Why “Yellowstone” isn’t worth your time, from me, an expert

Succession ended this week, and I’ve been reading a lot of opinions from people who watched only the first few episodes of the first season or “dipped in and out.” These are really the best takes, because who better than to pass judgment on an entire work of art than someone who only got a good look at Mona Lisa’s elbow?

In that vein, I know I’m A-1 certified to be able to tell you with certainty and zero doubt that Yellowstone is trash. How do I know this and why should you trust my judgment? Well, for one thing, I have a blog. For another, I put the pilot episode on about nine months ago and fell asleep fifteen minutes in.

Do I remember much of what I saw during those fifteen minutes? I do not, but isn’t that, in and of itself, damning evidence of the show’s quality?

Do I recall being offended/appalled/bored while watching that quarter hour of television? No, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have been eventually, and my choice to be pre-annoyed by a show is my right as an American.

What really cheesed me off, though, was how I had to watch it on Peacock, with the commercials. Who has the time?? And for that, I must downgrade the show to a D-minus. I’m sorry, but my hands are tied.

In conclusion, if you enjoy Yellowstone, you must be an ignorant pleb, because I, an person with a computer keyboard and a Peacock subscription, was not able to finish one episode, because sleepy time.

Up next: My thoughts on Barry. I watched every episode of the show. Yes, I slept through 75% of them.


1. By submitting your receipt for the It’s Raining Men preorder campaign, you agree to these Terms and Conditions.

2. Entrants have until July 27, 2021 to purchase the book and send in their receipt via itsrainingmenbook@gmail.com

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5. Prize: Entrants will receive one bookplate and bookmark. One winner will be chosen at random to receive one (1) signed copy of Knocked-Up Cinderella. Prizes available while quantities last and will be mailed no later than 60 days after the campaign ends on July 27, 2021.

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The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying My Kids’ Rooms

49727995_10219036702687548_698180834141667328_nWhen I heard about the Marie Kondo show on Netflix, I had to watch it. Two years ago, after reading her book, my husband and I turned our home inside out—decluttering everything from our clothes to our cleaning supplies. We completed each stage in turn, and I maintain it was one of the best things I ever did for myself.

(I’ll let my husband tell you if he agrees.)

After starting the process, I immediately felt lighter. I donated clothes that no longer fit. I threw away socks with holes in the toes. I tossed underwear that had gotten faded and grungy looking. I went to Costco and bought a $9 pack of undies in all colors of the rainbow. Opening my unmentionables drawer, which had previously been filled with balled up bras, now elicited a calming sigh of relief.

The KonMari Method is not about getting rid of things, just because. It’s about keeping whatever sparks joy. I’ve found, through the process, that there’s always a way to repurpose those things that spark joy, but have outlived their primary usefulness. My pens and pencils are sorted and displayed in glasses and mugs I’ve retired from the kitchen or bar. I used old, sentimental T-shirts to stuff my purses. Now, whenever I change bags, I’ll see the shirt from when the Cubs won the World Series or from when I played Sarah in Guys & Dolls back in high school a (a crowning achievement).

Fast forward two years, and we’re in a new house. While I’ve managed to hold on to 49474866_10219029921438021_6209999368250982400_nmost of my KonMari principles—look in any of my kitchen cabinets and behold the tidy glory—some parts of our home have started to look like hoarder’s paradise, namely my kids’ rooms.

During our original KonMarification, the kids were seven and five. My husband and I took on the burden of sorting through their toys. Yes, I asked them to decimate their stuffed animals, a task that elicited many tears, but they remained only tangentially invested in the tidying process.

This time would be different.

Last week, after all the Christmas presents had been played with and we’d run out of things to do with six days left of winter break, we sat down as a family and watched the show together. I told them, “We’re all going to do this. You’re going to go through your stuff, and Dad and I are going to go through ours.”

The kids, now ten and eight, watched the show with wide-eyes, marveling at the mountains of clothes piled on beds and hanging on every word out of the spritely Ms. Kondo.

And then the whining began.

“No,” I told them. “We’re going to do this. We’re not going to do it in a day. We’ll start with clothes tomorrow and go from there.”

49633255_10219029922438046_2197179013774966784_nThe next day, they dumped all of their clothing into piles and started sorting, touching every item, and noting which “sparked joy.” I stayed with my ten-year-old, my son, the one who, like me, never met a shortcut he didn’t want to take. My daughter, normally so sensitive, shocked me with her ruthlessness. “I don’t need these pants. I never liked this shirt. This dress itches me.” We went through the lot, and I presented them with the rub: “Now you have to fold everything.”

They took to Kondo’s folding method like a child to any new technology. I assisted my daughter, to help move the process along faster, but they filled their drawers on their own and I made a mental note to myself that this would not be a one-time occurrence. This was their new normal. From this moment on, they would fold their own laundry. I made a second mental note, tallying up all the extra minutes I’d have to read or write or watch old episodes of Frasier.

We KonMarie-ed paper and books—my son kept most of his, because they all sparked joy. Then, yesterday, we moved on to “komono,” the albatross hovering over all of us, their toys and, just, stuff.

I decided their stuff was their stuff. I would not influence their decisions when it came to what to keep and what to get rid of. If I saw something in the trash pile that sparked joy for me, I’d deal with it. This was how I added a few baby books to my own bookshelf.

First I had the kids empty every drawer and find every tiny dollhouse spoon tucked in every corner. They sorted their belongings into categories, including one mountain of miscellany. After each kid had collected all their belongings, I asked them separately, “What do you think?”

Assessing the accumulation of possessions on his floor, my son said, “I’m so disappointed in myself.”

My daughter, “I feel ashamed.”

I felt socked in the gut.

We’d done this to them. We’d bought them this stuff. They now experienced “shame” and “disappointment” because we adults couldn’t say no, because we wanted to make sure they were happy on Christmas, because they were sad, because they’d done something well, because, because, because. We’d been showing them that love equals stuff.

I’d known for a long time that we were heading down the wrong path. I’d beg my husband not to buy them anything at the collectables shop down the street, then I’d take them hunting for Kinder egg toys at Aldi.

Well, no more.

We now knew the price of all this stuff: shame and regret.

We could dwell on it or move forward.

I asked my son what he wanted to do with his superfluous toys. He opted to donate them to the pre-K classes at his school. We moved some furniture around and made his room feel homier and more conducive to Lego creation. This morning he woke up, made his bed, and threw his dirty laundry down the chute.

We watched another episode of the Netflix show last night, and he, now an evangelist, mentioned that he knew some other people who should watch the show. He’s been building Lego towers and reading and hugging me more. He’s lighter, happier.

I asked him how he feels about his new, tidy room. Watching his sister dance around his room singing “Shallow” from A Star Is Born, he said, “Fun, but I want her out of here.”

Well, you can’t KonMari everything.







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Books of 2018

Screenshot 2018-12-20 09.04.25In the beginning of the year, I set out to complete the POPSUGAR 2018 Reading Challenge. I did not…do well. The prompts were a nice idea, but I had a lot of books already on my shelf or that I needed to read for contests and whatnot that didn’t fit the categories. I found myself shoehorning the books in, like, sure The Frontrunner counts as a “celebrity book club” pick because the guys on Pod Save America promoted it.

There’s still a week-and-a-half left of 2018, so I hope to add a book or two, but this is the list, for the most part. 31 books. 9 (or so, depending on how the next 11 days go) short of my goal to read 40. In 2019, I’m planning on adding more daytime reading to my routine. Part of the reason my count is so low is because I can’t read for more than ten minutes at night without passing out. Reading Outlander–that beast of a book–took me a whole month, is what I’m saying.

I’d like to read more widely in the new year. For me, reading is part of my job. I’d like to read more outside my genre and really enjoy reading again, for reading’s sake.

Here are, by genre, the books I read in 2018–presented without shame. I am not a high-brow reader, but you probably knew that.

Which books did you read this year? Which were your favorites?


  1. Break Point by Rachel Blaufeld
  2. A Family of Convenience by Amy Ayres
  3. Full Court Seduction by Synithia Williams
  4. Raw Deal by Cherrie Lynn
  5. Snapdragon by Kilby Blades
  6. The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
  7. Butterface by Avery Flynn
  8. Muffin Top by Avery Flynn
  9. The Eyewitness by Nancy C. Weeks

General Fiction

  1. The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes
  2. Big Sexy Love by Kirsty Greenwood
  3. Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
  4. Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan
  5. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  6. It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover
  7. The Royal Runaway by Lindsay Emory


  1. Raise the Curtain by Kirby Hall
  2. Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
  3. Fat Girl on a Plane by Kelly DeVos (kind of YA, kind of NA–either way, you should read it!)
  4. About Last Summer by Patricia Tighe


  1. The Daily Show by Chris Smith
  2. Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies by Michael Ausiello
  3. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
  4. This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps
  5. The Frontrunner by Matt Bai


  1. Mini Habits for Weight Loss by Stephen Guise
  2. Book Launch Blueprint by Tim Grahl

  3. Feng Shui That Makes Sense by Cathleen McCandless
  4. Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life by Karen Rauch Carter
  5. Feel the Fear…and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers, Ph.D.
  6. The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

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Cleaning House Before 2019

I’m in “get ready for the new year” mode.

I understand that time is a construct and January 1 is no different than December 1, but it certainly feels different.

On January 1 (or 2), the holiday festivities are over–or they should be. (Events keep creeping into November and January because nobody has time for anything in December, and this introvert can’t stand it. But that’s another post.)

Between all the parties and obligations to others, I like to engage in an obligation to myself–cleaning house before the new year.

A few years ago, I forced my family to Kon-Mari with me, so we cleaned out a lot of stuff. This past May, we moved into a new house, so most of my drawers and closets are still fairly tidy. I’m going to do a deep physical clean of the house in the next few weeks, but again that’s not what this post is about.

It’s about cleaning up my digital life.

Two years ago in December I declared “email bankruptcy.” I have about five email addresses (for REASONS), and all of my inboxes were about a mile long. I deleted everything. Since then, I’ve made a habit of cleaning out my inboxes every week, dealing with what needed to be dealt with (more or less).

So this year, between now and January, I’m going to continue clearing my digital clutter. I’m going to:

1. Continue my quest to Kon-Mari my photos. I completed all Kon-Mari steps except the last. Before January 1, I will have gone through all of the photos on my computer and in my phone, saving and printing the ones I want and deleting the ones I don’t.

2. Clear out the files on my laptop. My downloads folder is a hot mess. I’m going to save what I need and want, and then empty the trash on the rest.

3. Clean out my email folders and unsubscribe to the newsletters I don’t read.

4. Delete samples I haven’t read from my Kindle.

I think all of this will put me on pace to start 2019 with a clearer head and more free gigabytes.

How can you get your digital life in order before the new year?

Sign up for my newsletter here. It’s one you’re not going to want to unsubscribe from before January 🙂


What’s your favorite album?

Screenshot 2018-11-29 18.44.20I’ve been thinking a bit about my favorite bands/albums/that kind of thing, and I compiled this list–going in order of when I discovered them. It’s in no-way comprehensive, and I’m already thinking about albums that aren’t on here (Counting Crows, Pearl Jam, Alanis…) I allowed greatest hits compilations and soundtracks, but I forced myself to pick only one album from each of my most favorite artists.

What are your favorite albums?

1. “Out of Time” by REM. Okay, so, this album is very chill and great for driving. In fact, driving is how I got into it. My dad had bought the album—“Losing My Religion” was a very big song at the time—and we used to listen to it on every car ride to my brother’s baseball games that summer. This marks the first time I remember really listening to an entire album. Before that, I’d only buy albums (actually, cassette tapes at the time) for, like, one or two songs. My favorite track is “Half A World Away,” which is so atmospheric and lovely.

2. “Sand in the Vaseline” by the Talking Heads. I love, love, love the Talking Heads. They are (were) so weird and fun and political and of the ‘80s. “Sand in the Vaseline” is not an album album. It’s a greatest hits compilation. But if you want to dive into the Heads this is a great place to start–it’s where I started, freshman year of high school. The most famous songs (“Once in a Lifetime,” “Psycho Killer,” “Burning Down the House,” etc.) are all on there, but I particularly love a few lesser known tracks like “Don’t Worry About the Government” and “Blind” and “Love -> Building on Fire.”

3. “Dilate” by Ani DiFranco. We’re now deep into my high school life, and asking me to choose just one Ani album to highlight is a difficult task. But this one, which follows her relationship with a dude she cannot/should not have is a gem. It’s a bit harder than some of her other stuff, but the angst is raw. I particularly love “Shameless,” but every song is great.

4. “Rites of Passage” by the Indigo Girls. Also Sophie’s choice having to pick an IG album. I chose this one because I first fell in love with Amy and Emily when I heard their cover of Dire Strait’s “Romeo and Juliet” off this album. Listen to all of this, and then go find the rest of their stuff.

5. “From the Choir Girl Hotel” by Tori Amos. Again. What I said about the Indigo Girls. Listen to this, then find the rest of Tori’s stuff. Her work from her earlier albums is better known, but she brings a whole lot of sound to this album, much of which chronicles her new marriage and miscarriage. “Playboy Mommy” will rip your heart out. “Northern Lad” is so beautiful and angry—and fun to sing. I saw her in concert after this album, and she was unstoppable—spinning on a stool to play piano, organ, and harpsichord.

6. “Best of” by James. Another compilation, but the Best of James has to be on this list. Every song should’ve been a hit here in the states, but only “Laid,” “Say Something,” and “Sit Down” made it across the pond.

7. “Boogie Nights” Soundtrack by various artists. Soundtracks in the late ‘90s were fire. This one, from my favorite movie, is an aural party.

8. “Hot Fuss” by The Killers. This album makes me think of setting up my classroom back in 2007. But it’s more than just a nostalgia trip. This is a joyful, conflicted, saucy romp, and I love every second of it. The Killers are low-key one of my favorite bands, period.

9. “The Idler Wheel…” by Fiona Apple. This album is a journey in which she faces down anxiety, restlessness, and ennui before finding a happy ending. If you can find a copy with “Largo” on it, get that. The whole album is just her on the piano with a percussionist. It’s beautiful and raw.

10. “Red” by Taylor Swift. I love “1989,” I do, but “Red” is so Peak Taylor—believing in true love, never being the one in the wrong. It’s fantastic. Especially “All Too Well,” her thinly veiled ode to Jake Gyllenhaal.

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Books for Gen-X women

I mentioned before that when I heard Entangled Publishing was starting an imprint geared toward women aged 35-50, I was all in. I’d been writing about teens for a while, and it excited me to think about writing about ladies my own age.

Apparently I was not the only one!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to chat with the other authors launching the August line and I’ve learned about their books–which I’m so excited to read.

If you’re in a rom-com mood (and who isn’t these days?) check out these books:


OMG. I love this cover so much. (Actually, all the August covers are A+) 


After her carefully ordered world imploded, Paige Taylor cracks up. On her tenth self-help book, it seemed like a good idea at the time to reinvent herself––move from Manhattan to the tiny beachside town of St. Clair––and take over the local bookstore.

But instead of discovering her spiritual Nirvana, she’s neck-deep in a floundering business, the locals treat her like a plague victim, and her mom’s suddenly decided to visit––with no end in sight––and keeps coming home with one surprise after the next.

Added to that pot of crazy, the one guy who sets her pulse racing has sworn off women forever. He’s got a Samsonite filled with baggage, but damn he looks good hauling it down the street. And giving her those sexy half-smiles. And tempting her to take him for a test ride.

Soon Paige discovers that reinventing herself takes more than just a change of address and a pithy quote on Instagram. She needs to face the truth about her life, and that’s something she can’t do alone.

42382323THE JULY GUY by Natasha Moore

Art professor Anita Delgado spends eleven months of the year working. July is her month to cut loose, paint, and pick a guy to make the summer memorable. But this year she isn’t in a tropical location with an exotic man like she’d planned. She’s stuck in small-town USA dealing with a lake house she doesn’t want, inherited from a grandmother she never knew. A summer fling might be the only thing to get her through the next few weeks.

Salvage specialist Noah Colburn is running for mayor. If he doesn’t, an absolute idiot is going to ruin his beloved town. So he’s stepping up. It’s what he does—with his teenage daughters, with the family business, and now with Lakeside. But when the newest resident of the town asks him to renovate her grandmother’s house—and have a four-week fling —he’s tempted. Tempted to step out of the mold and take just one thing for himself. But the gossip mill in the town is notorious.

Anita’s learning it’s hard to have a fling when the town follows your every move, and it’s even harder when the July guy makes it clear one month is never going to be enough… 42382370


For Alexa, the answer to everything comes down to numbers. Three sons. One divorce. One great life…except her boys are getting older and they really need a man in their lives. Enter the number twenty, as in after twenty minutes with someone she knows whether or not she wants them in her life. So, she hatches a plan to meet any man who even remotely strikes her interest—for a twenty-minute date at her favorite coffee shop. It’s the perfect plan to find her perfect match in the most efficient way possible.

Too bad coffee shop owner Marshall isn’t keen on the idea. He doesn’t want his shop to be her speed dating zone—especially since she’s made it clear he’s too young to be a contender. But Alexa finds herself drawn to Marshall in ways she can’t quantify. There’s no easy answer, and once the kids become involved, her well-ordered world threatens to fall apart—twenty minutes at a time.

And, of course, there’s my book, KNOCKED-UP CINDERELLA, which I’d also like you to read. 😉

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NaNoWriMo 2018

ArtificialSweethearts_500 (2)NaNoWriMo.

(National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated.)

I’ve won it a few times. I actually wrote what became my third novel, ARTIFICIAL SWEETHEARTS (very underrated; you should read it), during NaNo of, I think, 2011. The book changed drastically between that November and its publication, in the summer of 2017, but the heart is still there. And so is Sam, whom I adore. Not to play favorites, but he’s the best love interest in any of my books. Wait. I just did play favorites. Sorry, Jack, but you know you’re a dick.

I am doing NaNo this year, and I’m EXCITED about it. I’m teaching two creative writing classes at my kids’ school, and I’ve been prepping all of my students for NaNo. I’ve told them I’m going to write along side them, and I’m raring to go.

A few months ago, I worked on an outline to totally overhaul a book I wrote a few years ago and went nowhere (BUT IT HAS SUCH A GOOD PREMISE, I CAN’T DROP IT). I reread the outline yesterday, made a few notes.

And, reader, I’m excited.

I’m pumped to write.

I feel like I haven’t felt this way in a long time.

(A long time.)

For the past…forever…I’ve been writing books under contract, but this November I’m writing for me. When I’ve talked about this book in the past, I’ve called it “the second book of my heart (THE SOUND OF US was number one) and I’ve spoken about it as the YA novel version of Taylor Swift’s 1989.

That’s what’s great about NaNo–the promise. The promise of writing a book for yourself. The promise of sitting down to write upwards of 1600 words a day, just to prove you can. The promise of finally getting that story out of your head and onto paper (or into a computer).

During class the other day, one of my eighth graders said that she and her friend will get an idea for the kind of book they want to read, but it doesn’t exist. And, I told her, now you can be the one who writes it.

Be the one who writes it. Get your NaNo on in November.

KNOCKED-UP CINDERELLA is available for pre-order right NOW.

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I love this cover so much!

KNOCKED-UP CINDERELLA is available for preorder here.


I reached under my voluminous tulle skirt and scratched my butt, once, twice, three times—heck, no one was around. I’d been hiding behind a massive topiary in the hallway outside the ballroom of the Evanston Hilton Hotel ever since I’d escaped a herd of drunk second-grade parents and their ten thousand questions about the school’s paltry foreign language program. My dress itched. My nylons itched. I was developing a pretty massive blister from the clear plastic stilettos I had borrowed from my friend Natalie. Even my earrings were killing me. They were like glittery boulders dangling from my lobes.

But I’d make it through tonight. Somehow. I had to.

Using my phone’s camera as a mirror, I checked my appearance. Back when I taught English to fourth graders, I’d ask the kids to add “sparkle” words, fancy adjectives, to their essays. The “sparkle” words for my current state included “laughable,” “absurd,” “risible,” and “ludicrous.” I was a forty-year-old woman—a forty-year-old elementary school principal—in a half-baked Cinderella costume. At least it was Halloween and not, like, some random day in March.

Having to show up here tonight was an unexpected “perk” of my new job. I had to stay and ride it out, all while wearing a smile. I had to prove to the parents, alumni, and assorted boosters that I was a team player, that I was game enough to make a fool of myself up on stage with the rest of the single ladies to raise money for the Glenfield Academy Athletics Association.

This bachelorette auction marked the first of many, many planned fund-raisers this school year, including the Wintertime Alley Night (yes, the school had a functioning bowl-a-rama in its basement), the Cupid’s Crush Valentine’s Day Ball, and the elaborate, black-tie Glenfield Gala to close out the year.

After reapplying my lipstick, I hiked up my skirt and yanked at the waistband of my nylons. If the shoes didn’t kill me, these control-top pantyhose would. I stretched the band to the hilt and let it snap, satisfyingly, against my stomach, just like, I’m sure, the real Cinderella did whenever she had a moment alone.

A cough from across the way drowned out my sigh of momentary relief.

Heart ramming against my ribs, I dropped my skirt and peered around the side of my topiary sanctuary. A shock of dark hair peeked over the bush on the other side of the hall. I had been operating under the assumption of solitude. I’d scratched my ass. I’d—oh crap—lifted up my skirt and fixed my nylons. My face right now was an inferno.

“I didn’t want to say anything.” The lurker stepped out from behind the bushes. This guy had come dressed in a regular old tux in lieu of a costume to an event the planning committee had expressly billed as a “costume party.” What a rebel. “You seemed to think no one was around.”

“Yeah, I kinda did, dude who leers at unsuspecting women from bushes outside hotel ballrooms.” I stayed put behind my little tree, finger poised on my phone’s 911 button.

“I swear I wasn’t leering.” He held up his hands in surrender. From what I could see through the branches, he was not unattractive. But still. He was a lurker. I kept my finger where it was. “I was hiding, too.”

“What makes you think I was hiding?” I’d entered interrogation mode. The same skills that made someone   a stellar FBI agent made me an excellent teacher and elementary school principal. “You’re the one who said ‘hiding.’ Who were you hiding from?”

“Well, that’s personal.”

Phone still at the ready, I stepped out into the open. Time to be a grown-up. Time to put on my professional principal persona and take charge, nip this conversation in the bud. Besides, while it was true that this guy could be here to harm me, the more likely scenario was that he was someone important to my career—a parent, a rich alumnus, a reporter. I owed it to myself and my profession to handle this ugly situation with grace—all the while prepared to scream bloody murder if necessary. I held out my right hand, the one I hadn’t just used to scratch my butt. “I’m Erin.”

His eyes lit up with recognition. “Erin Sharpe!” He grinned and, whoa, it hit me that my earlier assessment of “not unattractive” was a gross understatement. This dude was hot—tall and lean but muscular, in his expertly fitted suit. He’d tousled his cocoa-colored hair in a way that was supposed to look natural but probably took him a half hour to accomplish, and he wore glasses with thick black frames that would’ve looked nerdy on anyone but him. They made him look like Clark Kent, only minimally masking his Superman persona. Pursuing this guy would stress me out. He was much too cool for me. I bet he stayed up way past ten p.m. and enjoyed “spending quality time together.” Definitely not my type.

Besides, he was a tree lurker.

I mean, obviously. I had standards.

Yes, I was dressed like fucking Cinderella at a bachelorette auction, but I had standards.

Also, yes, I was an elementary school principal who used the word “fuck” liberally while not at work. You would, too, if you spent most of your day biting your tongue around surly parents, snippy teachers, and unruly students.

“How do you…?” I asked. Even though I knew how he probably knew me. It had been big news around these parts when I left my job in the Chicago Public Schools to take over as principal at the Glenfield Academy. Chicago was a series of small towns in a big metropolitan area, and I’d come in as quite the curiosity on the North Shore—an outsider from “the city,” who had never attended private school before, let alone taught at one.

“You’re Dirt’s girlfriend,” Glasses Dude said. Thaaaat…was not what I’d expected him to say.

He narrowed his eyes and shook his head slightly, waiting for a hint of recognition from me. “We met at Loyola…?”

Ohhh. Right. The night my ex had dragged me to his twentieth high school reunion so he could show all the guys who’d once shunned him that he still had his hair. “Dirk,” I said, though who knew why I bothered to defend him by invoking his real name. Old habits died hard, I guessed. “And we broke up.”

Glasses Guy grinned. His teeth were perfect, straight, and white. My dentist dad would probably tell me to lock this dude down now, which, get out of my head, Dad. He’s not the one for us. “You stole the wine,” the guy said.

“Say what now?” I knew exactly what he meant but was shocked he remembered it.

“You stole the wine.”

“Yeah, I know what I did, but why do you?”

“Because it was the most amazing thing that happened that night. You saved the whole party.” He raised his hand and I reached up to high-five him, which was odd, but… okay. I may have noted the size of his hands in the process, not that I looked on purpose. It was just that Dirk’s hands had been so small we could’ve shared gloves. The difference was staggering. Anyone would’ve noticed. Whoop-de-do, Superman had big hands. It hardly counted as breaking news.

“Dirk didn’t think my stealing the wine was so great,” I said.

“Dirk’s an idiot.”

I shrugged. I couldn’t argue with that. At least not anymore.

The guy swept his arm in front of him as if preparing to paint me a mental picture. “Our twenty-year high school reunion. Everyone drinking and having fun, so much fun that we ran out of alcohol. And who comes out of the woodwork with a brilliant idea no one else had thought of— to run up to the school library and pilfer the wine from the guys celebrating their thirty-fifth reunion?” He stared right at me. “You.”

My face flushed. Dirk had full-on berated me during the car ride home. He’d said I’d embarrassed him by taking the six unopened bottles from upstairs. I shrugged. “I just figured the thirty-fifth reunion was filled with a bunch   of straight old guys, and none of them were drinking the sauvignon blanc.”

“Like I said, brilliant.”

I had not been called “brilliant” by a man who wasn’t my boss or professor in about, oh, ten years. It didn’t suck. The dude held out his hand again, and I shook it. His hands dwarfed mine. Everything about him dwarfed me, and I was not a tiny lady by any means. Feeling diminutive was a whole new sensation for me, one that I bashfully enjoyed.

“I’m Ian, by the way. Ian Donovan.”

“Ian Donovan,” I repeated. “So are you a parent or alum?” And, yeah, I checked his finger. No ring.

Ian chuckled. “I am definitely not a parent.” He looked me up and down, and I self-consciously crossed my arms over my Cinderella dress. “You’re in the auction, then?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Whatever.” I was totally in the auction, but I couldn’t admit that to this too-cool guy, who’d called me brilliant. No truly brilliant person had to get up on stage and parade around, begging for someone to bid on her. I felt like an old mutt in a crowded dog shelter.

“Don’t be embarrassed,” Ian said. “The Halloween auction is a long-standing tradition, and really it only amounts to having to sit next to the person who buys you at dinner. It’s fun, and it helps fund the school’s basketball teams. No big deal.”

“So you’ve done this a lot?” I asked.

He shook his head. “Never. I come for the spectacle only. No bidding.”

“You come to watch the single women get picked over by the kind of guy who needs to buy a date.”

“It’s not as tragic as you make it out to be. No one expects the date to extend beyond tonight, believe me. My best friend, Scott, buys his mom every year. Seriously. Just think of this as a free meal.”

A free meal. That was how Nat had sold the event to me after my first anti-auction tirade, knowing I’d be loath to turn down a dinner. A girl’s gotta eat. “Well, I do love Stephanie Izard.” The “date” at the end of the auction was dinner at Girl and the Goat. Even if I didn’t meet the love of my life tonight, at least I’d be treated to some spicy hamachi crudo and green beans that were, in my experience, way better than sex.

The door to the ballroom swung open and the auctioneer’s voice boomed. “Our first bachelorette tonight is the lovely and talented travel blogger, Maria Minnesota…”

Game time.

I nodded toward the ballroom. “You coming?”

Ian stared at the door. His face had gone white. “No.” “Suit yourself.” I made a move toward the door and

nearly ran right into Natalie.

“Erin, I’ve been looking for y—” Her eyes snapped to Ian. “You. You stay away from her.” Hands on hips, Nat glared at him. She looked glorious in her Nakia costume from Black Panther. No silly petticoats for Nat. She’d gone full badass tonight—form-fitting green dress, hair done in tight knots.

Ian held up his hands in surrender. “How’re you doing, Nat? It’s been a while.”

“Ten years,” she said. “Not long enough.” Nat grabbed my wrist and yanked me toward the party like her disobedient child. “We’re going to the auction. You”—she sneered over her shoulder at Ian—“can go to hell.”

“A little dramatic?” I hissed as she pulled me into the dreaded ballroom. My face had probably turned beet red from embarrassment. “We were just talking.”

“Ian Donovan is bad news,” Nat said. “A ten-foot pole isn’t enough. You don’t touch that guy with a fifty-yard steel rod.”

“You don’t think I know that?” I said. “Give me some credit. He’s totally not my type.”

“I’m glad you realize that.”

“Of course I realize that.” I glanced back at Ian, who had already disappeared, and ignored the unexpected pang of disappointment in my gut.



I spun around on the sidewalk on Orrington. I’d dashed out of the hotel after Natalie Carter, of all fucking people, had burst in and saved Erin Sharpe from talking to me. My friend Scott stood outside the hotel, chatting up a wispy young blond dude in a waiter’s tux, from whose lips dangled a lit cigarette. “This is Travis,” Scott said.

“Nice to meet you, Travis.” I shoved my hands into my pockets and nodded slightly. Travis was obviously Scott’s target for the night. He and I had developed similar philosophies about our love lives—no sleepovers, no second dates, no strings. These rules had been born out of necessity, not frivolity. We owned our own business, which took us all over the globe. Scott and I were too busy with work for relationships. Only three things currently mattered to us: friends, family, and Fumetsu Enterprises—the Japanese tech company we were currently courting. They were gonna be huge…once they perfected their technology.

Scott handed his business card to Travis. “Call me later.”

Travis snuffed out his cigarette on the concrete and headed back inside.

I rescued the dead butt from the ground and tossed it into the garbage. “Littering?” I said. “A real winner you found there.”

“They can’t all be perfect,” Scott said. “So where the hell were you running off to?”

“You know where I was going,” I said. “Or at least you know why I was running.” He’d dragged me to this event tonight, because this was our “tradition” and because Tommy, the third in our BFF trio, had stayed home with his wife and kid, and Scott needed me. I’d agreed to come, even though I knew this year would be different. This year I’d broken my own rules and had gone out with a woman twice. The last text I got from her had hinted that she wanted me to bid on her, but the truth was, I never bid on anyone. I made a sizable donation to the school at the event every year, but I never, ever bid. It had become a hard and fast rule. And I would not break it for a woman I barely knew.

“Maria Minnesota,” Scott said.

“I was out in the hall when I heard her name called, and I ran.” God, I was an asshole. This was the problem with letting anyone step even an inch inside my fortress of solitude. They developed expectations I couldn’t meet, and I, inevitably, ended up looking like a dick. This thing with Maria had been fun, and I’d gone into it thinking we were totally on the same page—no hopes that our non- relationship could ever evolve into something more. She was a travel blogger who spent half her life out of town. I was a venture capitalist who traveled the globe. I could be in Dubai one day and Dover the next. When we met, Maria and I agreed we’d meet up when we were both in Chicago once in a while or whatever, nothing concrete. Then she started calling me every other day and texting me personal questions, and I didn’t do personal. I didn’t do “getting to know you.” We hadn’t been on the same page at all. She’d misrepresented herself. And now she stood up there on stage, expecting me to bid on her, even though I’d told her point-blank that I didn’t do that sort of thing.

“You’re a real prince, you know that.” Scott raised an eyebrow.

“Fuck you,” I said.

He wrapped an arm around my shoulders. “You know I’m joking.”

I leaned my head against my buddy’s shoulder. The fabric of his tux tickled my cheek. “This event is so stupid.”

“You’re just realizing that now?”

I pointed to the street. “Come with me. Let’s hop in a cab and go downtown where we belong.”

“Can’t. Mom needs me.”

I groaned. “Right.” Scott’s mom was a delightful woman who’d basically raised Tommy and me along with her son. She’d kicked Scott’s deadbeat dad out of the house when Scott was ten, and her dutiful son had bid on her in this auction every year since he turned twenty-one.

“And Tommy’s not here, so I need you.”

Tommy was home with his wife and new baby. He was our business partner, too, but he’d decided to roll the dice and settle down. I was happy for him, but Scott remained dubious, believing there was no way Tommy wouldn’t fuck this up.

Scott jumped away, clapping his hands, as if he’d just stumbled upon a brilliant idea. “You should bid on Mom with me. There’s no rule that we can’t split the date, is there?”

“Probably?” I said. “I’ve never read the bylaws for this thing.” I stared off in the distance. It was a Saturday night, Halloween weekend. People both in costume and not crowded the sidewalks, headed to restaurants, bars, or the train into the city. They all had the right idea. None of them had gotten dressed to the nines for the express purpose of not bidding on someone at a bachelorette auction.

“What else is going on?” Scott asked. “There’s more to this story. It’s not just Maria Minnesota.” As always, he announced her name like a game-show host.

“You know who I just ran into?” I nodded back toward the hotel.

Scott shook his head.

“Natalie Carter.”

Scott’s hand went to his mouth. “Fuck. That’s a blast from the past.”

My mind kept replaying the look on her face when she caught me talking to Erin Sharpe. “She told me to go to hell.”

“Well.” Scott shrugged. “That sounds about right.”

“She treated me like a wad of old gum she’d scraped off her shoe.” Natalie had looked at me like Tommy’d been looking at me lately, ever since his kid had made her debut. He’d morphed into one of those “wives and daughters” guys, who’d been fine with my single life before he became a dad but had suddenly developed empathy for women because that could be his little girl someday. Utter bullshit. Besides, I did think about the women’s feelings. That was why I always told them upfront: No strings. No second dates. No, I will not be bidding on you in the goddamn bachelorette auction.

“You’re preaching to the choir,” Scott said, stopping my speech with a hand before it began.

“I mean, we don’t lead anyone on, you and I. We come right out with it: we like being single. We plan on staying that way.” Though I’d never been in a real relationship, Scott had—for four years, bridging his twenties and thirties. When Joe left because of Scott’s grueling travel schedule, it wrecked him. He came to the same conclusion I had years before: work trumped romance. “We’re busy men who own our own company and travel a lot.”

I rubbed my hands together. The temperature had dropped since the sun went down, and my righteous indignation no longer kept me warm. “We have full lives. We take care of our friends and family.”

“We donate a shit-ton of money to our alma mater, as well as other charities,” Scott agreed.

“We’re the good guys.” The pressure eased off my chest. The version of me Nat remembered had been kind of a jerk. He’d been a work in progress. Now I was Ian Fucking Donovan 2.0. I’d clearly laid out the parameters for Maria, and she’d tried to escalate things. “I don’t owe Natalie anything. Or Maria. I have nothing to prove to anyone inside that hotel.”

“Which is why you’re going to be an adult, come back inside with me, and face your fears.” Scott grabbed my tuxedo jacket as I tried to escape to the curb.

When Scott and I returned to the ballroom, we found the auction in full swing. “I hope Mom hasn’t gone yet!” Scott grabbed a program and discovered that, nope, we hadn’t missed bidding on his mother.

Heads bowed in conversation, Nat sat with Erin Sharpe at one of the front tables, right near the edge of the stage. A pit formed in my gut. Who knew what bullshit Nat had told her. Not that I cared what Erin thought about me, but I was a businessman. I liked to be liked. My livelihood depended on it. Plus, she was principal of the school where I directed many of my charitable efforts. We were bound to run into each other again, and Erin’s two ties to me were the guy I’d picked on in high school and the woman who’d had to deal with the aftermath of my one-night stands for three years.

Fuck. Maybe I was an utter tool.

Erin was one of the last to be auctioned. The way she approached the spotlight reminded me of one of those old gladiator movies. I half expected her to take the mic and announce, “We who are about to die salute you.” She’d hardened her face, ready for battle, totally contradicting the Cinderella vibe of the rest of her look, what with the flouncy blue dress and the sparkly headband in her short, punky platinum hair. She personified a chip on one’s shoulder, and I liked that about her. She hadn’t gone all shy and meek after realizing she’d accidentally shown me her ass tonight. “Next up,” said Jennifer, head of the fund-raising committee, who had agreed to serve as auctioneer tonight, “we have Miss Erin Sharpe.”

“Doctor Erin Sharpe,” she hissed into the microphone. I held up my drink in salute, laughing. The balls on Dr. Sharpe. Now this was definitely the same woman who’d stolen all the white wine from a bunch of fifty-three-year- old men. “Good for her. Can you believe Jennifer called her ‘Miss’?” I said.

“Classic Jennifer.” Scott wasn’t paying actual attention. Fielding texts from Travis the waiter had occupied his mind space.

“Sorry,” Jennifer said with a sniff. “Doctor Erin Sharpe. Dr. Sharpe is the new principal at Glenfield Academy. She likes long walks on the beach—”

Erin glared down at Natalie, who had definitely roped Erin into this nonsense. Natalie taught at the school, but, as an alumna, she still ran with this crowd. She might have dressed like a superhero spy tonight, but her North Shore princess roots ran deep.

“Dr. Sharpe loves reading poetry to her lovers in the moonlight.”

“Oh my God. No, I do not.” Erin lunged for Jennifer. “Are you reading someone else’s card?”

Jennifer jumped back as Erin scanned the index card.

She tossed it to the ground. “Well, none of that is right.” She wrapped a slender hand around the microphone. “I’m Erin Sharpe. I have a PhD in education. I’m forty, recently dumped by my boyfriend of ten years, and I like crappy television.” She raised her arms in surrender. “Have at me, boys.”

How had Dirt managed to woo this fireball? What a fucking waste. Well, maybe she’d find someone good tonight, to make up for the lost Dirt years. I glanced around the room, as paddle after paddle flew up. There had to   be someone here worthy of Erin Sharpe, someone smart enough, cool enough, kind enough. The kind of guy who’d help her steal wine from another party, not berate her for it. The Anti-Dirt.

Mark Marrs was bidding on her. He was… Well, he had money. But so did everyone in this room. He had the reputation at my country club for being the go-to guy for really rough vintage porn. Out. Sorry, Mark Marrs.

Tim Cleary was okay, but kind of anti-intellectual, to put it mildly. He’d inherited a bunch of money from his mom’s family when he turned twenty-one and had basically done nothing since graduating from Harvard, except ride on yachts, complain about the waitstaff at various restaurants, and tell people he’d gone to Harvard. Big old nope.

Bill Lowery could work…maybe… He was nice, at least, but according to Scott, he might not be all that into the ladies. And Scott knew everything when it came to matters of the glass closet.

Then there was Paul Pfister, heir to the Pfister fortune, related, somehow, to the British royal family, or so he liked to say. Greasy-haired, skinny, annoying like a freaking gnat. He was pretentious with a capital P. He’d probably be no different than Dirt, really, all told. He was Dirt with money.

And he was about to win Erin.

Ready to collect his prize, Paul basically vibrated in his seat, beaming at his grandmother, his plus-one for the night, while waving his paddle in the air.

“Going once…twice…”

“Fucking Paul Pfister.” I reached across the table and plucked my paddle from underneath Scott’s napkin. Hell, it was just one dinner, and I’d planned to donate the money anyway. I lofted my bidding paddle high in the air. “I’m in. Forty grand.”

Jennifer banged the gavel. “Erin Sharpe to Ian Donovan for forty thousand dollars. The Glenfield Academy basketball teams thank you for your generosity. We’ll be able to afford that new floor!”

My eyes swung right to Erin, who stood on stage, her mouth agape. All the color had drained from her face.

I waved my paddle at her sheepishly. So much for never bidding on anyone.

To read more about Erin and Ian, preorder here. Then email your receipt to knockedupcinderellapreorder @ gmail .com to receive free bonus content!

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