Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Excerpt - The Wedding Kimono


This year, I'll be releasing my first Christian Contemporary Romance in 5 years! The Wedding Kimono is the prequel novella for my new series, the Warubozu Spa Chronicles, and will be released in Save the Date, a Christian Romance Wedding anthology, on October 12th.

Here’s the back cover description:

Raised by a single father with two older brothers, tomboy Lila has often been mistaken for a young man because of her androgynous looks. However, she's very popular with the women at the massage therapy spa where she works, who love her older-sister vibe. She feels this is where God wants her to be, helping women feel beautiful and good about themselves. Secretly she's attracted to her boss at work, spa manager Fred, but she holds no hope since there's nothing feminine about her, and she's four inches taller than he is.

Then, when cleaning out the attic for her father, she finds her maternal grandmother's gorgeous antique wedding kimono. Being half-Japanese and half-Chinese, she recognizes some Chinese character calligraphy hidden amongst the hand-sewn embroidery that she can't quite read.

A chance mention of the kimono and calligraphy results in Fred offering his help, since he knows a Japanese history professor at the University of Hawaii. But then Lila notices some strangers following her, and their interest in her appears to be connected to the kimono.

Lila and Fred must work together to uncover the mystery of the wedding kimono. Can her grandmother's legacy help her see her inner beauty and open herself up to love?

Below, for your reading pleasure, is chapter one from The Wedding Kimono! The version in Save the Date is a shorter version because we needed each novella to be less than 25,000 words, while the original draft was around 35,000 words. The excerpt below is from the shorter version.

***

Chapter One

Waialua, Hawaii. Month of August, Monday

“You would be such a handsome boy.”

At her client’s words, massage therapist Lila Wong straightened from tossing the used towels into the hamper in her massage room and regarded Mrs. Nanase with her head tilted to the side. “But I’m a girl, Mrs. Nanase.”

The older woman studied her with a smile as she put on a terry robe, so Lila knew she didn’t mean anything cruel, but the familiar phrase still pricked her.

“I know that,” Mrs. Nanase said, “but your face is so …”

“Masculine?” Did her voice betray her resignation?

“No, not masculine.” Mrs. Nanase tied the belt on her robe. “But if you were a boy, you’d be like one of those Korean pop stars. They’re so cute!”

Wasn’t that the same thing as saying she looked masculine?!

Lila opened the door to her massage room and let the older woman step out. She normally didn’t mind chatting with Mrs. Nanase, but today Lila had a question to ask the spa receptionist, Sakura, before her next client arrived, so she wanted to settle her in the client lounge area as quickly as possible. She followed her into the hallway and tried to laugh it off. “I already know my looks are completely androgynous.”

“Not exactly androgynous …” Mrs. Nanase halted.

The door to the adjacent massage room opened, and another client, Amber, entered the hallway just as Mrs. Nanase continued.

“But if you were a boy, you’d have tons of girlfriends!” Mrs. Nanase beamed at her.

Lila sighed. “Mrs. Nanase, let’s set you out on the back veranda. It’s such a nice day today.”

The hallway ran down the length of the building, but midway was an intersection. Mrs. Nanase turned right toward the back porch area. Lila peeked in the open doorway on the left into the front reception area. A cute, petite girl sat at the long receptionist desk. Sakura was on the phone with someone, so Lila would have to wait to speak to her.

Lila hurried to the outdoor client lounge area. The Warubozu Spa operated out of what used to be a large plantation manor, so the veranda looked out onto a hibiscus garden, laid out in geometric walks and lush with different colored flowers. A cool trade wind breezed in under the eaves, smelling of the ocean several miles away.

Mrs. Nanase settled into a padded lounge chair. Lila brought out a glass of her favorite drink, lilikoi iced tea and set it on the table next to the chair, then noticed that Mrs. Nanase was rubbing her neck. “Are you all right? I didn’t knead it too hard, did I?”

“It’s fine. You worked on my neck a little more than usual today.”

“It was like a Gordian knot! Is your neighbor still causing you stress?”

Mrs. Nanase vented about her neighbor who played loud music very late at night, despite the fact that multiple neighbors had called the police to complain.

“I’ll keep praying for a resolution,” Lila said.

“Thank you. You’re so kind and thoughtful.” She patted Lila’s hand where it hung at her side, gazing up at her face. “And you would be such a handsome boy.”

Lila resisted the urge to beat her head against the wall.

“Don’t say that, Mrs. Nanase,” a deep voice intruded.

The spa manager, Fred Kwan, walked up to them. His short brown hair, bleached from the sun, looked almost blond in the afternoon light. He looked professional and clean-cut in his cotton button-down shirt. “It makes it sound like Lila has no attraction except as a man, and that isn’t fair to her.” He chided the older woman with a smile, which took away any sting from his words.

To Lila, his defense of her was a soft, warm spot in her chest.

Mrs. Nanase looked stricken. “Oh, I’m sorry, Lila.”

“Don’t worry, Mrs. Nanase. I know you didn’t mean any offense.”

“Lila, you have another client coming soon,” Fred reminded her. He wore his I’m being extra polite in front of a guest but if we were alone I’d be yelling at you smile.

“I’ll see you later, Mrs. Nanase.” Lila followed Fred back inside. “Is my next client here already?”

“Not yet. I just figured it was about time for you to be done chatting with Mrs. Nanase.”

“How did you know? Do you know my schedule?” As the spa manager, he wouldn’t memorize everybody’s schedule. Was it just her? She felt like a dog excitedly wagging her tail and cocking her ears at him.

He kept walking toward the reception area. “No, you’re just predictable.”

Ears and tail drooping, she followed him.

He noticed her sad face. “Stop looking like I kicked a puppy! You’re going to give me a bad reputation.”

“Oh, don’t worry. It won’t affect your reputation at all.” Because he already had a reputation as a demon spa manager.

He glared at her. “You just thought something disrespectful, didn’t you?”

“I didn— … I was joking! Joking!”

“When you say you’re joking, it means it was really bad.” He glanced at her, and his frown deepened. “Are you okay?”

“Huh?” That was totally out of left field.

“You look …” He cleared his throat. “Did Mrs. Nanase … talk about something?”

Lila stared blankly at him.

“You two always talk a lot.” He sounded awkward, for some reason.

The two of them had entered the reception area. Sakura, now off the phone, glanced at them.

“Mrs. Nanase’s not that talkative,” Lila said.

“But you are.”

“Sorry.” She bit her lip.

“I’m not complaining about it.” Fred’s hands rested lightly on his hips. “It’s one of the reasons the clients love you. You talk with them and remember things about their lives, and it makes them feel appreciated.”

Whoa, she was getting whiplash. How had his lecture turned into a compliment?

“And … um …” He seemed to be glaring at somewhere near the top of her head.

“Why are you staring at me like I have a third eye growing out of my forehead?” Lila nudged closer to Sakura and farther from his weird looks.

“I am not staring at you.” Although strangely, the tips of his ears were pink. “But something’s wrong with you.”

“What?”

Her confident, organized boss was suddenly self-conscious and agitated. “You looked … I don’t know, upset?”

“Upset? I’m not …” She stared off at the far corner of the ceiling, her mouth open as she replayed her conversation with Mrs. Nanase. “Oh. Well …”

“See? It wasn’t just me being weird,” Fred said defensively.

“It doesn’t man something’s wrong with me,” Lila retorted.

“Well …” Fred rubbed the back of his neck, then started easing away from her. “I don’t know what’s wrong, but go … talk to Sakura or somebody about it.” He sounded irritated rather than concerned. Then he hastily left the reception area.

“Awww, he’s so cute when he can’t communicate.” Sakura set her elbows on the desk and rested her chin on her folded hands.

“He’s not cute, he’s annoying.”

“But he was right, wasn’t he? Something upset you?” It was as if the young woman saw more than what Lila said.

She didn’t want to rehash what Mrs. Nanase said, but she also couldn’t blow off Sakura’s question. Lila tried for a nonchalant tone of voice. “Mrs. Nanase said I would be a beautiful boy.”

“You’re having a baby?” She innocently blinked.

“Brat! Don’t start wild rumors.”

Sakura snickered. “Are you feeling unfeminine?”

She could have answered flippantly, but she leaned against the reception desk and thought about the question. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt feminine.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know … with guys, they treat me like a guy friend. I don’t think they even register I’m female.”

Sakura rolled her eyes. “It’s because you wear stuff like that.” She nodded disdainfully toward Lila’s men’s jeans and the polo shirt that hung like a rectangle on her board-shaped torso.

“I was traumatized about dresses. At my five year birthday party, my male cousins spent the entire time flipping up my skirt. So I refused to wear them anymore.”

“You haven’t worn a dress since you were five?”

“I did wear one once in high school to a dance,” Lila said, “but a boy thought I was another boy wearing a dress.”

“Urk,” Sakura said.

The two of them shared a moment of silent commiseration.

“How about a new hairstyle and makeup? Makeover!” Sakura shot to her feet with her hand up in the air, presumably to volunteer for the job.

Lila fingered her pixie-cut hairstyle, which suited her fine, dark hair. “I grew my hair out in college … but people kept thinking I was a man with long hair.”

“Urk.”

They shared another moment of silent commiseration.

“It’s okaaaaay. I’ve long since learned to accept this is who I am. I can’t change my face, so might as well get used to it, right?”

“I’m not saying every girl should be frilly and feminine, but … you’ve never wanted to be anything else?”

“It’s not a bad thing. It usually doesn’t bother me much. But today, I think I’m just a little sensitive to the subject because of what happened yesterday.” Lila brought out her phone and showed the photo to Sakura. “I was helping Dad clear out his closet and we found this.”

“Whoa!” Sakura stuck her face close to the screen.

The wedding kimono, carefully put away in a plastic bin, had stunned her when she held it up to the sunlight streaming through the window, making the red silk shimmer like liquid rubies. It was lavishly embroidered with a garden of flowers, some of the designs unusual—peonies, mums, irises, wisteria. In the background were scrolling designs that wove between the outlines of cranes and folded fans.

“Did this belong to your mom?” Sakura asked.

Lila nodded. “It originally belonged to my grandmother, who got it from her mom. Dad said my great-grandmother embroidered it back in the 1930s. Her name is sewn in kanji on the inside lining near the bottom.”

“Wow!” Sakura said.

“Don’t you think the scrolly designs in the background look like kanji characters?” This was the question she’d wanted to ask Sakura, who was attending Waialua Community College.

Sakura squinted at it. “It does look like kanji, but I can’t read it. I think it’s calligraphy, which is super hard to read. I’m only in first-year Japanese class. You didn’t take Japanese in high school or college?”

“I took Korean as my foreign language.”

Sakura looked perplexed. “But you don’t have a drop of Korean blood.”

“Dad was getting Korean tourists at our hotel, so he told me to take it.”

“Ah.” Sakura had already met Lila’s father, who required his kids to help with the family hotel in Haleiwa. “Oh, I know who you can ask. One of Fred’s basketball friends is a Japanese history professor at UH. He’d know how to read calligraphy.”

“I’ll have to wait until he’s less irritated with me before I ask him. He’s in a bizarre mood today.”

“I think he’s being unusually nice to you.”

“What world are you living in?”

“He was worried about you.”

“He has a strange way of showing it. He’s much more gentle with any other female employee in the spa. Do you think he doesn’t see me as a woman?”

“What are you talking about? Of course he sees you as a woman.” Sakura’s eyes suddenly widened and she leaned forward, staring at Lila.

Lila leaned away from her. “What is it?”

“Do you like Fred?”

“Urk.” Her heart stopped painfully for a moment. Lila covered her reaction by clearing her throat. “Of course not. I just respect him. Even if I do things that annoy him, he’s always considerate and willing to help me out when I need it. He’s a dependable kind of guy.”

Sakura’s eyes narrowed. “Mmhm. You’re talking an awful lot about a guy you don’t have feelings for.”

“Of course I have feelings for him—of respect. He’s a good boss. He’s really great.” Ugh, she was running off at the mouth again. She really couldn’t shut up when she was nervous.

She was rescued (Praise God! Hallelujah!) when the door opened and her next client arrived. She said hurriedly to Sakura, “Well thanks, I’ll ask Fred.” She turned an overly bright smile to her longtime client. “Hi, Jennifer! How are you doing? How’s the cosplay going? Did you make anything new?”

Lila walked back to her massage room with Jennifer, but felt Sakura’s eyes boring into her back.

***

Be sure to preorder Save the Date ebook for only 99 cents!

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