Please join me in extending a very cheerful welcome to Lila Leigh Hunter, who stops by to talk about her new book, Dating in Retrospect, along with a subject very dear to my heart: tasty, comforting, delicious food! And since I’ve never been there, I’m very much looking forward to finding out what tastes good in Iowa. So without further ado, let’s hand the stage to Lila Leigh Hunter:
Hi, everyone! As soon as Jackie agreed to host me today, I knew what I wanted to talk about with you all. One of the things I like about The Power of Zero series is how well-integrated food is into the stories. Everything from the holidays to Jack’s past has a memory of a meal attached. Plus, I love Gareth and how he shows how much he cares through his recipes.
My characters in Dating in Retrospect — Clay and Aaron — didn’t cook any meals during the story, but they ate out a lot. Mostly because they traveled from town to town to meet with each other. They had a one year journey, around Iowa, with more than enough time to taste all the goodies that make Iowa’s food memorable.
As part of the American Midwest, most of their meals were comfort foods. Since Clay’s came home after fifteen years, most of their stops included food. The first time they ate together, they stopped for taco pizza. I need to admit that the first time I heard about it was when visiting my in-laws. Believe it or not, a twist of Italian and Mexican cuisine is an Iowan staple. After many years, I have learned to make it at home because it’s hard to find. Oh, and you can’t have it without adding fried mushrooms and breaded cauliflowers as appetizers.
They also had Sterzing’s Potato Chips —which is another hard to find item. You can have the chips delivered, but it’s more expensive than a single package. I find them kind of greasy, but they go great with tenderloin sandwiches.
Yes, they had regular foods like nachos, meatloaf, and breakfast burritos, but spending the time together, getting to know each other after many years apart was their priority. The food was an added bonus.
Dating in Retrospect
Giving the commencement speech at his alma mater doesn’t fit Clay Keller’s meticulous schedule. As Chief Executive Officer of Travel Mogul—the largest travel connoisseur company on the West Coast—he has no time to get back in touch with his country roots. He left fifteen years ago without a second look, but a medical scare makes him change his mind about the speech and brings him face-to-face with his only regret.
Time always moves slower in Southeastern Iowa, and Aaron Grant loves it. He’s added solar farms to the Grant Lanes portfolio and has been teaching at the local university for a decade. The last thing he needs is to have his tenure application compromised by the return of his ex-boyfriend. If he had known who the commencement speaker would be, he would never have volunteered to be the administration liaison.
A proposal—to date for a year—will help them discover that time changes a person, even when everything else stays the same.
Excerpt from Dating in Retrospect
by Lila Leigh Hunter
Back to the future and all of that were Clay’s first thoughts as he stepped out of the car. The campus looked the same—Midwest Americana at its best. Redbrick buildings and perfectly pruned trees surrounded him, but as if the last fifteen years hadn’t happened, Clay’s world narrowed to the man waiting at the top of the portico stairs. The only thing time had changed? Them.
“Here’s your receipt, Mr. Keller,” the valet said, interrupting Clay’s musings. He didn’t remember being as young as the valet. Mr. Keller was his father, but Clay didn’t feel like correcting the man’s error.
“Not a problem. The man in the light gray suit is Professor Grant. He will be your escort today.”
“Perfect,” Clay responded, smiling at the mention of having an escort at his service, especially one whose body he knew well. With a nod and a tip, Clay left the valet behind, turning his attention back to Professor Grant. Professor. Aaron had done it after all. Clay had never doubted it, even after Aaron decided to stay and work at his family’s farm instead of moving with him to LA. Now he needed to find out if he had a chance with Aaron. At least having him there, waiting for him, had to be a good sign. Today was his lucky day indeed. True, he hadn’t expected to see Aaron so soon. He had planned to stop by the farm after the commencement, but he was ready either way. Life had been rough lately, but having the opportunity to see Aaron again was worth coming back to the middle of Nowhere, Iowa.
He walked casually toward the man he’d left behind many summers ago—a man standing like a prizefighter, waiting for Clay to reach him. With only a couple of feet between them, Clay’s step faltered. Aaron didn’t seem happy to see him, more like he was ready to bolt before Clay got to him. Shaking his head and keeping his eyes on his prey, he closed the distance and extended his hand in greeting.
“Professor Grant, I believe you’re expecting me?” He hoped his smile would ease Aaron’s frown.
“That I am, Mr. Keller. As the university liaison, it is my pleasure to welcome you back to your alma mater and to convey the president’s and the board of trustees’ deepest regards.”
“How long did it take you to memorize that spiel? As far as I remember, you weren’t fond of formalities.” Neither of them let go of the other’s hand. Aaron’s touch, familiar and foreign, branded him in seconds.
Aaron didn’t expect the hug that followed. As soon as their bodies touched, Aaron tensed, but Clay held him tighter.
“Relax, sunshine. It’s been a while.” Clay let Aaron go, but not before he rubbed his trimmed beard against Aaron’s clean-shaven face as he moved back.
About Lila Leigh Hunter
Lila Leigh Hunter is the pen name of a Puerto Rican author with a hyphenated surname. Born and raised on the island, Lila grew up making up stories her siblings pretended to like. But no matter what they say, as the youngest of six, she’s still their mom’s favorite. According to the dusty diplomas on her wall, she’s an architectural designer living in Southern Texas with her husband and four military brats.
She spends most of her free time writing homoerotic romances about middle-aged men finding happiness and the rest hiding from pesky house chores. When outside of her cave, she likes to observe people and try to guess their stories. Sometimes she wishes the voices in her head were real; going out with the boys in her books sounds like a plan made in heaven.
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