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Old 07-08-2015, 08:17 AM   #1
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Default Page Turner - by Big Beautiful Dreamer (~BHM, ~BBW, ~~WG)

~BBW/~BHM Romance When a cover illustrator falls for an award-winning romance novelist, will assumptions and misunderstandings keep them apart?

Page Turner
by Big Beautiful Dreamer

As a writer of historical romances, I knew all about corsets. I’d written eleven novels, and a shelf in my study showcased my two Romance Writers of America RITA awards and a Golden Leaf award. I’d also (thank you, Internet) purchased an actual corset and spent a week wearing it.

So I wasn’t writing just from carefully researched history but from actual, very painful experience when I wrote about the constant pressure, the painful red marks left by the whalebone, the shortness of breath (now you know why all those Regency heroines are so prone to swooning!), and the inability to swallow more than a delicate mouthful or two of food, no matter how delicious, and no matter how constantly hungry one felt.

That was eight years and nine books ago, when I could actually fit into a corset. Now the thing, displayed in a shadowbox in my bedroom, would not even come close to fitting around my waist. I wasn’t sure it would fit around my thigh. I carried close to two hundred pounds these days, and I looked more like a stack of marshmallows than a heroine in a low-cut, tight-fitting gown.

And airplane seats had definitely gotten smaller. What used to be coach seating was now first class, and I shuddered to think what current coach seating looked like. First class was snug enough, thank you. I made it through the tunnel and out of the way of my fellow passengers before I stretched, tugged, smoothed, and tried to put myself back together. This year’s Romantic Times convention was in Kansas City, and I was glad to get off the plane and into somewhere that wasn’t New York City.

And I was at the end of a line of booths for writers; across from me was a very good-looking fellow who, it appeared, was a cover illustrator. I greeted him cheerfully, but got only an uninterested nod in return. Well, fine. Be that way, I thought, and settled in with my latest book stacked on the table and prepared for the fans.

I glimpsed him – I thought – sneaking occasional peeks at me, but he always looked away quickly. From time to time my agent came by, gave me a hug and a smooch on the cheek, and trotted off – probably to text his spouse, Cameron. They’d gotten married as soon as New York had legalized it. James was just about the sweetest person I’d ever met, and I’d have married him in a heartbeat if he swung that way.


I pretended to rearrange the cover art on easels in front of the booth so I could sneak another look at Roberta Dailey. I kind of hoped that she would notice that one of them was the cover for the very book on her own table,
The Rake’s Regret. And if that guy didn’t keep coming by and loving on her in front of everyone, I would have invited her to dinner.

Not that she would have given me the time of day, anyway. I knew that the men I painted for her book covers were tall, broad-shouldered, and slim-waisted, with figures that looked good in the skin-tight jackets and breeches of the time. Or the half-unbuttoned shirts and close-fitting jeans of the modern love stories of other authors.

Whereas I, unlike the heroes of the stories I illustrated, was of average height, with uncontrollable mouse-colored hair, pale skin, narrow shoulders, a chest entirely lacking in smooth broad muscles, an incipient paunch, and soft, undefined arms. I dutifully jogged 3 miles each day, but that was the extent of my workout, and I spent most of my time at my drawing table or at my easel. Even if I had to keep scooching my stool a little farther back.

And then, suddenly, the first day was over and there were just the two of us in the pathway between our booths. She stretched, affording me a breathtaking view of her invitingly bountiful chest, warm and cushiony sides, and the possibility of genuine, womanly hips beneath her skirt.

I made a little involuntary
whoof of desire as I felt myself respond to the vision before me. Roberta Dailey turned and gave me a bright smile.

“Longest day,” she said warmly. “Tomorrow’s schedule is a lot easier.”

“Mmm,” I said. “Guess I’d better go get some dinner.”

“Yeah, me too,” she said. She sounded wistful. “I hate eating alone.”

She turned back and looked me in the eye. “My agent had to go back to New York.”

I wasn’t sure what her agent had to do with anything, but who cared?.

“Um … we could … go somewhere …” I said slowly.

Roberta half-turned and gave me a bright glance over her shoulder, a pose I automatically filed away to use on a cover.

“Who … me?” she said. She sounded wistful again.

“Um, yes, you.”

And so we ended up staring wide-eyed at the gargantuan servings of ribs that rested on the table in front of us.

“Okay,” I said dubiously. “I know I can’t eat all this.”

“Oh, me neither,” Miss Dailey agreed, but by that time my mouth was full and the sauce was stinging my lips and I couldn’t speak.

Our conversation had slowly progressed from terribly awkward to marginally comfortable – and the pile of ribs had steadily diminished – when the bomb exploded.

Or rather, the bomb walked by our table in a tight aubergine dress and three-inch heels.

“Roderick,” Audrey purred. I stood out of sheer habitual politeness.

“So good to see you, darling.” She looked me up and down and smirked. “You promised to call me … I expect to hear from you.”

By the time I unfroze from my shock and thought to introduce Miss Dailey, I discovered an empty chair and three twenty-dollar bills on the table.

“Whoops,” Audrey said brightly. “Guess your little dumpling trotted away, love.” She looked me up and down again. “Of course, you’re kind of a dumpling yourself, these days.”

She patted my belly and sauntered off.

In the taxi I wriggled uncomfortably back and forth until I managed to undo the button on my skirt, which didn’t provide much comfort. The skirt had just fit before dinner, if one allowed for the unmistakable muffin top that splurged over the waistband.

Of course, the too-tight skirt was only part of my misery. What had begun to seem like a really enjoyable evening had crashed down around my ears. Mister Distant was already in a relationship … with that bimbo! I didn’t think he would have been interested in me anyway, but now it was clear that his artist’s eye saw beauty only in the slender sylphs with which he populated his romance-novel covers. Like the bombshell who had called him “darling.”

I made it back to my room, yanked off my skirt, top, and undergarments, and sank onto the bed. Propped up on the pillows, I cradled my swollen and aching belly and let hot tears slide down my cheeks. I was lonely, I was stuffed, and I was miserable.

I wrote story after story in which my characters surmounted impossible odds and found triumphant true love (and an implication of happiness ever after). Meanwhile, my live-in boyfriend of three years was compulsively unfaithful and had dumped me 18 months ago. That’s when my figure had begun to climb from appealingly padded to … well … fat. I reached for a tissue and blew my nose again.

The illustrator had been very good-looking. I’d always had a yen for guys who were comfortable. Flat bellies and muscular chests did nothing for me, except to tell me that their owners were invariably self-absorbed and selfish. There was something eminently accessible about guys like … what was his name?

Good grief, I’d gone out to dinner with someone and didn’t even know his name. My cheeks flamed with embarrassment just as my gorged and uncomfortably bloated tummy churned and groaned, trying to digest several pounds of spicy ribs. I felt myself drifting into what I was sure would be an uneasy sleep.


The next morning, Roberta Dailey looked subdued and pale. She drank Coke Zero steadily and seemed to have to manufacture smiles for her readers. All I could think of was the horrific coincidence of Audrey.

Once, she’d thought it was dashing and different that I was a cover artist. Once, she hadn’t seemed to mind my unmuscular physique. Once, she’d enjoyed stroking my then-flat belly. And once, a year ago, I’d walked in on her in, as they say, a compromising position with a guy who could have been on one of my covers.

After Miss Dailey’s hasty exit last night, I had numbly picked up the sixty dollars and tucked it in my wallet, not intending to keep it. I had allowed the waiter to prepare a takeout box. I had returned to my hotel room and, still numb, finished off the entire box of ribs. All of my order, plus all of hers, two enormous orders of undeniably tasty Kansas City ribs.

Afterward, bloated, gorged, dazed, stupefied, I had lumbered into the shower and stood for a long time under the lukewarm spray, oddly comforted by the stretched and heavy warmth of my distended belly. Taut and stretched, my skin felt alive. The overloaded pull of my full stomach provided a drowsily satisfying sensation, as though I’d taken care of an urgent need. While most people lost weight after a breakup, I’d filled the empty spaces with carbs, grease, and sugar, and having gorged on a mountain of ribs had awakened a feeling of happiness I hadn’t known I had lost. It almost made up for the screwup of last night.

The next day, when the time came for us to move on to panel discussions, I managed to catch her eye as we both stood, stretched, and gathered what we needed.

“Miss Dailey?”

She gave me the cool smile I supposed I deserved. Damn that Audrey!

“I believe this is yours.” I held out the three twenties.

“No, Mister … no,” she said, dropping her gaze. “I believe you are accustomed to being paid for your valuable time.”

I cleared my throat.

“I’m sorry for what happened last night,” I said. “Audrey is someone I used to know.” I poked the money in her direction.

“You have my sympathy,” she said coolly, and strode off.

What the heck was his name? I ducked around a corner and waited until he’d moved away, then sneaked another look at his booth.

Roderick Drake. I noticed that one of the illustrations on an easel was familiar. The Rake’s Regret!

Good grief. Roderick Drake was the artist who did my covers. My face burned with embarrassment. He must think I was some chubby slut who couldn’t be bothered.

Not only that, I’d caught a glimpse of him leaving his booth space. The rear view was as enticing as the front. I would have loved to see what looked like soft, warm arms below his shirt sleeves; would have loved to bury my face in his developing paunch; would have loved to feel him cuddle with me.

Except that he clearly preferred wasp-waisted bottle blondes.

James spotted me and flew to my side, tucking my arm through his. “Come, come, dear, tell Uncle Jamie everything.”

I sighed and told Uncle Jamie everything.

He snorted. “ ‘Wasp-waisted bottle blondes’? You are a writer, dear. Listen, I’m a shameless gossip, as you well know, and I have it on good authority that Roderick Drake’s thing with Audrey Murray was a total fluke. In fact, his usual preference is for gals who ... hm... enjoy their meals.”

Unfortunately, by this time we had arrived at the room where my panel discussion was, so he flitted off.

Needless to say, I was distracted. And at the afternoon break when I caught a glimpse of the curly dark hair and olive-green button-down shirt of Mr. Drake, I swallowed my pride and made my way over to him.

“Mr. Drake?”

He turned, and he broke into a grin when he saw who it was. “Miss Dailey?”

“I owe you an apology,” I said, trying not to tear up. “You seem like a very nice man, and I love your cover illustrations. Will you let me buy you dinner?”

“What’ll your boyfriend say?”

I froze. I felt a wave of heat wash over me and I thought I might pass out.

“I don’t … I don’t … have a boyfriend,” I stammered.

I got a skeptical look in return.

“I don’t!”

“So you just let total strangers come up to you and get all handsy in public? Kissing you? Hugging you?”

Oh sweet Christmas. James. He was talking about my agent. My gay agent.

Flooded with hot embarrassment, I gave him an incredulous stare and turned to thread my way out of his sight. Forever.


The convention was over, and I’d gotten exactly nowhere with Roberta Dailey. I thought she was beautiful, and her novels were elegant, clever, creative, real page-turners … but she wanted nothing to do with me.

Not that I could blame her. Not only had the Audrey-bomb detonated in her lap, she probably had her choice of men who looked like the heroes in my cover illustrations. What would she want with a fatso like me?

I emailed my latest cover to the publisher, and on impulse, sent Miss Dailey a letter, through the publisher, hoping that it would get to her.
Then I waited.

When I wasn’t biting my nails, I was biting into something. My stomach churned with anxiety, when it wasn’t churning to digest a pint of Super Fudge Chunk or a six-pack of fish tacos.

And then (almost 15 pounds later) there was an envelope in the mailbox. A handwritten letter on beige stationery in an elegant, tidy handwriting.

She agreed we had gotten off on the wrong foot. She had been foolish to brush me off, and she regretted it. When would I be in New York again?

I was tempted. I was sorely tempted. But the images I couldn’t flush from my fevered mind made me dizzy. The hugs, the kisses. Seemingly every time I’d seen her at the convention last year, she’d been in his company. Was she so blatant as to want a string of men?

I stopped pacing in my back yard and went into the house. And booked a flight to New York.

We met at the Carnegie Deli. It took us a beer each to be able to stop being chilly and stiffly formal with each other.

After another beer, I blurted, “Who’s the fellow I kept seeing you with?”

“Oh,” she said. “James. My agent.”

She swallowed more beer. “He’s gay.”

I felt numb. Like a deer blinded by headlights. I picked up the first half of my sandwich and found that both hands would hardly contain it, and my mouth was stretching to take a bite.

Half a sandwich later, and admittedly a little tipsy, we were both giggling at embarrassment and relief at our misunderstandings.

“You are gorgeous,” I told her solemnly, pointing the remaining triangle of sandwich at her – the half I was holding with both hands because it was so stacked with pastrami.

“Fat,” she mumbled, looking away.

“Gorgeous,” I corrected. “Shoulders soft as billows of silk, hands plump and white like a pair of doves, a bodacious pillow of waist and hips, legs like cool and finely turned sculptures…”

“Hey,” she said through a mouthful. “Who’s the—hic—writer here?”

She set down her sandwich half. “Bet you can’t finish that.”

“Oh yeah?”

We were chewing slowly, pausing between bites, pacing ourselves. I was bloated and sore, my ballooning gut slicing into my jeans button, and on the other side of the table Miss Dailey was similarly stuffed. Her tummy bulged roundly out, full of pastrami and beer, and her face was faintly flushed.

An eternity later, we had managed to finish our sandwiches. Nearly a pound of pastrami. Rye bread. The pickle. And three beers each. My ears were ringing and I was so full it hurt to breathe. My belly felt hugely distended, the skin stretched tautly over a visibly swelling midsection. Sweat dotted my forehead and neck. I was sated, glutted, gorged, and supremely satisfied. I had eaten not out of desperation, loneliness, or misery, but for the delicious food and the exquisite pleasure of the company at the table.

Roberta, who didn’t love James … not in that way … but who inexplicably seemed to prefer plain, unhandsome, pudgy, unremarkable me.

It took a couple of beers and some time for the tension to dissolve, but by the time I had put away half a Carnegie Deli sandwich, I realized what I must have known all along.

Roderick didn’t love Audrey. He had never loved Audrey. He loved me! I was fat, I lived in a fantasy world, I was never going to be tall, blond, or thin. Roderick didn’t want tall, blond and thin. He had had that, and he had cast it aside. He loved me! And now, when I was tipsy and stuffed, my aching tummy so full that if I sat up straight I had trouble breathing, he was gazing at me with eyes misty with desire.

I rested a hand on my swollen and tender belly. It was round, firm and warm, and every crevice of it was stretched almost to bursting. Pastrami was all but coming out my ears. I wouldn’t be able to move for a week.

“Cheesecake?” It came out as a groan. I hiccupped.

“Mmm.” Eyes half-closed and bleary, Roderick nodded.

Slowly we cut off tiny, achingly delicious bites. Slowly we let the smooth creaminess slide down our throats. Slowly we let it cool our fevered and bloated bellies. And when the plates were irredeemably empty, we slowly achieved the vertical, helped each other waddle out the door, and made our slow an stumbling way the block and a half to the carriage rides in Central Park.

Settled in the seat, Roderick unashamedly undid his jeans. I undid my trousers. We leaned back and groaned in unison. Roderick slid his hand up under my blouse and tenderly, with the lightest of touches, began massaging my gorged and distended tummy.


Clipping from the Romantic Times, dated September 2011:
Harlequin Announces New Line
NEW YORK – Harlequin, the venerable romance novel publishing house, has announced a new imprint. The line will be called “Harlequin Extra,” and will feature plus-sized protagonists.

"Many of our readers desire stories whose heroes and heroines might resemble them, enabling the readers to picture themselves in that storyline,” said spokeswoman Marva Taylor. “We are responding to a significant uptick in the number of requests for stories featuring men and women like those portrayed in the new series.”

Harlequin has a long history of success with niche imprints and publishes more than 25 such lines, including Harlequin Duets, Harlequin Intrigue, Harlequin Medical Romance, Harlequin NASCAR and Love Inspired.

Clipping from the Romantic Times, dated September 2012:
Author Sweeps Awards
NEW YORK – Romance novelist Roberta Dailey has collected every award the Romantic Times presents this year – except for period- and genre-specific categories – all for her stories in the Harlequin Extra line, which features plus-size protagonists.

Dailey, who is married to cover illustrator Roderick Drake, said that her success is due to the manner in which her own life parallels that of the stories.

“I’m plus-size myself, and so is Roderick,” the author said. In an interview at the couple’s home in Pound Ridge, N.Y., Dailey-Drake modeled her stunning outfit for an interviewer and said happily, “I weigh more than two hundred and sixty pounds – Roderick is close to three hundred.

“True love, and true romance, are not rarities that are only for skinny men and women,” Dailey-Drake insisted. “Some of us have come to love ourselves in spite of what society teaches, and there are many men and women who find real beauty – without and within – in packaging that defies the harmful message that the world tries to push.”

Dailey-Drake’s first three novels in the Harlequin Extra series – Pound for Pound, A Scent of Love, and The Way the Cookie Crumbles – have variously received the Reviewers’ Choice award, the Best Contemporary award, the Golden Leaf award, the RITA Award, and the Seal of Excellence. Dailey-Drake had already received a RITA and two Golden Leaf awards for three of her eleven novels.

She previously specialized in Regency-era novels.

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