Alisha Blake works her magic in the kitchen, creating delectable desserts for her grandfather’s restaurant in rural Illinois. Though Alisha relishes the close relationship she has with her family, she can’t help but dream about opening a cookie shop in Chicago. She may be a small-town baker, but Alisha has big ambitions.
Digging Up Love
About forty yards behind the house, Mrs. S sat on her trusty motorized steed. Granny stood next to her, the top of her blonde bob a good foot shy of the reflective orange safety flag jutting up out of the back of the seat.
Opposite the women, a backhoe perched motionless on the edge of the crater like a mechanical gargoyle, motor silent. Granny was holding a whispered conference with Mrs. Snyder, doused in her trademark rose-scented perfume so strong it could penetrate a gas mask.
Alisha slinked up to the women like an uninvited guest at a funeral. She couldn’t help but address them in a hushed tone. “Hi, ladies.”
Mrs. Snyder let out an almighty yelp and revved her engine. The scooter lurched forward toward the edge of the hole. Alisha dove for the kill switch, and Granny wrapped both arms around her friend’s ample waist, the heels of her Wellington boots making furrows in the grass. The scooter skidded to a halt like a clown car dumping its occupants at center stage.
Alisha collapsed on her knees, panting. “So sorry, Mrs. S!”
“Janet.” Fanning her flushed face, she leveled a beady gaze at Alisha. “If I’ve told you once, I told you a thousand times. Call me Janet.” She adjusted one of her clip-on earrings, blue-veined hand trembling. “‘Mrs. S’ makes me feel about a thousand years old.”
Alisha nodded just to pacify her. The switch would be impossible. Mrs. Snyder was Hawksburg’s answer to Mr. Feeny: a seventh-grade math teacher, religious ed catechist, and after retirement, a high school substitute teacher. No sense in arguing, though.
She pushed off the freezing ground and turned to Granny. “What’s this I hear about a skeleton in our new swimming pool?”
Pulling the sides of her coat around herself, her grandma said, “I was gonna tell you when you got home, sweetie. But you never get much time to yourself. I didn’t want to interrupt your visit with Simone. And I doubt it’s anything. Janet just said we should be sure.”
Surprise, surprise. Mrs. Snyder had called in the professionals, not Granny.
“I’m sure we’ll have this whole thing resolved today.” Granny patted her arm in reassurance.
Alisha relaxed a bit at her grandma’s touch. The Blake women looked nothing alike. Her grandma was a fine-boned peroxide blonde and fair as winter moonlight. But temperament wise, they were a match. If Granny wasn’t fussed, everything would be fine. But still . . .
“So there is a bone?”
Granny nodded. “A big one. See for yourself.”
Obediently, Alisha took a step forward to peer down into the pit. The man—and it was a man, after all—crouched in the mud, squinting against a battered digital camera, wasn’t wearing the khaki uniform she’d expected.
Instead, a dark-gray zip-up hoodie showed the curve of strong biceps and wide shoulders. He sat on his haunches in worn-in jeans and brown work boots. A cobalt-blue beanie was pulled down over his ears, accentuating the line of a straight, clean-shaven jaw. Definitely not middle aged either.
This was fine. Totally fine. Well, he was fine, that much was certain.
Keep it together, Alisha.
No worries. She tugged at her cropped leather jacket. She was perfectly capable of sending a fit young scientist packing.
Just then, he rested the camera on his thigh and looked up at them through the snow, his gaze as dazzling as a burst of sunshine after a storm.
Alisha’s knees almost gave way. Up until this moment, she would’ve put weak knees right up there with Bigfoot in the realm of myth. But the man’s electric gray-green eyes short-circuited her nerve endings and left her legs wobbly as Bambi.
He pulled his full lips to the side, gaze unfocused, clearly deep in thought. Then he dropped those striking eyes to the ground and stood up, rubbing a hand absently along his chiseled jaw. Her stomach turned itself inside out. It wasn’t every day she encountered a man who looked like her fantasies incarnate. But the biting wind and snowflakes swirling through the air hit her like a bucket of ice water. Not a daydream, then. Which begged the question, What to do now?
The textbook definition of a sexy scientist stood a few feet away, smack-dab in the middle of her grandparents’ future swimming pool. Chills that had nothing to do with the freezing temps collided with the heated flush of a heart gone into hyperdrive. A magnetic tug drew her a step closer, vying with a hysterical urge to turn tail and run.
Heavens to Betsy, cool it, Blake.
Without another thought, Alisha took a breath and jumped into the deep end.
Author Interview: Chandra Blumberg
As a debut author, what are some things readers should know about you?
I was born in Michigan and moved to the Chicago area shortly after college. I’m the mom of four amazing children. I love to bake and I’m always on the lookout for new recipes to try, and though they often turn out less-than Pinterest-worthy, my baked goods almost always taste great.
Lifting weights is another one of my passions. I enjoy the physical challenge and the boost from achieving new goals. I also love to travel and explore, whether it be other countries or nearby towns. One of my greatest joys is finding new places to visit and experience for the first time.
And of course, I love to read! I devour books from a wide variety of genres, from science fiction to mystery, historical fiction to fantasy, but romance captured my heart and never let go.
Describe your novel Digging Up Love in just one sentence.
A commitment-phobic baker who plans to escape small-town life for Chicago hits a roadblock when an enormous dinosaur bone is unearthed in her backyard, and she falls hard for the paleontologist sent to excavate.
Including dinosaurs as a major part of the plot is unique in a romance novel. What inspired you to include dinosaurs (or at least their bones) in your story?
My kids love learning about dinosaurs, so between books, shows, movies, and time spent visiting museums to see fossils, dinosaurs have been a big part of my life for awhile now, and that might be part of what sparked the idea. Plus, I’ve been a fan of Jurassic Park since I was a kid, and I thought it would be really fun to write a romance with a paleontologist love interest.
As I was drafting the novel, I remembered reading a news article about mammoth bones turning up on a farmer’s property in my home state of Michigan, and I thought: what if it had been a dinosaur bone? There haven’t been any dinosaur fossils discovered in most of the Midwest, so that offered a lot of possibilities to explore.
Was there a moment when Quentin and Alisha’s story really came to life for you?
I wrote a sketch of a scene where a woman was on a date with a paleontologist at the Field Museum in Chicago. He was super enthusiastic about showing her the fossils, and they had this flirty, fun dynamic with a lot of banter. There was immediate chemistry, and I wanted to dive deeper into their story. At one point in the scene, the woman tripped, and her response was, “Whoopsie-daisy.” So I had this young woman who was using this sort of old-school exclamation, and I thought, why would she say that? Well, maybe she was raised by her grandparents. And the story evolved from there.
Was there a time during the writing process that you were really surprised by the story or your characters?
I was sharing an early draft of the story with critique partners and one of them mentioned how Quentin was a paleontologist like Ross from Friends, and my reaction was total shock. I used to love watching Friends, but for some reason—maybe my age at the time I watched it—even though Ross was one of my favorite characters, I had no idea what he did for a living. I decided to include my reaction into the book, because how could I not? Ross is such an iconic character, and here I had totally blanked on another paleontologist in pop culture.
Digging Up Love is very much a small-town romance, but it also includes scenes in Chicago. What made you choose to include both settings in your novel?
I knew I wanted a city-meets-country love story because it offers so many interesting and fun dynamics. Since I grew up in a fairly rural community and participated in the county fair, 4-H, horseback riding, and so on, I had that experience to draw from. I also enjoy living in the Chicago area immensely and wanted to incorporate elements of the city as well.
What do you most want readers to take away from reading Digging Up Love?
First and foremost, a happily-ever-after. While this book delves into some deep issues, this is Alisha and Quentin’s love story, and I want to leave readers with all the swoony feels! I hope to tug on readers’ heartstrings and make them laugh in the next moment. I also wanted to depict a heroine who is unapologetically into lifting heavy weights, and to include body positivity in the narrative. I hope the sense of love, both romantic and in relationships with family and friends, comes through in this story. Ultimately, this is a book about finding joy and the person who makes you feel happy and fully loved.