond to the hellos from two just-out-of-college girls who were interning at the station. 

Right now, they were of no concern to her. Right now she was only thinking of Robert. The first time he’d gone into the closet was the day he’d taken over as head of the station right after his dad’s death and she’d had to talk him off the proverbial ledge. She took a fortifying breath, rapped a staccato knock on the door, turned the knob, and entered.

Hunched over, head in hands, Robert had planted himself on the step-stool Tootsie’s promotional staff used to grab swag from the highest shelves in the closet. He shot to his feet when Tootsie stepped in. He must have jostled one of the shelves on the way up, because some of the mini-flashlights—for reading concert programs in the dark—fell to the floor. Robert didn’t look down or say oops. Instead, eyes wide, his pasty-white complexion grew more pasty-white and he said, “How did you know I was here?”

“The general manager’s assistant told me.”

 He looked confused.

“Fern. Your father’s assistant before he died and now yours? You told her I should come find you. In here.” She tilted her head toward the door. “Can we go someplace less stuffy where we can both sit while we discuss whatever problem drove you into this closet?”

Robert was already shaking his head, his too-long black hair flopping onto his forehead. He shoved it back with a shaking hand. “I just couldn’t do it anymore.”

Not for the first time in the eight months since she got stuck with Robert, did Tootsie wonder where he came from. Stan and his wife, Marge traveled a lot. Maybe they’d found him on a carousel at Newark Airport, going ‘round and ‘round, a piece of unclaimed luggage.

Father and son couldn’t have been more different. Stan had loved radio. Robert loved discussions about the works of Immanuel Kant and the sad state of South Sudanese independence. He obsessed over chess, and had been to European tournaments dozens of times. Radio? Not so much. “What couldn’t you do, Robert?”

He screwed his face up into something that looked like shame, which sent a cold chill up Tootsie’s spine.

“You’ll find out.” He looked at his watch. “In about a half hour.”

 Tootsie folded her arms across her chest. “I’m not waiting a half hour. Tell me now, please.”

He began to rub his hand across him mouth as if he were trying to wipe out a Lady Macbeth stain. “I couldn’t take it anymore, Tootsie. That scene in my office on Friday. You saw.”

Yes, the scene with the almost airborne chair. She’d been witness to lots of scenes in that office of late, most without chairs, thank God. “That was acting out.”

“It’s not that simple. There’s something evil about it, the constant wrangling, everyone taking sides and defending their positions and for what reason? I don’t see any humor in it, like you do, in how they carry on.”

She started to object to his assessment of how station personalities chose to make themselves ridiculous, but stopped when Robert threw his hands into the air. “That fight on Friday told me I did the right thing.”

Had the real estate in the promotions closet allowed, Tootsie would have paced, because only that way could she release her building frustration. “Like I keep telling you, to handle your senior staff, you need to give each something they want. It allows them to walk away, egos intact. You didn’t, so you got a hot mess.”

 “It doesn’t matter anymore. Not after this.” He slid a sheaf of papers off the shelf where the remainder of the flashlights lay. The papers crackled when he held them out to her. “They wanted what we have and I decided to give it to them.”

“Who’s they, Robert?” Tootsie snatched them up without looking. “And what did you decide to give them for all that money?”

He shook his head back and forth,  back and forth. “Now I don’t need to worry about my sales manager’s agenda, and don’t try to tell me he doesn’t have one. I don’t have to worry about my program director’s high drama and his temper, either. Now I can do exactly what I want with the rest of my life, because the money I’m going to be paid is so good, I’ll never have to worry about anything unexpected happening to me ever again.”

“What do you mean?” Heat blossomed under her collar.

He sighed as if he was shedding the last part of an unbearable burden. “The station, Tootsie. I’m selling the radio station to Jim and Chuck Petrocelli.”

Tootsie thought she might have gasped. But how could she have heard it for the sound of her head exploding? She opened her mouth once, twice, before she found her voice. “You sold WCLS? To the Petrocellis? You sold our radio station to the Slasher Twins?”

Scene Two – When She Gets Hot

By the time Tootsie arrived at the radio station and had pulled into her assigned space in the parking lot, she was no longer thinking about her latest parking ticket. She was thinking about what mess she’d be dealing with. Since Robert took over WCLS, mess was on her plate every Monday morning.

Juggling her purse, briefcase, and the latte she’d picked up at the Starbucks drive-through across the street, she shoved open the door to the station with her shoulder and ran into a soft body.

“Hey, Toots.”

Tootsie gasped. “Fern!”

A bright, shiny smile wreathing her round face, Fern planted a kiss on Tootsie’s cheek. “I wanted to be the first one to wish you a happy birthday.”

“Only if you’d called me in the middle of the night could you have been first.”

“Huh?” Consternation marked Fern’s rosy cheeks, and then cleared. “Listen, I know you’ve been dreading this day, but believe me, it’s not so bad.”

“The mere thought of today is like acid reflux after a bagel with lox and cream cheese. And can you tell me why exactly we’re hanging out in the doorway?” She took a couple of side steps past Fern into the radio station lobby and stopped.

Because… They weren’t alone.

There on the couch, sitting where people visiting the radio station waited for appointments, a man. A silent man. All in black. 

She gave Fern the look that said, ‘who is this guy’? She got back an eyes-only ‘I haven’t got a clue’. Tootsie turned toward the visitor. “Can I help you?” She was the radio station’s marketing director, and part of her job was to be welcoming. Even with men who gave off the ‘I don’t need your welcome’ vibe.

He came to his feet and she did a double take. Folded up on the couch, he looked normal-sized. Standing, he was tall, really tall. And holy Hannah, was he the whole package or what? Very fit. Wide shoulders. Narrow waist. Long legs. In a quiet voice, he said, “No. I’m good.”

Goose bumps went skipping down Tootsie’s spine. In his black windbreaker, open over a black T-shirt, black cargo pants with all those little pockets, and black laced-up boots, he was more than a man. He was a presence. With a capital P.

Which left her reeling, which she was not all right with because as he stood there, unblinking black eyes under black eyebrows fixed on her, it was like he was assessing whether she was a—

Threat. She blinked and her heat index went from medium to high and her curls melted on the back of her neck. She righted her latte which—maybe because her hand had begun to twitch—was about to overflow and scorch her skin. Putting on her best fake smile, she said, “Well, I’m sure when our receptionist arrives he’ll let whoever you’re here to see know you’re waiting.”

As he nodded, she kept the smile pasted on her mouth. Without looking away from him and his black eyes, which seriously, she was not going to think of as smoldering, she nudged Fern. “Do you mind holding the door for me?”

Fern, who seemed to have been caught in the man’s tractor-beam stare, jerked into motion. “Oh, sorry.” She scooted up to the plate glass door that separated the lobby from the business part of the radio station, her tie-dyed, floor-length skirt swishing around her ample hips. She held out her keycard, and stepped aside for Tootsie to pass through. “Oh my God,” Fern whispered. “That guy gives me the jitters.”

Tootsie strode past the empty cubicles where, ordinarily, the station’s sales people would be sitting, continued on past the general manager’s office, and made a left down the hallway. The man in black didn’t give Tootsie the jitters. Jitters weren’t the reason her nipples were pushing holes through her black mock turtleneck.


He might be Mr. Sex on a Stick—and oh, Lord, he was—but between the time she spotted him and he came to his feet, she knew. He was a cop. Not a cop like good-natured, longtime friend, Brian. No, she knew. He was the kind of cop who did things she—She stopped the thought before it could form. She wasn’t going there, now. “Who is he?” 

“I don’t know and I don’t want to talk about him anymore,” Fern said. “So I’m changing the subject. Did you get the application for your AARP card yet?”

Tootsie came to a halt in the middle of the hallway. “Did you just ask me if I went in for a root canal, this morning?”

“Very funny. You should have gotten an application in the mail.”

Tootsie slogged on toward her office. “I should check, shouldn’t I? You know, run right home, tear through my mail, find it, and fill out every little line.” She stopped, turned, and narrowed her eyes at Fern. “I’ll press really hard with my pen and carefully enter each number of the year I was born.”

Fern sighed. “Would it be too much to expect you to lose the sarcasm, missy? You shouldn’t be moaning about turning 50. It’s not old.”

Tootsie flinched. “Well, I disagree. My hair is turning gray and my boobs are heading south. What should I expect next? Flabby arms and skin tags?”

“What are you talking about? You look fabulous. You’re still the size six you’ve always been. How many women can wear the kind of skirt you have on today, even women half your age? And don’t talk to me about your hair.  People would kill to have your curls.”

“You mean the hair I pay a fortune to color so I don’t have to look at the grays?”

Fern cocked her head to the side. “When did you start feeling sorry for yourself?”

Key out, Tootsie unlocked her door and pushed in. “At 12:01 a.m. this morning.”

Fern pushed in right behind her and headed for the chair Tootsie kept in the corner of her office nearest the windows that looked out onto the alleyway separating the radio station from the building next door. “I swear I’ve never known you to be like this, even when that miserable husband of yours left you. I’d hate to think turning fifty means you’re going to start having a pity party for yourself.” She gave Tootsie a glare, which wasn’t much of a glare, good-natured as Fern was.

Tootsie sighed. “You’re right. I apologize for whining. It’s just that turning fifty feels like something awful is waiting for me on the other side.”

“I don’t know what you mean. There are plenty of good things you get once you hit fifty. Like half-price tickets on public transportation, discounts at the movies. You know Agrigento’s on Route 3? You can get half off on their potato salad and coleslaw on Sundays when you buy a sub.”

Tootsie’s mood lightened. “I think I’ll pass. Too much mayonnaise and sugar.”

Fern made a face. “And that’s why you’re still a size six and I’m…well, I’m not going to mention what size I am.”

Tootsie gave Fern a look. “Now who’s feeling sorry for herself?”

Hanging her coat on the hook behind her door, Tootsie scooted around to the front of her desk and glanced at her phone. “I can’t believe it. No messages this morning, which is curious since Robert—”

Fern held up a finger. “Speaking of our boss from hell—”

“Yeah, him. He usually has five or six things he’s frantic for me to take care of, first thing. And by the way, when we were coming in, I couldn’t help but notice that none of the salespeople were at their desks. Is there a meeting offsite again?”

Fern angled her head toward the other end of the hallway. “No. The entire coven has been in the breakroom for the last fifteen minutes. I have no idea what’s up, but they’re doing a lot of whispering. And about Robert, I need to tell you—”

“Maybe between the four of them, they’ve come up with a brilliant new sales campaign they stole from another radio station?” Tootsie interrupted Fern, while rummaging through her desk looking for her purchase order pad.

  Fern giggled. “Are you saying our sales staff are not original thinkers?”

      Tootsie picked up the pad. “I’m saying they’re too light for heavy work and too heavy for light work.” She looked up. “Did I send you a purchase order on Friday?”

“I don’t remember seeing one. What did you need?”

“More swag for next month’s promotions.”

“I’ll look for it when I get back to my desk. Oh, and speaking of missing something, I’m bummed I missed the battle that almost happened in Robert’s office on Friday afternoon. I heard a chair almost got thrown through the window.”

Tootsie twitched, remembering. “Can you tell me why people at this radio station think having temper tantrums should be standard operation procedure? And yes, a chair almost did go through the window.”       

  Fern tee-heed. “I wish I’d been a fly on the wall at that meeting.”

     Tootsie rolled her eyes. “There for a moment I was afraid I’d gotten in the way of the chair.”

     Fern cringed. “Yikes.”

     “It makes me crazy that Robert hasn’t figured out how to manage his program director and his sales manager, who—”

“Who hate each other,” said Fern, finishing her sentence.

     “Stan would never have let the two of them carry on that way.”

“Yes, well. Stan died eight months ago, and now his darling son is in charge.”

Fern leaned an elbow on Tootsie’s desk. “I miss Stan.”

“I miss him, too.” She did. Stan Hillman had taken a chance, hired her, and given her, a woman who hadn’t worked outside the house since she’d gotten married, a job she’d needed if she’d wanted to maintain her sanity…and pay the bills.

She peeled the edge of her turtleneck away from her neck. “Who turned up the heat?”

     Fern jumped up. “I’m glad I’m not the only one.” She took a step toward the thermostat on the wall next to the door and stopped. “Oh, listen, I need to tell you—”


      “Robert needs to see you.”

      “What for? Or maybe he didn’t leave me any messages because he wants to lay it on me face to face.”

      “I don’t know. He just said I should tell you to join him as soon as you arrive.”

     “I better do what the man says.” Tootsie closed the drawer where she’d stashed her purse. “Where is he? In his office?”

      Fern shook her head.

      “Then where? The on-air studio?”

      “Actually not there, either. He’s in the promotions closet.”    

  In the process of rising, Tootsie sat again and just resisted laying her head down on her desk blotter. “He’s in there, again?”

Fern made a face. “Maybe this time he’s hiding out from staff members who want to throw things at his head.”

Tootsie had been right about premonitions. Robert went into the promotions closet for one reason only: when there was something he couldn’t face. She laid both hands, palms down, on her desk and levered herself up. Grabbing her to-do list—while she was in the closet, so it shouldn’t be a total loss of time, she’d check her inventory to see if there was anything else she needed Fern to order—she said, “I better head in the direction of the promotions closet.”

“I’ll walk with you.”

     “No need.” If there was a problem, even a minor one, it would take until next week for Tootsie to calm Fern. “Once I find out what’s got his panties in a twist, I’ll let you know.”

Scene One: Tootsie’s Story


Scene One     

            Her phone rang before the sun came up and startled Tootsie Goldberg into dropping her tights on the floor.

            “Happy half century, Toots,” Arlo said in a voice that was too bright for the dawn’s early light. “Oh, and Raquel sends her best wishes too.”

            Awesome. Birthday greetings from her ex-husband, the Prince of Fools, and his 22 year-old Princess Bride. What a way to start the first day of the rest of her life.

            “Thanks. Both of you,” she muttered. Sitting down on the bed, she snatched her tights from the floor. 

            “Raquel said I should buy you a gift.”

            “What a generous woman.”  Tootsie put her cell in speaker mode and dropped it on her bed so she had two hands to straighten out her tights.

            “She’s a very special girl.”

            “Mmm.” She held the elastic waist wide, stuck her right foot in, and promptly put a nail through a seam.

            “Every day I ask myself how I got so lucky.”

            She threw the ruined tights on the floor.

            “She’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” Arlo went on. “What a girl, huh?”

            Tootsie gritted her teeth. “Raquel is the real deal.”

            “She could have had anyone she wanted. I don’t know why she chose me.”

            Tootsie stared at the phone like maybe it would tell her she hadn’t heard what she’d heard. Did Arlo think Raquel couldn’t count, that she didn’t know, to the penny what he was worth, courtesy of lightening striking and him being the sole winner of a $110 million mega lottery?

No doubt Raquel had measured all that green against his 57-year-old ass, the major flab around his gravitationally challenged belly, and his disappearing genitalia, and like the smart second wife she was, kept her eyes closed when in a prone position. “Yes, Arlo. You are so, so lucky.”

“About your birthday…” He cleared his throat. “The thing is, Toots, Raquel had no idea what to get for a woman your age.”

Again, she stared at the phone. Should she check her thesaurus to see if ‘woman of your age’ was a synonym for fifty?

            “And you know me,” he continued. “I’m no good when it comes to getting gifts. So I decided what mattered was the phone call and the sentiment.”

            “Well then, you did good. And be sure to tell Raquel I’ll send her a suggestion list for next year.”

“Yeah, next year when you’re 51 and—”    

            Tootsie hit END before Arlo said one more thing that would get her hot under the collar she wasn’t wearing, since she was sitting on her bed in her bra and panties. No one knew better than Arlo how much she’d been dreading this birthday. She shouldn’t have cared, right? He was out of her life. For three years since his little announcement at Ruth’s Chris Steak House over her Petite Filet and his Cowboy Sirloin that he needed to move on without her, she’d sealed him in a box in her mind where she kept things that no longer had any value.

            But then eight months ago he’d married the beauteous Raquel and, for reasons unknown, started calling her. Like clockwork. 

            She stood, slid open the top drawer of her dresser in search of another  pair of tights or even leggings. No such luck finding any, which meant today, her legs were going commando.     

            Once dressed, the coffee perking,  she ate a quick bite of the only thing left in her refrigerator: American cheese food and white toast with calcium propionate. After, she grabbed her winter coat and hustled into her much-loved XC60 red Volvo SUV that she’d named Margarete…what then, she was Swedish…that was parked in the driveway.

            Minutes later, Margarete was idling, nose first, on the yellow stripes in one of Glen Allyn’s too many No Parking zones, this one in front of the cleaners. It was a quick drop off—three sweaters, not even that dirty—two minutes, no big deal. But two minutes was all it took for him to be there, doing his thing.

She rushed outside to confront the man in blue. “Oh, c’mon, Brian! Another one?”

He didn’t bother to look up, just kept writing. “No parking means no parking, Toots. That’s the law.”

A gust of arctic air tore straight from the North Pole and spiraled around Tootsie’s tight-less, bare legs, raising goose bumps from her ankles to her knees. “But today is my birthday.”

“I’m a cop, Toots, and part of my job is to write tickets for people who park in No Parking zones. Even if it happens to be their birthday.”

She shifted from one foot to the other, not just cold, now. Freezing. “You can’t cut me a little slack?”

“I might. If you weren’t always parking in No Parking zones. Besides which, I’m already writing. You know what that means.”

Brian was short enough she didn’t have to reach too far up to poke his shoulder. “Oh yeah. There’s no question about that one.”

“You’re breaking the no-touching-the-cop rule, Tootsie.” He stopped writing. “And what do you mean there’s no question about that one?”

            “It’s the end of the month.”

Giving her a look out of a pair of pale blue eyes framed by wire rims, he raised his sandy-blond eyebrows. “Which means?”

“You haven’t written enough tickets. You haven’t filled your quota yet.”

“That’s low even for you.” He began to write again.

            “You’re going to deny there’s a quota?”

He sighed, shook his head, and kept writing. “Yes I am. Because there isn’t one. Except in your fevered brain.”

Again the wind whooshed in and reached under her skirt all the way to her tush. Last month, as if in anticipation of the birthday barreling toward her, her biological furnace decided it was time to flare to life. She’d been counting on that same furnace warming her poor, bare legs on this cold January day. Which would have made menopause worthwhile.

Tootsie fidgeted. “Can’t you write faster? I have to get to work. I have a premonition.”

“You said you had a premonition the last time I wrote you a ticket.” He looked up. “Which was last Monday. Or was it Tuesday?” He shrugged. “I can’t remember.”

“Maybe you can’t, but I can.” She held up a hand, fingers spread. “Five, Brian. Five. That’s how many tickets you’ve written me, just this month.”

“Every single one of which you deserved.”

Yes, she did, not that she’d ever tell anybody what all those tickets were about. Nobody would understand. “Okay, got it. Now, how about hurrying?”

“Patience, Toots. I’m getting there.” He paused. “And about your work at that radio station. Let me tell you what too many people won’t in this little town of ours.”

“Really? Too many people? Are you speaking of Glen Allyn, where not only does everyone know your name but what you had for lunch on Saturday?”

“Don’t distract me. It’s a nice station. If you like classical music. But from what you’ve told me? They don’t appreciate you there.”

She made a scoffing sound. “Some do. Although, you’re right. My boss doesn’t.”

Brian made his own scoffing sound. “Just walk away from him and the job. It’s not like you need the money.”

“Money has nothing to do with it.” It didn’t. Not since Arlo won the lottery. Pride, on the other hand, did. And having the sense she was doing something good with her life. Or at least it had. Until Stan died and left the radio station to his useless son, Robert.

“Meanwhile…” Brian smiled and handed her the ticket. “Add this to your collection. This time, try to pay it so we don’t have to issue an arrest warrant for you.”

            Tootsie yanked it out of Brian’s hand. “Thank you so very much.” She stuck it in her purse.

Brian stowed the ticket book in his back pocket. “Oh, listen. Tim’s Boy Scout troop is raising money for St. Brigid’s Fund for Indigent Seniors. Can you help out?”

            Tootsie pulled her car door open and slid into the seat. “If I wasn’t so crazy about your family and especially Tim, I’d have no problem telling you to stuff it. But we both know that’s not going to happen.”

            His fair skin chapped red with the cold, he placed a big palm on the top of the door and leaned in. “That’s a yes, then?”

            “Of course it’s a yes.” She pressed the ignition button and the engine came to life. “Tell Tim to come by the house this evening with whatever form I need to fill out. And next time, do me a favor. Give someone else a ticket.”

            Brian stood away from the door and grinned outright. “You know there’d be no fun in that.”

            Tootsie gave Brian a grudging smile in return. Closing the door she began to pull away from the curb, but stopped when he knocked on the roof.

            She powered the window down. “What, you’re impounding my car, now?”

            Brian leaned in the opened window and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Happy birthday, Toots.”


The scene featuring Jack’s mother and her dog, Monty.


It was a full hour later when his mother breezed into his office, her pug, Monty, in her arms. After Jack gave her the obligatory kiss on her powdered cheek and Monty an obligatory, if reluctant pat on his bony head, they got down to talk about family and how with Diana’s delivery of a baby girl five days ago, she was a grandmother again.

“Leonie is an adorable infant. I can’t wait until Diana allows me to spoil her. “But
let’s talk about something else. For instance, what must be done to encourage MaryBeth to write again. The next installment of the Red Dragon Chronicles is long overdue.”

Baking frees my writer’s mind

A long time ago, someone told me I should never write a scene where my hero and heroine share a meal. I promptly ignored that advice. Every book I’ve ever written has at least one scene where food is either being consumed or made. In fact, in A DUKE FOR DESSERT my heroine, Annie Lukin, is a Michelin starred chef. The hero loves her food as much as he loves her…well, that’s an exaggeration. 

Here’s a simple recipe for mandelbrot. No, it doesn’t come from Annie. It comes from my recipe box. The word, mandelbrot, comes from the German and means almond cookie or biscuit. The Italian biscotti is its near cousin.
I haven’t included mandelbrot in a book, yet. But that doesn’t mean I won’t. In the meantime, I thought I’d share the recipe with you as it’s a favorite of my family and friends. This is a delicious treat, a little crumbly, sweet, but not-too-sweet, perfect for an afternoon coffee or tea and very simple to make! 

And, as I’m always open for new recipes…yes, I love to bake, but now, since COVID I’m doing a lot of cooking, too…if you’ve got a recipe you particularly like and want to share, please send it to me,

Pre-heat the oven to 350 and place a rack in the center of the oven.

  • 3 1/4 C. flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder (level)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 C. sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 2 T. orange juice
  • 1 C. walnuts or almonds, chopped
  • 1 C. oil (a neutral oil)
  • Cinnamon for dusting

Combine the flour and baking powder. Wisk the sugar into the beaten eggs, and then add the vanilla, maple syrup, lemon and orange juices, and the oil. Combine the dry and wet ingredients and mix. Add the nuts and mix until combined. 

Form football-shaped loaves and place on cookie sheet. Dust the top of each loaf with cinnamon. This recipe should make six loaves. Bake three loaves on each cookie sheet for approximately 28 minutes. Remove from oven when loaves are dry. Remove to a flat platter or board. Once the loaves have cooled, slice each, approximately one inch thick. Place slices on a pan in a toaster oven or back in the oven and toast seven minutes or until brown on both sides. 


Oh, and by the way, just a little heads-up. My next book in the Billionaire Dukes series is out this winter. It’s called WHEN THE DUKE FINDS HIS HEART and I’ll let you know when it’s available.

Keep safe! Keep on reading!