Meet Sophie and her German shepherd, Max 
Jack and his Golden Retriever, Buttercup 
and Tilley the kitten

​Cast of Characters
My name is Sophia Zinelli, and as you can tell by my name, I’m Italian. I’m thirty years old, with long, dark, wavy hair that goes into crazy spirals in the summer. I have green eyes while most of my family have brown, which makes me wonder if I have any other genetic mutations that no one has told me about. I have a Master’s Degree in Business and I run my family’s five-star Italian restaurant (Try The Veal) in Atlanta but I can’t cook unless it involves microwaving a root vegetable or frozen dinner.
I live in a one-bedroom apartment above my family’s restaurant (Try The Veal) and drive a late model Honda Civic.
I’m an admitted coffee snob and addicted to caramel macchiatos. I enjoy a good red wine and have a weakness for animals. I will always cheer for the underdog, and hope I have enough in my bank account to keep my love of fashion in supply. I speak two languages, English and Italian. My biggest weakness is my family and my complicated relationship with Jack O’Donlan.
Thanks to my nonno, I’m a fairly decent pickpocket. I started young mostly to make my nonno happy, but then I learned to put my skills to better use by spying on my brothers. Blackmail is a great equalizer and I’m not above using it to this day. I’m also a fairly decent pool hustler, thanks again to my Nonno and my three older brothers. Don’t judge. Everyone should have a hobby they enjoy.
In my 30 years, I’ve managed to fill my head with song lyrics, movie lines, and odd trivia that will never further my career. I can sit and watch I Love Lucy and Carol Burnett reruns for hours. I’m OCD about making lists, which is why I made this one.
I have two small tattoos, one on each shoulder blade. The words COURAGE and KINDNESS are inked in vivid colors and encased in angel wings because, well, I live for irony. (I considered getting I HAVE A BAT tattooed for those times my brothers smack me on the back of the head, but was talked out of it) I talk fast, move my hands a lot, and do my best to live by the Golden Rule.
Max is a one-year-old German Shepherd with the mind of a sixteen-year-old who constantly wants the car keys. He is incredibly smart, but he does seem to have a problem with authority. He’s well trained which tends to give him a know-it-all attitude. He loves gummi bears, pizza, beer, wine, and pretty much anything Luca gives him from the kitchen. He’s a little picky about pastry, but not so much that he won’t hog down two or three of Paolo’s cannoli if left to his own devices.
Max is becoming fluent in Italian, but has not yet mastered talking with his paws. He is a co-maitre d’ at my family’s restaurant (Try The Veal) and he hasn’t quite mastered that yet either, but I know hope he will. He has his very own employee handbook, which I figure he probably can’t read, but, well, you never know. He wears a chef’s hat and apron to work. If I forget, he excels at throwing a huge doggie tantrum, which I’m sure he’s learned from my three brothers, who are also champion tantrum-throwers.
When I take Max to Live Oak, the townspeople spoil him more than I do. His general stops include: Scissorhands for a quick brush and style. Goodfellas Pizza for a slice of pie or maybe a cannolo. If it’s later in the day, he makes sure to hit up Hemingway Book Nook for story time with kids. One of his favorite stops is The Jungle Book Pet Store to mooch a free chew toy.  Once in a while he’ll take his bone to Die Hard Funeral Home, sit on the porch, chew for a bit, and pay his respects. 
Tilley is a three-month-old fluffy orange marmalade kitten with green eyes who is severely vision-impaired. Born nearly blind, she has a brave and joyful temperament. According to Bailey, the vet who gave her to me, Tilley was the happiest and liveliest member of the litter, despite her impairment. She had the run of the vet clinic and would bounce along happily until her curious ways would bring her into sharp contact with a wall, kennel, piece of furniture or some other obstacle her littermates would avoid with ease. Never deterred, she’d shake off each mishap with her chubby, orange body wriggling with delight. After about a week, Bailey said she never ran into the same object a second time.
I met Tilley the same day I met Max. When Max and Tilley met each other, I thought something would surely go wrong, but no. It was interspecies love at first sight, as though Max had someone to champion, and Tilley had a hero who accepted her just as she was. Max is absurdly, awkwardly gentle, very evidently seeking to love and protect this little orange mischief maker.
Since she’s a kitten, and always curious, she’s constantly getting into things she shouldn’t be. Like the refrigerator, the washer, dryer, the oven, dishwasher, and cabinets. Between myself and Max, she’s never alone, and has never been hurt. She is the darling of the family.
Gio is the youngest of my older brothers. He’s a sous-chef and my brother Luca’s right-hand man. He studied at Le Cordon Bleu in France under a world-renowned chef I won’t name, only because his name is French and I can’t spell it, let alone pronounce it. Once in a while Gio tries to sneak in a French dish, but my family simply shakes their heads, then yell, “Knock it off, we’re ITALIAN!”
Gio is a food-loving womanizer who has had the most luck with dates than any of the other siblings. He’s pretty good at playing a dim-witted moron when it’s convenient, but he’s mostly good-natured, as well as loyal, caring, and protective of his family. Once in a while he’ll get an acting gig in Georgia, but won’t go to Los Angeles for fear Luca would replace him. My friends tell me he’s handsome, but I have a feeling his cooking skills may be one of the things that score him so many dates.
He also has a soft toy bear named Brizzly the Grizzly (his "bedtime pal" when there’s no woman available to hug up to), whom he is very fond of and does not like to share. He also doesn't like sharing food and has difficulty with simple math (or at least pretends to when it suits his purpose). In sports, Gio loves the Falcons and Braves which isn’t all that surprising considering we grew up in, and still reside in, Georgia. He also sings a lot of Sinatra, and plays a mean piano, which I’m sure he uses as another ploy to lure women to their peril. Not that he’s an axe murderer or anything, but well, he is charming and doesn’t date one woman more than a few times so... Oh heck, never mind.
Paolo is the middle brother, often whiny, but never wimpy (holding my sides from laughing). He’s the peacemaker of the family, and gets anxious when there’s family upset. Considering we’re Italian, he may have probably has a hidden stash of Xanax no one is privy to. Paolo is a pastry chef and studied Pastry at the International Culinary Center in NYC.
Paolo has so many neuroses I had to quit counting when I was twelve. I gave him a medical dictionary for his sixteenth birthday as a joke and he hit me with it. My mother got out the wooden spoon, went Wonder Woman Whack-A-Mole on him and he’s never hit me since. Living in abject fear of our mother is just another of his neurotic behaviors. Our mother spoiled him and over-nurtured him to the point of bribing the lunch ladies (all the way through high school) to make sure he ate his veggies. Especially the green ones. Just because her father (our nonno) is Sicilian, Paolo thinks she has some weird mafia DNA ESP thing going on and if he somehow screws up, she’s going to dump him in the Hudson. Because we love him, we all make sure to heavily endorse this belief. For example, every time Luca cuts up a fish in the kitchen, he points to it, then slices his hand across his throat at Paolo, Paolo whimpers, and winds up avoiding our mother for at least a couple of days.
Other than the spying lunch ladies, our mother has always respected our privacy, but she did read Paolo’s journal one day when he was in high school (it was sitting open on his desk) and let’s just say Paolo never diddled went out with Victoria Bernelli again. That’s a day that lives on in infamy and just adds to Paolo’s fear that our mama is some kind of mobbed up, all-knowing, female Don Corleone.
One thing Paolo is great at is experimenting. The downside is that he uses us as guinea pigs. If said experiment is awful, it’s these times mama flicks on CSI, all the while glancing at Paolo and taking notes. All the better to reinforce Paolo’s well-established fear. We don’t care. It’s worth watching his face turn magenta.
We all secretly know Mama named her firstborn after Mario Puzo’s badass character from The Godfather but don’t dare mention it since, you know, that knife scene went kinda bad, plus Puzo’s character died a pretty horrible death.
Anyway, Luca’s the smarty pants of the family, our snotty head chef, and is always competing with Gio, but I guess he comes by it all honestly since he’s the oldest. Luca also studied under a world-renowned chef who shall not be named (Paolo’s doing since, you know, mafia neurosis going on), in Italy. He’s got a master’s-level degree, which means he knows food science, nutrition and dietetics. This knowledge makes him a boil on the family’s backside since he’s always spouting science which we don’t care about as long as the food is good, healthy, and flavorful.
Luca is probably the most protective, but he’s also my nemesis since he’s always nosing into my business, always so concerned about profit and loss statements. Dio mio, most days I don’t know whether to smack him or hug him.
Mama – Elisa
My mother is wand slim, with beautiful olive skin and long flowing wavy black hair. She generally wears designer labels, and is never, never seen in public without being perfectly put together—clothes, hair, makeup, and nails. She’s definitely unafraid to be true to her heritage.
I love my mother. I do. But it’s always the same. The first thing she always asks, no matter what time of day, is, “Have you eaten?” Like I’m five. Then she wants to know what boy I’m dating. Mostly I just make something up. If I mentioned Jack, she’d call a mandatory family meeting to discuss his attributes, our unquestionable future together, how many children he wanted, where he worked, and just how long it would be before the wedding. Worse, she’d then have him to dinner at which point my entire family would grill him worse than ten cops on a murder suspect.
My father may think he’s the head of the family but we all know who runs things and it’s not my father. Mama can be loud or low-voiced, incisive, subtle, contemptuous, kind, smothering and extremely passive aggressive loving. She is fiercely loyal to her family.
Papa – Bernardo
The men in the family, as Italians, think they are the Lotharios of the world and dress with style and an explosion of color. This includes my father, but I try not to think of him as a Lothario, (euwww) but rather a tad eccentric. He is never seen without the requisite pocket square, scarf in winter, no socks (gross since he’s over 50), chinos, and in winter, a sport coat.
He’s also an accomplished pick-pocket (thanks to Nonno), and the three of us often try to out-pick the other. When I was a teenager, I picked Luca’s pocket and I swear at least five condoms fell out of his wallet. I may have been traumatized by this, but no one will address it other than Luca who now throws loose condoms into my purse when I’m not looking. Papa’s hobbies seem to be crashing toy airplanes and racing remote-controlled cars outside the restaurant during slow periods. If it’s busy, he’s quite good at making balloon animals for the children and he folds napkins like they’re origami. 
My father, in order to not smother my mother in her sleep, has mastered the art of being a crafty schemer. He tends toward being jolly, sentimental, and often mischievous. He happens to be quite wealthy, but has little regard for money and will casually spend thousands of dollars on any whimsical project or enterprise which makes my mother more than a little pazzo in the head. He has finally learned to take me seriously, and now allows me to guide his investments.
Nonna - Maria
My nonna is short (but not so short she can walk erect under a coffee table or anything), wears nothing but black, has narcolepsy, and doesn’t mind grossing people out. Think a very old, more obnoxious, Roseanne Roseannadanna. Last year, for example, she got tossed in the clink for throwing her dentures into the Trevi fountain in Rome. Instead of doing jail time, she was released in less than two hours amongst a lot of head-shaking, guffawing, snarky comments, and our promise to get her out of Rome immediately.
Nonno - Enzo
My nonno, still stuck in the eighties, thinks he’s Sonny Crockett in Miami Vice, only better, and dresses like it. He wears only pastels, T-shirts, and Armani jackets. Shoes, no socks, which is even more gross than my father’s sockless feet, since my nonno is in his seventies. Gah!
He drives an old, sputtering 1990 black Corvette convertible with a horse hood ornament. The car has no get-up-and-go, but he cruises around like he’s in a Ferrari Daytona.
Nonno has a shady past, is a “retired (hah!) small-time mobster” which gives him good connections for his life, us kids, and the family restaurant (Try The Veal) even though his connections are now geriatric, Geritol-glugging old geezers.
He’s a gun nut, but won’t fire one, and never has. He owns several, but doesn’t own any bullets.
The Zinelli’s family fine-dining five-star Italian restaurant that sprawls just north of Atlanta.
As well as a patio, there is a large foyer with coffee groupings, sofa, chairs, and a bar area that spokes off into five themed rooms, all dressed as different cities in Italy. Each dining area serves authentic cuisine indigenous to that city.
You can dine in Rome, with the Trevi Fountain, or in Venice which sits in the middle of a lagoon. Perhaps you’d enjoy Florence with its Renaissance architecture, sculptures, and art. Or Milan, with its stylish gallery, marble facades, and Da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper. Or enjoy Naples’ coastline and artistic treasures.
My name is Jack O’Donlan, I’m thirty-two, and the oldest of three. I have black hair and blue eyes. I drive the requisite pick-up truck but I don’t have over-sized tires, or an Easy Rider rifle rack, I don’t need a step ladder to swing into my cab, and I keep it free of mud whenever possible. I’m Irish, not redneck. 
I went to Georgia Tech, majored in Pre-Law, then bam, got recruited by the Falcons as quarterback. I’m now retired and quit when I broke my left pinkie toe. Not that I’m a sissy or commitment-phobe (which is exactly what Sophie thinks), but I like being home, around my family, more than I liked playing ball and sleeping in hotels in big cities. Now I’m the sheriff of White Oak, Georgia and try hard to emulate Andy Griffith. I haven’t quite got that part down yet, probably because my Irish takes over and brawling is a pastime.
I can put on the ‘Southern’ when it suits me, but I prefer wit and sarcasm. Which all too often leads to a brawl. That’s just fine with me.
I have a definite thing for Sophie Zinelli, I just haven’t figured out what yet. It’s something though, maybe big, probably love, but more than I’m ready to scrutinize. 
Buttercup is a ten-month-old Golden Retriever. Which means the sun is always shining, the grass is green, the flowers are blooming, the water is pure, and it’s always a wonderful, glorious day. She is fluffy, kind, friendly, and patient. I’m guessing by the way she barks that she thinks of herself as Maria from The Sound of Music, barking The hills are alive..., but she’s actually more like Phoebe from Friends doing Smelly Cat. She is absolutely certain she is human not canine. She is also a hoarder of epic proportions. I have found two pair of my boxers, assorted socks, a plastic grocery bag, one Slim Jim wrapper, two dog bones, three squeaky toys, a tennis ball, one tennis shoe, a half-used roll of duct tape, an empty water bottle, a crumpled up piece of paper, a shot glass, an ink pen, and some loose change under my bed. I don’t dare touch it, she keeps count. If even one thing goes missing from her accumulation of junk, her stash triples and she smolders. Since it’s possible she’d poop on my pillow, it’s just easier to buy new boxers.
Dad – Aiden
I can describe my dad in three words -- kind, compassionate, and delusional. He gave Bailey’s husband, Logan, his very first job at the family pub when Logan’s dad took off and then died. That gives him kind and compassionate. He thinks he’s Mr. Fix-It -- he’s NOT. If there’s a screw to be stripped, a nail to be bent, a toilet to clog, or say you want a toaster that blackens your bread, my dad is the one to call. That gives him delusional.
He’s a banker by trade (think George Bailey with a Guinness), and helps my Uncle Sean (on my mother’s side) with the pub when he’s off. He’s kind of outdoorsy, but not so much that you’d actually take him camping. He can carry a tune well enough but not so much that you’d ask him to sing. Better to ask him to crunch a number, play some golf, or spin my mother around a room. If there was traffic snagging Dublin’s M50 between the Ballymun and Finglas exits, my dad would be the one helping the duck and her ducklings to safety.
And yes, it was confirmed that my father fixed the toaster that was responsible for the bank being evacuated last year due to a burned piece of toast. The burning slice of bread didn’t actually catch fire, but two fire alarms went off anyway, forcing the staff and customers out of the building. The evacuation only lasted nine minutes and did not lead to any banking delays.
Mom – Maureen
My mom is, I dunno, a mom. She’s lovely and kind, and usually elegant. Even though I’ve seen her put up her dukes, she’d rather kill someone with kindness than out-and-out hostility. She reminds me a bit of Maureen O’Hara in The Parent Trap. “Goodbye, Vicky darling. You’re just as cute as you can be.” Aye, she’s a bit snarky then, I’d guess you’d say, but never mean. Cunning, perhaps, but only because she’s female, which is grand, of course. Just bloody grand.
She’s stood in the pouring rain to watch her children’s soccer matches, stayed out all night on a black Friday to snag a certain toy, and I’d trust her over my da to properly change a tire. She’d be the one who put change in your parking meter when the time was nearly up, she always returns a shopping cart to the cart caddy place, and will cook a meal for a stray person or dog, even if it’s the middle of the bloody night. No one goes hungry, unattended, or feels left out in my mother’s domain.
She’s a mother of three, and grandmother of four, but I’d pound you into paste if you even once suggested that she’s ever lain with a man. She’s a saint, my mother is.
Bailey O’Donlan/Mitchell
Ah, my little sister. She’s a barnstormer, that one. She’s twenty-eight now, wife of Logan, mother to ten-year-old Kelsie and young master Liam who’s not yet one.
Bailey is a pixie with red hair. The first time Logan said she looked like sin sprinkled in fairy dust, I nearly clobbered him. I’d say she has a temper to match that wild tangle of red hair, but since she married Logan, she’s mellowed. Doesn’t mean she won’t punch Greg (the middle sibling) in the nose when he needs it, but this doesn’t happen as often as it used to.
Bailey always has a ready smile, she mutters in Gaelic, is addicted to Tootsie Rolls, and she sings like a harmony of angels. She has big feet and a bigger heart. She’s the town veterinarian and I have to admit, she’s quite grand at it, even though it means she has a menagerie of pets and even managed to get me to adopt Buttercup. Even grander because I bloody well love that dog.
I suppose if ya want the full scoop, you might want to read Bailey and Logan’s story in Loving Logan.
Logan Mitchell
Logan is my age, with dark hair and blue eyes. He’s the husband of Bailey, father of Kelsie and wee little Liam. Logan is an architect by trade and built Bailey her very own (and very fancy, state-of-the-art) vet clinic. For a rich guy, he’s not a swank swell, but very down to earth. He is absolutely class.
We can’t help but give him grief for making Time’s Man of the Year a couple of years ago. But making Society’s Most Eligible Bachelor? Well that nearly did him in. And Bailey too for that matter since every woman within a hundred miles decided they wanted to bear his children.
I thought he was rubbish for eight long years, but then he came home, sad, successful, and still very much in love with Bailey. He loves Kelsie and spends most of his time teaching her how to build things. To be sure, even though wee Liam can’t quite crawl yet, Logan will soon have him out in the tree house pounding nails.
And, aye, he’ll pass down the clover, the very grand clover.
From Loving Logan when Kelsie asks Bailey about Logan’s lucky clover:
**“There was a tree house in your father’s backyard--that’s where he kept the clover, by the way--in a secret place he thought only he knew about. I was hiding there, in his tree house, and he found me. But it was a bad, bad, wicked thing to do,” Bailey assured her daughter. “I was running away you see, and I can only imagine how upset my mother would have been had your father not convinced me to go back home. But that, you see, is where I believe the magic of this little clover comes in.”
Bailey leaned forward, reaching out to frame her daughter’s face in her hand. “I went home with it that night, and through all the years since then, I’ve kept it secret and safe.  I’ve treasured it in my heart because it was a gift from someone I loved. I had it with me when you were born, when all the doctors were afraid that I would lose you. But I knew that I would not; that I could not. For the magic of love is in this charm, and it reminded me that you can never really lose someone you love, though it may seem at times that you will.”
She pushed the hair back behind Kelsie’s ear and looked deep into her eyes. “Listen to me now, Kelsie, this clover was handed down from your grandfather to your father, and now it comes to you. It has always brought me luck, and it will to you, as well. It will bring you luck and keep you safe. And it will bring you love like none other.**  And it has.
Greg is thirty, the middle child, and a behemoth with red hair. Not carrot red, but a deep auburn, which pains me greatly since I feel robbed for not being able to call him Ginger. He’s a laid-back cop and Logan’s oldest friend. He can be a bit of a gobshite, but he’s family. Give him a pint too many and he’s a brawler. He’s always trying to beat Sophie in pool, but much to his shame, has yet to succeed.
He’s married to Lana, who is twenty-eight and Bailey’s best friend. Lana has long dark hair, dark eyes, and dresses in black. She looks like a long, lean cat burglar. Thankfully, she keeps Greg in line. In so many ways.
Uncle Sean - (Maureen’s older brother)
The older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune. He runs O’Malley’s and sings a wide repertoire of songs. Uncle Sean can sing a soulful ballad so moving it hushes the room, and then launch into a rollicking sea shanty or wild Irish reel that gets everyone singing along and tapping their toes. 
O’Malley’s Pub
Our great-grandfather built O’Malley’s a hundred years ago. He had each and every stone brought over from Ireland, his ancestral home, so it could bring the charm and luck of the Irish to the New World. Even the timber was hand-hewn and said to be imported from an enchanted forest. 
Enter, and you’ll have the pungent, yeasty smell of lager and ale, the shamrocks on the coasters, yards of polished wood, and the warmth of gleaming brass. A long mirrored wall behind the bar reflects row after row of bottles--including Ireland’s finest whiskeys--a drink for every man’s taste and budget. Off to the back are the dartboards--a serious business in an Irish pub--and several pool tables for the non-traditionalists. On the opposite side, facing the bar, is the stage.
The pub is a warm and welcoming place where people socialize, relax, tell lies, and exchange gossip and rumors as the pints and shorts slide across the bar. It has a large fireplace, cobblestone floors, and a wall left of the stage covered in flutes, fiddles, bodhráns, and concertinas.
Between Loving Logan and future Woof Books, you’ll get to meet Chandra, one of Bailey’s best friends. Uncle Sean who runs O’Malley’s Pub. Debi, a chef from California, and Sam, Bailey’s vet tech, along with Kyle Cutler, the only doctor in the small town of Live Oak, and all around wise guy, and Jeff Mathews, the attorney in the group.