Jen: Today we welcome Mary Frances Gualandri back to Romancing the Book. Mary, will you share a short bio with us?
Mary: Mary Frances Gualandri is a contemporary romance novelist who has self-published four novels including her newest stand-alone release Unbound. She is also hard at work on becoming a traditionally published author with her upcoming works.
Jen: Please tell us a little about your newest release.
Mary: Without saying too much, Unbound focuses on a current trend in the romance genre and turns it on its head a bit. It’s a contemporary romance infused with romantic suspense. I got the idea for it when reading some recent romances and thinking: what if a relationship like those being portrayed in those novels went too far? I wanted to play devil’s advocate a bit and see where it took me.
That was when I saw her, the nameless beauty. She looked young, probably in her early twenties. Her eyes sparkled rich blue, captivating me with her stare. She tossed her ash blonde hair over her shoulder, and my breath caught. This stunning stranger likely had no idea the effect she had on me; after all, I certainly wasn’t the only man in the room who’d noticed her. Still, I felt a spark of something between us, or at least I thought I did.
The spell was broken when I saw Marcus approach Kate and the mystery woman. That’s when it hit me. She was Celia Emerson, the creator of Unbound. I turned back to the painting, and my mind was set afire. Whatever could inspire someone to paint something like that, so full of emotion and poignancy. I really didn’t know.
A few moments later, I began to sense someone behind me. Even though I knew it was Miss Emerson, I waited to see if she would approach me. Not sure what I was after by doing that, but either way, it worked.
I heard her heels click as she stepped up behind me. “Do you like what you see, Mr. Greyson?” she asked, her voice soft and sweet.
I turned back toward her. Yeah, I liked what I saw. Celia Emerson was even more beautiful up close. Now, I could see the freckles that dotted her nose, how her light pink lip gloss accentuated her full lips, and how well that black dress fit her hourglass shape. My eyes flickered up to hers. The sparkle in those sapphire eyes told me she knew I was checking her out, and I couldn’t deny that if I tried.
“You could say that,” I replied, a little unsure if I was talking about her or the painting.
She reached her hand out. “Celia Emerson, the artist.”
I nodded as I grasped her much-smaller hand in mine. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Emerson. I’m Dash Greyson.”
“Dash. What an interesting name.”
Didn’t I know it? “Yeah. It sounds like a good dog’s name to me, but I guess my mom wanted my name to be unique. It is that, if nothing else.”
“I like it,” she replied sweetly, her shy smile genuine. “Short and easy to remember.”
“Celia isn’t exactly a common name, either.”
“No, but I like it. I feel like it makes me stand out, at least a little.”
“That it does.”
I wanted to take that back almost as soon as I said it. What the fuck was I doing? For all I knew, she had a boyfriend and I was making a complete fool of myself. Yeah, relationships obviously hadn’t been my strong suit lately. My last girlfriend ended things six months earlier because I was always working. I swore I’d heard her break up speech in a movie it was so rehearsed, but whatever. It was over now, and I was blowing it with a gorgeous lady.
Surprisingly, Celia chose to ignore my suggestive comment and changed the subject. “So, Marcus said you would like to speak to me.”
“Yes,” I said, taking a step closer to her. “It’s intriguing, your painting. I was curious what your inspiration was for it, if that isn’t too intrusive, of course.”
She was quiet for a moment, almost hesitating before responding. “A while back, I went through a pretty difficult period. I needed to break out. The swirls and curves in Unbound represent my need to escape my fears.”
I felt my eyes widen. “Wow. That’s a pretty personal work of art.”
“Art should be personal. It’s a representation of the artist, after all.”
The sad tinge in her voice bothered me. I’d grown accustomed to the emotional spectrum of people; most lawyers do after a while. In the six years I’d been practicing, there had been people who walked into my office bawling and others who sat there stone-faced. For a person like me who’s interested in how people’s minds work, it’s always fascinating to see the varying reactions individuals have when their worlds come crashing down. Celia Emerson, it seemed, knew that feeling well.
Jen: Who is your celebrity crush?
Mary: I can’t narrow it down to just one, so I’ll have to go with two. My celebrity crushes are Henry Cavill, who plays Superman, and Colin O’Donoghue, who plays Captain Hook on Once Upon a Time. What can I say, I like European accents.
Jen: What is your favorite breakfast food?
Mary: Bagel with egg from McDonald’s
Jen: Favorite holiday tradition?
Mary: Helping my mom cook the turkey on Thanksgiving
Jen: Favorite animal?
Jen: Favorite childhood story?
Mary: Sleeping Beauty
Jen: Who is your hero?
Mary: My mom and Stevie Nicks
Jen: What is your fashion style?
Mary: Functional, practical, comfortable
Jen: What do you collect?
Mary: Vinyl records, music memorabilia
Jen: What is the most surprising item on your bucket list?
Mary: I really don’t think any of the items on my bucket list are very surprising to those who know me. Then again, my bucket list is kind of boring, so that could account for it.
Jen: Favorite book made into a movie?
Mary: Little Women (the 1949 version)
Jen: If you could have dinner with any author living or dead, who would it be?
Mary: Jackie Collins. She just seemed to be so much larger than life, and I would have loved the opportunity to be in her presence. Plus, she knew everything that was going on in the industry, which is why she had so much to write about.
Jen: Heels or flats?
Mary: Flats, no question.
Jen: What’s next for you?
Mary: On my current work-in-progress, I’m actually stepping away from the romance genre to work on an entertainment industry fiction novel with strong romantic elements. It’s a saga, so I’m going to be working on it for a while. After that, I will be writing the third novel in my Love, Windy City Style series. I have several projects planned after that which I am also very excited about.