Say Hello to Fall And My New RomCom!

Holy cow, where did the summer go? I feel like I blinked and it’s already October!


*sigh*


Regardless, I hope you enjoyed a wonderful summer and made lots of fun memories to cherish.


As for me, it was a pretty chill summer, with the exception of finishing another book – my tenth novel! Ten books in three years isn’t too shabby, eh?


Are you ready for my upcoming standalone romantic comedy, Character Flaws? This is my first foray into the romcom territory, so as you might guess, I’m a little nervous about how it’ll be received.


True story: I hadn’t planned on writing a romcom. It just morphed into one since the premise of the story is a case of mistaken identity, so it was naturally a lighter, funnier piece of fiction. Although, rest assured, you’ll still read some hot sexy scenes between my two main characters, Joey and Theo. (BTW – Joey is short for Josephine.)


The book releases October 17th and if you’re signed up for my newsletter, you’ll receive all the details in the October edition.


In the meantime, add it to your Goodreads TBR (https://tinyurl.com/ycspgojj) and enjoy this first chapter of Character Flaws below.


And as always, I’d love to hear from you! Drop me an email or shoot me a PM and tell me what you think of this.


©Sierra Hill books – Unedited Version


Chapter One

Joey


Didn’t his other teach him manners?



You’ve got this.


“Grady, have I sufficiently explained why it’s not a good idea to take dick selfies and share it with your friends?”


The fifteen-year-old boy sits slumped in his chair, hands crossed over his skin and bones chest - a combination of embarrassment and teen angst emanating from his pout.


I tap his phone in my hand trying to buy myself a bit more time as I try to figure out how to handle this. And trying not to laugh out loud.


​I could take it to the principal, but she’s such an old hag, it would only make it worse. Or, I can explain as best


I can how doing stupid things will give him stupid results.


Grady mumbles, “Yes, Miss Hughes.”


“Just promise me next time, when and if you get a chub in class, go take care of it discreetly in the boy’s restroom. And keep your phone in your pants. Got it?”


“Yeah,” he replies. “Okay.”


I heave a sigh and hand back the phone to my student, making mental note to thoroughly sanitize my hands after this incident. Who knows what kind of stickiness covers his screen.


“Okay, you’re excused. I’ll see you in class tomorrow.”

He practically jumps from his chair and runs out the door, where I hear chuckles and laughter from his friends waiting outside in the busy hallway. Picking up my laptop and materials, I head out the same door, shaking my head and trying to stave off the laughter that’s about to burst from my chest.


Only twelve more school days until summer break. I’ve got this, I repeat to myself. It’s the only mantra that works this close to the end of the school year. Especially when I have huge dose of teenagers to manage every day.


I guess if I have to keep reassuring myself that I’ll be out of this hell hole in less than two-weeks, it’s likely not my true calling. The teaching gig was my mother’s idea and the only way she’d pay for my college education. So until I figure out another career and plan for my life, I’m stuck here.


But I can last another twelve, nerve-racking days with these stinky, bratty, annoying-as-hell, nose-in-their-phones high schoolers.


No problem. It just calls for copious amounts of wine to do it.

Taking a fortifying breath, I head into the teacher’s lounge. This room is meant to be a heavenly oasis away from the sea of raging teen hormones and bad hygiene. Instead, it’s a jungle of awkward adults who smell like bologna and cheap aftershave.


I glance around the room and see that it’s the usual suspects. As I walk over to my cubby to grab my sack lunch, Howard Peters greets me with his amused coffee-stained smile.


“Well, if it’s not our own Joey Kangaroo,” he chirps, his handlebar mustache doing a weird dance across his mouth.


I cringe at the stupid nickname he’s given me, as well as the idea that this guy gets laid on the regular with that thing on his lips. The dude is weird with a Capital Strange.


“Hey, Howard the Duck. How’s it going?”


At least I can hit him back with an equally embarrassing nickname.


He waggles his bushy eyebrows. “Another day, another phone confiscated.”


Howard is one of the sophomore science and biology teachers and is notorious for seizing the phones of his students who blatantly disregard his rules for no phones in his classroom. He pockets them for the entirety of the day, in hopes it will teach the kids a lesson in respect. I’m not necessarily a proponent of this method, but to each his or her own, I guess.


I think most of my peers think I’m a pushover and too lax with my students – thereby creating my own set of classroom problems like what occurred today with Grady.


But generally speaking, the kids are respectful and I give them just enough latitude that they feel like I respect them. Plus, I’m also closer to my students’ ages than the other faculty, and I have other means of gaining their respect and attention.


Some of the older teachers, like Dolores Conk, frown upon my technique. But whatever. I’m not here to win her approval.


But somedays are harder than others and I often wonder why I’m even here at all.


I take the empty seat next to Howard and smile at the other teachers at the table. We’ve all had the same lunch schedule for the past school year and know quite a bit about each other’s personal lives.


Sometimes things become a little creepy with the TMI. Like for instance, the oversharing of Howard and his wife, Jasmine’s, new “pony” position. It sounded an awful lot like regular doggie style, but apparently when you add in a crop and a saddle, it’s like horses gone wild.


I smile at the teacher seated across from me, her mousy blond hair pulled back into her usual ponytail.


“Hey, April. How was the fieldtrip to the capital yesterday? I see you’re still standing, so that’s a good sign.”


April Mullins is about ten years older than me and is probably the nicest woman I know. We’ve become friends outside of work, as we’re both avid readers of Jane Austen, and attend a lot of literary functions.


What I admire about April, and where she differs greatly from me, is that she really loves teaching and doesn’t seem jaded yet by the system.


Me, on the other hand, could be sold in an Asian market as fine jewelry. Get it? Jaded?


April rubs her eyebrow nervously. She’s a little quirky in her own nervous-tick kind of way. But that didn’t stop her from finally meeting the man of her dreams, an even quirkier fellow named Tanner.

“The good news is that I came back with all twenty-eight students. The bad news is that Demarcus Lange was caught making out in a hallway with his girl du jour.”


She continues to pluck at her bushy eyebrows, a small grin touching the corners of her mouth.


We all nod along at the story, knowing full well it could have happened to any one of us. Demarcus was in my English class last year and he’s definitely a kid who will try to get away with anything.

Shelle Collins, the arts teacher, heaves a heavy sigh next to me. I turn and give her a wide-eyed stare.


“That boy,” she groans, shaking her head. “He’s trouble just like his older brother Deshawn was two years ago. You know I caught him stealing some paint thinners and aerosols from my classroom a few months ago?”


Call me dumb, but it doesn’t even click with me why in the world he’d want to steal that.


I swallow my bite of sandwich and ask, “Maybe he was working on an art project and couldn’t afford the supplies.”


Shelle pats my hand patronizingly. “Oh, my sweet lil’ angel,” she says with a bit of a southern drawl.


“Demarcus was going to use them to get high, honey. He was caught with three other boys behind the school with the bags and cans in hand.”


Oh my God. Maybe I’m too sheltered for this job. Do kids really think it’s a good idea to mess with toxic chemicals?


“Wow. That’s awful. I had no idea they did that.”


To say I grew up in a sheltered mid-West home is to say the Cubbies only had a “little bad luck” winning the series all those years.


Howard pipes in, shaking his head. “These kids.”


He noshes on his sandwich, his mustache looking like a caterpillar wiggling on his face. Howard is so nonchalant about the whole thing, as is Shelle.


The topic of conversation changes to April’s upcoming wedding. She’s getting married this summer to the guy she just met six months ago. If there were ever a couple that was meant to be, it would be these two.


They met at a cosplay event at the Chicago ComiCom when their swords got tangled together on the escalator.


Ah, true love.


I try to tune back in to the happier discussion about the floral arrangements and colors she’s selected, and how there will be a sci-fi themed photo booth but my mind is now too far away.


Only twelve more days and then I can take a break. Get away from this teen-filled world and figure out what I want to do for the rest of my life. Because I know I’m not there right now.


***


I’ve been in the Chicago area for the last six years. After graduating from the University of Illinois, I was lucky to be offered a job right out of school in Chicago.


Well, if you ask my mother, she wouldn’t consider it luck. More like shit luck. She can’t possibly comprehend why I’d want to remain in Chicago, that “dirty, filthy city” instead of coming back home to South Bend, Indiana. Where in her mind, I’d find a good teaching gig and marry as soon as reasonably possible, popping out a few grandchildren along the way.


Somedays, her voice chimes in my head like a broken record and I do wonder why I chose to remain in


Chicago. Granted, being five hundred miles away from my mother is definitely a benefit, but this city can be harsh on a single girl. And not just the heat of the summers or the chill factor of the winters.


I’m already exhausted from teaching in the system only two years. I’m in one of the largest school districts in the U.S., where nearly four-hundred-thousand students walk through our classrooms on an annual basis. In schools that are run-down, in need of repair, and have little to no funding for any proper supplies or learning materials.


Yet for the one-hundred and twenty kids I work with each day, there’s something gratifying about it, too.


When I see that lightbulb click on for the student who was struggling and I helped them find their answer, it’s absolutely brilliant. But even with those one in a hundred students, I still know in my heart-of-hearts that it’s not my true passion.


I only went into teaching because of my parents. Am I happy about being a teacher? I’ve yet to have the same level of excitement that some of my friends have in their teaching roles. There are days when I do feel that sense of reward.


But not today. I just want to sink into my couch and go to sleep. But my neighbor, Patrick, invited me over tonight to watch Stranger Things on Netflix.


Before you get too excited about the chill part - don’t. That isn’t happening. And will never happen.


Patrick is absolutely not interested in getting it on with me. I don’t have enough testosterone in my body or facial hair for his liking. Which reminds me, I need to add waxing strips to my shopping list.


Once again, my mother’s romantical ideas of me meeting and falling head over heels with a successful, gorgeous man haven’t come to fruition. She and Patrick met when I moved into this place a year ago and she fell madly in love with him.


I don’t blame her. Patrick is an enormously handsome, albeit ego maniac of a man. Tall, strong, washboard abs, nice ass and gorgeous tasseled dark hair. He’s a beautiful specimen of a man, but unfortunately for me, does not like women.


He loves his men. Especially if they are lean, hot young twinks.


Which is totally fine by me. Pat is a great friend, a good neighbor and I like the fact that I can just hang with a man without having to keep an eye out for wandering hands.


Shifting the bag of Doritos I’m holding over to the crook of my other arm, I knock on Patrick’s door.


“Yo, Handsome Pat. Open up.”


I hear the yippy bark and the click, click, click of Pat’s wiener dog, Mr. Woodcock, from behind the door just before it swings open and I’m greeted with the broad white smile of Patrick Donaldson.


Seriously, the man always looks like he stepped out of a photoshoot from GQ.


“Cool your jets, Joey girl. I’m here and ready to sweep you off your feet.”


I push past him with a “pfft” but not before bending down and giving a quick pat on the head to Woody, as he’s affectionately called.


Setting the goodies on the counter, I turn back to face Pat, who’s shutting and locking the door.


“Do you think I’m too innocent?” I ask, curious as to how he sees me.


The whole notion of me not recognizing why a teenager would want a can of aerosol has been eating at my conscience all day. I guess I need an outsider’s opinion.


Pat steps in front of me, his fingers framing his chiseled and stubbled chin and cocks his head.


“Hm. Let me see,” his eyes wander over my face, down my neck, past my boobs and back up again. “Your body screams sexually experienced, but yes, I think you’re too naïve for your own good. You’re like little Cindy Brady. Or Doris Day. Or little Orphan Annie.”


I throw back my hand and send it flying into his bicep, hitting muscle so hard my knuckles crunch at the connection point.


Asshole” I begin to whine when I hear the bathroom door opening and the sound of the toilet flushing.


My eyes go wide with surprise as I see a guy I don’t know walking out of the guest bath. My gaze zooms back on Patrick.


I had no idea someone else would be here tonight on our Netflix and chill night. I mean, I’m not opposed to Pat inviting a date over to join us, but this is a first. Call me selfish, but part of me enjoys just spending alone time with Pat. He’s the closest thing I have to a brother.


Patrick gives me a half shrug and glances back toward the guy who is now plopped down on the couch, the back of his head the only thing visible from where I stand. Woody dances at my feet eagerly awaiting me to pick him up. Bending down, I hoist him up and hold him under his belly before checking out the man on the couch.


All I can see is the back of a faded Cubs hat. I’m perplexed and a little offended that whomever this dude is he doesn’t even bother to come in and introduce himself.


Rude much?


I scowl and roll my eyes so that Patrick sees the injustice being served by his guest.


He takes a few steps toward the guy and thwamps him on the top of his hat.


“Hey, asswipe, we have company. I want to introduce you to my neighbor, Joey.”


The guy barely looks my way, just a flick of his eyes before returning to the TV, as his hand comes up in a flippant wave. All I see of his face is a hard profile, covered with a few days scruff that frames his perfectly sculpted jaw.


He looks like a college frat boy and is even dressed like one. I just don’t see the attraction Patrick would have with him, since most of his dates are impeccably dressed and coifed.


This guy looks like he’s just getting off a two-day bender.


And he’s not as young as the typical Pat boy-toy. This dude is far from his usual type. This guy looks downright homeless. Aside from the old baseball hat, he’s donning a loose-fitting rumpled t-shirt and faded jeans that look like they haven’t been washed in months.


“Joey, this is my friend, Theo.”


Patrick returns next to me and leans in, whispering conspiratorially, “He’s a bit surly. Had a bad day.”


Well, gee, buddy. So have I, but you don’t see me treating people so disrespectfully.


Whatever. I’ll take the high road.


My voice is chipper. “Nice to meet you, Theo.”


He grunts, his attention not leaving the TV. Loud sports noises blast through the speakers and you can barely hear my thinly disguised grunt of disapproval. Patrick laughs and walks into the kitchen, ignoring the poor manners of his friend.


“Everyone okay with gumbo and cornbread?”


I place Woody on the floor and walk in the small, yet modern kitchen that’s nearly identical to mine.


“Mm. That’s what smells so delish in here?” I grin, pulling off the cover of the large pot on the stove, leaning in to take a long inhale of spicy aroma. My mouth immediately begins to water and my stomach growls. It certainly beats my box of mac and cheese in my pantry.


Pat shoos me away, removing the lid from my hands and begins to stir the spicy concoction.


We stand side-by-side, his broad frame about six inches taller than me, our shoulders pressed together.


I give a surreptitious glance over my shoulder before I say anything to Pat. He’ll be able to detect my underlying pettiness in my voice.


“What’s his deal?”


He cocks his head, bending to my ear. “Theo is a good guy, just going through a rough time. He has a beautiful soul and I love him.”


“Well, regardless. His mother did a horrible job teaching him manners.”


​I suppose if Pat gives him such a glowing endorsement and feels that strongly for him, I’ll have to do my best to get along with him.


After all, he’s not the guy I’m sleeping with, so it really shouldn’t matter one bit what I think.



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