So I’m heading out of town…er… I already did. And I’ve got a guest! it’s Ruthie Knox. I got to read her book early, too. It’s hot. It’s fun. And City is awesome.
You know, it never occurred to me that it was an unusual move to set a contemporary romance in London until I did it and people started telling me it was. Oops!
But also, yay!
I don’t mind being unusual, especially when it means that I get to share my love of London and the surrounding area with the world. (Also, my love of hot Englishmen.)
Way back in days of yore, before I was a romance writer, I was a grad student, and I earned a Ph.D. in modern British history. As part of my studies, I spent nine months living in Greenwich, a village suburb in southeast London, for nine months.
The experience was both wonderful and awful. I spent nine months commuting by train to various metropolitan archives, sitting for eight hours five days a week in silent rooms where I took notes on a laptop, then commuting home. I took up jogging with a vengeance, running every morning in Greenwich park near my flat. I took up Iyengar yoga at the neighborhood community center. I learned to cook. I went on hikes and visited museums and took weekend excursions to Bath, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Strasbourg, Nuremburg, and all a bunch of different places along the Thames. I read a ton of books from the library.
Nobody ever really talked to me.
I was lonely, but it was a very capable, sustainable sort of lonely, if that makes any sense. I sent a lot of e-mail, made a lot of phone calls, and had a number of visitors—including my then-male-friend, who became my boyfriend over the course of his visit, and then became my husband, which is a whole other story I’m not going to tell here, or probably anywhere, ever.
But the thing I spent hours doing—the thing that didn’t feel like a luxury at the time but was—the thing that I miss now—was watch people. People on train platforms, people in archive lunchrooms, people at the park, people at yoga classes, people in shops. I became, over that year, a student of people. I became a student of London, too, and I fell in love with it.
So my latest release, About Last Night, is, in a small way, my love letter to London, with a lot of sneaky little references to things I adored about my short-term adoptive city. Maybe you can pick some of them up in this excerpt, set at the Canary Wharf location of Marks & Spencer.
She was standing by the checkout, trying to decide whether Hello! or OK! magazine would make a better accompaniment to the cookies in the meantime, when she heard him.
“Tell me that’s not your dinner, Mary Catherine.”
Her arms broke out in goose bumps at the sound of his voice. Seriously, goose bumps. She was a junkie for this guy. It was humiliating.
“You want me to lie to you, City?”
Because she so badly wanted to look at him, she made herself wait. She placed her cookies on the checkout belt and started digging through her purse for a few pound coins. In her peripheral vision, she peeked at what he was buying. His basket was full of vegetables, eggs, bread, tomatoes. He was going to make something healthy.
She wondered if this was where he usually bought his groceries. It was the most convenient option for commuters—a quick hop off the train and then back on again—but too expensive for Cath. She used it strictly as a cookie stop and made the trip to the dodgy Tesco in Lewisham once a week for her real food.
“No, I want you to eat properly.”
“Don’t worry, I’m going to have some milk with them.” She did look at him then, just a glance over her shoulder. Enough to see the dimple, the green eyes, the charcoal pin-striped suit with a red tie. Her favorite banker.
She started running her mouth so she wouldn’t have to deal with her runaway emotions. “The best part is, they won’t even make me fat.” She handed her money to the cashier. “We Talaricos are a short, scrawny crowd, genetically incapable of gaining weight. My dad was pint-sized. It worked for him, though. He looked like a young Frank Sinatra, with these big blue eyes and a smile that had the ladies practically throwing their panties at him. At least, that’s what Mom always said. It’s kind of hard to imagine anyone throwing panties at your own father.” After accepting her change, she tossed her purchase in a bag and finally turned around to face him.
It really wasn’t fair. He had to be the only man alive who was always more attractive in the flesh than in the imagination, and he was giving her a look. She’d seen that look before. They’d both been naked at the time and he’d been . . . mmm. Her goose bumps got goose bumps.
“Let me make you dinner.”
How many times in her life had a man offered to cook dinner for her? With vegetables, even? Zero, that was how many.
No dates, she reminded herself. No emotions. Just sex. But it was hard to remember why when he was standing in front of her being all sexy and friendly and sexy.
The obvious solution was to refuse to look at him. She kept her eyes on the floor while he packed his groceries into a bag and thanked the cashier.
Then he touched her, a light caress of his hand at her waist that flipped her on switch and started her whole body vibrating. “Mary Catherine?”
“No.” Just don’t look up. “I can’t. No.”
He tipped her chin up with one finger, forcing her to meet his eyes. A slow smile spread over his face, devastating her defenses. “If I didn’t know better, I’d begin to think you don’t like me.”
“Who says I like you?” But the question didn’t come out as ballsy as she wanted it to, not when he was close enough to make her skin itch.
He chuckled. “How many times did you come last night?” he asked in a low voice.
Three. “I’m not answering that question.”
“You don’t have to. I remember every one. You like me fine.”
How about you — have you ever spent a long time living abroad on your own? Do you have a love affair with a foreign city? What about it do you like to remember now, looking back?