Competitive, work-obsessed Bella Simonetti has just been fired from her high-paying job at a Manhattan law firm. At an all-time low, she returns home and helps her parents at their small-town gift shop, but the business is failing and may not make it past the Christmas holidays.
Successful landscape architect Dean Jackson is like a son to Bella's parents. But he's a persistent annoyance to her—he seems to have forgotten his unforgivable blunder thirteen years earlier.
When Bella transforms her parents' gift shop into a cookie cottage, Dean's generosity and magnetic smile are hard to resist, and those feelings of unrequited adolescent love come rushing back. But can Bella let go of the past and accept Dean for the man he is today?
Wild Women Authors is delighted to welcome back New Jersey author Maria Imbalzano with another of her delightful short contemporary romances: Red Velvet Crinkles and Christmas Sprinkles, a current release in the Wild Rose Press’ Christmas Cookie series. With Maria is attorney Isabella Simonetti who will go first.
Good morning, Bella. Thanks for taking time out of your new career to spend time with us. Let’s begin with where you’re from. I grew up in Princeton, NJ, but moved to New York City to practice law. I’m back home in Princeton for a little while right now.
Tell us a bit about “Red Velvet Crinkles and Christmas Sprinkles” I lost my job as a corporate lawyer in NYC due to down-sizing several months ago, and I haven’t been able to find another job in the tight legal market. With waning funds, I had to give up my apartment in the city and return home to Princeton with the hope of regrouping and finding something in the new year. My parents own a gift shop in Princeton, and while helping out I learned that the shop is in trouble. The only items flying off the shelves are my mom’s cookies. The holidays are approaching and I came up with a plan to transform their shop into a cookie cottage. But convincing my parents to change direction is a hard mountain to climb, and my brother’s best friend, Dean (who apparently is now like a son to them) isn’t keen on my advice either. Why is he even part of the equation?
What did you think the first time you saw Dean? I’ve known Dean for years. He was my brother’s best friend in high school. They were football icons. Unfortunately, I had a crush on him. I asked him to my junior prom, sure he would say no. But he agreed to go. I was on cloud nine until the cloud burst when he canceled on me the week before. It’s now thirteen years later, but I’ll never get past the resentment and animosity I feel toward him. And now, he seems to be underfoot everywhere I go. At my parents’ house, at the shop, in town. He owns a successful landscape architect firm in the area and not only helps my parents whenever they need him, but he and my dad play golf together. Ugh!
What was your second thought? Why does he have to be so handsome? And so nice to my parents? His green eyes had always been like flashing gemstones sucking me in. And that smile, half teasing, half serious still stop my heart, despite the walls I’ve built.
Did you feel it was love at first sight? Back in high school it was adolescent love. At least on my part. I don’t think Dean thought much about me back then. I was his best friend’s sister, so he had to be nice to me. Although he wasn’t when he cancelled our prom date. Now, I just need him to stay away from me and I’ll be fine.
What do you like most about him? Unfortunately, he’s genuinely nice. My brother moved to Boston and I was living in New York, so my parents didn’t have us to help out. Enter Dean. Whenever inventory had to be hauled or fixtures moved at the shop, he was there. Every year he helps my parents decorate the store for Christmas. This Christmas, I was there to help so we didn’t need him. At least in my mind. But he wouldn’t leave when I told him I had everything under control. Instead, he invaded my space—his fingers grazing my skin, his eyes holding me captive, and his sensual scent teasing my nose. He had me reeling.
How would you describe Dean? Incredibly handsome with a heart of gold and apparently no memory of his mortal sin against me.
Mortal sin, good one. How would he describe you? Evasive. I’ve refused to answer his direct question about why I avoid him at every turn, and my way of dealing with him is to leave when he arrives.
What made you choose the law as a career? I wasn’t very popular in high school like my brother was, so I kept my head in the books and studied hard. I made the debate team during my junior year and we won the championship. I loved taking a side and arguing the issues, which led me to making the decision to become a lawyer.
What is your biggest fear? That I won’t get a comparable legal job like the one I had in New York City and I’ll be moving in with my parents forever and living in my childhood bedroom with the flower explosion comforter and twin bed.
Hah, another beauty. So, faced with all this, how do you relax? I haven’t relaxed in a long time. I worked sixty hour weeks at my previous job and wouldn’t get home until nine o’clock every night. I even worked on Saturdays. On Sundays, my day off, I did my laundry, went to the grocery store and cleaned my apartment.
Who is your favorite fictional character? Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City. She works from home as a writer and has plenty of time to meet her three amazing girlfriends for breakfast, lunch, or drinks. She also seems to have an enviable budget for designer clothes. She’s funny, vulnerable, and independent. Maybe I’ll forgo the legal career and become a columnist for a trendy New York newspaper or magazine.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received? Dream big, work hard, stay focused and surround yourself with good people.
We thank you for this, Bella. Now, we’d like to chat with Maria.
What movies or books have had an impact on your career as a writer? The first romance writer that I remember loving was Judith McNaught. Her book “Perfect” is one of my favorites, although I like all of her books. Danielle Steele, though, is the author that inspired me to write. I was reading one of her books and told myself “I bet I could do better than this.” Lol. So that began my journey.
What event in your private life were you able to bring to this story and how do you feel it impacted the novel? Every Christmas season, I bake cookies for the holiday. I had started doing this with my mom when I was younger, and now I do it with my daughters. My one daughter is always commenting that I’m using wet measuring cups for dry ingredients and therefore I’m not getting the exact measurement. My reply has always been, “It’s close enough.” I used this scenario and others with Bella and her mom. Bella is a little casual with her ingredients and measurements and she uses her mistakes in a video of her and her mom baking, to post on social media to get business. I think it makes for a funny scene, but it also shows that Bella is willing to be the fall guy to help her parents with their business.
Tell us a bit about your publisher: how did you hear about them and what influenced your decision to submit to them? I belong to New Jersey Romance Writers and heard about The Wild Rose Press (TWRP) from a few of the authors in our group who had been published through them. They had nothing but nice things to say about TWRP so I found out how to submit to them and sent in my manuscript. I received my first contract back in 2013. I have been published with them ever since and now have eight books out. The owners and head of marketing are always available and helpful and get back to my emails the day I send them. My editors have all been very professional and good at what they do. My fellow authors at TWRP are incredibly supportive. I’m in a good place with TWRP.
What book[s] currently rest on your TBR pile? I am going to read as many of the Christmas Cookie Series books that I can—not only to support my fellow authors at TWRP, but because it will put me into the holiday spirit. “Red Velvet Crinkles and Christmas Sprinkles” is part of this series of novellas which are being released from late October through December.
Lastly, what's up next and when can we expect to see it on the shelves? I just sent a manuscript to my publisher called “Return to Wylder.” It’s part of the Wylder West Series published by TWRP. Many of the stories take place in the late 1800s in Wylder, Wyoming. I wrote a contemporary for the series, and I’m hoping to get a contract in the near future. Next on my agenda is completing the fourth and last book in my Sworn Sisters Series. Each book in the series is about one of four girlfriends from high school who are now in their early 30s and dealing with relationship issues. These books are all stand alone novels which fall into the women’s fiction category with a strong romance.
Maria brought along an excerpt for us to enjoy—and entice:
Just then the bell over the door signaled a customer. Bella glanced up to see if their guest was here to browse or needed help, but no customer materialized. It was her dad with Dean in tow.
She had to admit he was even more striking than in high school. His light brown hair, sweeping from left to right in a perfect wave of silk, still had sun streaks from the summer, no doubt enhanced while playing on the links. And those green eyes had always been like flashing gemstones that sucked her in. But the best was his roguish smile—half teasing, half serious, but permanently heart-stopping.
Her best bet would be to prevent any cause for cheerfulness. Yet his intense frown was also mesmerizing. Staying away from him altogether seemed the ideal solution, but her parents had different ideas. Of course, her surliness toward him might make him rethink his charitable desire to help.
“Hi, Bella. How’s it going?” Even that simple greeting came with a full-blown smile.
She was screwed. “Fine.” She got right to the point—no friendly chitchat. “If you and Dad bring the boxes up front from the storeroom, Mom and I will take care of the decorating. You won’t have to stay.”
“Are you kidding? I love to decorate for Christmas. I’ve been helping your parents do it for the past few years while you’ve been AWOL.”
She blew an errant strand of hair out of her eye. “I wasn’t AWOL. I was working. In New York. I couldn’t up and leave on a Wednesday afternoon to come home and decorate.”
There came that half-teasing, half-serious smile. To avoid it, she started pulling Christmas balls hung on red-and-green silk ribbons from the large box she’d brought out.
“I can help you hang those in the window. I hid the hooks above the molding last year so we don’t have to remove them every year.”
“Clever.” Her sarcastic tone couldn’t be mistaken.
“We’ll need a ladder,” he determined. “I’ll get it from the back, then you can hand me the balls, and I’ll attach them.”
She slitted her eyes at him. “I want to hang the balls. You can do something else.”
“Fine. But it takes two for this job. You don’t want to be going up and down the ladder each time you hang a ball. It’s inefficient.”
He had a point. She’d have to bury her reluctance to work with him at the risk of coming up with some other childish excuse.
Once Dean brought the ladder to the window, she climbed up three steps and took the first ball from him. Not a well-thought-out plan since her butt was now at his eye level.
“Can you stand over here, please?” She pointed to the other side of the ladder.
“It’s better if I stand behind you, to spot you. In case you lose your balance.” His grin emerged, and she gritted her teeth to prevent a growl.
Inhaling, she reached up to tie the ribbon on the hook. Her sweater inched over her midriff, giving him a view of her torso. This day just couldn’t get any worse. If she hadn’t been so stubborn in demanding that she hang the ornaments, she’d have the pleasure of staring at his physique, not the other way around.
To learn more about Maria Imbalzano and the stories she creates, go to:
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