Read an Excerpt
"Dang, Uncle T, this place is the bomb!"
Torrian looked up from the forms and grinned at the awed look on his nephew's face as Dante and Torrian's older sister, Deirdre, walked through the front doors.
Shoving aside the florist's estimate, Torrian headed to the front of the restaurant. He greeted Deirdre with a kiss and clasped his sixteen-year-old nephew on the back.
Dante's cell phone rang. "I gotta get this," he said and left through the doors they'd just entered.
"Look at the progress they've made," Deirdre marveled.
The former warehouse had undergone major changes. Torrian had spent most of his time in the off-season shuttling between the Sabers training facility in Jersey, and overseeing the renovations of the restaurant.
They'd maintained the warehouse style and infused it with rich, warm colors. Exposed brick walls had been distressed to resemble those found in the prewar buildings that littered
Manhattan, and seventeen-foot-high ceilings were crisscrossed with dull gray air-conditioning ducts. Despite the carefully crafted rough edges, the restaurant maintained an air of elegance.
Deirdre had handpicked the kitchen equipment but had insisted Torrian have input on other aspects of the restaurant because it was his namesake and his money paying for it. He might be the venture's sole financier, but this restaurant was all for Deirdre—small repayment for everything she'd given up in her life to raise him.
The smile that now lit up Deirdre's face made every check he'd written worth it.
"I tried to imagine what it would look like, but I never could have imagined this." Deirdre shook her head as she did another slow turn. "I can't believe it's really happening."
"I told you I would do this for you, didn't I?"
Making Deirdre's dream a reality was the least he could do. Following the death of their parents, Deirdre had stepped up big time. Instead of accepting the college scholarship she'd earned, Deirdre had taken a job as a cook in a local restaurant so that Torrian—fifteen-years-old and an inch away from a life of trouble—wouldn't have to move to Atlanta with their aging great-aunt and great-uncle. The older couple would not have been able to contain the boy he'd been back then.
The day she'd asked the coach to find a spot for Torrian on the high school football team was the most pivotal day of Torrian's life. No one had known that Torrian possessed a natural athleticism that would blossom under Coach Johnson's tutelage, and lead to a scholarship and stellar football career at the University of South Carolina.
Deirdre had busted her butt, taking on a second job to pay the expenses Torrian's scholarship had not covered. She'd put her own dreams on hold. For him.
It was payback time.
While Deirdre examined the kitchen to make sure it had been arranged as she'd instructed, Torrian returned to the heap of paperwork he'd had no idea would accompany getting a restaurant off the ground. Ten minutes later, Deirdre sidled up to the table and patted him on the arm.
Torrian sent a smile over his shoulder. "Kitchen up to snuff?"
"Perfect, as is everything else." She sat across from him. "Did you meet with your publisher today?"
He nodded. "This book release is going to be awesome. The publisher is planning a mega-media blitz. They sent out advance copies to reviewers around the country, and they're putting life-sized cutouts of me in major bookstores."
"It was genius to have your memoir come out on the restaurant's opening night," Deirdre said.
"The reservation service said we're getting a hundred calls a day from people wanting to be put on the waiting list," Torrian said.
"God, I hope I can handle all of this," Deirdre sighed, nervous excitement shining in her eyes.
"It'll be a piece of cake, Dee. I know you can do this."
Dante slammed through the restaurant's doors and bounded down the steps. "Hey, Uncle T, were you able to get all ten tickets for the game?"
Torrian pulled the keys to his BMW 580i from his pocket and tossed them to his nephew. "Glove compartment."
"Now why does he need ten tickets for the game?" Deirdre asked after Dante left.
Torrian shrugged. "I guess he's bringing a few friends with him."
"Dante doesn't have ten friends," Deirdre argued. "He needs to understand that his Uncle Torrian cannot hook him up every time he wants to impress his friends."
"He's just having fun."
"He's spoiled," Deirdre complained.
"It's time someone in the family had the chance to get spoiled."
She sent him a glare.
Torrian held up his hands in surrender. "Just kidding," he chuckled. "The next time he asks for something, my answer is no. Come on." He motioned for her with his head as he flipped opened a four-inch black binder. "The decorator left samples for the tablecloths."
"What do you think of teal?" Deirdre asked, lifting a square of silky fabric. "It'll match the Sabers' team colors."
"Nah," Torrian said. "I don't want this place tied to the Sabers any more than it already is."
"Why, do you plan on getting traded anytime soon?" Deirdre laughed.
Torrian pasted on his best grin. His sister's jab hit closer to home than she could possibly know.
Actually, a trade was the least of his worries these days. Depending on the prognosis he received when he saw his private ophthalmologist in a couple of days, it was possible he wouldn't play for another NFL team ever again. He couldn't hide his eye condition from the team doctors much longer.
Anxiety instantly fisted in his gut.
He couldn't allow that to happen. Football was his life!
If he couldn't play anymore, what good was he to anyone?
I applaud Mr. Sanderson's effort to try something new and innovative with his debut novel, but there is something to be said for the tried and true. What could have been a fresh, fun take on a Shakespearean classic met a death more tragic than Macbeth's due to the author's over-the-top scenarios and tendency to over dramatize.
Next time, Mr. Sanderson, leave the real writing to the true literary geniuses.
Paige Turner clicked the computer mouse and leaned back in her ergonomic chair. "That one is going to ruffle some feathers," she surmised as she lifted the mug of tea to her lips. She wondered how long it would take the Web site's content manager to respond to the book review she'd just posted to her blog.
This was the fourth author from this publishing house to receive an unflattering review on her book review blog, Page Turners with Paige Turner, the online supplement to her entertainment column in Big Apple Weekly magazine.
She was used to the backlash. No one liked a negative review, and now that her column was quickly becoming the place New Yorkers looked to when they wanted the inside scoop on what was hot in the Big Apple, they certainly didn't want a negative review from her.
Most authors adhered to the adage that even unflattering publicity was good publicity, requesting Paige review their new releases even though it was likely the books would get slammed. Yet others believed their work was good enough to impress her.
"Was that your motive, Mr. Smallwood?"
Paige picked up the copy of the highly anticipated combination cookbook and memoir of the star wide receiver for the New York Sabers. In the Hot Seat: The Life and Times of Torrian Smallwood was one of the most talked-about books of the fall.
"You are hot," Paige mused. The book's glossy dust jacket showcased the football player's spectacular six-pack abs and chiseled chest to full effect. The brown skin stretched taut over all those muscles reminded her of the milk chocolate silk sheets on her bed. Shadowed under the cover of his gray-and-teal Sabers helmet were breathtaking hazel eyes and a smile that alone was worth the book's retail price.
Too bad the content had not done much to impress.
Paige thumbed through the pages, which alternated between recipes and short anecdotal stories about the seven-year NFL veteran. Paige couldn't help but roll her eyes at the lame football-themed names that had been given to the recipes. Tailgating Taters. Touchdown Tomato Soup.
"Give me a break," Paige snorted.
She skimmed over one of the parts she had enjoyed, a retelling of how a seven-year-old Torrian had set his mother's kitchen on fire after attempting to make chicken soup for his sick Labrador retriever, earning himself the name Fire Starter. The nickname had carried over to his days of playing football. ESPN now had a special "Fire Starter Moment of the Day" when they covered a Sabers game.
Maybe she should have said something about this story instead of harping on the recipe titles?
Paige shook off the thought. Her fans would accuse her of going easy on Torrian Smallwood, and she didn't go easy on anyone, no matter who they were.
She set the book aside so she could sift through the backlog of e-mails inundating her inbox.
"Nope, don't need to refinance my house, and I definitely don't need any discount Viagra."
Paige deleted the rest of the spam, then replied to a couple of fan e-mails. She soaked in the praise. Every response on her blog or e-mail she received from a reader who agreed with her assessment sent her brain on its own private little victory dance. Her newfound success was the ultimate payback to those classmates who'd snickered when she'd been called on to read in class; the teachers who'd called her slow. Stupid.
Paige's eyelids slid shut. Her body tensed. It always did when she remembered the acute fear that held her prisoner for so many years. Sitting at her school desk, trying to make herself invisible, praying she could get through the day without anyone finding out.
And when they did. God, how she'd suffered.
The popularity of her weekly column was vindication. The girl who couldn't read was making a name for herself as a writer. It was poetic justice at its finest.
Determined to shake off the lingering queasiness she always suffered when memories of the years before her reading disorder had been diagnosed decided to bombard her, Paige sorted through more e-mails, forwarding review requests to Angela Pensky, the content manager for the magazine's Web site. She sifted through invitations to several new gallery exhibits, copying those that were feasible into her computer's calendar that linked electronically to her BlackBerry.
Already tired of e-mail, she clicked over to the comments section on her blog. In the fifteen minutes since she'd uploaded her latest book review, there had already been thirty-two responses posted. Paige grinned as she read the comments from her loyal—bordering on zealous—legion of readers, who thanked her for her honest assessment of Christopher Sanderson's book. Paige posted a response, thanking them in return for continuing to support her blog and weekly column.
An e-mail notification popped onto the screen.
ARE YOU CRAZY!!!!! was written in all caps in the subject line of an e-mail from firstname.lastname@example.org. The message in the body of the e-mail was a request for Paige to call her ASAP.
Just as she reached for her cell phone, it rang.
"Hello, Angie," Paige answered, recognizing the number.
"Are you crazy?" Angie screeched. "The people at Goldstein Publishing are going to go ballistic. They're tired of you trashing their books."
"Then why do they still request reviews? Better yet, why don't they find a few quality writers?"
"I'm sure they believe they do have quality writers. You're the one who keeps trashing them! I know the fans thrive on the criticism, but couldn't you tamper it a little?"
"I get paid to give my opinion, Angie."
"Well color your opinion," Angela said.
"Absolutely not!" She pointed to the computer screen. "Look at the responses I've gotten already. Dozens of people are thanking me for saving them $26.95."
Angie's sigh came through the phone loud and clear. "And what about your review of Torrian Smallwood's book?"
"What about it?" Paige lifted the hardback book from the desk. There may not be much substance between the pages, but the cover could be framed and mounted on the wall. The man's chest was a work of art.
"Fans of the New York Sabers should be relieved that Torrian Smallwood plays ball better than he tells a story?" Angela read directly from the review Paige had e-mailed her an hour ago.
"And?" Paige asked.
Another sigh from Angela. "You're shooting yourself in the foot with this review, you know? The grand opening for his restaurant coincides with his book's release. If you give him a good review, maybe we can score an invitation. There's still time to change it."
"As much as I would love to be surrounded by Sabers players, I'm pretty sure the reservations for opening night were scooped up the minute Torrian Smallwood announced he would be opening a restaurant. He doesn't need to bribe restaurant critics into visiting his place. Besides…" Paige paused to drain the remainder of her now lukewarm tea "…I wouldn't sell out my integrity for one of those invitations, no matter how coveted they are."
"Not even if it were at a table with Randall Robinson and Kendall Fisher?"
"Not even for them," Paige said. Although the thought of spending time with a heavily muscled football player did have a certain appeal. It had been a while since she'd been in the company of any man, let alone the likes of the fine cast of the Sabers.
"I don't believe a word out of your lying mouth," Angie laughed.
"I need to head out to the market so I can pick up the ingredients for…" Paige peered at the cookbook "…Tailback Tilapia," she finished with a snort. "These recipe names are so ridiculous."
"Yet you're trying them out?"
"I didn't say the recipes were bad, but you've got to admit the names are silly."
"Just remember that Torrian Smallwood is a huge name in this town," Angie warned before disconnecting.
After changing into a light sweater and jeans, she picked up the book and flipped through a few more pages. She jotted down the ingredients for Point-After Potato Soup, Sideline Sweet Corn Casserole, and the Field Goal French Dip Sandwich.
Paige rolled her eyes again, and knew this wouldn't be the last time. The recipe names weren't even clever, they were just plain stupid. Hopefully whoever had given the star wide receiver these recipes—Paige had no doubt that someone else had developed and tested them; she couldn't imagine the Sabers player in the kitchen—had done a better job than whoever came up with the recipe titles.
Setting her computer to hibernate mode, she tucked her list of ingredients in her purse and headed out the door.