I have always said I don't have a favorite book. In fact, I love most of my books. But I do love a few more than the others. Shh. Don't tell them.
I'm going to be posting favorite scenes from some of my most cherished books here. If you're intrigued, I'll post links where you can buy the book.
The first book up is "TO LOVE OR NOT TO LOVE." It's book 4 in the Manhattan Dinner Club series. I started rereading this book for a new project I'm working on and I got sucked right in. The meet/cute drew me into the story. I hope it does the same for you.
TO LOVE OR NOT TO LOVE
Jean C. Joachim
Wham! A huge, shaggy, golden retriever sent runner Penn Roberts flying through the air. Intent on his prey—a gray squirrel—the dog never missed a beat, racing full speed after the wily rodent. The furry target scurried safely up a tree, leaving the canine barking in frustration on the ground.
Struggling to breathe and shirtless, Penn lay flat on his back in the dirt. Pebbles dug into his bare skin. The fall had knocked the wind out of him. The perpetrator trotted back to lick Penn’s face. He looked up into a pair of soulful brown eyes belonging to the handsome pooch. Buddy! Was it Buddy? His beloved golden, died seven years ago. As he reached up to touch the dog he didn’t believe was real, he heard a voice.
“Are you hurt? Should I call 911?”
Penn switched his gaze from the canine to the most beautiful teal blue eyes, framed in black lashes, he had ever seen. The woman’s peaches-n-cream complexion was set off perfectly by long hair as dark as midnight. Her left hand held two more leashes. One with a pug at the end, the other linked to a Boston Terrier.
“Lucky didn’t mean to knock you over,” she said. The dog licked him again. “See? He’s sorry. Are you okay? Can you talk?” She leaned over, providing a perfect sneak peek of a pair of tantalizing breasts. Penn’s gaze was riveted.
He pushed up on his elbows. “I’ll live. Is this your dog?” He petted Lucky.
“I’m his dog walker.”
“Some dog walker…can’t keep control of one this big, eh?” His regard moved from Lucky to the luscious figure of the stunning woman crouched before him. She wore black bicycle shorts topped by a low-cut, turquoise tank top. The outfit molded her figure perfectly, leaving little to his imagination, kicking his libido into overdrive.
“You’re okay?” Her brows knitted.
“No thanks to Lucky, here…or you, for that matter.” He tried to scowl but was unsuccessful.
“You’re right. I’m sorry. When he sees a squirrel, he bolts. My fault all the way. I’m Miranda Bradford.” She stood then extended her hand.
Penn used it to pull himself up. “Penn Roberts.”
“What can I do to make it up to you?” Miranda picked up the dog’s leash.
That’s a leading question, honey. I can think of lots of things. Embarrassed by his own X-rated thoughts, he sensed heat rising from his chest to his face.
“Have breakfast with me at The Boathouse.” He shaded his eyes from the brilliant, June sun. Squinting, he located his Aviator sunglasses, knocked away by the collision. He brushed dirt off his shorts. Sweat from running glued the loose soil of the bridle path to his back. He handed her a handkerchief and turned around. “Would you mind?”
Miranda turned over the leashes to Penn. She flopped the cloth over her small hand then touched him softly.
He squirmed. “Hey, that tickles!”
“Sorry.” She increased the pressure, brushing away the debris. Her delicate nails dislodged a few stubborn pebbles embedded in his skin. At her touch, a tingle ran up his spine then straight down to his groin. Penn was in no hurry to move away from her warm fingers. After a few more caresses, she dropped her arm.
“Thank you. Breakfast?” He faced her, his gaze warm.
She handed him the dirty linen. “I can’t…Lucky, here. Romeo and Blackie, too.” She gestured to the two small dogs sniffing the ground.
“They’re allowed to sit with us in the outdoor section.”
She tried to hide a smile. “Glad to see your injury hasn’t killed your appetite.”
“Nope. Stomach’s fine. Will you join me?”
“Guess so. If you’re a serial killer, Lucky’ll protect me.”
“By licking me to death?” Penn cocked an eyebrow. A grin played on his lips.
“Pen, like the writing implement?” she asked, casting a long gaze over his form.
“Two ‘n’s,’ short for Pennington,” he explained.
“How’d you guess?”
“You walk three dogs three times a day?”
“Only twice a day. I have others, too.”
“A lot to keep track of…” he commented, putting his hand in front of each pooch’s nose to get acquainted.
“I’m used to it.”
“You’re a professional dog walker?” He crouched down to pet the animals.
“I’m a playwright, actually. But this pays the bills.” Her frank stare roaming over his body warmed him.
Not surprised Miranda checked him out, he prided himself on his tall, lean, muscular build. Clear, light gray eyes and straight, dark, almost black, hair constantly annoying him by falling over his forehead completed the picture. He rubbed his face, shadowed with a day’s growth of beard, wondering if this woman appreciated his scruff or preferred a smoothly shaved face. He’d been told the shadow on his square jaw coupled with his dark eyebrows gave his face an expressive quality.
“I’ve never met a playwright before. Would I know your work?”
“My plays haven’t been produced yet, but I’m getting close…long story.” She gathered the leashes to continue her walk.
She’s more embarrassed about not having a play produced than obviously giving me the once-over. Interesting.
Miranda pulled the leads tighter, drawing the dogs closer to her as they approached the road snaking through the park. She headed for the big hill leading to The Ramble, a maze of paths winding around trees and artfully planted shrubbery.
Penn tugged on her hand. “Let’s go this way, by the Shakespeare Garden,” he said.
“But that’s a longer route,” she protested.
“The roses are in bloom, and they’re amazing right now.”
“You know this how?” She lifted an eyebrow.
“I run in the park every day.”
She followed along, turning right toward the Swiss Chalet puppet theater then making a sharp left. Penn didn’t drop her hand as she fell in step with him. When they rounded the chalet, pink and white roses bloomed abundantly, climbing the long, winding split rail fence on both sides of the path. The sweet fragrance of their perfume drifted toward the pair, enticing them farther along the way, as lovely as it was fragrant. The canines stopped to sniff.
“You were right. This is amazing. Do they do this every year?”
“Roses are perennials, so the answer is ‘yes’.”
“You’re into gardening?”
“I’m into beauty,” he said, tightening his grip on her hand, pleased at the blush coloring her cheeks. They walked slowly on the rose-petal-strewn trail, giving the dogs a chance to get their fill of the scent. Next came the Shakespeare Theater.
“Do you ever come to Shakespeare in the Park?” she asked him as they lingered for a moment in front of the statue of Romeo and Juliet.
“I used to. I haven’t been in a long time,” he admitted.
“I come every year. They do different plays, so it’s worth it. And it’s free.”
“But you have to get here at daybreak to get in line for tickets.”
“I have friends…we each take a shift. I bring breakfast and catch up on some sleep or read.”
“If you get up so early, can you stay awake through the show?”
“It’s Shakespeare. You’re kidding, right?”
He looked at her quizzically.
“My name is Miranda. My dogs are Romeo and Juliet. See a pattern here?”
“You’re a Shakespeare nut?”
“My father was Shaw Bradford, a Shakespearean actor. My folks named us after characters from his plays. My sister is Cressida,” she said as they passed the turtle pond, heading for the edge of The Ramble.
“Was?” He dropped her hand to lean on the railing.
“He passed away when I was seventeen.”
“I’m sorry. I know what that’s like. Both my parents died when I was fifteen.”
“Both?” she exclaimed, putting her hand on his forearm, and squeezing it, her eyes wide.
He nodded and stared at the pond, avoiding her gaze. Six turtles rested on rocks, basking in the sun. She put her hand in his again, and they walked on in silence. Coming down the steep path toward The Boathouse, Miranda gasped when she saw the riot of bright yellow and dazzling red tulips in front of the private dining room.
“I try to come by here every few weeks because they change the flowers often, and each display is more beautiful than the last,” he said, tightening his grip on her fingers.
Lucky barked at a squirrel. Romy and Blackie sat down and panted. Miranda tried to quiet the retriever. Lucky jerked again, trying to get loose. He caught Miranda off balance, bringing her down hard on her knees on the pavement. Tears filled her eyes.
Penn grabbed Lucky’s leash and yanked him back. “Bad dog!” he said to the animal, who promptly sat and looked shamed. “Are you all right?” he asked, helping her up, a frown creasing his forehead.
When Miranda stood up, the cut on one leg started to bleed. Her eyes watered, but she blinked rapidly to hold back the flow. Her lip quivered. “I’m okay,” she answered in a wobbly voice.
“Come on.” He took the leashes in one hand, putting his other around her waist to support her, ignoring the sparks he felt when he touched her. He settled her in a chair at the restaurant and went to the men’s room, returning with some wet paper towels, one with soap.
She held the dogs while he knelt down and cleansed her wound. His long fingers gently washed off the lather with a wet towel and then dried the gash. Bruising and swelling had already begun. He tried to keep his attention focused on her knee, but managed to steal a peek at her chest when she leaned forward.
“Ice. I’ll be right back,” he said, jumping up.
“No, no…it’s okay,” she called, but he was already halfway to the counter before he heard.
Upon returning, Penn examined her wound. The bleeding had stopped. It looked angry, but clean. Penn wrapped a few ice cubes in a paper towel and held it on the area. “I think this injury calls for a big breakfast, coffee alone won’t do. What would you like?”
“Oh, I…” she stumbled, clearly embarrassed.
“Come on. I’m hungry, too. Getting all those paper towels gave me an appetite. Keep me company. They have great bacon here.” He coaxed her.
“Okay, okay. Bacon and scrambled eggs sound great.”
“How do you like your coffee?”
“I prefer tea, if that’s okay…with milk and a little sugar,” she replied, making eye contact with him.
“Done,” he said, reluctantly pulling his gaze from hers and rising.
* * * *
Miranda sat on the wrought iron chair, holding the leashes, and watching Penn walk to the counter. God, he is poetry in motion, she thought, focusing on his confident gait, broad shoulders, and cute butt, unable to keep a grin off her face despite the sting in her knee.
Once he placed his order, he turned to look at her. Cupping his hands in front of his mouth, he hollered, “Ice!”
She smiled and waved then returned the small, makeshift ice pack to her injury. The cold made the pain subside. When he returned, carrying a tray with beverages as well as two paper plates loaded with bacon, eggs, and toast, he straddled the chair opposite her.
“I got you whole wheat toast…since you’re in such good shape…I mean, you look like you work out. You’re wearing running gear. Anyway, I figured you eat healthy,” he said, stammering to cover his obvious appreciation of her body.
“Good choice,” she responded, staring at his chest, covered with a smattering of dark hair. She flushed when she raised her gaze to his then looked down, flustered, and focused on her toast. Penn blushed slightly then yanked his T-shirt from the waistband of his shorts and slipped it on. God, he saw you staring at him, checking him out, like a schoolgirl.
“So, you write plays. What kind? Drama? Comedy?” he asked, slipping a forkful of eggs into his mouth.
“Comedy,” she answered, delicately fingering a piece of bacon.
“I love comedy.” His eyes lit up.
“Most people do, but it’s the hardest to write.”
“I don’t know, but that’s what they say. Seems like it should be harder to make people cry than laugh, but it isn’t. Say, what did you called Lucky? Buddy?” She changed the subject.
“He reminds me of a dog I used to have. He looks just like Buddy.”
“When you were a kid?”
“I got him as a consolation prize right before my parents flew off to a week’s vacation in the Bahamas, leaving me behind. They never made it.”
“Their private plane went down, and they were killed…together. I was left with Buddy.”
Miranda looked away from him as tears pricked her eyes, thinking about the lost fifteen-year-old boy, suddenly on his own.
“Buddy died seven years ago. I still miss him.” Penn’s gaze rested on Lucky.
She tore off a small piece of toast for each dog and fed it to them.
“You treat each one as if he’s your own,” he observed, breaking the silence.
She laughed. “Walking them every day, they feel like mine,” she admitted. “What happened to you after…after you lost your parents? You were only fifteen.”
“My uncle Alfred, my father’s brother and business partner took me in for three years. Then, I went off to college. My father left me his half of the business, and I’ve been running it for the past ten years.”
“What business are you in?”
“Real Estate are you uh, seeing anyone, in a committed relationship?” He glanced at her naked ring finger before making eye contact again.
“Not now. I’m kind of busy.”
“Too busy for dating?” He raised his eyebrows.
“My life is complicated,” she replied, petting Romeo and avoiding Penn’s eyes.
“I mean I have responsibilities. It isn’t only about me.”
“No kids. Look, I have to go.” She put down her fork and stood up.
“Wait.” He grabbed her elbow.
A stab of pain in her knee and Penn’s tug on her arm made her sink down again.
“You’d better let your knee rest for a bit more. Tell me, what responsibilities?”
“I take care of my mother and sister. My sister just graduated from F.I.T. I hope she can get a job soon. My mother has emphysema and can’t work. And the two pugs. I have baggage. Most guys aren’t interested in someone like me…who can’t spend the night whenever they want or be available all the time to focus on them. I can’t,” she said, facing him.
“I run a company. I understand about responsibilities,” he said, taking her hand.
“Do you? You live alone?”
“No pets…of any kind?”
“Then you don’t have the same idea about responsibilities. Mine are twenty-four seven, not only nine to five,” she said, pulling her hand away from his to pet Lucky. Miranda adjusted the leashes in her grip. “Do you have a girlfriend?” she asked after a pause, looking into his eyes.
“I play the field. Safety in numbers.” He chuckled.
“A commitment-phobe with no responsibilities beyond himself. Nice to meet you and thanks for breakfast,” she mumbled, standing up. Miranda winced with the pain but continued anyway. She untangled the leads.
“Can I see you again?”
“Because I like you.” He blushed.
“I come to the park every day it doesn’t rain. Thanks again for the food and for the medical care.” She moved away with the dogs.
“What time?” he called after her.
“Same time as today.”
Penn turned and headed south while Miranda went north.
If you liked the beginning and want to read more, you can find it free if you have Kindle Unlimited. If not you can buy it from Amazon. Get the book here: