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Behind the Scenes
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Business consultant Rose Josten might not have officially reached “pug lady” middle age, but she’s already got the pugs—along with their little Gucci coats and trash-lovin’ appetites. Still, life is good, with her work, her sisters, and a secret hobby creating incredibly tactile (if surprisingly sexy) mindfulness videos. So why does it feel like it’s not quite enough? Which is exactly when former filmmaker Ash Stewart enters camera left, and Rose’s world suddenly goes full technicolor . . .
Ash never looks at anyone. Not since her ex ripped her heart from her chest in Spielberg-esque style, crushing Ash’s reputation, dreams, and directorial career in one brutal blow. But Rose is altogether different. She’s curvy, beautiful, and just so damn put together. And her business expertise might be Ash’s best bet for getting her last film—and her last chance—financed. Now if they can just keep their attraction under wraps, Ash’s lost dream could finally come true. But are they creating movie magic . . . or setting the stage for disaster?
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First, thank you to all my readers. Thank you for reading. Thank you for taking a chance on sapphic romance when you hadn't read one before. Thank you for writing to me to let me know how you connect with my books and for sharing your life stories with me. Thank you for inviting me to your book groups and recommending titles I should read.
Thank you also to all the podcasters, bookstores, TikTokers, and Bookstagrammers who shared Satisfaction Guaranteed with their fans. I can't tell you how touched I am by your praise and how much I appreciate what you do for readers and writers like me. And a special shout-out to the Haus of Bad Bitches at the Bad Bitch Book Club, the Steamy Lit book club, Reader Seeks Romance, the Fresh Fiction Podcast, Powell's Books, Jan's Paperbacks, Grassroots Books, and The Ripped Bodice.
Thank you to all the friends who support and celebrate with me. Thank you, Liz, Liz, and Scott, for social-distancing in my winter garage. I thought playing the fireplace channel on the TV would warm us up but it was your hearts that did. Thank you, Shannon, for parking-like-police with me—that's parking driver's-window-to-driver's-window—when it was too rainy to sit outside and too COVID-y to be inside. Thank you, Maria, for Zoom-crafting through the pandemic. Thank you, Terrance, for your wise counsel and for having no objection to lunch at Ma's Dairy Farm Tavern. Thank you to my friends and colleagues in the English department for staying true and strong when we were apart.
Thank you, Cas Taylor @_olygirlfilms, for talking to me about the life of an indie filmmaker. Thank you, Ross Smith, for talking to me about sound production.
Thank you to my editor, Madeleine Colavita. And thank you to everyone at Forever. Thank you also to my agent, Jane Dystel, who has been with me throughout my publishing career, and to everyone at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret.
Thank you to my students, especially my creative writing students in the Golden Crown Literary Society Writing Academy, for reminding me what a privilege it is to be a writer and how important it is to support one another.
Thank you to the queer community. I love your strength, your perseverance, your openheartedness, the way you approach challenge with joy. Thank you, Keith and Jerred, for making Pride happen in rural Oregon and for 3D printing me a clitoris-shaped cookie cutter.
Thank you to Willa the Pug for working from home with me. I think my students really appreciated your insights into technical report writing. I'm sorry you got so attached that whenever we leave the house now you have to sleep in the Grief Closet by the front door.
And the biggest thank-yous of all…
Thank you to my parents for instilling in me the love of reading, for supporting my dreams, for modeling a loving marriage, and for so, so much more.
And thank you to my wife, Fay. Thank you for fighting for social justice every day. Working from home with you these past two years, I see just how much you do, how powerful you are, and how many lives you touch. And you still cook me a gourmet dinner every night. I'm not sure that me doing the dishes and picking snakes out of the yard is an equal trade-off, but I will always pick snakes out of the yard for you. I am luckier in love than anyone could expect. Thank you, sweetie. You're my happily-ever-after.
Rose Josten sat at a table under a patio umbrella gazing out at a sea of pugs. She wouldn't have been able to pick hers out of the crowd except for the Gucci dog coats her sister Gigi had given them in honor of Rose's birthday. Thirty-eight. Rose was not in middle-aged pug lady territory yet, but middle-aged pug lady territory was visible in the distance. Her dogs were visible in the distance because they were wearing coats with bows that made them look like fat butterflies.
Rose's three sisters—Gigi, Ty, and Cassie—sat around the table, sipping lemonade from commemorative Portland Pug Crawl pint glasses.
"Designer labels are part of the capitalist conspiracy." Ty, the youngest, hopped up onto her chair, folding her skinny body—she hadn't inherited the Josten curves—onto the seat like an elf on a mushroom. The comment wasn't directed at Rose. "Resist the machine." Ty pulled at her T-shirt, which read, conveniently, RESIST THE MACHINE.
Gigi waved her perfectly manicured nails and dropped her voice to a stage whisper. "Rose is turning thirty-eight and all she has are those two little mutants. I had to go big."
"I can hear you," Rose said.
"Gigi, don't tease your sister." Cassie had four kids, and it was hard for her to turn off her maternal instincts. "And thirty-eight is a great age."
Thirty-eight was exactly 2.8 years less than half the average life span of American women. Rose had checked.
"They are not mutants," Rose added. "They are the product of three thousand years of inbreeding. You're looking at the birth of GMO. And I have everything I want."
Her dogs. Her health. An Athena profile that got hits when she bothered to set her status to SEEKING. A townhome that looked like a page from the Pottery Barn catalog because everything had come from the same page in the Pottery Barn catalog. And a job that allowed her to buy seven-hundred-dollar end tables without thinking about it. And she'd bought the Artisan Hand Painted Earthenware Vases and the Faux Silver Dollar Eucalyptus Branches, too. She probably had over three hundred dollars in Faux Silver Dollar Eucalyptus branches. (That was definitely part of the capitalist conspiracy.) And she had her sisters. Their never-ending four-way texts. Their long talks. Their laughter. Birthdays and holidays and evenings in Cassie's she-cave. Complain about her life and she'd earn herself a Wikipedia page titled "First World Problems."
"But are you sure you don't want to do more for your birthday?" Gigi asked. "I know how you feel about flying, but LA is just an hour away. I have Ativan."
Like that would keep the plane from crashing.
Also the flight to LA was two hours and ten minutes. Rose knew. She'd just sent her assistant there to discuss supply-chain logistics with the Crestwell Transportation Company.
"Crush Bar is having a Pants Off Dance Off," Ty suggested. "It's a dance party where people don't wear clothes. You might meet someone."
"Naked wearing only my shoes," Rose said. "Please tell me people wear their shoes."
"So that's a yes?" Ty asked.
"Optimist. That is an I celebrate YOU doing that. And there's nothing better than hanging out with my sisters and a million pugs."
The tide of pugs moved toward their table, swarming around Gigi's chair. Gigi eyed them the way she eyed bad haircuts that she'd like to get into her salon for fixing up.
"This is all I want," Rose said.
This moment. Rose took a deep breath, part of her mindfulness practice, and released it slowly. The spring sunshine. Ty and Gigi play-bickering and Cassie mothering them all. The herd of adorable dogs. The promise of dinner at her favorite Thai place. The three days she'd taken off work…to do what?
"I've got everything I need."
She felt a familiar pang of longing. This was her life. And it was wonderful, and it should be enough.
"I think Cupcake's eating out of the trash," Rose said.
She wasn't just deflecting her feelings. Her dogs, Cupcake and Muffin, had flapped their designer wings over to the banquet of delicacies spilling from an over-full dumpster. Rose hurried over.
There were ketchup packets and beer-soaked napkins strewn about. Cupcake and Muffin had never had anything so wonderful. It was Michelin-starred. They saw Rose coming. They loved her, but they had to make a choice: their mother and goddess or a paper tray that had once held a hamburger. With surprising speed, Cupcake picked up the tray and dodged left. Muffin, realizing the desperation of the situation, swallowed half a hot dog whole, then wedged himself between the dumpster and the warehouse building behind it. Rose knelt and reached for him.
"You bottom feeder. You living trash compactor." She grabbed Muffin's bow, but he slipped away. "I am very disappointed in your life choices."
Muffin had the audacity to wag his tail cheerfully, just an inch out of Rose's reach. The air behind the dumpster smelled like the underworld.
"I will not accept that it was your brother's bad influence." The calm, reasonable tone that convinced clients there was only one good course of action and it was the one she had suggested did not work on Muffin. "There is a shred of free will left in that walnut-size brain, and you could have used it."
Behind her, she heard metal clang. She stood up quickly. A woman had emerged from a steel door in the warehouse wall.
"Can I help you find something?" the woman asked.
She was pretty, with curly dark hair shaved on the sides and pulled back in a ponytail. She was about Rose's age, but she wore ripped skinny jeans and a Siouxsie and the Banshees T-shirt faded enough to be a 1990s original, a look that should have been reserved for twenty-somethings in a band but looked good on her nonetheless. Ty would have fallen in love with her immediately. Rose could admit this wasn't the kind of woman you wanted to meet while fishing around behind the trash, but she'd long since gotten over being nervous around attractive women…if she'd ever been nervous around attractive women. It was possible she'd missed that developmental stage. Maybe Ty had gotten all the nerves-around-women genes.
"Just getting this demon out of the trash."
The woman blinked against the sunlight. She looked like she'd been up for days. The door closed behind her, the words STEWART PRODUCTIONS stenciled in gray paint on the metal. Excited to meet another human, Muffin bounded out from behind the dumpster. Rose scooped him up.
"Why are there so…" The woman lost her words. She rubbed her eyes, looking perplexed. "There're hundreds of them."
"It's a fundraiser for the Humane Society," Rose said.
The woman reached out and petted Muffin, who had never met anyone so wonderful.
"So you're making bad life choices? But there was so much good stuff back there." The woman ruffled the wrinkles on his forehead. "How could your mother take that away from you? How could she stand in the way of joy?" The woman shot Rose a friendly, albeit fatigued, smile. She tweaked the bow on Muffin's coat. "Gucci."
"How did you guess?"
"The G." The woman showed her the pattern on the underside of the bow. "Is it this year's season?" The quirk of her smile said that she was teasing.
"Probably. It was a birthday present." Rose rolled her eyes. "For me from my sister. Does that make it better?"
"Better than what?"
Being 2.8 years away from middle age and the kind of person who owns designer dog coats?
"Better than taking them to Nordstrom and then having the coats tailored?"
"Oh, you should always tailor pugs," the woman said to Muffin, ruffling his neck fat. He goggled at her adoringly. "They have such big, manly shoulders, and such little spindly waists. I had a hairless cat." The woman looked up. "We had sweaters custom-knitted for him, but, to be fair, that was my ex. I would have been fine with off-the-rack."
She grinned, and the smile made faint laugh lines around her eyes and creases beside her mouth. She was definitely attractive. Tall. Lanky. Braless (not that Rose noticed) in a way that said I forgot to put on a bra not I want to show you my nipples. She had the sexiness of a cool hipster without the annoyingness of a cool hipster because she wasn't twenty-two and didn't take herself too seriously.
Rose liked how quickly we turned into ex.
Which was none of her business.
She reached for a reason to prolong the conversation. Could you give me the name of your cat-sweater knitter? Do you come here often? I'll buy you a beer? Can you hold this dog while I look for his evil twin? For a moment, with the sun shining and the city glowing with new spring, it felt like anything could happen. Maybe she'd walk back to her sisters and by the time she reached them, she'd be the kind of woman who went to LA and danced naked in sneakers.
The woman gave Muffin a parting pat.
"Remember"—she directed the comment to Muffin—"you're not overdressed; everyone else is underdressed." To Rose she added, "Have fun."
Then she was walking away with a slight limp and two enormous laptops Rose hadn't noticed before tucked under her arm. And Rose was Rose Josten, senior associate at Integral Business Solutions, faithful sister, fearful flier, thirty-eight, holding a dog in a Gucci coat covered in dumpster grease.
Ash Stewart leaned forward on the couch, the only piece of furniture in her spacious, atrium-style living room. Buying furniture was so taxing. A television and Xbox sat on the floor in front of her. She blinked as she met an untimely demise. The rocks protecting her stronghold exploded as Amphib the Destroyer and his minions swarmed. Her health status dropped to zero.
"Go again?" Ash's friend Emma sat cross-legged on the sofa, looking like a prep school boy in her rugby jersey.
"How do you do it?" Ash tossed the controller on the sofa. "You don't even play Death Con Six."
The game's theme song played. The screen asked if they wanted to restart from the last chapter.
"You're old." Emma grinned. "I've been playing since I was in the womb. You got an Xbox when you were, like, an adult."
Ash was forty. She should defend forty. Forty was prime of life. But she'd stayed up until four a.m. drinking Mountain Dew, which should have made her feel like one of Emma's young gamer friends, but it didn't.
"I was playing Super Mario Bros. before you were a dirty thought," Ash said.
"You want to play Pong?"
Who knew the word Pong could be imbued with so much loving condescension?
"Damn you, Gen Z." Ash picked up her beer.
"Millennial by one year," Emma said. "You want to play again?"
"As much as it's nice to be crushed by a man with a frog's head…" Ash nodded to the screen. "No."
On-screen, Emma's character flexed his muscles, waiting for the game to resume.
"I need to get back to work." Ash sighed. She had to bring the rough cut of the Portland Outfitters commercial to the owner to see if it struck the right balance of hip and rustic. Then she had to study Senate candidate Grayson Beller. Shooting his campaign ads would be good money, but she wasn't going to work for him if he had some cut-school-funding, kill-the-trees voting record. She had to finish storyboarding the Wag and Browse Bookstore and Dog Kennel ad. If there was any way to make that not sound like the strangest combination ever, she'd find it.
And then there was the other project. The most important one. The impossible one. Her movie: Inevitable Comfort. Her last chance at getting back into directing when no producer would touch her except maybe, just maybe, iconic, iconoclastic, devil-may-care billionaire Irene Brentworth. The longest of long shots. Ash should stop thinking about it.
"And I've got to get us ready to shoot that historic preservation bit in St. John's," she said, continuing the to-do list out loud. "There's the lighting…maybe a new filter for the Canon 4K…make sure we've got everything charged. I should go back to the studio. Did I plug in the Canon 4K?"
"There's something interesting about that," Emma said.
"That's my job."
Yes. Technically. Emma was her cameraperson. And yes, Emma was awesome. If something needed to be charged or repaired or updated or light-tested or sold on the black market or conjured out of thin air by sheer force of will, Emma would have already done it, which was why Emma felt fine playing Amphib the Destroyer all afternoon. All afternoon was how long Ash had promised Emma she'd relax. But all afternoon? That was a long time to go without the distraction of work.
"Amphib the Destroyer wants to dominate you again," Emma said.
"I can't take the pain."
"Okay." Emma drew out the word like Ash was in trouble. "I have a different game." Emma logged Ash out of the Xbox and pulled up her own credentials on autofill. "You'll like it. It's really slow…like the nineties."
A moment later, a pastel farm scene appeared on the screen. Balloon-like animals bounced in place.
"I think you're more of the bunny." Emma clicked the bunny and nodded for Ash to pick up the controller.
"A kids' game?"
The bunny wrinkled its nose. "I'm hungry. Let's get some carrots," it said.
"Really?" Ash raised an eyebrow.
Ash moved the joystick. The bunny bounced slowly out of the frame.
"Slow down and enjoy the day," it said.
Sunlight streamed through the two-story windows. The hardwood floor gleamed. (The almost total lack of furniture showcased the hardwood.) The smell of pines blew in from the forested hill below Ash's deck and her spectacular view of Mount Hood. There was a lot of peacefulness floating in on the breeze, a lot of time for thoughts.
Ash moved the joystick again. The bunny floated away.
"Woah, too fast," it said. "Let's breathe together. In." The bunny inflated as it drifted back down. "Out. In. Out."
"The game teaches you to slow down and breathe," Emma said.
"I don't need to slow down and breathe."
"Literally anyone who says they don't have to slow down, has to slow down. Namaste."
Coming from Emma, namaste sounded like something you called to your teammates before you tackled someone. Emma threw an arm around Ash's shoulder.
"Work-life balance. You're such a millennial…by one year." She shook Emma off with a smile so Emma knew she was just playing. "Work-life balance is where success dies."
"It's biofeedback," Emma protested. She waved the game controller. "It's because science."
"Is Death Con Six biofeedback?"
"I'll give you some biofeedback." Emma gave Ash a friendly shove. "Play."
The buzz of Ash's phone saved her from the floating bunny.
Ash flipped the phone over. Her heart stopped. BRENTWORTH OFFICE flashed on the screen. They were calling to say no to Inevitable Comfort. They'd heard the logline. They'd read the treatment. But no, they hadn't read the script. No, they hadn't advanced the idea to Irene Brentworth. A romantic comedy with a queer disabled ex-firefighter was too niche. Maybe if it was a man or an able-bodied woman, think Lara Croft Tomb Raider except a firefighter in the Pacific Northwest with bigger breasts and one arm that was a machine gun.
"Ash Stewart Productions," Ash answered.
"This is Mark from Irene Brentworth's office."
Ash mouthed Brentworth. Emma's eyes went wide.
"I…yes…I mean hello…"
Time slowed down. Ash tried to catch her breath. In a second, she was going to know. Was it advertisements for life or did she have a chance at filmmaking again? A second chance at her career. A chance for all her crew to soar. Yes, she hoped they'd stay with Stewart Productions, but after a Brentworth production they could do anything. And maybe they'd all stay together. They'd look back on today as the start of an empire. But Brentworth wasn't going to back Inevitable Comfort. Ash had to face the news. This was the moment when she had to give up the last shred of hope.
"Brentworth would like to see the whole pitch deck," the man said, a little wearily. "That'll include green-locked script, budget, any actors you've attached, résumés for any crew you want to bring with you, storyboards, marketing plan, comps. And a ten-minute proof of concept."
"Yes. Of course. I…let me find a pen."
Emma rolled her eyes and opened the voice recorder on her phone.
"Tell it to me," she whispered.
"Okay, um, yes," Ash said. "Can you say that all again?"
She knew what went in a pitch deck. It was just that every cell in her brain was busy celebrating and panicking at the same time. She was going to pitch to Irene Brentworth. She couldn't handle it. She'd crack. She'd fail spectacularly. She'd win. She'd be one of the best directors in the world…again. Her ex-wife would come back. We were good together, Ash. Let's make movies again. She'd never have to film another screaming used car salesman commercial again.
She repeated the items the man listed.
"Brentworth would like to see you at three thirty p.m., June tenth."
"In LA. I'll email you the details."
The man hung up. Ash stared at her phone.
"I…we…that…" she said.
June tenth ricocheted through her mind like a bullet. She couldn't do a proof-of-concept film that fast. She didn't have actors. She hadn't scouted locations. She barely had enough crew to make commercials. And the business side of filmmaking. That had always been her ex's job. Victoria was the producer. Ash was a director. How did you even figure out a budget for a film?
"Irene fucking Brentworth wants to hear your pitch!" Even Emma, who managed to look cheerfully nonplussed about everything, stared at Ash, mouth agape. "You did it."
It had taken years to write the script. A year to work up the courage to tell Emma she hadn't given up her dream of being a director…to which Emma had offered an anticlimactic No shit. Ash had labored for months over the treatment and longer over the logline. How could it be that hard to write two sentences? And Brentworth was going to hear their pitch, and if Brentworth wanted the movie she'd fund it. People would fall in love with the leads and their story of redemptive love.
Was it possible?
"I have to text everyone I've ever met," Emma said. "We have to have a party."
"We don't have time for a party. We have to get to work!" Ash leapt off the couch. "I'm going to the studio. No more floating rabbit."
"You have to play with the floating rabbit," Emma said more seriously than those words should ever be spoken.
"I don't have time."
Emma was quiet for a moment, then very slowly, in a tone Ash had never heard her use before, she said, "We're not going to finish the pitch deck in time, and we're not going to get the money."
"Trust me," Ash said. "I'm going to throw myself into this one hundred percent. Every. Waking. Minute. I will make this happen."
Emma stood up, too. She put her arms around Ash in a real embrace. Ash stiffened. Emma didn't do real hugs. She gave noogies and headlocks. Those Ash could tolerate; the soft weight of Emma's arms made her stomach tighten.
"You," Emma said quietly, then released Ash, "are the reason we won't win the pitch."
Her words hit Ash in the gut. Everyone else in Hollywood knew Ash as the woman who tanked a twelve-million-dollar movie because she couldn't get her shit together. But Emma never reminded her. Emma never said anything mean. She teased. She poked at Ash like a little sister trying to get her big sister's attention. But behind that was the no-nonsense love of a good friend. She never went too far. But this was too far.
"I can. I'm fine," Ash snapped.
"You're an amazing artist and an amazing employer," Emma said. "And when we're shooting something, even if it's just that guy who yells at you to buy new tires, you bring everything you've got. But you're dropping the ball. You're saying you'll do things, and you forget. You're doing half our jobs for us, or trying to."
"Is it because I messed up the reservations in Burns?"
"That hotel was a biohazard, but no. It's not Burns. It's this." Emma gestured to the Xbox.
"It's dead to me," Ash said. "No more Death Con Six until we've won the pitch."
"You don't get it. We want
- “Escapism with no apologies.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
- "A fairy tale-perfect happy ending guarantees smiles as the last page is turned."—Bookpage, starred review
- “Rose and Ash’s feelings for each other are never in doubt thanks to Stetz-Waters’ expertly written longing and lush love scenes. And a fairy tale-perfect happy ending guarantees smiles as the last page is turned.”—Bookpage
- "Satisfaction Guaranteed is a standout romance with humor, heart and two characters who step out of their comfort zones together."—BookPage, starred review, on Satisfaction Guaranteed
- "A truly funny rom-com that’s full of heat and heart."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review, on Satisfaction Guaranteed
- "An enchanting must-read."—Publishers Weekly, starred review, on Satisfaction Guaranteed
- "Incredibly satisfying."—The Washington Post on Satisfaction Guaranteed
- "This book is sapphic, it slaps, and it’s singlehandedly giving sex toy rep in romance. More of that please!"—Elite Daily on Satisfaction Guaranteed
- "Highly recommended."—Library Journal, starred review, on Worth the Wait
- On Sale
- Jan 31, 2023
- Page Count
- 352 pages