So I was about 15K words into a new book. If you’ve read Wanderlust, you’ll remember that Monica was feeling pressure from her family to settle down because her younger sister, Lauren, was beating her to the altar. This new book is about how Lauren met her now-fiancé. There’s a love triangle involving Lauren and two very attractive men, an unexpected assignment to write a sex column, a trip to Milan, and, naturally, some very good coffee.
And although I’m still going to write it, I’m doing a pivot turn and suddenly writing something else. Why? I was reading the reviews of Wanderlust (I know, I know, authors shouldn’t read their reviews—but how can you not?), and I was struck by how many people went out of their way to say they liked the supporting characters, especially Chip and Steven. Someday, I’d love to do an M/M romance about Steven and Patrick, but I’m not sure I’m ready to tackle that yet.
But Chip, on the other hand … hmm, straight-talking, no BS, charismatic, all around good guy Chip. I began to think there might be a story about him and how he met his wife, Katie. In Wanderlust, she appears only as a photo that Chip shows Monica, but I was pretty sure she had a story behind her.
As it happens, the cherry blossoms are starting to come out here. After a long, drab winter, we suddenly have these beautiful pink and white clouds everywhere. Cherry blossoms, of course, are one of the quintessential symbols of Japan, and they always remind me of the years I lived there. And a couple of weeks ago, I was driving around town, admiring the first buds that were starting to show …
… and quite suddenly, I knew what Chip and Katie’s story was.
I couldn’t wait to start writing it, so I put Lauren’s story aside for now and began on this one. This scene (still a bit rough) takes place in Tokyo, where Katie’s brother Ashton lives. Katie is there for a visit when Ashton’s best friend from high school, Chip, shows up rather unexpectedly. For reasons that will gradually be revealed, Katie loathes Chip, but is doing her best to be polite to him for her brother’s sake. Ashton has thrown a party to introduce Katie to his friends.
“And you must be Katie, the much-adored little sister!” the beautiful Indian woman said in a lightly accented voice, taking Katie’s free hand in both of her own. “My name is Litya. I have two older brothers, but even between the two of them, I doubt they say as many nice things about me as Ashton says about you!”
Katie blushed. “It’s nice to meet you, Litya. How do you know Ashton?”
“We met through an ex pat group that trains for marathons.”
“So you’re a runner?”
“Hardly,” Litya laughed cheerfully. “More like a trotter, trotting behind all the serious runners. I just go to meet people and drink beer with them afterward.” Katie took a moment to study her. She wore a heavily embroidered salwar kameez in a flattering shade of dark pink. Her silky black hair spilled over her shoulders in dark waves. Thick eyebrows arched over her large eyes like wings. The eyes themselves were surprisingly light, an almost coppery brown. Katie was almost inclined to give Chip a pass; he could hardly be blamed for being attracted to her.
“Doesn’t sound like a very serious marathon group if they’re drinking beer at the end of practice,” Chip said.
Ass, thought Katie immediately. Lighten up.
Litya just laughed. “We’re in Japan. Everything is an excuse to drink beer!”
Katie smiled, thinking of all the enkais and after-work bar hops with her co-workers. “And what brings you to Japan?” she asked.
“I am a process engineer. I work for a company here that makes microchips, computers, that sort of thing.” She waved her hand dismissively. “I understand you are teaching English? That must be fascinating!”
Katie laughed a little. “I enjoy it and it’s a lot of fun, but I don’t know that it’s fascinating. Being an engineer sounds a lot more interesting.”
Litya leaned in confidingly. “So boring, you have no idea,” she said in a stage whisper. “But they pay me a lot. Golden handcuffs, you know.” She smiled ruefully. “But this boy—” she drew away again and rested a hand gently on Chip’s muscular bicep, “—he has been telling me that you grew up together.”
Katie glanced at Litya’s slim fingers and carefully manicured nails. Surely this lovely woman hadn’t been taken in by Chip’s smarmy attitude and shallow good looks? She glanced back to Litya, who removed her hand and moved it toward Katie’s tray with an apologetic smile. “May I?” she asked.
“Dozo.” Katie pushed the tray forward as Litya took a kappa maki roll. Katie refused to meet Chip’s eyes as he reached for one as well.
“So the two of you grew up together?” Litya said again.
Katie and Chip glanced at each other. “Ashton and I became friends our first year of high school,” said Chip. “Katie was the pesky little sister.”
“And Chip was the bad influence,” added Katie with a viperish smile.
Litya raised an eyebrow in a way that made Katie slightly uncomfortable. “I see you each have very clearly defined roles. Interesting. So, Chip, will you be joining Ashton and Katie on their trip?”
Chip shook his head. “No, Ashton’s going to let me hang out here for a bit, then I’m going to go visit a friend in Hiroshima for a few days.”
Litya nodded. “Katie, I understand you and Ashton should be in Kyoto by the end of the week. I may be there at the same time, so make sure Ashton gets in touch with me. I have to be in Osaka for a conference next Monday so I thought I might do some sightseeing in Kyoto beforehand. If I won’t cut into your brother-sister time, I’d love to catch up with you there.”
“That would be lovely,” Katie said. Litya was charming, and it would be fun to get to know her better.
“And Chip, I’ll give you my number in case you’d like a guide while you’re in Tokyo.” From somewhere in the folds of her glittering tunic she produced a small business card and handed it to Chip, who nodded his thanks and put it carefully in his pocket.
Katie suppressed an eye roll; Litya might be charming and intelligent, but she clearly had terrible taste. Chip was handsome; ridiculously handsome even—even Katie would admit that. But could Litya really not see what a schmoozy, arrogant ass he really was? And of course, with beautiful women like that throwing themselves at him, it would go straight to his head and just make him worse—
We expect to have this book on the market sometime in May. Right now, it’s tentatively called Tanabata, after the Japanese Star Festival, which celebrates the reunion of two separated lovers. But I’m not sure if I’ll keep that title. If you have a better idea, by all means, leave them in the comments below!