Christmas & Canollis
by Peggy Jaeger
GENRE: Contemporary Romantic Comedy
With Christmas season in full swing, baker Regina San Valentino is up to her elbows in cake batter and cookie dough. Between running her own business, filling her bursting holiday order book, and managing her crazy Italian family, she’s got no time to relax, no room for more custom cake orders, and no desire to find love. A failed marriage and a personal tragedy have convinced her she’s better off alone. Then a handsome stranger enters her bakery begging for help. Regina can’t find it in her heart to refuse him.
Connor Gilhooly is in a bind. He needs a specialty cake for an upcoming fundraiser and puts himself—and his company’s reputation—in Regina’s capable hands. What he doesn’t plan on is falling for a woman with heartbreak in her eyes or dealing with a wise-guy father and a disapproving family.
Can Regina lay her past to rest and trust the man who’s awoken her heart?
I spotted my customer in the seat my mother indicated. His back was toward me, but I could tell he was tall from how much of him shot up from the chair. Since I didn’t know how to address him, I simply said, “Excuse me?” when I finally arrived at the table. I was all set to introduce myself and ask how I could help him, but before the words could form in my throat I was struck mute. Truly. I stopped short, my mouth falling open like unfilled cannoli shells, and no sound came out.
He turned to me at the exact moment a slice of midday November sunlight streamed through the window, landing right on him and surrounding his head in a halo of bright, brilliant light. I wouldn’t have been surprised if a choir of angels started belting out celestial high notes because the guy could have been a charter member of the Messenger of God club.
Facially, he looked a little older than my thirty-two, but not over the forty-year mark yet. Where my hair is the color of wet ink, his was a shock of silver threaded with faint stripes of peppery black above his ears. It looked so thick and touch-worthy, the tips of my fingers were actually tingling to clutch the ends and grab on. Eyes the color of threatening storm clouds—gray and tinged with pale shards of blue—peered up at me, a question pulling at their corners. Eyelashes most women had to pay for framed his lids naturally. His jaw was square, his cheekbones carved from marble by a master sculptor.
But his mouth—Madre di Dio, his mouth. It was about as perfect as two lips meeting in the center of a face could be. Full and thick with that natural rimmed outline women were forced to create with a liner pencil, it was the most kissable mouth I’d ever seen. Tinted the color of aged Barolo—my father’s favorite wine—ripe and smooth, full-bodied and intense, it simply stopped me in my tracks.
Recently, I had a reader ask me why I write so many romances where food seems like a major character in the stories.
I’ll admit, that question took me a little aback. First, because I never considered such a thing, and second, because she was correct.
With my WILL COOK FOR LOVE series about the Laine family, food plays a major role because that series is about a family headed by a professional chef-lebrity. Food and recipes had to be incorporated into the storyline to give realism to it. Heck, there were even recipes from Kandy Laine’s cookbooks at the end of every story.
With the San Valentino books, of which CHRISTMAS AND CANNOLIS is the most recent addition, the traditional Italian cuisine of my characters is vital not only to the storyline, but to the actual characters themselves. The San Valentino’s value family above all else and they typically spend every Sunday eating together, the entire family gathered around the dining room table. It’s a time for the parents to reconnect with their grown children and grandchildren, and for the family to instill their traditions into the upcoming generations.
Even as far back as my MacQuire Women series, the sisters were first rate cooks who learned at their elderly nursemaid’s knee. Serena MacQuire was never as happy in her life as when she had all her children home for dinner.
So, when this reader posed this question to me, I really gave it a great deal of thought and I think I figured out why I subliminally put such a focus on food in each book.
Eating is an intimate act. No, it really is. Think about it. If you are not eating alone, you are typically sitting across or next to someone who is doing the same thing, but also interacting with you. Looking at you. Talking to you. Watching you. And let’s face it: no one looks really sexy eating a ham sandwich despite how writers try their best to make it seem so (!)
Eating fulfills a core need – nutrition. You don’t eat, you die. Simple. So when someone cooks for you they are, in essence, helping to keep you alive.
Eating fulfills an emotional need. Now that may sound a little out there, but let me explain it using an example from my current book. Ursula San Valentino, Sonny’s wife and Regina’s mother, likes nothing more than to cook for all her children and grandchildren. Providing them with a hot, made-from-scratch meal using fresh ingredients is her way of showing how much she loves them. She would quite literally be heart-sick if anyone she loved went hungry. She’s the type of Mama who can feed an army and still have leftovers because she totally believes if all the food is eaten at a meal, you were miserly in the making of it. So, for her, she shows her love – her emotional love – through feeding her family (and anyone else who comes to her table).
When I was a kid my folks worked long hours and didn’t get home many times until late in the evening. If I’d waited for them to eat my own supper, I would have gone hungry more times than not because they typically arrived home after I was in bed. I ate alone 6 out of 7 nights a week and I longed to be able to linger at the table with someone other than myself for company, chatting about everything, sharing my day, asking for guidance with problems. I was never afforded that luxury.
When I began writing about families, that long buried yearning apparently pushed its way out of my memories and onto the page. I really believe there is nothing that holds a family together more than sharing a meal – and their lives – with one another. And I’m talking about the old fashioned sharing of a meal, not the kind we typically see these days where everyone is at the table interacting with their cell phones instead of one another. My family – and my characters – sit together, talk, laugh, verbally spare, even fight, and they do it all together without extraneous interruptions.
And by extraneous interruptions, I mean electronic devices!
So that’s why food plays such a major role in my romance novels. To me, food is way more than just meat and potatoes. It’s a connection. It’s a starting point of a relationship. It’s a touchstone. And it’s a human connection to one another.
That reader was a very smart…cookie(!)
Peggy Jaeger is a contemporary romance writer who writes about strong women, the families who support them, and the men who can’t live without them.
Family and food play huge roles in Peggy’s stories because she believes there is nothing that holds a family structure together like sharing a meal…or two…or ten. Dotted with humor and characters that are as real as they are loving, Peggy brings all topics of daily life into her stories: life, death, sibling rivalry, illness and the desire for everyone to find their own happily ever after. Growing up the only child of divorced parents she longed for sisters, brothers and a family that vowed to stick together no matter what came their way. Through her books, she has created the families she wanted as that lonely child.
Tying into her love of families, her children’s book, THE KINDNESS TALES, was illustrated by her artist mother-in-law.
Peggy holds a master’s degree in Nursing Administration and first found publication with several articles she authored on Alzheimer’s Disease during her time running an Alzheimer’s in-patient care unit during the 1990s.
In 2013, she placed first in two categories in the Dixie Kane Memorial Contest: Single Title Contemporary Romance and Short/Long Contemporary Romance.
In 2017 she came in 3rd in the New England Reader’s Choice contest for A KISS UNDER THE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS and was a finalist in the 2017 STILETTO contest for the same title.
In 2018, Peggy was a finalist in the HOLT MEDALLION Award and once again in the 2018 Stiletto Contest.
A lifelong and avid romance reader and writer, she is a member of RWA and her local New Hampshire RWA Chapter.
Amazon Author page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00T8E5LN0
The Wild Rose Press: https://catalog.thewildrosepress.com/all-titles/6235-christmas-and-cannolis.html
Peggy Jaeger will be awarding a $20 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.
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