Dutch Online is here! It’s the fifth and – sniff, sniff – final book of the Love in the Lowlands series.
Dutch Online is the love story of Sofia and Rafael. Sofia is the definition of weary of dating. When men date you to meet your beautiful mom, it’s just plain creepy. And Rafael doesn’t have time for love in between three jobs and raising a sister who’s ill with kidney disease. But the two enjoy chatting to each other online. And Sofia may have even developed a bit of a crush on Rafael – sight unseen.
But when they meet in person, it’s a disaster. A prank gone wrong may cause this love story to stall before it can even begin.
What’s that? You need more before you can make up your mind? I aim to please! Here’s the first chapter to whet your appetite:
“Can I help you?” I ask when a man sits next to me at the restaurant where I’m waiting for my parents to arrive for Sunday brunch. This guy – whoever he is – is not invited, and he’s certainly not welcome.
He winks at me. “I think it’s me who can help you.”
I groan. It’s barely 11 a.m. It’s way too early for some random dude to be sprouting stupid pick-up lines.
“I think you’ve got the wrong table, buddy,” I tell him.
Before he can respond, I hear a ruckus at the entrance to the restaurant. Sounds like my parents have arrived. I check my watch. Ten minutes past eleven. Wow. They’re barely late today.
I watch as Mama sends air kisses to everyone and anyone. She does like to make an entrance. If I’m being objective – a feat I find difficult to achieve with regard to Mama – she doesn’t have to work hard at it considering she’s six-foot-tall, has the legs of a ballet dancer, and the face of a model, which makes sense since she is a model.
I stand when she reaches the table. “Mama,” I whisper in greeting as I kiss her cheeks.
“How are you, my little rabbit?”
Before I can answer, she notices the man sitting at the table and claps her hand. “I see you’ve met Tyson.”
Awesome. I’ve been set up by my mother – again. I’m thirty-one years old. The last thing I need is for my mom to find me a man. Mama disagrees. She thinks a man is exactly what I need. It’s not. Especially not the type of man she’s always throwing at me.
I growl. “Mama.”
“Now, now, don’t be snippy with your mama.” My father leans over and kisses my cheeks.
He pulls out a chair for my mother, and she sends him a wink over her shoulder. My parents are like yin and yang. Pai is Afro-Brazilian, whereas Mama is Russian with the palest of pale skins. I don’t think she’s ever enjoyed the sun on her face. I’m not exaggerating. As a model, Mama avoids the sun.
When I was young, I went through a phase during which I was convinced she was a vampire. All the facts lined up – she doesn’t go out in the sun, she doesn’t look a day over thirty, and she hardly ever eats human food. I might have been a bit obsessed with vampire romance in those days.
As soon as Mama’s butt hits the chair, a waiter nearly trips over his own shoes in his rush to our table to take our order. Correction – Mama’s order. While he bats his lashes at Mama, he doesn’t bother to notice the rest of us. You get used to being invisible when your mother is a Russian supermodel.
My father was a model too, but he quit the business soon after I was born. While my mother continued her career, he raised me, and we followed her around the globe to wherever she was working. Being homeschooled while spending your days at various photoshoots throughout the world isn’t as glamorous as it sounds.
“Let’s get the introductions over with, shall we?” Mama says with a big smile on her face. I know this smile. It means she thinks she’s won. Ha! As if. She can force me to have brunch with this man, but she can’t force me to go out on an actual date with him.
“Tyson, this is my daughter, Fifi.”
I cringe at her use of my childhood nickname. I extend my hand to him. “It’s Sofia actually.”
His hand is limp in mine. “Are you a model like your mother?” He winks at my mom.
“Um, no. I’m a photographer.”
His eyes widen like he’s surprised. “You’re Fifi Silva? The photographer?”
I stop myself before I roll my eyes. Mama loses her mind when I act ‘childish’ and rolling your eyes no matter your age is considered childish in her book. I nod instead.
Tyson places his hand on his chest and gasps. I hope this guy isn’t trying to break into acting because I’m not buying his little act.
“Sasha didn’t tell me her daughter is a famous photographer.”
The snort is out before I can stop it. Mama clears her throat. If she were a normal mother – one who isn’t worried facial expressions cause wrinkles – she’d be frowning at me big time.
“I’m not a famous photographer.” My name is known in the fashion world, but it’s not where my heart lies. Artistic photography doesn’t pay the bills, though.
Tyson completely ignores my words. “What are you working on now? Do you have a shoot coming up? Do you know if they need any talent? Any male talent if you know what I mean.”
How would I know if they need any talent? It’s not like I’m in charge of selecting the models. My job is to show up when they tell me to, do my magic, and leave. I don’t want to be involved with fashion photography any more than that. In fact, I’d give up fashion photography completely if I could. But I can’t. It pays the bills. And there are always bills to be paid.
“But, Fifi, maybe you could see if Tyson could work on your next shoot,” my mother pushes.
“I’m not working on any fashion shoots at the moment.”
Pai leans forward. “What are you working on, baby girl?”
Pai and I share a special bond since we spent practically every waking moment together until I hit fourteen and was allowed to attend an actual high school. He knows my love of photography has nothing to do with taking pictures of beautiful people.
“I have a show coming up at a little gallery in Chelsea,” I tell him.
“This is wonderful.”
He raises a hand and snaps his fingers. A waitress appears within seconds. My Pai may be nearing sixty, but he remains gorgeous with his smooth dark skin, bright green eyes, high cheekbones, and strong jaw. Between mama and Pai we always receive good service at restaurants.
“A round of Caipirinhas,” he orders.
Mama immediately corrects him. “You know I don’t drink sugar. A bottle of vodka.”
“Why don’t you ask Tyson to tell you about himself?” Mama isn’t asking. She never asks. She orders in question form. It’s an art.
“Tyson, why don’t you tell me about yourself?” I ask like the dutiful daughter I am.
His phone buzzes and he picks it up from where it’s sitting next to his glass of water. He reads the message and types a reply before responding to me. “What did you say?”
Great. Another person who is as obsessed with his phone as he is with his appearance. Where does my mother find these men?
I force myself to repeat the question. “I asked if you could tell me about yourself.”
He gives me what I call the model smile – all teeth and zero genuineness.
“I’m Tyson no last name, twenty-four, six-foot-two, one-hundred-sixty pounds, and I specialize in fashion modeling.”
I don’t bother responding to him. Instead, I cock an eyebrow at my mother. Is she serious? She’s setting me up with twenty-four-year-olds now? Did she forget how old I am?
I’m not allowed to say I’m thirty-one in her presence. If I’m thirty-one, then she can’t pretend to be thirty-nine. I’ll keep silent, but if she expects me to outright lie about my age, she’s got another thing coming.
“He’s in the prime of his life,” is her response.
My dad clears his throat and puffs out his chest. “I’m in the prime of my life.”
Mama pats his arm. “Of course, you are, dear. Of course, you are.”
Tyson’s phone buzzes again. He chuckles as he reads the message before typing in a response. I’ve had about enough of this.
“Excuse me,” I say and stand. “I need the restroom.”
He doesn’t bother looking up from his phone as I step away from the table. Mama really picked a winner with this one.
I find the restroom and lock myself in. I wish I could claim a bad case of the stomach flu, but I can’t. Mama is a complete germaphobe who would have an ambulance here before I can finish saying stomach flu.
I wash my hands and give myself a little pep talk instead. It’s one Sunday a month. I can handle Mama and her scheming for a few hours once a month. Pep talk done I step out of the restroom to find my father waiting on me.
He doesn’t say a word and hauls me into his arms. “I’m sorry, baby girl. Your mama doesn’t mean to hurt you. She wants you to be happy.”
“I am happy. I don’t need a man to make me happy.”
“I know, Sofia. I know. But she worries about you. You don’t have a man. You don’t date.”
At his words, all common sense abandons me. “What if I had a man?”
He loosens his grip to gaze down at me. “You have a man? This is wonderful news.”
“No, I meant—” I don’t get a chance to explain I was speaking hypothetically before he’s dragging me through the restaurant.
“Sasha, Sasha,” he shouts as we approach the table. “Our baby girl has a man.”
“I—” I open my mouth to explain the misunderstanding, but I don’t get a chance before Mama is jumping from her chair and embracing me.
“This is wonderful news, my little rabbit. Such wonderful news.” She releases me and I see she’s smiling.
She’s actually smiling and it’s not for a camera. Shit. Shit. Shit. There’s no way I can say I don’t have a man now.
“Sit. Sit. Sit.” She points at Tyson. “You go now.”
At her words, he finally stops concentrating on his phone and looks up. “But you said—”
“Leave,” I tell him. “Whatever she promised you isn’t going to happen anyway.”
“I should have known. There’s a reason everyone in the industry calls you an uptight bitch,” he snarls at me before spinning around and stomping out of the restaurant.
“Ignore him.” Mama pours shots of vodka. “Now, we drink.”
She hands me a glass and raises hers. “To my Sofia finding love.”
Love? Who said anything about love? I’ve seen enough of the world to know the love my parents share is rare. I have a better chance of finding an Alpa Reflex Model I camera in perfect condition than love.
But my mama is a romantic. She’s convinced I need to find love to be happy and now she thinks I’ve found it.
I slam my shot of vodka.
This isn’t going to end well for me.