Hey y’all – we’ve got Sandra Antonelli sharing what should be an exclusive excerpt today! Driving in Neutral is such an interesting title, don’t you think? 🙂 So second Tuesday in March and I can’t believe time is passing so quickly! And I think it’s cool to have more romances with varied background and ages, don’t you think? So without me blabbing more – let’s see what Sandra has to say and remember to check out the excerpt!
Age is Not a Character
Kristen Ashley, Jenny Crusie, Nora Roberts and I all have something in common. We’ve all written female characters who have all been over the age of forty—and I don’t mean heroines who have just turned forty, but heroines who are forty-something, nearly fifty-something, and, if you’re Jeanne Ray, a heroine who is sixty-something.
At the moment I’m writing a heroine who’s fifty, but her age is not the focus of the story because, after all I write romance and what drives a romance plot is the romance, rather than the age of a character. While there may some mention of a character’s age, a successful romance will take little notice of the age of the hero and heroine—unless it’s a plot device or Historical romance, which is bound by, for example the Regency era where life expectancy was lower and forty was old age. My most recent publication, Driving in Neutral, features Olivia, a heroine well over that line of 40. Olivia has had a successful career in Formula 1 racing, as well as a couple of bad relationships under her belt, which despite how miserable those two relationships were, she still believes in love. She meets the hero, Emerson Maxwell, a man who is nearing fifty, and there is some discussion of his age for a very particular reason, as you’ll see below, but I never specify exactly how old Olivia is. And I don’t need to because age is not a character. Characters are people, not numbers.
Falling in love is hard at any age. I know that in real life falling in love, that romance is not limited by chronological age. Falling in love when you are older so often comes with an expectation that being older means you do it better or in a more ‘mature’ way, an expectation that you’ve got something figured out that you didn’t know when you were younger, an expectation that you won’t fuck up because you’re old enough to know better. If you ask me why I read romance I’ll tell you it’s because the characters are compelling and the unfolding of the relationship between the hero and heroine captivates me. I am, however, biased and I prefer a story when the two leads bring a lifetime of baggage and life experience to the story. It makes for such a fine, messy, immature romance. Like with Olivia and Emerson in Driving in Neutral.
Levelheaded Olivia Regen walks away from her car-racing career and the wreckage of a bad marriage to take on new work that’s far removed from the twists of racetrack. Her new life is about control, calm and the good friends that she adores.
But her first task on her very first day involves getting up close and too personal with her claustrophobic boss, alone in a broken elevator. Her unconventional solution for restoring his equilibrium shocks them both and leaves Olivia shaken.
Determined to stick to her plan, Olivia drives headlong into work and planning her best friend’s wedding, leaving no room for kissing, elevators, or workplace relationships. But Emerson is not one to be out-manoeuvred. Can he convince Olivia that her fear of falling in love again is just another kind of claustrophobia – one that is destined to leave them both lonely?
Emerson gestured, middle fingers on both hands extended.
With a grin bright in his dark face, Pete climbed in the Wrangler and stuck the keys in the ignition. Olivia laughed again and turned to get in her car too.
Emerson reached for the crook of her elbow. “Would you mind if I had a look inside before you got in?”
“Knock yourself out,” she said and moved aside.
Tech geek to the core of his soul, Emerson knew next to nothing about cars—beyond knowing how to change a tire and check the oil—but this white bit of British automotive technology appealed to the teenager inside him. It was sexy and he could appreciate that. Unfortunately, its compact size made it the type of car he would never consider owning or riding in. Regardless, he was curious. Hand on the headrest, he leaned in and checked out the car’s interior. “Is it a five speed?”
“Yes. And it has electric windows too. Are you disappointed there isn’t a secret panel that pops up a bullet proof shield or dispenses an oil slick?”
“No. It’s a nice car.” He propped himself against her car, casually crossing his legs. “I like it.”
“So what do you drive?” she said. “I assume something roomier, less claustrophobic.”
While his thumb and forefinger stroked the point of his chin and Emerson looked at her sideways. “Guess.”
“Something like that white Lexus IS 300 sedan over there.”
“Are you sure it’s not I’m not the Cadillac or Mazda Six kind of guy?”
Pete shouted from the Jeep, “Hey, dickhead, let’s go!”
Emerson ignored his friend. “Why’d you choose the Lexus?”
The Aston Martin’s keys jingled as she twirled them on one finger. “I’d have picked a Mercedes C-Class or BMW 5 series. The Lexus there the only car with a sunroof and you’re not the kind of man who has to try to compensate for anything. It’s the image that goes with your suits—but not that baseball shirt you’ve got on now. That says Ford Escort or Toyota hatchback.”
A tsk sound passed through his teeth. “Okay, you got me. I own a Mercedes, a blue one, and it’s home in the garage. Until my knee heals, Pete’s my chauffeur. So what does your Goldfinger car say about you?”
“Cars are better than diamonds.”
“I thought diamonds were forever.”
“So Shirley Bassey would have us believe.”
Olivia didn’t know how Maxwell did it, but one amused quirk of his lips hauled her all the way back to the elevator that morning. She remembered the feel of his mouth on hers, warm, firm, expert. And then she wondered how he’d taste outside, in air scented by diner chili con carne and wet parking lot pavement. Would his chin whiskers rasp over her cheek? Would he get as hard as he had when she’d sat in his lap?
Pete leaned on the Jeep’s horn and thank God. It stopped her from thinking any further nonsense about touching and feeling and tasting.
The horn did nothing to put off Emerson’s one-track mind. Blasé, he waved a hand at the noise and said, “You’re not married, are you?” He smiled, but a worried crease suddenly appeared between his brows. “Well, I’m assuming since you kissed me you’re not married. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t assume anything,” he said.
Nonchalant, Olivia tucked hair behind one ear. “I was married.”
He sighed. “I’m divorced too. She said we grew apart because I made business more important then her.”
“And did you?”
“Probably. Karen was a good woman. Now she’s married to a dentist. They have four little girls, she’s happy and I’m happy for her. What’s your story?”
The keys on her fingers stopped swinging. He watched her breasts rise as she inhaled and exhaled with something he thought seemed like impatience. “Which story do you want, the one about my first or second husband?” she asked.
The space between his eyes and brow-line widened, arched skywards. “You’ve been married twice?”
“Don’t look so shocked,” she said. “I was eighteen and married my high school sweetheart right after graduation. Four months later he ran off with our landlady. I didn’t get married again until I was older and more sensible. Or thought I was more sensible.”
“I take it you’re recently divorced?”
“It took a while for the paperwork.” Olivia pushed a strand of hair out of her face and sighed. She was surprised he didn’t know the glossy scandal magazine details. But this was America, not Europe. Motorsport coverage here was usually limited to NASCAR and the Indy 500. “Karl,” she said, “engaged in a number of off-track events with a grid girl he met at the Australian Grand Prix. He made a few decisions that didn’t include me. Our divorce was finalized about seven months ago.”
“Does knowing those details make me a little more respectable now?”
“I didn’t think you were unrespectable.”
“Then what was with the surprised look on your face?”
“What surprised look?”
As she planted her hands on her hips she made a face, her mouth hanging open in a round O. “Your jaw made a pretty big clunk when it hit the pavement after I said I was married twice. In fact, it made more noise that time than when you found out I used to race.”
“You just don’t look the type,”
“For what, racing and test driving?”
“No, for being married twice.”
“There’s a type?”
“And that is…”
“Las Vegas strippers and gold-digging girls in their twenties.” His eyes wandered over her, dipping low to glance at her breasts before returning to her face. “You don’t look like a girl to me.”
“No. And I don’t like girls.”
“I guess I’m not your type then.”
“Why would you think that?”
“You don’t like girls.”
“I don’t like girls. I like women.”
“How old are you, Maxwell?”
“Then you’re old enough to know better than to play this kind of game.”
“I’m not into playing games.”
She moved to the car’s open door, leaving one hand on the frame and the other on the low roof before she swung inside. “You’re my boss, so how about we just keep this a strictly business, employer-employee relationship and handle it with good taste?”
“I know exactly how good you taste.”
Olivia maintained a blank façade. There was no way she’d let on she’d thought about how he tasted too. Kissing him had switched on a natural yearning to be touched, only she didn’t want to him touching her again. She didn’t want to think about the flavor of his kiss or how it felt to sit in his lap, and she most certainly didn’t want to add more fodder to the office grapevine than they’d already managed to create from this morning’s elevator extravaganza. She’d ridden the gossip-go-round with Karl and had wanted to throw up from all the spinning.
Never again. Never again.
“Emerson. People who work for me call me Maxwell. My friends call me Emerson.”
“I hardly know you—”
The Jeep honked again.
Emerson put his hand over the top of hers. “So get to know me,” he said, his voice low and full of promise. Her rich brown eyes wandered over his face and he knew his appeal was indisputable, he knew the chemistry was there and she couldn’t deny it. “Don’t be such a cynic and automatically think the worst of me because we had an unusual start.”
“I’m not a cynic. I’m merely realistic. I don’t fool myself into thinking this would amount to anything more than a fling and I’ve got other things to concentrate on, more important things.”
“Spoken like a true wet blanket.”
“I think you mean wet rodent.” She pulled her hand away. “Good night, Maxwell.”
So what’d you think? 😀