Today, I’m looking back at Belonging, the 8th book in the Firsts and Forever Series. I had so much fun writing Gianni and Zan! I didn’t set out with the intention of writing a May-December romance, but putting these two characters together made so much sense to me.
Gianni Dombruso was this beautiful guy in his late twenties who should have had all the confidence in the world, but instead, he was so insecure and thought no one would ever value him as more than a pretty face. And then there was Zan Tillane, my British former rock star, who’d totally cut himself off from the rest of the world. They both needed rescuing, though neither would admit it.
(Actor and Rock Star Jared Leto was my muse for Zan Tillane)
In the following scene from Belonging, Gianni and Zan aren’t a couple yet. Gianni has taken on the job of grocery shopping for the reclusive rock star and has made it his mission to broaden Zan’s closed off world. He thinks a step in the right direction is to introduce some exotic foods into Zan’s very limited diet. But the Buddha’s hand citrus fruit might be one step too far:
Fortunately, Zan snapped me out of my completely misplaced reverie by snatching the canvas sack from me. He stuck his hand inside and pulled out what I’d brought him, then yelled, “Bloody hell, what is that?” as he tossed it onto the counter.
“It’s called a Buddha’s hand. It’s a citrus fruit.”
“It isn’t! It’s a fat, yellow octopus!”
“Not even close.”
“The thing has tentacles! Where did you find this monstrosity?”
“The market,” I said flatly.
“There’s absolutely no way that’s fruit, or even edible!”
“It is! I want you to try it, I hear they’re good.”
“Aha! You hear they’re good. That means you’ve never been daft enough to try one yourself. I won’t be the first one down that gangplank!” He plucked it off the counter by one of its long, yellow fingers and rushed for the back door as I ran after him.
“Don’t you dare throw that thing! It was expensive!”
“And now it’s doubly crazy! Also, just look. You yourself called it a thing!”
“Only because it sounds pretty freaking insane to yell don’t throw Buddha’s hand outside!” He flung open the back door and went to throw it, but I grabbed his arm as I exclaimed, “I mean it! Don’t do it!”
A ridiculous game of keep-away ensued, worthy of a third grade playground. I burst out laughing and told him, “You’re being really immature!”
Zan was laughing, too. “It belongs outside,” he said as he twisted his body to hold the fruit away from me. “That way, it can crawl back to the mothership!”
“Granted, it’s a little weird looking, but it’s a fruit! Its cousin is an orange!”
“Maybe you should have brought me its cousin, then,” he said, grabbing my left wrist while I grabbed his.
“You’ve had oranges! I wanted you to try something new.”
“So you brought me an octopus alien!”
“Okay, I’ll concede that I might have been aiming a bit too high. But try it anyway! I’ll reel it in next time and bring you some grapes or something.”
“I don’t like grapes,” he said.
“You can’t make a blanket statement like that,” I told him. “There are dozens of grape varieties and they’re all different. If you tried a few, I bet you’d find one you liked.”
“But they’re all squishy little balls, and I want no part of that.”
“God you’re weird.”
He executed a surprisingly graceful move all of a sudden and pinned me to the wall, holding me in place by leaning against me. “You’re going to injure your sore shoulder,” I told him.
“It’ll be worth it for the immense satisfaction of seeing the space octopus become airborne,” he said with a smile.
My heart was already beating quickly because of our game of keep-away, and it stuttered when I looked in his eyes. He let go of my wrist and I let go of his, both of us becoming serious at the same time. My gaze dropped to his full lips. I wanted him to kiss me so fucking bad. God I wanted that.
But he didn’t do it. He didn’t do anything. Zan just stood there, his body pressed against mine as lust shot through me. He was breathing hard just like I was, his chest rising and falling, but aside from that, he remained perfectly immobile.
Was he waiting for me to make a move? I looked in his eyes again and seriously considered leaning in and planting one on him. But I just couldn’t do it! What if I was the only one feeling this? What if I went to kiss him and he pulled away? How incredibly embarrassing would that be?
Besides, if he wanted to kiss me, he would. It wasn’t like he was shy, given what he used to do for a living. There was just no way.
Zan stepped back from me abruptly and muttered, “Sorry.” Then he (and the fruit) went back to his cave. He closed the door to the den behind him. I stared after him for a moment before I retreated too, heading straight for my car.
Gianni and Zan ended up falling in love and taking off in a sailboat for parts unknown, to dodge the relentless paparazzi. This photo reminds me so much of Gianni in the tropics, gathering up local delicacies to bring back to his boyfriend!