Rooted is Carmen’s story. It begins where the epilogue of Touch ends. Rosa is graduating college, and Carmen takes her to Paris for the summer. There, Carmen meets Theo, and they embark on what begins as a summer fling.
Though Rooted begins with a prologue, I’m sharing the first full chapter as a teaser.
Rooted will be uploaded for preorder on 22 October 2014 for a live release day of 8 November 2014. Cover reveal and blurb on 22 October as well.
~ 1 ~
Carmen cracked open the door to Rosa’s room and saw a lump in the bed, under the white cotton comforter. Long strands of sable and burgundy hair coiled from the top and spread over the crisp, white cases on the pillows.
With a roll of her eyes, she quietly closed the door and went into the kitchen. She wrote a quick note (Went out. Text if you need me. There’s food in the fridge. C—), tented the paper and left it sitting on the countertop. Then she did as advertised and went out, locking the heavy door behind her.
Izzie and Laurent’s apartment was located in the swanky seventh arrondissement of Paris—only a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower. The neighborhood boasted tree-lined streets and sidewalks bursting with cafés, pâtisseries, chocolatiers, flower shops, and chichi boutiques. The apartment buildings were grandly aged and perfectly Parisian, with red geraniums abloom on black iron balconies onto which opened multi-paned French doors.
Elegant women and men in designer clothes strode with purpose down the walks and drove luxury cars, high-end scooters, and motorcycles, traveling the streets with the same blatant disregard for traffic law, self-preservation, or common decency as every other driver in Paris.
Izzie had left the keys to their Audi S8, but there was absolutely no way in all the nine hells that Carmen was going to drive that six-figure fucker in the city of Paris. When it was time to go out into the countryside, they’d take the Metro to the edge of the city, and she’d rent a car from there.
But they’d only been in Paris a week, and there was plenty to do right in the city to keep them occupied for a while. Once Rosa got herself out of bed, that was. Jetlag had laid the girl out, and she’d spent days doing virtually nothing but sleeping and occasionally coming out to the living room to sigh for a while. It had been all Carmen could do to get her to go out for an occasional meal. It was about time to kick that girl up the ass and get her moving. They were in Paris, for fuck’s sake.
When they’d arrived, Rosa had been giddy. While they’d been planning the trip, she’d been skeptical of the free accommodations, but when she’d seen with her own eyes that they’d be living among well-heeled Parisians, surrounded by shopping and food, she’d bounced up and down in the taxi.
Then she’d seen the apartment itself. It was a typical upscale flat, Carmen thought, in a stately building with an old cage elevator. The ceilings were high, the plasterwork was ornate, the doors were tall and carved. Izzie preferred a more muted palette than Carmen liked, but still, it was warm and classy. Four rooms and a bath—large living room with a fireplace, small kitchen, and two bedrooms, one large and one small. Carmen took the large bedroom, which shared access to the balcony with the living room. The small bedroom was quite small, but had a view of the Eiffel Tower.
When Rosa first walked in, she’d squealed. “Oh. My. Gawd! I feel like Audrey Hepburn!” She’d even done a little pirouette in the middle of the living room.
They’d walked to the Eiffel Tower that first afternoon, browsed through some of the shops on the way back, and had an early dinner at a cute little café. Rosa had been happy and chatty, and Carmen had felt more convinced than ever that she’d made the right choice, bringing her here.
Then Rosa had taken to her bed and slept for approximately ninety percent of her life.
Carmen had felt some jetlag, too, but she’d slept hard that first night and late into the next morning, and then her clock was reset. So she’d been doing Paris mostly on her own for this first week of their summer.
She needed to get her baby sister moving. But frankly, Carmen had enjoyed this week. She preferred her own company above all, and wandering alone through the streets of this magnificent city had been blissful, really. She’d done a lot of things Rosa would have balked at—the Catacombs, for instance. The Shakespeare and Company bookstore. Notre Dame. A day spent simply walking along the Seine until her feet gave out. Had she dragged Rosa along, those days would have been ruined by her endless complaints.
She’d also made it her mission to scout out the cafés, pâtisseries, and the like around their flat to figure out which had the best offerings and atmosphere. Usually, she’d been able to get Rosa out for a meal and a little bit of shopping, just an hour or two before she was back to yawning and sighing.
It really was time to get her in gear. The whole point of bringing Rosa to Europe was to get her out in the world and broaden her outlook a little.
Tomorrow. Carmen would let her sleep through this night, and then she’d shake her out of that comforter in the morning and they would take on the Louvre and some gardens. At least.
For tonight, though, the thought of a nice meal, a good wine, and a good book at the little café she’d decided was her favorite so far sounded like a lovely end to a beautiful, solitary day in Paris.
Café Aphrodite sat on the corner across the street, at the end of Izzie’s block, but Carmen hadn’t tried it out until the third day. Since then, she’d eaten there four times. It was the perfect blend of good atmosphere and good food.
The side walls were lined with books and odd little knickknacks, many of which had the kitschy feel of knock-off antiquity. The ceiling was mirrored. The back wall was bottles of wine shelved from floor to ceiling. A small bar took up space at about the middle of the room. A ten-foot tall marble fountain of Aphrodite herself, standing nude and glorious in her shell, dominated the center of the interior. There had been risk in this design of tending toward tacky. But the effect was instead cozy.
Though about fifteen small tables were perched within a low, wrought-iron railing on the sidewalk, and Carmen had enjoyed a couple of meals people-watching out there, on this night, she decided to sit indoors with her tablet. She had taken it as a challenge to finally get through David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest during this trip. She’d been a fan of DFW since she’d come across a hilarious article of his in The Atlantic several years ago, and she thought she had read all of his published works but one. Infinite Jest was his most famous—and, in Carmen’s opinion, two hundred pages into his thousand-plus-page brick of a postmodern masterpiece, his most ponderous. The footnotes in this one were going to drive her insane.
Her reading tastes tended toward the literary, especially the contemporary literary stuff. But she liked the classics, too. Virginia Woolf was her favorite author. She’d enjoyed studying literature in school, and had danced around the idea of majoring in English for a while, but then she’d taken an upper-division course with a professor who’d insisted that texts had only one correct reading. Carmen didn’t like to have her own view of texts or the world wrangled so narrowly. So she’d majored in philosophy instead.
Not exactly a career-oriented choice, but one she’d enjoyed immensely. The world of the philosophy department had been delightfully open to ideas. She’d basically gotten a degree in arguing. It suited her well.
She’d knocked around for awhile after graduation, doing her own thing, serving at a diner near campus, still living with Izzie, who was finishing a Master’s program. They were planning to move to Europe together and see what happened.
Then Carmen’s mother had gotten sick, and Izzie had gone to Europe on her own.
And they’d seen what happened.
Marc, a server who’d had her table before, smiled when she came into the café. He sat her at a good table near the window and took her order for a bottle of pinot gris. They spoke English, which was good, because Carmen had discovered that she’d lost most of the French she’d learned after three years of study in high school and three more in college. Fifteen years was a long time away from a language.
While she waited for her wine, she perused the menu, which helpfully had English translations under every item. Marc brought her pinot, made the usual production of pouring and tasting and approving, and took her order of a chicken entrée in a mushroom sauce on a bed of wild rice—which was called Suprêmes something and made Carmen sing old Diana Ross songs in her head. Then she settled comfortably, sipped her wine, and opened the bookshelf on her tablet to confront the goings-on at the Enfield Tennis Academy.
Well, that French accent was worse than hers—and hers came with a touch of Rhody. Carmen looked up from her tablet and her half-eaten meal and found a man standing at her table. He was tall and good looking, in a blond, sunbaked, wind-blown, California way. Which, she supposed, was the traditional way to be good looking. He had blue eyes and a face a bit on the rugged side. Handsome, not pretty. Maybe forty or so.
He wore a crisp, cotton button-down shirt in emerald green, heavily faded jeans, and a brown leather jacket. His shirt was open at the throat, and she could see at least two stone pendants on leather cords around his neck. Yep. Definitely California.
He looked vaguely familiar, but Carmen chalked that up to the way that all Americans seemed to stand out to her in Paris. There was some kind of ‘home’ vibe to them, or something. Or maybe it was that Parisians all seemed to be so glamorous and put together, and Americans as a group looked like schlubs in comparison.
She didn’t answer, just lifted her eyebrows to signal that if he had something to say, he should get on with it.
“Wow. Your accent sucks. Do you speak English better than you speak French?”
He grinned then, showing perfect, white teeth and long, deep dimples, and for the first time, Carmen was a little interested. She had a thing for dimples. “Thank God. Yeah, I’m not good with French. But my facility with the English language is solid, I think.”
He was cute—okay, hot—but Carmen was ensconced in her private moment, maybe her last private moment of the summer, once she got Rosa up. She wasn’t in the mood for company. “Good for you. Is there something you wanted?”
Her terse rejoinder didn’t erase his grin. Instead, he cocked his head and lifted an eyebrow as if accepting a challenge. “Yes, actually. I was hoping you could help me. I made a promise that I wouldn’t go home until I’d spoken with a beautiful girl. It’s been days now, and I really want my bed. I don’t suppose you’d speak with me?”
Carmen rolled her eyes and set her tablet down. Immediate deduction of at least six hot points for starting off with a lame line like that. “Seriously? Is that line something you practiced in front of the mirror? Because I’m here to tell you, bud. Your mirror lies. You should never use that again. There. Now you’ve spoken to a beautiful woman. Home you go.” She picked up her tablet and her wine glass and tipped it to her mouth to empty it.
Instead, the stranger pulled out the empty seat at her little table and sat. He extended his hand. “I’m Theo.”
Ignoring the hand looming over her dinner, Carmen set her empty wine glass down and filled it from the bottle Marc had left. “No. This is not our Woody Allen meet-cute. You are not charming. And you are not invited. Go away.”
But he would not be dissuaded. “See, according to the terms of my promise, I have to have an actual conversation. I have to speak with a beautiful girl, not simply to her. And we both agree you’re beautiful.” He finally dropped his hand and sat back. “That’s refreshing, by the way. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a woman refer to herself as beautiful before.”
Carmen knew what she looked like. She wasn’t proud of her looks—genetics, being out of her control, were nothing to be proud of—but she knew her appearance made some things in her life easier. And other things harder. Enjoying a quiet meal alone, for instance.
She sighed and set her tablet down again. “Theo—is that right?”
He nodded, his widening Cheshire grin suggesting that he thought he’d won something here. It was a good smile, she’d give him that. Nice hands, too. She’d noticed while it had hovered over her table. Not too smooth. Good size. No rings. The sleeve of his jacket had pulled back to show a wide, brown leather cuff around his wrist and a hint of golden hair on his forearm.
Yeah, she needed to stop checking him out.
“Theo. You say your command of English is good. So listen up.” She spoke slowly, as if he were in fact not a speaker of English. “You are not welcome at this table. I am not interested. Find somebody else to pester.”
Before Theo could respond to that, Marc came to the table. Carmen expected him to ask after her meal, at least, but he turned to her intruder instead. “M. Wilde, I may bring your dinner to this table, yes?”
All at once, Carmen knew why he’d looked familiar. “Wait. You’re Theodore Wilde?”
That was victory he was beaming at her now. Dammit. “Yes. You know me?”
She was remembering his author photo. “I read Orchids in Autumn a couple of years ago.” She’d had some issues with it, but overall, she’d loved it. Lyrical prose and a moving story. A memoir. About the death of his wife.
Marc was still standing there, his question unanswered. Theo lifted an inquiring eyebrow at her. Oh, fuck. What the hell. “Yes, Marc. You can free up M. Wilde’s table.
“Very good.” Marc gave a little bow, just a tip of his head, and moved quickly to bring Theo’s food and drink to her table. Carmen looked around and realized that the café had filled up almost to capacity.
She gave Theo a one-sided smile. His method of getting over here was still lame as hell, so he didn’t deserve the full wattage. “I guess you get to go home tonight. That’s a still a shitty line, though.
“It’s not a line. I actually made a promise. I might have embellished with the part about how long I’ve been trying, though.” As she closed her tablet and slid it into her leather messenger bag, he added, “What are you reading?”
“Infinite Jest. Trying to, anyway.”
Theo chuckled. “That’s a commitment, it’s true. But I really liked it. It’s a brilliant book.”
“Are you one of those people who say they’ve read it, but in reality only got fifty or so pages in?”
He closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them he said, “‘I’m just afraid of having a tombstone that says HERE LIES A PROMISING OLD MAN.’ That’s one of my favorite lines in the book.”
She smirked. “I like that line, too. I just read it tonight. But I’m only about two hundred and fifty pages in. Point not proved.”
“I could spoil the ending for you. Or are you one of those readers who reads the last page first?”
“No, I’m not. I hate spoilers. Fine. I’ll give you the point.” She remembered something and cocked her head. “Who’d you make the promise to? If that wasn’t just a stupid line.”
He had just bitten into a piece of roll from a basket on her table. Speaking around a mouthful of bread, he answered, “My sons. They think I’m alone too much.”
Ah, right. The lonely widower. With kids, no less. This guy was trouble.
On the other hand…summer fling? Oh, that had to be the wine talking.
A summer fling would be a bad idea. This summer was about connecting with Rosa and doing some research for work. “Are you and your sons on vacation?” Wine, shut up.
“I’m on sabbatical, actually. I have a writing grant. I’m here into December. The boys will come and go.” He dimpled at her. “You?”
“The summer.” She stopped there, her sober self pushing back into her head and telling her to keep personal details to herself. Better to keep him talking. “Sabbatical—you teach?”
“Yes. Creative writing and American literature. At a little private college in Maine.” He put his elbows on either side of his plate and leaned forward. “You’re from New England, right? I can hear it in your voice, just a tad. Boston?”
“Close. Rhode Island.”
“Ah. Wicked.” His grin had a sheen of mischief.
She laughed. “I don’t hear Maine at all in yours. You haven’t said ‘ayuh’ once. You’re pure California, aren’t you?”
“Nope. Born and bred in Wyoming.”
“Not exactly. But I know my share.”
Carmen realized that she was enjoying herself quite a bit and, moreover, that she was spending an inordinate amount of time noticing things like his eyes, or the way his hair moved, just a little, when he shook his head. The way his throat moved when he spoke. The hint of golden hair in the open triangle of his shirt.
She had two things in her life she focused on: her work and her family. She dated, a little. No—scratch that. She made booty calls which occasionally included takeout in bed. Some of the guys on her booty-call list were good friends, too, but for the most part, men, once they decided they wanted some kind of connection beyond friendship, bored her. She’d had two serious relationships with men who had not bored her. And they had both eventually forced choices on her about the balance in her life between them and her work and family. Carmen had a rule: the person who gave her an ultimatum would always lose.
What she didn’t do, then, was whatever was going on here. She wasn’t going to take him to bed, so what was going on here?
She emptied her wine glass again and set it down. He lifted her bottle and waved it as a question. When she nodded, he filled her glass, emptying the bottle into it. She’d had every intention of drinking the whole bottle—she was only across the street from the flat. But she’d also had every intention of drinking privately, with minimal opportunity for stupidity.
She’d also drunk more quickly than she would have under the conditions of her original plan. Carmen wasn’t usually much of a drinker. She didn’t even keep booze in her house at home. When she wanted something, she went out. So she was drunk. Not sloppy drunk, but boy-you-know-this-guy-really-is-hot drunk. Damn.
Theo was drinking hard liquor, straight, which Marc had kept fresh while they talked. Bourbon, she thought; it had a dark, reddish tinge. She thought that was bourbon. And he was eating a bloody steak. Or he had been; he’d clearly been well into his meal when he’d come to her table, and he’d been eating as they’d talked, so there was little left on his plate now.
Her meal was still only half-eaten. She took a couple of bites now and washed it down with the rest of the wine. Whoo. Okay. She should go. Absolutely. She belched quietly and covered it by clearing her throat.
When she turned her eyes to Theo, though, he was smiling at her over his glass. “Are you okay?”
No, actually. This night had upended at some point, she knew not where. “I think it’s time for me to go. Thank you for…taking my dinner hostage.”
She grabbed her bag and stood. As she hooked the bag across her chest, the room tipped slightly. And oh—she needed to pay. She fumbled for some bills.
Theo raised his hand. “No, let me. It’s the least I can do, since I took your dinner hostage—and you helped me keep my promise.”
She shook her head and kept trying to work out how much to leave. Euros were hard; they took too much math and had too many important coins. Finally, she gave up. “Thank you. That’d be great.”
He gave her another dimpled grin and, pulling his wallet from the front pocket of his jeans, gestured to Marc. He’d bared just a little bit of belly as he’d moved his un-tucked shirt out of the way of his pocket. Firm belly. Little happy trail of golden hair. Ooookay.
Carmen used that opportunity to make her escape.
When she got to the sidewalk, she stopped and let the cool evening air clear her head somewhat. It was full dark, which meant it was getting late—after ten, at least. She took another couple of deep breaths. Feeling again like she had her feet under her, she turned toward the flat.
“Wait! Um, beautiful girl?”
Oh no, he didn’t. Seriously? She turned and saw Theodore Wilde, winner of the National Book Award and purveyor of ridiculous come-ons, walking toward her with long strides.
He was smiling. As he reached her, he said, “You never told me your name.”
“Nope. Good night.” He was hot, and possibly slightly charming, but no. Trouble.
“How are you getting home? You’re not driving, I hope?”
“I’m just right down the block. I’m all set. Good night.”
As she turned away, he caught her hand. “May I walk with you?”
His hand really was nice, and she suddenly wasn’t in all that big a hurry to take hers away. “I’m not that drunk, you know. Capable of crossing the street on my own.”
“Yes, you are that drunk. And crossing the street? I’m definitely walking with you.” He kept hold of her hand, and she let him.
When she stopped in front of Izzie’s building, he squeezed his hand around hers and pulled her to face him. “Hey—you said you read Orchids. What did you think?”
She had to look up a bit to see into his eyes. Carmen was five-ten. A lot of times, she looked guys straight on—or downward—but Theo had a few inches on her. Maybe three or four. It was nice to look up to a man she wasn’t related to. “I thought it was beautifully written. But it’s a little crass to profit off somebody’s death like that, if you ask me. Which you just did.”
He blinked in surprise. It occurred to her that he’d written powerfully about his own grief, and she felt a flutter of guilt for her directness. “Sorry if that’s harsh. I know that was your real life.”
“No, no. It’s fine. I wrote it four years ago. The feelings in it are still there, but they aren’t fresh.” Then his grin spread wide, deepening his dimples unfairly. She really liked dimples—the long ones that framed a smile. Like Theo’s. Damn. “You know, people have written similar critiques, but no one’s ever had the balls to say it to my face before. I don’t agree, by the way. Maybe someday we’ll hash that out.” He got an impish glint in his eyes, which looked violet in the glow from the streetlights. “Beautifully written, huh?”
She rolled her eyes. Like he didn’t know it was awesome. “Okay. Well. Nice to meet you, monsieur auteur.” Now she did try to free her hand from his, but he held on and pulled, bringing her chest to meet his. With his free hand, he cupped her face. For a second or two, he simply looked into her eyes, and she knew he was giving her a chance to back away.
Fuck it. He was hot. She was drunk. It was just a kiss. Plus—kind of a celebrity encounter, for book geeks, at least. She smiled, and his mouth came down and lightly, not intrusively, moved over hers like silk. Then his tongue slid between her lips. He was much better at this kind of French. Carmen’s chest got that ache—familiar, but maybe not as common as she’d like—that spoke of the way interest and arousal had quickened her heart and enlivened her body. She hooked her free hand in the crook of his elbow and let herself lean on his chest, just a little.
Summer fling. Maybe. How bored could she get with a guaranteed end in three months?
Before he pulled away, he placed a light peck at the corner of her mouth.
“What’s your name, beautiful girl?” His voice was low and gruff.
Buzzing from the kiss as much as the wine, she briefly considered keeping up with the coy, but decided it was stupid. “Carmen.”
That grin had become downright obnoxious in its cockiness. “Beautiful. Well, Carmen, you were wrong.”
“This was our Woody Allen meet-cute.”
©2014 Susan Fanetti