Please say hello to L.B. Gregg and
With This Bling
Hi. My name is L.B. Gregg and I’m here today to celebrate the release of my third Romano and Albright book— With This Bling. Thanks so much for having me.
When I wrote this new installment of the Romano and Albright series, the book originally included a lengthy prologue, which we cut. I loved this chapter, but it was just extraneous and had to go. I thought it would be fun to share a portion of that chapter with you today. This is a glimpse of thirteen-year old Caesar Romano. He’s at his great-grandmother’s wake (Nonna Romano). He’s sequestered himself in the front parlor, hoping to catch up with his Game Boy and The Mario Bros., and taking a little break from his extended family.
Caesar Romano’s catering career is doing better than he’d ever dreamed. And so is his love life—even if his boyfriend’s house in Staten Island is way too far from civilization for his liking. But then in short order, Caesar is duped into helping his cousin propose, is tricked by his best friend and business partner into appearing on live television, and is harassed by a thug-like personal trainer and his far too beautiful wife. In fact, Caesar is almost too busy to notice that something is troubling his PI boyfriend, Dan Albright.
Laid-back, open, charming—that’s the impression hunky former NYPD Detective Dan Albright gives everyone. Caesar can add sexually adventurous and a bit of an exhibitionist. But he also knows that Dan is hiding something—something dark and a little dangerous—and when Dan’s silence over his mysterious past threatens to harm them both, it’s Caesar’s turn to save the day.
But then again, a break-in, a gallery party, an heirloom ring, a new suit, and a stalker with bad BO are all just a typical week for Caesar Romano.
From the Cutting Room floor:
Less than a minute after Nana Cooper’s smooth exit, Uncle Tino yanked the velvet curtains apart, and when he saw me, he came in and slapped the drapes closed again. Whatever he wanted to say to me required privacy. He filled the parlor. A big rectangle of a man, bald and thick skinned, he was slightly better dressed than the others in a somber black suit. No stripes for Tino. He owned a dry cleaning business, among other considerable interests, and he had a direct line into good quality clothing at cost—at least that’s what he told me whenever I complimented him.
Tino towered over me. “Hey. What’re you doing in here by yourself?”
“Why does everyone ask me that? I’m just waiting to go home.” I’d tucked the Game Boy away as soon as the curtain fluttered, but I’m pretty sure he’d seen my sleight of hand. Not much got by Uncle Tino. I blinked innocently anyway. Small for my age, I could still get away with cute. “They’re not here.”
“Thank God. I was looking for you.”
“Me?” I gulped.
I’d always been the kid who flew under the radar. Paulie was flashy and fool hearty, always sticking his foot in his mouth and getting himself into trouble. Joey was sly and spent his spare time after school in detention scamming the other kids out of their allowance. Plus, both my uncles had their hands full keeping the less than chaste Tina and Marie from becoming another teen pregnancy statistic.
Tino unbuttoned his jacket. “You. Push over so’s I can sit.”
I pushed over. I liked Uncle Tino. He was funny, and he always had some joke or tidbit of gossip to share. He sat down and we only just fit. He smelled much better than the funeral home, carrying the sweet note of Aqua Velva, and the bitter scent of cigars into the sitting room. He drummed his fingers on his thigh and change jingled in his pocket. “You seen your Pop?”
“Not for a while. I think he’s…” I didn’t want to say ‘looking at Nonna’ because that seemed insensitive. “I thought he was with you.”
“Yeah. I know where he is. I’m askin’ if you’ve seen him recently. Did you go seek him out? Has he said anything unusual to you, you understand what I’m askin’?” I had no idea what he was asking, but as my uncle glanced again at the door and then jiggled his knee, I sensed he was uncomfortable.
“Yes. I understand.” What else was there to say? I offered him a Lifesaver, but he shook his head.
“This conversation stays between me—“ His finger waggled in the space between us. “— and you, you got it?”
“I do. I…I have it.” I had nothing. I was a horrible liar, as per Nana Cooper; however, as long as no one asked me a question directly, I wouldn’t be inclined to spill whatever secret topic we were about to discuss. “I’m good.”
Don’t ask/don’t tell—that was an understanding I came by naturally.
Tino wasn’t going to lecture me about the Game Boy, but there was a chance he’d confiscate it if, so I pressed my leg hard against the cushion. There was a muted bloop, which we both ignored. “How can I help you?”
My question amused him. “This is why I like you, Caesar. You’re a good kid. Straight forward. Honest. Hold out your hand.”
“Your hand. Hold it out, kid.” He gave me a less than reassuring smile. I swallowed, did as instructed, and kept my thigh over the contraband game. My eyes were glued to the doorway.
Uncle Tino sighed, “Turn your hand over I’m not going to smack your knuckles with a ruler. What do you think? You’re in school?”
“Sorry.” I waited, palm up, and Uncle Tino glanced again at the door, and then he dropped something small into my outstretched palm.
My great grandmother’s platinum wedding and diamond engagement rings, which I’d just seen on her stiff, lifeless finger as she lay inside her ivory casket, were dead weight in my hand. Touching my actual skin. I gulped, and the heebee jeebies racked me.
“Yes?” I checked the door again, before meeting the unyielding stare of our family patriarch. His gaze was hard and bright, like the diamond in his pinkie ring. Like the matching diamond in his grandmother’s ring.
“I…” I got my act together. “What am I supposed to do with these?”
Tino curled his fingers over mine so I held the jewelry in my fist. I didn’t like it. He patted me with his beefy mitt like this was the most terrific gift ever. “Put ‘em in your pocket, capisce? And then when you get home, put them away. Lock ‘em up for good.”
“For good?” That sounded so terminal.
“I mean, until you’re sure.” He said with sincerity. “And you’re ready.”
“Sure? Ready for what?” The rings were cold, but they still managed to burn. “Shouldn’t…shouldn’t these go with Nonna? To the grave?”
Tino’s splayed hand crushed his tie, as if I’d asked the most unreasonable, injurious question imaginable. “I had this conversation a couple times already.” I assumed he meant he’d spoken with every adult in the other room and they’d begged him not to remove a dead woman’s the rings from her actual fingers. “Jewelry doesn’t go in the ground. It’s bad luck. These heirlooms pass to you kids.”
“But…she wanted…isn’t it equally bad to take them out of a coffin?” The rings felt tainted. Tino glared and I put more effort into returning his gift. “Maybe these…maybe they should go to one of the girls? Or Paulie? He’s the oldest. Or Joey.” Anyone but me. Please, God. It wasn’t like I was going to get married, and if I did I wouldn’t give someone a ring that had been peeled off my dead grandmother’s finger.
“Paulie’s going to get married a dozen times, the path he’s on. He’s too good looking. It’s too easy for him. And Joey will wind up pawning them for something stupid like a TV. No. You’re the Romano. These are for you, Caesar. You can hold them until you find the right girl.”
Girl. Well, that was a conversation for another day because Nonna’s rings would never fit anyone I’d be interested in.
Under Tino’s attention, I had no choice but to pocket the rings in my used, funeral-suit’s breast pocket. I smiled sickly. “Okay. Thank you.” Thank you? I didn’t know what else to say, so I improvised. “For entrusting these with this legacy.” Paulie was right. I sounded like Nana Cooper. I needed to spend more time with my cousins carousing and causing trouble. “I’ll hang onto them.”
“And don’t say anything for a while, right? Just forget you even have them.”
Impossible. I knew that technically, they were hot, and if anyone found out I had Nonna’s rings, Tino would shrug and leave me to fend for myself. Maybe.
He patted my knee. “Don’t you worry, kid. Everything’s okay. I’ll see you later. I got some more things to do before we go.”
He must have a pocket of morbid jewelry to dispense. Wouldn’t someone eventually notice Nonna’d been stripped of her wealth? Unless they’d finally closed the casket.
I scrubbed a palm across my eyes. When I looked again, Tino had parted the curtains. “You go back to playing your game. I’m glad we had this little talk.”
“Sure.” I wasn’t glad at all, and I didn’t go back to the Mario. I sat in the quiet room as Aqua Velva faded, and the weight of those rings burdened more than my pocket.
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About the author:
When not working from her home in the rolling hills of Northwestern Connecticut, author L.B. Gregg can be spotted in coffee shops from Berlin to Singapore to Panama--sipping lattes and writing sweet, hot, often funny, stories about men who love men.
For more info on L.B., because surely one can never get too much of a good thing, you can follow her on her preferred social media, Facebook. You can also e-mail L.B. at lbgregg at lbgregg dot com, visit her website, be her Goodreads pal or follow her sporadic appearances on Twitter.
To celebrate the release of With This Bling, L.B. Gregg is giving away a Romano and Albright mug with swag, and a $40 gift card to Amazon! Your first comment at each stop on this tour enters you in the drawing. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on December 12, 2015. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. Entries. Follow the tour for more opportunities to enter the giveaway! Don’t forget to leave your email or method of contact so Riptide can reach you if you win!
Promotional post. Materials provided by the publisher.