Brook Ogden has never encountered a broken heart she couldn’t patch together as the Breakup Doctor—and her personal life, after some gruesome breakups of her own, is in recovery: Ben Garrett started out as a revenge date against an ex, but has turned into so much more.
But when sizzling-hot Chip Santana, an old client she once shared a rather unprofessional midnight roll in the sand with, comes back into her life asking for her help, Brook can’t say no. Yet while she’s busy stitching up his relationship troubles, Chip reveals much more than a therapeutic interest in her.
In the standoff between her heart and her hormones, Brook’s cool, collected Wise Therapist persona begins to crack like thrown wedding china. She’s yelling at recalcitrant cheating husbands. Offering crazy advice to radio callers. She’s even hugging her clients.
When the situation goes critical, Brook’s forced into a decision she isn’t ready to make—and the Breakup Doctor has to decide what kind of casualties she’s willing to accept.
Targeted Age Group:: 18-50
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I married my excellent husband relatively late, after a long search that yielded me a long and colorful dating life. In those dating years, it was my girlfriends who kept me sane, who provided perspective, who built up my courage and confidence and self-image whenever they started to flag as I—like many women—experienced nearly every relationship pitfall there is.
In 2005 I read Greg Behrendt and Liz Tucillo’s He’s Just Not That Into You—and it quite literally changed my life. The prototype of pretty much every guy I and my girlfriends had ever dated was in there—the one who never actually asks you out; the one who’d rather drink (or get high) when he’s with you; the one who cheats; the one who comes on strong, then disappears. The “This Is What It Should Look Like” sections opened up a new idea to me—the things my friends and I were accepting as part of normal relating between men and women didn’t have to be part of our equation if we didn’t want them to be. There were good men out there; it did look different when a guy was really into you—I mean really into you—and we deserved to have it.
My dating life changed almost overnight—I didn’t even bother anymore with anything less than someone who seemed to really like me, to want to get to know me, to give me his full attention when we were together, and not play games or hide behind “fear of commitment” or “having been burned.” In 2007 I met the man who is now my husband, and it really is as simple as Greg and Liz said—if a guy is into you, you know it. He shows you, all the time. Now that I am in a healthy and happy relationship, it’s kind of stunning to me that I and almost every woman I know, of every age, go through a period when we don’t realize this simple fact, and we explain away behavior on a man’s part that’s negligent at best, appalling at worst, with ridiculous excuses like “he’s just afraid” or “he’s been burned before.”
I still pass along He’s Just Not That Into You to every woman I know who’s dating, from my teenage niece to my mom when she went back into the dating pool, because we all deserve to know our worth and there’s no need to accept anything less than a guy who is really, really into us. That’s what the Breakup Doctor series grew out of. I wanted to share with every woman everywhere all the wisdom and kindness and common sense in that book, and I wanted to write stories. Most important, I hope that the series is as fun to read as it was for me to write. But it’s also my dear hope that women might read the books and see themselves, and begin to believe that there really is better out there than what they might have found, and that they deserve it one hundred percent.
I’m not usually much on book dedications, but I dedicate these wholeheartedly to Liz Tuccillo and Greg Behrendt, the loving, protective older siblings that every woman should have. I dedicate them to my husband, who was so, so worth waiting—and wading—through every other relationship to find. And I dedicate it to women. Because you are beautiful, and strong, and smart, and worthy. And if you’re not quite ready to believe that yet, then until you are, along with Brook, I will believe it for you.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The Breakup Doctor series is based around Brook Ogden, an always-in-control therapist who loses her practice and reinvents herself as “the Breakup Doctor”–on call to help you shape up after a breakup. In book one, The Breakup Doctor, she goes through an unexpected breakup of her own and has what my Alabama friend calls “a total come-apart.” She winds up spectacularly breaking every one of her own rules, and pretty much hitting humiliating rock bottom before she realizes that sometimes you have to let yourself fall apart before you can get it back together.
Brook’s calm, cool way of handling breakups was basically inspired by my own MO–that’s always been my way. I’m a breakup ninja: when a relationship is clearly over, I make a clean break and would be absolutely mortified to engage in some of the crazy behavior I’ve seen from some people (we’ll call them my sister…). I loved the idea of taking someone like that–someone even more so than me, like a professional therapist who absolutely knows all the “right” answers–and have her engage in behaviors she never would have thought she was capable of.
One of the main characters, Brook’s best friend Sasha, handles heartbreak a little crazily–actually borderline illegally. Brook’s way–in the past, anyway–is to tamp things down. Brook is ego or superego; Sasha is all id. Sasha has this Zen-like understanding that being human means not being perfect, and she’s just so comfortable with that, even when she’s a total wreck. She just vomits up whatever’s on her mind, follows her impulses, and when it all falls apart around her, she just kind of shrugs and starts over, no judgments. She’s like a really good-natured but slightly out-of-control dog. I don’t even know where she came from as I was writing her, but I love her.
Technically, lurking outside of an S and M bar to figure out whether I was going to have to go in wasn’t part of my job description.
Mind you, as a therapist who specializes in helping people get through messy breakups, my usual menu of offerings was pretty broad. In the four months since my practice as the Breakup Doctor had taken off, it had included, but was not limited to:
* relationship dissection
* ego building
* organizational oversight (i.e., guiding my clients through removing the painful reminders of their ex from their everyday view until such a time as the memories don’t confound their healing)
* personal shopping
* nutritional counseling (woman cannot live by Ben & Jerry’s alone, no matter how big a jerk her ex is)
* deejaying (because endless, late-night loops of Fiona Apple and Joni Mitchell are just going to make you feel worse)
* image consultation, including hair and makeup referrals
* telephone/computer confiscation (some clients know they have no willpower and welcome the chance to remove temptation)
And that was in addition to the traditional therapy services I was actually trained, as a licensed mental health counselor, to provide. Intervention was strictly against my usual policy–I focused in counseling sessions on guiding people to move past the pain of rejection and abandonment and work toward making healthier choices in the future, but ultimately those choices were up to them.
But Cameron Fowler was way out of her depth. She’d moved here to my southwest Florida hometown just two months ago from hers, Fish Creek, Wisconsin–which made the fairly small town of Fort Myers seem like New York City by comparison. She was fleeing from the worst kind of breakup imaginable–being left at the altar by her longtime beau–and hoping for a fresh start.
Against all the odds in the dating wasteland that was southwest Florida, she immediately met “the perfect guy”: Wayne Bukowski, owner of a local advertising agency that had made its reputation on two or three huge local accounts–a car dealer, a restaurant chain, and a mega gym. Wayne was older–in his late forties–but still handsome, with a perfect head of rich brown hair and a wide white smile, and he set about courting the young, fresh-faced Cameron with a ferocity and single-mindedness that drove her college sweetheart’s betrayal right out of her mind.
Wayne and Cameron had been dating almost since her first day in town, when she’d met him in the grocery store as they were both checking out melons–Cameron the cantaloupe; Wayne, Cameron’s. But lately, Cameron had told me on our first meeting, Wayne had begun to pull back–he was distant, distracted, and whereas he used to call her at all hours of the day and night, now she had to initiate most calls, and it would be hours before he returned her message when it slipped into voice mail more and more often.
Troubled, she’d finally sat him down to ask him what was the matter, and Wayne had forthrightly told her: He was worried she wasn’t adventurous enough for him. Wayne Bukowski was a man of rapacious and varied appetites, and he was afraid that perhaps Cameron’s delicate, sheltered upbringing meant they might not be right for each other after all.
Poor Cameron thought he meant things like bungee jumping and whitewater rafting. Wayne had to spell out for her that he was talking about their bedroom exploits.
Cameron Fowler had lost one man without ever having the chance to know what she did wrong so she could fix it. She wasn’t going to let the same thing happen now. She’d said as much to me when she called me thirty minutes ago and told me what she was doing, with such ferocious, out-of-character adamancy that I’d walked out in the middle of a date and had been tailing her like a private dick ever since.
As I said, not part of my usual job description. But I was learning I couldn’t always keep my personal concerns for clients strictly within the confines of our sessions together.
Now I was sitting in my car in the Southside Industrial Park late on a Saturday night, watching her loiter indecisively outside the tall, grim black doors of Sticks and Stones, and prepared any second now to break my policy of non-direct-intervention.
She walked again past the matte-black doors, craning her neck to see inside when one cracked open for a moment and disgorged a laughing, stumbling couple in their mid-thirties, holding on to each other, the woman squealing in theatrical shock.
Drop-ins. They’d go home tonight and have “naughty” Fifty Shades of Grey sex with her restrained against the bedpost with some of his polyester ties, and feel dangerous and outrageous. Monday morning they’d casually mention at work that they’d hit Sticks and Stones over the weekend, and they’d enjoy the edgy street cred it gave them among their conservative coworkers.
Cameron made another pass by the doors and had to scurry out of the way, her gauzy skirt swinging, when a group of black-clad patrons seethed onto the front walkway from the parking lot on Work Drive. Now, this group weren’t prurient tourists looking for a thrill. These guys seemed like regulars–leather clothes (chaps, I swore in one case, though it was hard to tell in the dim light from the single streetlight twenty yards away), the glint of metal, lots of piercings. One of them raked Cameron with an up-and-down investigation that made me blush sitting forty feet away in my car. She visibly contracted.
That’s it, I thought. This isn’t your scene, Cam. Get back in your car and go home.
Cameron pushed a strand of flyaway blond hair behind her ear with a hand I could see even from here was shaking, and finally turned to go back to her car. I hadn’t thought she’d actually go through with it, but I’d had to show up just in case. Cameron was a sweet, naive Midwestern girl, and there was something about her I felt compelled to protect.
Just as I was turning my key in the ignition, Cameron lifted her shoulders, straightened her back, and reached for the door in a fast, firm motion. The club doors slammed shut, swallowing her.
Dammit. This was not one of the services I offered. I yanked the keys out, threw open my door, and scurried over to the entrance.
As soon as the imposing door sucked shut behind me with the muffled thunk of a vacuum seal, I was overwhelmed by sense stimuli. The unidentifiable house music was loud, a bass beat pounding so deeply it seemed to tremble the floor and threaten arrhythmia. Cool, slightly moist air rushed over my skin, as if I were standing in front of a window unit. The club smelled like perfume and incense, with the earthy undertone of sweat and something else I couldn’t place, something slightly sharp and vaguely troubling.
My eyes adjusted to the twilight lighting and I realized the cavernous room was packed wall-to-wall. If I wanted to venture into the bowels I was going to have to forge a trail through the close-pressed bodies. Cameron couldn’t have made much easier progress; she had to be nearby. In her flyaway floral dress she should be easy to find–everyone within my sightline wore either dark, shiny clothing of some nonporous fiber, or very little in general.
There was no sign of Cameron amid the crush, and I was surrounded on all sides by people with no seeming knowledge of the accepted personal space of Western culture. I tried to keep moving, but was stuck. I tapped the shoulder of the petite woman in front of me. She turned around to reveal herself as a very short man. He angled his body so I could make six inches of progress, and in that way I started working toward the rear of the club. People were tapping me for the same reason–or so I thought at first, until the tapping became touching, and the touching became groping, and by the time I was too deep inside to turn back, I had mystery hands copping a feel anywhere they could reach, their owners vanishing into the crowd as soon as I craned my neck to identify them.
I cursed Cameron Fowler, cursed the manipulative Wayne Bukowski, and again cursed my own overprotectiveness. The only thing that kept me moving forward instead of shoving a path back toward the exit was that if I was a little freaked out, sweet little Cameron Fowler had to be about to lose her mind. I wondered if she was regretting her ill-conceived plan to learn to be someone she absolutely wasn’t, to try to please her boyfriend.
Motivated now like a mother lifting a car off her child, I blazed a path amid the revelers, grimly ignoring the expanse of my body I was leaving wide-open for free gropes. I hadn’t had this many hands on me at once since offering myself up for the “light-as-a-feather-stiff-as-a-board” séance at a sleepover in fifth grade.
Once I was through the initial crush, the crowd thinned out ever so slightly–enough for me to at least move relatively unmolested. This part of the club was like a maze, the open floor plan narrowing into walkways divided by what looked to be office cubicle walls, only painted the same flat black as the front doors, instead of carpeted in the usual corporate beige. At intervals the makeshift walls parted to reveal small rooms behind them, each one filled with a tableau that was hard not to stare at as I determinedly kept moving, knowing if I looked too closely there would be too many things I would never be able to unsee: a man wearing only what looked to be a diaper, seated in a slightly reclining chair, each of his limbs secured at uncomfortable angles, two silver clamps attached to his nipples like tiny voracious piranha. A woman on her knees, blindfolded, a man standing in front of her holding a riding crop.
I passed a handful of rooms like that, each one filled with mise-en-scènes that made me feel like Doris Day in a Nicki Minaj video. Cameron was so far out of her depth. We both were.
So it was a shock to come to the next peep area in the wall and be faced with my client in her lightweight, flowery dress, her baby-fine blond hair slicked behind her ears, and a long, narrow wooden paddle held firmly in one hand.
In front of her was a mound of ass. That was really about all I could register at first: two globes of naked white flesh jutting up like the white peaks of Kilimanjaro above a pair of startlingly hairy legs. The rest of what I assumed (and hoped) was the man who belonged to them was apparently draped over a sawhorse contraption in a dirty downward-facing dog, and he was doing some kind of wiggly little dance on it that suggested he was awfully excited over what was to come. From all appearances, Cameron was about to administer some stern corporal punishment to the man’s evidently quite anticipatory backside.
Holy cow. I really didn’t think she had it in her. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d been wrong about a client–but I was pretty sure it would be the most memorable. I started to push back out the way I’d fought a path in; it wasn’t my job to judge my clients or decide what was best for them. If this was what Cameron wanted, then she was an adult and could make her own choices. I would just be there later in session to help with any fallout that resulted.
But right before I turned away, I saw it: Cameron’s chin was shivering like an earthquake was happening underneath it. That was a woman fighting back hard sobs, or I had never seen anyone in distress before.
Only one way to test the theory.
“Cameron!” I called sharply.
Her head shot up and her eyes wildly raked the crowd at the doorway, a beaten dog seeking salvation. I saw the moment she registered my presence: She looked confused, then stunned, then delivered. The paddle dropped out of her hands, but she didn’t seem to notice, and Cameron took a shaky step in my direction. I reached out a hand: I’m right here.
Then the crowd closed in, and she was forced to a stop. “Brook?”
“Come on, Cam. You’re okay,” I encouraged.
Again she made motions to leave, but her audience was having none of that. They were primed for a good show–sweet young thing turned dominatrix–and they didn’t seem willing to sacrifice the expected spectacle. They swarmed her like angry bees, urging her with their mass and their not so gentle pushes back into the room. “Do it,” I heard someone call out. And someone else: “Hit him!” The cries were picked up, the exhortations swelling through the crowd into a sibilant hiss of menace.
Things were careening quickly toward the unpleasant. This horde was stoked up. They wanted to see the girl next door turn into a BDSM mistress, and wouldn’t be deprived of their payoff now. I wasn’t getting Cameron out of here without some drastic action.
Well. Desperate times…
I shoved ungently at the shoulders nearest to me and forced a path to Cameron. As soon as I reached her I knew better than to hesitate or show any uncertainty. There was no time to communicate my plan or try to reassure her. Instead I grabbed her roughly by the arm, yanked her toward me, and bent her into a deep, possessive kiss.
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