I don’t know about other writers, but settings are always important elements to me. In many of my books, I’ve tried to make the settings so vivid they feel like a whole other character.
The same is true for A Good Man. When I wrote it, I had a few different ideas in mind. One, to write a heartwarming, sexy romance. Two, to shine a light on mental health awareness. And three, to pen a love letter to my hometown of Toronto.
Toronto is a city full of amazing, multicultural neighbourhoods and each one has something to offer. Being of Italian heritage, I’ve always been familiar with Little Italy. This downtown neighbourhood is one that saw heavy Italian immigration in the early 20th century. Although many of those families eventually moved out of the area, the neighbourhood still boasts lots of trattorias, pool halls, coffee shops and bars.
In the book, Emily’s grandmother’s home is right at the intersection of College and Beatrice Streets, a real intersection in the neighbourhood. If you go to that corner right now, you’ll find a cafe and a bistro, but quaint brick semi-detached homes border the shops. It’s my hope that when you read the novel, you will absorb some of the flavour of this neighbourhood and its people.
Here’s an excerpt to whet your whistle. And don’t forget, A Good Man, Handymen 1, is now available to preorder. Release day is June 9.
Emily Daniels turned the key and unlocked the old house her grandmother had willed her a few months ago. She stepped inside the tiny foyer and held her breath. For a moment, she expected to catch the basil-infused scent of her grandmother’s tomato sauce, or even her grandfather’s homemade sausages, but only stale air greeted her. On a sigh, she dismissed her happy childhood memories and marched into the kitchen.
Michael Zorn from Handymen would be here any minute and the perfectionist in her wanted to give the place another once-over. Not that there was any need. With renovations starting next week, no one would be concerned about specks of dust and a lack of air freshener. Still, it used to be her grandmother’s house, and Nonna Olivia always took pride in her home. She owed it to Nonna to revive the old place.
Emily leaned on the cracked laminate counter and indulged in a little daydreaming. Once the Handymen brothers had tackled her grandmother’s house, her house, her business would finally take flight. She’d sacrificed a great deal to get to this point. If everything worked out, her family would be so proud of her.
She glanced at her watch. Where was Trent?
The familiar prickle of dread made her skin itch. It seemed to happen more and more when she thought of her fiancé.
Trent had promised to be here for their first in-person meeting with Michael Zorn. She pulled out her phone and sent a quick text to him.
Are you running late?
He surprised her by answering right away. Running late for what?
Her shoulders drooped. Not again.
It’s the meeting with Michael Zorn. I told you the details last week.
No, you didn’t. I would have remembered something like that.
Yes, I did.
Why did he always do this? She knew she’d told him. He’d been standing at the fridge, eating an apple. She’d made him enter it into his calendar.
I don’t think so, babe. This is the first I’m hearing about it.
Gaping at her phone, Emily searched her memory bank. Had she somehow fabricated the conversation? Maybe they’d been talking about something else? She supposed she could have made a mistake.
Impossible. There was no way she would have screwed this up. Still, sometimes Trent made her wonder if she was losing her mind by questioning her actions and denying the things she said. Some days, she felt like a puppy chasing its own tail.
She’d have to handle that issue later.
Well, are you coming?
I can’t now. I have plans.
Trent, this is important.
Then you should have been clearer. Sorry, babe. Looks like you’ll have to meet with Zorn yourself.
She was about to make a comment about him being selfish but decided it wasn’t worth it. Trent was stressed, but so was she. She’d never been on TV before. Surely he could put himself in her shoes for once. God only knew she’d been doing her best to step into his size elevens.
After being fired from his high-profile chef’s job, he hadn’t been the same. Although she was in no position to diagnose him, she couldn’t help thinking he might be dealing with a case of depression.
The Trent she’d met two years ago had been charming and funny. This new Trent withheld information and turned his sharp tongue on her all too often. In his kitchen at the Imperial, one of Toronto’s top restaurants, he’d been the emperor. His staff had kowtowed to him and never questioned his choices.
In losing his job, Trent had tumbled off his mountain. With no staff to boss around, he’d turned his tyrannical attentions toward her. She’d assumed the role of flunky. Somehow she’d become his sous-chef. A feeble-minded one, if his occasional outbursts were to be believed.
Emily would have to be patient. Once her business took off, once they became financially stable again, she was certain the old Trent would resurface.
If he didn’t, she wasn’t sure what she would do.
She scratched her chest to relieve the nervous itch there and looked at the ceiling to focus her thoughts. It would help if she knew Trent was still on board with the Handymen appearance.
“Of course, he is,” she chastised herself. “We both signed on to do the show. He’ll be here when the renovations start. He knows how much this means to me.”
Although, if he lets me down, it won’t be the first time.
Emily ignored the voice of caution inside her, the one that had been putting up red flags ever since she’d spied the change in Trent. The first time she’d mentioned the soup business idea, he’d laughed. When she’d questioned him, he’d apologized, but it hadn’t felt sincere. Ever since, he’d shown his derision in countless ways. Joking about her ‘cute business’ to his buddies, all while continuing to live off the money she’d put aside to help her get started. He’d also insisted they postpone the wedding date. She understood that. He wanted to be settled and find work again, but married friends had assured her the timing would never be perfect. If they waited for the ideal day and time, they’d be waiting forever.
Some days, she wondered if he wanted to get married at all. Most days, she wondered if she did.
With a sigh, Emily chose to remain optimistic and concentrate on the positives. Putting Trent’s failings out of her head, she planned what she would say to Michael Zorn.
She had written out her business plan years ago, but only recently decided to make it a reality. After taking the plunge and quitting her hellish corporate job, she’d created a company called From Scratch. Her product? Healthy, organic soups made from her own recipes and some her grandmother had taught her. Hoping to cater to busy families who wanted healthy options, she’d package her own spice mixes and even sell fresh soups from her own storefront. The products would have a down-home, rustic appeal. Comfort food that was healthy. She believed people craved a return to good, homemade food, or at least as homemade as possible, and wanted her customers to trust in her products.
Unfortunately, not long afterward, Emily’s grandmother had passed away. A confident, passionate woman, Nonna Olivia had also been Emily’s greatest champion in the kitchen. She’d left her this house on Beatrice Street with the dying wish that her granddaughter renovate it and use it for her soup business. It was the perfect location, in the heart of Toronto’s trendy Little Italy, but the building was as fresh as peeling paint.
Emily had worked her way through her savings after Trent had lost his job. Without enough money to renovate the old house on her own, she’d become desperate, searching for ways to keep her dream alive while helping her fiancé stay afloat.
She’d spotted an advertisement for the Handymen show. To her delight, the producers had thought her a great candidate for the show. She couldn’t have been happier. Appearing on Handymen was the only way Emily would ever be able to get From Scratch off the ground without having to sell her grandmother’s house or her own body.
As a plus, she’d get to meet those dishy Zorn brothers. She’d been glued to their show since its inception. Even though her fascination stemmed primarily from older brother Michael’s dark bedroom eyes and bulging biceps, she admired their work—the Zorn men and their large crew paid attention to detail and craftsmanship.
She appreciated Trent’s meticulous grooming, but something about Michael Zorn’s scruffy exterior had her sighing. With his hint of a dark beard and unkempt black curls, he was the picture of raw masculinity. Michael wielded a saw as if it were an extension of his arm and some of Emily’s favorite moments on the show were when Michael leaned over to cut a piece of wood, his back rippling under his shirt.
She had taken his image to bed with her several times, only the Michael in her dreams looked up from his projects and turned hungry eyes upon her. He’d put down his tools, still sweaty from his hard work, and remove his tool belt. He’d stalk toward her in his steel-toed boots…
“Good Lord, Em.” She shook her head. “Lusting after a TV contractor when you have a perfectly good man in your life? When did you sink so low?”