• Beth Henderson/J.B. Dane

THE CHEMISTRY OF Loving Trixie Fine

It’s strange sometimes from where ideas for stories pop up. For me, the seed waiting to germinate was supplied by all the various wrinkle reducing products advertised in the fashion magazines. Heck, even in some of the home decorating magazines! Let’s face it, promotion departments make it a point to hit all the spots that clients are likely to see their ads.

Considering I’m a Baby Boomer female, I was one of their target customers. And, yes, I’ve bought various ones and, sorry, I really don’t see much of a difference. My hopes and dreams shot down! Ah, the disappointment. I really wanted to look like I did several decades ago. Sigh.

But that got me to thinking. What if a product not only did as advertised but inadvertently did more than expected. So much more. Like not only wipe decades away but rearrange the rest of you to the same desired conformation, too?

As the seed of that idea (maybe it was a dream) began to grow, not only the basic shoot but leaves branching off from it, I realized this was not a project I could handle alone. I needed a co-writer. I needed Letty James.

Letty and I had connected in an online writing workshop we both took. We found we had a lot of the same tastes in reading material, but we branched off in two different directions. I hated writing bedroom scenes and she loved writing them. And there definitely needed to be love scenes in this fantasy romance for the older woman.

Letty loved the concept and it turned out that she could invent wonderful villians! I found new ways to take science sounding phrases and run with them as innuendos for love scenes.

And, yes, there was research done on what went into the various wrinkle reducer products on the shelves so that when ingredients were discussed, they were most definitely ones that would do what was required.

Except, of course, then we blew the lab up (with Dr. Beatrice Fine in it) and the formula, ER-6900 (named by Letty, who said it could use no other number, and it did do that innuendo thing I did so love), morphed itself into a true miracle product.

It changed Bea Fine’s life so much, no one recognized her and assumed she’d been killed. Murdered, in fact. And guess who had the most to gain from her disappearance? Her gorgeous, brilliant, quirky associate Dr. Zack Ashcroft. The man she kept telling herself was far too young for her and yet who didn’t seem to think she was anything more than the woman he couldn’t resist. It was the formula, she insisted. He begged to differ.

The true chemistry in Loving Trixie Fine is that between two people who have so much in common that they didn’t realize love was one of those things.

Why don’t I introduce you to these two with an excerpt from Loving Trixie Fine? Awareness returned when Bea heard the metal staircase pull free of the ceiling cables entangled around it and crash to the floor.


Her head throbbed and her whole body dripped with gook. Her formula. The tall vat of her creation had disappeared. There were no pooled puddles of the lotion anywhere in the lab, which meant it was all but gone, the residue clinging to her the sum total that remained.

The emergency lights illuminated the room in a spotty pattern. A miracle considering the devastation in the lab had taken out large parts of the ceiling. Glass from the vat coated everything like fine pixy dust. The staircase had been blown across the room and now lay mangled and twisted where it had come to rest. A fire burned in the remains of her office at the far end of the room, but it wouldn’t for long. Water gushed in various places from broken pipes overhead while the few sprinkler heads still affixed to the ceiling remained dry.

The metal shelving on the wall was bent inward in places and scorched black in others. Not a single beaker, jar, or container remained on them but for the canister of coffee still upright on the far table. The coffee maker had disappeared, blown who-knew-where. The heavy plate glass windows that overlooked the far from lovely view of the employee parking lot were missing as well, allowing a chill evening breeze to invade the room.

Bea drew her knees up, resting her brow on them. All her work had been destroyed, but she was alive. At least she thought she was alive. Her hair, usually bound in a lopsided knot at her crown, straggled around her shoulders, lank and sticky. The lab coat hung in tatters, the silk blouse and wool skirt she’d put on that morning were in equally bad shape, and her stockings were shredded. She’d lost her shoes, too.

A junior high rock band had taken up residence in her temples, each player not only out of tune but matched by a demon drummer determined to kill new decibels with the thundering thump of bass and snarl of the snare drum. The racket made her whole body feel oddly out of sync and concentration nearly impossible. One would think she’d been hit with a bomb, Bea thought and started to laugh.

Oh, God, she was alive. No one could feel this terrible and be dead.

The sound of running footsteps in the hall didn’t register with her at first, her mind thinking them part of the internal noise. But when the lab door fell off its hinges and a man climbed over the rubble to reach her, Bea breathed a sigh of relief. She knew those steps, knew the voice that called her name.

Her assistant. Not the little twerp who’d blown her up, but the current assistant – or rather colleague – the fellow who had taken Skip’s place in the lab. The brilliant, funny man over two decades her junior who preferred to waste his time with her rather than have a real life away from the B&S facility.

The man who believed in her work as much as she did.

His hands cupped her face, brushing back her formula-matted hair. “Bea.” There was a catch in his voice, probably because she now looked like the hag Skip had termed her. “Are you okay?”

She tried to smile and failed. “Yes. No. Oh, God, Zack. All our work is gone. Gone.”

When he crushed her to him, she didn’t want to think about how good it felt, but common sense made her push him away.

“What are you doing here?”

He gave her a sorry excuse of a grin. “Happy birthday?”

“Hell of a party,” Bea murmured. “Help me up.”

Rather than do so, he swept her off the floor and up into his arms. “There’s glass everywhere. You’ll cut your feet. I’ll carry you to my office. As soon as the EMTs get here, they can check you out and –”

“No, I’m fine. A little concussed from the explosion maybe, but you can check on that. Just dust off that M.D. diploma that hangs on your wall.”

She could see from the stern set of Zack’s mouth he might argue that point. Thanks to a stint as a medic in the military, he did know far more about what explosives could do than she did. But instead of berating her, he merely shifted her more firmly in his arms.

Was it the Galahad routine or the after effects of being dumped in a vat of ER-6900 that made her enjoy the closeness, the attention? After all, she was long past menopause. Ye Gods, she had turned twenty-five and nearly finished her first doctorate the year Zack was born. Yet he gave her no choice. He simply hefted her up and climbed over the rubble and out the door without a single gasp for breath. Which, considering the excess weight she carried due to too many meals grabbed from the company vending machines, she would have expected.

“I didn’t think the formula was volatile,” he said.

Behind his rimless glasses worry shadowed his lovely green eyes. Since when had she noticed his eyes? And his broad shoulders. Damn, his aftershave smelled good. Obviously, the explosion had rattled what remained of her scientific mind. All she’d ever admired about Zachary Ashcroft in the past was his brilliance, a dedication to their work surpassed only by her own single-mindedness, and his wicked sense of humor.

“It wasn’t volatile until Skip Geary scattered bombs around the room, including one on the vat.”

“Geary.” Zack snarled his predecessor’s name. “Where the hell is he?”

“Probably ran off after trying to drown me in the vat of ER-6900,” Bea said. “He was intent on destroying everything that would show the formula had been created anywhere but in whatever hole of a lab he’s set up.” One further step took them to the door of Zack’s office. Bea noticed the plate was scarred near the lock.

“Skip must have tried to access files from your office as well.”

“I don’t think so,” Zack declared, then kicked the door – hard. It sprang open, slamming back against the inner wall.

Well, that explained the odd thumps she’d heard when he left the lab in the past, usually after one of their arguments over ER-6900. Skip had been nothing but her assistant. Zack had shot past the original designation and was a colleague who really deserved a better designation than secondary on the ER-6900 project. It was typical of his temperament that his office door now opened to a swift blow rather than a plebian turn of the knob.

Zack raised one brow in answer to the look she gave him. “Don’t start,” he warned. “This has been a more effective way of releasing frustration than punching holes in the drywall.”

Bea wished she’d tried the method herself. Particularly during Skip Geary’s time as her assistant.

Zack gently placed her on the leather couch along one wall. The one he frequently slept on when neither of them could tear themselves away from work. The chintz sofa in her office had sufficed for her own naps. It was probably smoldering now or drenched by the water gushing from the broken pipes.

Zack closed the door softly before saying another word. He ran both hands through his tumbling black hair. He seemed unaware that ER-6900 matted down a lock or two. Residue he’d picked up from contact with her. A wide, damp swathe of it covered the front of his distressed leather bomber jacket as well, but it was drying quickly, disappearing before Bea’s eyes.

“So Geary wanted you dead. Why?” Zack’s jaw tightened in that determined look Bea knew so well.

“I’m not sure it was part of his original plan. He seemed surprised that I was still in the lab. He’d come for the formula. I don’t know how he learned of our progress on it, but he stands to make a fortune in selling ER-6900 to one of B&S’s competitors. There’s not a philanthropic bone in his body.” Bea shifted on the couch, surprised her body didn’t feel as literally shell-shocked as it had just moments ago.

Zack hunkered down before her. Rested his hand familiarly on her knee – something he’d never done before, and she doubted he realized he was doing. Zack’s eyes were thoughtful. Worried. “You’ve got to disappear, Bea. You aren’t safe as long as Geary knows you’re alive.”

She scowled at him. “Don’t be ridiculous. The police will deal with this.”

“I’m dead serious. You’d effectively be on house arrest as they search for Geary. You think you’d be allowed anywhere near the formula, or lab? You might even be accused of sabotaging the lab yourself. You’ve certainly had enough arguments with Director Harrington to justify that line of thought.”

Bea sucked in her breath. He was right. Damn it! Her life’s work would literally go up in smoke if she didn’t do something about it.

Zack fished in his jacket pocket for his keys. A small flashlight dangled from the key ring. “Let me see your eyes,” he ordered, and shone the pinpoint of light in them.

Bea knew the drill and followed Zack’s directions, answering his questions fully. She relaxed when he pronounced her little harmed by the explosion. “But I don’t want you nodding off. You never can tell with concussions,” he warned. “Which is why I am sticking you in the most uncomfortable place I can think of until I can get you safely out of here.”

“How uncomfortable?” she asked warily.

Zack opened another of the items on his key ring – a small Swiss Army knife – and found the screwdriver head. When he stood up and began working on the air vent cover located behind a four-foot tall fake yucca plant, Bea groaned.

“Oh, no.”

“Oh, yes,” he said, lifting the cover off the vent. “You’ll be safe here. People will be coming and going, and they’d spot you huddled on my sofa. They won’t think to look for you in the air vent.”

“And why won’t they?” The thought of being stuffed into a cold cramped space irritated her even though she knew it was necessary. But she doubted she could make the police, or the director, see reason until she and Zack figured out what to do next. The muted sound of sirens pulsed through the broken window of the lab across the way indicating time was running out.

“Because they think you’re dead, ducks.” Zack pulled her off the couch and helped her maneuver feet first into the narrow space, then tossed the thin blanket at the end of the couch after her. He refitted the vent cover hastily, giving each screw a half turn, just enough to hold it in place. “Don’t make a sound. Particularly no laughing,” he cautioned.

“What could I possible find to laugh about in this situation, Dr. Ashcroft?” Bea asked wearily. No doubt reaction was finally setting in, at least mentally, but she could deal with it. She had to.

“My acting, Dr. Fine. It’s time for me to be inconsolable before the masses.”

“Because I’m dead.”

His eyes dancing with mischief, Zack grinned at her recklessly before getting to his feet. “Screw your demise, darlin’. My future rested in that lovely concoction of yours. I’m in mourning for ER-6900.”

Loving Trixie Fine © 2011 Beth Daniels and Sherri Denora

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