Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day – March Madness – the third in my Twelve Months of Romance series.
It’s St. Patrick’s Day, the one day of the year when everyone wants to be Irish. Even Angie Sorelli. But what Angie really wants is to meet her new neighbor, red-haired Irishman Brian O’Malley. Too bad Brian’s best friend, darkly handsome Tommy Roventi, sees Angie first.
Here’s a nice, long excerpt to get you started.
Looking in the mirror for the twentieth time wasn’t going to change anything, but Angie looked anyway. What was a nice Italian girl doing trying to wear Kelly green? Just because it was St. Paddy’s Day didn’t mean she had to go around looking all sallow. No matter what her friends said, more make-up didn’t help at all.
Valentine’s Day. Now that was a holiday color she could get into. She looked terrific in red. On Fourth of July, she wore red, white and blue; her best colors. On Christmas, she wore red again. And what happened to that nice forest green they used to have at Christmas? All the tissue paper this year was lime green. Ick!
Halloween. Black? Yes! Maybe with an orange belt. Something away from her face; all those yellow-based colors made her look like a cantaloupe. With her round face and round eyes, she didn’t need the comparison.
Her friends said she was obsessed with color. Ever since she’d read her mother’s old book, “Color Me Beautiful,” she had made sure to buy clothes in her best shades. She even redecorated her apartment so she would have the proper background. She’d taken a lot of teasing over that. But why shouldn’t a girl try to look her best?
Now here she was, all in Kelly green with green, shamrock cookies to take to her neighbor, and she felt like a honeydew melon. But she had to meet him today. This was it. Her one excuse was the day when everyone was Irish, just like Brian O’Malley.
She’d been watching him since he moved in a month ago; tall, fiery red hair, emerald green eyes. She’d hoped he was Scots, but Irish was second best. Ever since that book about the big Scot and his time-traveling wife came out, a lot of the romance novels had featured red-haired Highland warriors, and Angie had soon become addicted to them. She knew the only man for her had to have flame-colored hair or he was no man at all.
She’d just had her twenty-fifth birthday and knew she was on the downside of her twenties. Her one true love better come along soon.
Then Brian O’Malley had moved in. He wasn’t her ideal man by any means. He was tall, but his shoulders sloped (it would be difficult to lay her head on one without sliding off). He was slim, almost skinny, but maybe once he got some of her good Italian cooking in him, he’d fill out. And of course, he was Irish instead of Scots. Still, he had that all-important red hair and a girl on the slippery slope to 30 couldn’t be too choosy.
With a sigh, Angie lifted the plate of iced cookies and headed out the door. He probably had plans for the evening, and she needed to catch him before he went out.
Of course there was the fact that they’d never even spoken. She was pretty sure he’d never even noticed her, but as Mom always said, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
She patted her hair one last time, walked out the door and heard the lock click behind her. Keys. Purse. Keys in purse. Purse on table.
Oh, no! she groaned to herself. Just what she needed, to look like an idiot in front of Brian the first time they met. On the other hand, Mom always said when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. The perfect excuse to knock on his door and ask for help. So, what was she doing with a plate full of cookies? Angie was thinking fast but nothing was occurring to her. If she was supposed to be taking them somewhere, then she couldn’t give them to Brian.
But now she was at his door and raising her hand to knock. And Mom was saying, There’s no such thing as a little white lie. A lie is a lie.
Please, Mom, just this once? A tiny little fib? She begged.
The door was opening and she raised her head to look up at the 6’4” she expected and saw … nothing.
“Hi. Looking for Brian, right?”
Angie adjusted her line of sight and realized that very masculine voice was coming from a short little guy. Not only short (okay, maybe 5’9” or 10” wasn’t all that short), but so obviously Italian. The last thing she wanted in her life was another Guido. She’d had more than enough of those introduced by her mother, her godmother, her Aunt Jenny, her Aunt Philomena, her Aunt Rosie, her cousin Theresa, her cousin Anna, etc., etc., etc.
“Not necessarily,” she sniffed. “I live a couple of doors down and I locked my purse inside my apartment.”
“Who is it, Tommy?”
“Just some cute little cupcake that locked herself out,” Tommy called into the apartment. “I think this is a job for the Mafia. No Irish need apply”
Angie felt her temper rising at being called a cute little cupcake, and in such a patronizing manner! Whoever this guy was, she didn’t want him helping her.
“Never mind,” she said, icily, flashing those dark Italian eyes at him. “I’ll find the super.”
Just then Brian came to the door. If he was as nasty a piece of work as his friend, Tommy, then he wasn’t going to get any cookies. She thought she wouldn’t give them to Brian anyway because he might share them with the little creep.
“I’m sorry, Miss. My friend is sometimes a little crude,” Brian apologized, smacking Tommy on the back of the head.
“Aww, c’mon, Bri. You know I didn’t mean anything by it.” He turned back to Angie. “Look, these locks are a piece of crap. I’ll have your door opened for you in no time.”
He gave Angie a cocky grin which did nothing at all to reassure her. But Brian was urging Angie to accept the offer.
“I promise, Miss, Tommy will get it open for you. He’s the best.”
“At what?” Angie asked skeptically. “Breaking and entering?”
Tommy and Brian looked at each other, grinning.
“Look, Lady, you’re lucky I’m here. I’m good at what I do and I work cheap. In fact, I’ll work for cookies.”
There was that cocky grin again. It was beginning to annoy her. All she’d wanted to do was meet Brian and now this … this … crook turns out to be his friend, maybe even his best friend.
Tommy didn’t wait for her to answer but went back inside to get his tools.
“Which is your place?” Tommy asked when he came back.
Still fuming (and still carrying those stupid cookies), Angie led them down the hall. Watching Tommy open an impressive set of lock picks didn’t reassure her at all. It didn’t take him more than a minute to get the door open.
The next thing Angie knew, Tommy had the lock completely off and was installing a brand new deadbolt. He even put one of those plate things on for extra security.
“Hey, Tommy, that’s the lock you were going to put on my door,” Brian protested.
“I think the little lady needs it more than you do,” Tommy told him.
“Thank you,” she told him grudgingly. “You really didn’t have to go to all that trouble. I mean, putting on a whole new lock and all.”
“All part of the service, Ma’am,” Tommy tipped an imaginary hat.
“How much do I owe you?”
“I think we already discussed payment.” Tommy took the plate from Angie and bit into a cookie. “Pretty damn good.” He grinned at Brian. “She can cook, too, and I think the little lady intended these delicious treats for you, my friend.” He winked at Angie. “Am I right or am I right? Old Bri here gets all the good ones since you girls started reading about those hot, red-haired warriors.”
Angie’s face was flaming. She’d had enough of this guy. Probably the kind that hung around with a nice man like Brian hoping to pick up the crumbs. He certainly couldn’t get a nice girl to go out with him on his own!
Brian could see that Angie was getting pretty hot under the collar. He knew a bit about Italian tempers since he’d been best friends with Tommy since second grade.
“Cut it out, Tommy,” he said mildly, cuffing his friend on the shoulder. “I’m Brian O’Malley,” he said, holding out his hand for Angie to shake, “and this idiot here is my best friend, Tommy Roventi.”
“I’m Angie Sorelli,” she smiled, shaking Brian’s hand and letting go of her mad … at least as far as Brian was concerned. His hand was large and warm and, though strong, had none of the callouses of a man who worked with his hands. She wondered what he did. Mostly she saw him leaving when she was coming in from work.
“Look, Angie, I’m on my way to work. I have to go in early tonight because of St. Paddy’s Day. Why don’t you come along? You’re all dressed for it.”
“You want me to come to your job?” Angie asked. “Won’t your boss mind?”
Brian laughed at her confusion. “No, Dad won’t mind at all. I work for him at O’Malley’s. I thought everyone knew O’Malley’s.”
“Oh, well, of course,” Angie stammered, embarrassed again. “I’ve never been there. My family and friends mostly go to Fratelli’s.”
“Then you’re in for a treat, little lady,” Tommy put in. “You need to get away from the peppers and hang out with the fun people. Nobody knows how to party like the micks.”
“Look, Mr. Roventi,” Angie speared him with her eyes. She had her hands on her ample hips and moved close enough to be in Tommy’s face. “I am not your little lady or your cute cupcake or any of those other names guys like you use to put down women.”
Angie took a deep breath, prepared to cut this little man down to the size of an inch worm.
“Okay, okay!” Tommy exclaimed. “I give!” He turned back to Brian. “She’s all yours, my friend, and good luck to you. This is why I never date Italian girls.” He turned around to Angie and handed her his card. “Here, in case you have any trouble with the lock.” He thrust the ill-fated plate of cookies back in her hands, dropped the new keys on top of them and left. “Oh, and one more thing,” he turned back to her to add, “that green makes you look like a honeydew … if I may use the term honey to such a sensitive soul as yourself.”
Angie watched him stomp off down the hall, waving over his shoulder.
“See ya’, Bri.” He didn’t bother with the elevator, but pulled open the door and clattered down the stairs.
“Wow, some friend you have there, Brian,” Angie sputtered. How dare he say such a thing to me!
Still fuming, she looked down at the card in her hand, half expecting to see a prisoner wearing striped pajamas. What she did see was a tastefully laid out card with a discreet logo advertising Thomas Roventi, Master Locksmith; 24 Hour Service.
Brian easily guessed the trend of her thoughts. Most people didn’t take to Tommy’s rough ways at first, but he really was a great guy. He just had this huge chip on his shoulder.
“How about it? See you at O’Malley’s later? Unless you have other plans, of course.”
“My mom’s cooking corned beef and green potatoes.” Angie wrinkled her nose at the thought. “She always does, every year.”
“Italian corned beef? That must be a real treat,” Brian laughed.
“The corned beef isn’t so bad,” Angie giggled. “It’s the green potatoes that get me.”
“I don’t think I’d care much for them either.” Brian wrinkled his nose. “The cookies were for your family?”
“I always bring something,” she temporized. Was it really a lie? She did usually bring something but she had a chocolate cake in the shape of a shamrock with green icing ready to take to her parents. She wasn’t lying, not really.
What would Mom say about that? Angie sighed to herself. Sometimes she wished Mom would stay out of her head.
“Look, why don’t you take the cookies?” Angie asked Brian. “I have more.” At least that was true.
“Okay, thanks.” He smiled at Angie, showing dazzling white teeth. “So, you’ll stop by tonight?”
“If I can get the green potatoes off my teeth,” she laughed.
Brian dropped the keys into her hand and took a cookie. “These are good,” he complimented her, popping another one into his mouth. “See you later, Angie.”
“Later,” she replied.
She watched Brian go into his apartment before leaning against her door with a sigh of contentment. Tommy Roventi notwithstanding, the meeting had been a success, and Brian O’Malley was even more charming than she could have imagined.
* * *
Like it? There are about 95 more pages of March Madness available here.