I know, it was incredible.
I decided that I needed to share them with all of my loyal blog readers, too. Because what's the point in visiting the Brooke Moss blog, if you can't get your paws on a Brooke Moss book, so you can partake of the Brooke Moss phenomenon??
(Ok, so I'm not a phenomenon. But my books are funny and romantic. This is fact.)
So here we go.....we'll start with my first (traditionally) published novel, The What If Guy:
I turned to Miss Price, who stared at me like a dimly lit bulb. “Okay. I’m going to be honest. When I went here, I didn’t fit in.”
“Oh, you were a good girl.”
“I was a good girl, but I didn’t fit in. I was a geek. I painted and drew instead of trying out for cheerleading. The teachers didn’t know what to do with me. Nobody knew where I fit in, so they either ignored me or poked fun at me. It was miserable.”
Guilt weighed on my shoulders as I talked to Miss Price, but I pressed forward. Elliott had experienced so much change over the past two days, it broke my heart to have to enroll him in a tiny school that didn’t offer the classes he was used to.
“Elliott’s creative, artistic, musical. He won’t blend in here. He doesn’t play sports. I don’t think he knows how to shoot a basket. Is he going to feel left out like I did? Are there any programs that will interest him?”
Miss Price stared at me for a full ten seconds before offering me a reassuring nod. “Things have changed. Three years ago, we started a nice, after school arts and crafts program. We got a new social studies teacher this year who has started all sorts of clubs. Activities that don’t involve sports. Like exploratory music and art history.”
Art history? At Palouse Plains?
Miss Price blushed, her face turning the same purplish shade as her Halloween sweater. “The new teacher—he’s quite nice to look at, too. Don’t mean to embarrass you, dear.”
I motioned for Elliott to come back. “Why would that embarrass me?”
“Well, he’s single.” She giggled. “And you’re single.”
My cheeks heated. “Don’t worry about me. I’m not interested in being set up with the new teacher.”
She patted her teased hairdo, and clicked her tongue. “Rumor has it, he’s going through a divorce. He apparently left the big city to escape the pain of it all. I can’t even imagine. But you see there? He’s from a big city, you’re from a big city.”
I mustered a serious look. “No fixing me up. I don’t want to date anyone here.”
Miss Price handed Elliott a bright pink, cardboard square with “Hall Pass” printed on it. “Here’s your hall pass.”
For one hall?
“Go to Mr. T’s social studies class,” Miss Price said. “He’ll show you where to go after that.”
Elliott smirked. “Mr. T?”
“That’s what the kids call him. You know, like the muscular man on that TV show? I pity the fool, and all that gold jewelry?”
I swallowed back laughter. “Right.”
“Autumn, you know the way around. Why don’t you take Elliott to room five?” She smiled crookedly at us, and gestured down the hall.
I picked up my purse and hitched it on my shoulder. “Five. Got it.”
While Elliott opened his locker and dropped off his belongings, I looked at my reflection in the trophy case. Thank goodness I was a few hundred miles away from any place important, because I looked like hell. Day three of the dry weather in Fairfield, and my hair had enough static electricity in it to jump start a school bus.
Since most of my nice clothes, not to mention all of our knickknacks and furniture, were being stored in a friend’s attic back in Seattle, I’d rushed around the house in a flurry that morning, looking for something to wear. When I’d decided to move back to Fairfield, I’d realized that my compact car was only going to hold the bare necessities, plus Elliott’s giant cello case, and since my hometown wasn’t exactly the hub of fashion, I’d decided on bringing mostly casual clothes. This morning, I’d slid into a pair of jeans and the first shirt on the top of my suitcase, which was a tee with Fake it ’til ya make it printed on the front.
I knocked on the door of room five. Elliott briefly slipped his hand into mine and whispered, “Love you, Mom.”
I squeezed his hand. “Love you, too, buddy.”
“Come on in,” a male voice called.
The classroom looked and felt exactly the same way it had when I was a kid, including the judgmental stares from the students. With his back to the class, the teacher scribbled a makeshift map on the whiteboard at the front of the room. All of the students’ eyes shifted to Elliott. Some looked at him with interest, but others already glared with disapproval. I wished that El hadn’t been wearing his yellow and black checkered vest and a bow tie when I’d thundered down the stairs to find him waiting at the front door, tapping his foot. What had been stylish in his funky Seattle school was a blinking neon sign declaring I’m an oddball at a small country school like this.
“Um, hi?” Elliott’s voice cracked. “I’m Elliott Cole, and I’m, uh, new.”
Pride swelled in my chest, and I beamed at my son. I leaned down and whispered in his ear. “You’re awesome, El. I love you.”
He gave me a stiff nod. “Thanks.”
“Welcome, Elliott, it’s good to have you.” The teacher spoke in a low, gravelly voice.
I straightened and smiled at the teacher. “Thanks…”
All the oxygen left my lungs, and I stood paralyzed. The class became silent. Elliott’s teacher and I stared at each other, dumbfounded—mouths open, hands half-extended, eyes round and wide like headlights set on bright. My insides vibrated like the engine of an idling grain truck. All in response to the teacher, who gawked at me with what appeared to be the same mixture of shock and disbelief.
Elliott’s teacher was Henry Tobler.
“What are you doing here?” I whispered.
I regretted my words the moment they came out. I should have said something eloquent or profound. Something that would have made seeing each other for the first time in over a decade less awkward. As if that were remotely possible.
Henry’s eyes, that rainy-day shade of gray, narrowed, and a line formed between his eyebrows. “I work here.”
Click here to grab your copy of THE WHAT IF GUY today!
Up next, I've got an excerpt from my second (traditionally) published novel, The Carny:
Upon realizing that I’d slowed down to a shuffle, Kasey tilted her head at me sympathetically. “You’re not listening to a word I say, are you?” When I shook my head, she added, “You’re looking for him, aren’t you?”
Blushing, I nodded just as Micah started to grunt and stir against me.
Kasey smiled wistfully. “So romantic.”
“So pathetic.” I tried to get the baby to take his binky.
“If you actually saw him, what on earth would you say to him?” She reached out and took her son out of my arms.
“I’m not sure.” Using my sleeve, I wiped some of Micah’s drool off of my collarbone. “I’d probably tell him that the kiss he gave me was the most amazing kiss I’ve ever had, and he ruined me for all other men. And then I’d probably ask him if he would make out with me again. Or more.”
Kasey gasped playfully. “You’re a tramp. I love it.” She patted the now fussing baby on the back. “I’ve got to go change him, and make a bottle. Be back in a minute.”
“Okay. I’ll get some cotton candy.” I could hear the obnoxious rock and roll music being cranked near the rides, and my feet longed to head in that direction.
“Ha! You’re gonna go look for your imaginary boyfriend.” Micah shifted and passed gas. “Oh, crud. I’ve gotta go. Meet me by the tilt-a-whirl.” She winked before scuttling off.
Rolling my eyes, I walked past the noisy, bright menagerie of rigged games and contests. Whack-a-mole, ring toss, balloon darts, wiffleball race. Each booth boasted oversized stuffed animals, hats, and tee shirts, and a bored looking carny with bad skin and dirt under his fingernails. Their voices, trained to ring high above the throb of screams and music, called out false promises of big winnings and guaranteed prizes.
I saw the rides ahead, and felt the all-too familiar flurry of birds in my stomach. I’d done this very walk so many times, yet the anticipation never seemed to fade. I searched faces in the crowd. There were African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, and I spotted a Native American here and there, but my stomach sank when I passed two, four, and then six rides without spotting the face I’d had engraved in my mind for ten years. None of them had the same chiseled cheekbones; the same startlingly white grin; or the same deep black eyes that reflected my face back at me.
What would I say if I ever actually spotted Vin? I thought to myself as I watched a kid clutch his stomach as he exited the Super Round Up. Hi, we actually kissed when I was a teenager, and I’ve been stalking you ever since. Wanna hang out?
Okay, that was out.
I guess I could try Kasey’s advice…
Hey! Remember me? You kissed me when I was just a kid. Ha! I know, right? Say, we should go get a drink. Maybe do some dancing.
Ugh. Totally not my style. First off, I wasn’t a big drinker. And dancing? Ha. While both of my sisters had flourished in childhood dance classes, I’d been the human equivalent of a big, dumb Labrador in a tutu. No rhythm, no skill, and certainly not enough moves to win over the affections of any man.
I shook my head and swatted at a wayward lock of hair floating on the salty, crab-scented air. There was no point in planning out what I would say to Vin if I finally saw him. In the years I’d been strolling around carnivals for stalking purposes, I’d not once caught a glimpse of him. Would I even recognize him if I did?
The years had changed me. My face was less cherubic and more heart shaped than it was when I was a teenager. I had the beginnings of some wrinkles in the corners of my eyes, and my braces were gone. Even if I did manage to recognize Vin, would he even recognize me?
We’d only known each other for a total of seven minutes. He’d probably long since forgotten me. Scolding myself for being such a silly, pathetic girl, I wrapped my arms around myself and turned towards the familiar tilt-a-whirl, where, as always, seventies rock music blared amongst the squeal of kids.
The voice sent a shiver up my spine and down my legs. It was the very voice I’d been daydreaming about since the age of eighteen. It sounded as smooth and sweet as I remembered, and my entire body halted at the sound, just as it had when his warm hands touched me.
Slowly I turned around, my skirt swirling around my ankles silently.
There stood Vincent Youngblood.
Click here to grab your copy of THE CARNY for only 3 bucks today, and start reading. You'll be glad you did....
Next up, I want to share an excerpt from my third (traditionally) published book, a novella that was part of the LOVE KNOWS NO BOUNDS anthology (100% net proceeds goes to Autism Speaks), entitled Bittersweet:
A clang, followed by a loud curse, came from behind the swinging door. I bristled, and Bowen hid behind my hip. A visibly rattled waiter emerged from the kitchen, wiping a bead of sweat off his brow as he came through the swinging door.
He glared at us as he passed. “Good luck.”
I ground my molars together. What had I gotten myself into? It was Friday, and I was straying from the routine—a major no-no as far as Bowen was concerned—to take him into a kitchen with a lunatic. As much as I loved Gianna, was this really a good idea? Would this help Bo, or just teach him more choice phrases, like “cold as a polar bear’s tit”?
“Excuse me, could you tell me where I can find Leo Mancini?” I called as the waiter whisked by.
He didn’t respond. Instead, he stalked toward the restaurant exit, yanking a package of cigarettes out of his pants pocket.
“Super. Thanks a bunch,” I said, as we took a few more steps toward the kitchen.
Bowen tugged on my arm, attempting to pull me in the opposite direction. “I want to go home.”
“Come on, Bo.” I smiled down at him. “You’re going to cook. Won’t that be fun?”
Another loud crash rang on the opposite side of the door, and he shook his head. “No. I don’t want to.”
Just as I was startling to waffle, a woman with blond hair wound into a tight bun, a starched white blouse, and a tight black pencil skirt walked up to me. “Are you Anna Kirkpatrick?”
I straightened to my full height, trying unsuccessfully to mimic her sophistication. “Yes.”
“My name is Gretchen. I’m the restaurant manager.” She held out her hand to me, and I took it, expecting a firm shake, but instead received a limp-wristed wiggle. I hated that. “Chef is expecting you. Come with me.”
We followed her through the swinging door into the kitchen, and my steps immediately slowed. I’m not sure what I expected. After all, I watched my fair share of cooking shows on television, but this was nothing like the small, homey kitchens that celebrity chefs prepared their masterpieces in on TV. This was like a space station…only tenser.
Rollaway tables and countertops. Overhead racks and more ovens and gas burners than I’d ever seen in one space. Pots, pans, spoons, spatulas, and knives. Hoses hanging from coils attached to the ceiling with steam eking out of their slotted ends, and racks upon racks of gleaming equipment for slicing, dicing, mixing, blending, and storing. The most noticeable detail was that nearly every single piece was made of polished stainless steel and reflected the light pouring from the fluorescent fixtures above.
I pictured my own kitchen back at home, which was approximately the size of a glorified broom closet, and gulped. Bowen and I were way out of our league.
Leo’s back was to me, and he was talking ferociously into a phone hanging on the far wall. It appeared that he was wearing the same dark, worn jeans and biker boots he’d been wearing earlier this week. But over them he wore a starched chef’s coat that was as white as snow, contrasting shockingly with his dark, almost black, hair. Just below his hairline, but right above the collar of his coat, there was a small strip of his skin showing, and its color reminded me of a white-flesh nectarine, making me instantly hungry. Or maybe that was the way his backside looked in his jeans as he ranted into the phone.
“Damn it, you’re not listening to me.”
The angry words he snarled into the phone made me snap my eyes up to the back of his head where they belonged. Do not get caught staring at his rump.
“The last thing I need is to have to babysit some idiot kid while his mom moons over me, for Pete’s sake.”
My cheeks heated, and I held Bowen’s hand even tighter. What a rude son of a—
He turned around and his dark eyebrows rose on his face. No regret or embarrassment registered in his expression. Just surprise. “Oh, great,” he muttered into the phone. “They’re here. Call you later, sis.” He hung up the phone with a thunk, then faced me with his hands on his hips, waiting for me to say something. Daring me to.
I jutted my chin out at him. “You flatter yourself. You’re almost as ugly as your attitude.”
One of his eyebrows cocked. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me.” Tugging my son toward the door, I said, “Come on, Bowen.”
Bowen looked up at me with his light eyes. “We aren’t gonna cook?”
My nostrils flared when Leo tapped his fingers on the metal countertop behind me, and I heard the approach of a pair of heels behind me “Not with this creep.”
Click here to grab a copy of BITTERSWEET in the Love Knows No Bounds anthology!
Now it's time for another one of my (traditionally) published books, Keeping Secrets in Seattle:
November 14th, 2003
I think it was fate that brought Gabe and me together in Mrs. Pratt’s kindergarten class. He was the only boy I’d ever known who didn’t pick his nose and forget to zip his fly. On my way home the first day, he announced that he was going to marry me. He used to push me on the swings at recess and sneak flowers from his mom’s garden into my desk. One time he even gave me all of his lunch when my mom forgot to send money. All of it. Every bite.
Holy hell, my hands were sweating. I crossed the busy dining room carrying a bowl of sweet potatoes, my mother chattering away beside me. I watched Gabe pull a chair out for Alicia, and my fingers curled against the side of the bowl.
Why was she even here? Had they gotten back together? Gabe usually told me everything, but somehow he’d managed to forget to mention this little nugget. He must have brought her because she didn’t have family in Seattle. Yeah, that was isit. She’d taken their breakup hard, and Gabe—ever the golden boy—invited her so that she wouldn’t be alone. What a guy.
When I saw him, every nerve ending in my body hummed with excitement. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and my chest tightened painfully when he looked at me across a room. Nearly ten years after we’d tried unsuccessfully to date, my feelings for Gabe hadn’t waned. He was just…the one.
As if the fact that she was unbearably nice wasn’t enough, Alicia was a waif with long legs and visible collarbones. I was shaped like an old-fashioned Coke bottle, with boobs, hips, and thighs. Where she had long russet hair and bright green eyes, I had hazel eyes and hair that was once blond, but was now streaked with pink. When I was around Alicia, I felt chubby and cumbersome, and not at all like the confident woman I usually was. And it drove me crazy how enamored Gabe was with her waif-like beauty.
Just a month or so before the holidays, he’d said that he wasn’t ready to settle down. And they’d broken up just a few days ago. Sure, he’d brought her to Christmas dinner with him, but as soon as the meal was over, I was going to sequester him in a different room and profess my feelings. That would get rid of the beautiful and loveable Alicia once and for all, wouldn’t it? Just because she was willowy, had gorgeous auburn hair, and volunteered at a soup kitchen, it didn’t mean I couldn’t scare the skinny cow away if I needed to.
“Put that bowl right there, Violet.” Gabe’s dad patted me on the shoulder as he passed me carrying a stack of Christmas CDs, jolting me out of my thoughts. When I looked up at him, my skin warmed at the sight of his light aqua blue eyes, the same shade as his son’s, though Gabe’s cocoa skin differed from Guthrie’s pale Caucasian.
I nodded at him, and watched Gabe through the corner of my eye. He was such an exquisite mix of his Caucasian father and African-American mother. He was tall and muscular like Guthrie had always been, and had his mother’s full lips and toothy grin that filled her face with joy. And his light, aqua blue eyes had been my weakness since I was six years old.
“Let’s sit down, dear. They’re ready to serve.” My mom tugged on my hand and pulled me into a chair next to her at the table, making a centerpiece of gold balls and fresh holly jiggle. When I scooted up to the table, she gave me a sideways glance. “What’s wrong? You’re all sweaty.”
“It’s just the eggnog, Ma.” I watched one of Gabe’s aunts plaster his cheeks with kisses, and enjoyed the sounds of laughter and conversation.
Giggling, my mom nudged my stepfather, Curtis. “I thought I saw Guthrie adding a nip to the bowl.”
Christmas music began to play softly on the nearby stereo, which was the Parker family’s way of telling the crowd to make their way to their seats. On my mother’s other side, Curtis poured a glass of wine, then passed the bottle my way, whispering, “Fill your glass. Someone’s giving a toast.”
I peeled my eyes from Gabe’s face, and took the wine. Toasts were a big tradition at a Parker family Christmas dinner. We’d joined them for countless celebrations over the years, and I loved every moment of the holidays with them—from the way their restored Victorian home was decorated from the floor to the rafters, to the homemade goodies set up on every surface, to the guest list of loved ones who treated my family like their own.
“Why does Nora look so anxious?” my mom whispered.
I craned my neck to spot Gabe’s mother at the opposite end of the table. It was hard to see her around all of the lit red and green candles, but her face was turned to Alicia, and only her long dark braids, bound by a beaded barrette, were visible. She didn’t look terribly anxious from the back, but her job as a lawyer required her to appear as cool as a Frigidaire at all times. Though, as I watched them, a glimmer of light caught my eye.
There was a ring on Alicia’s finger. A big one.
The oxygen was sucked from the room as Gabe poured a splash of liquid into her glass. It was as if time was moving in slow motion. Gabe lifted a butter knife, and struck the side of his wine glass three times, prompting a hush to fall over the crowd.
“I would like to raise a glass…to my fiancée.”
My eyes snapped back to Gabe’s face. Wait…what? Surely, I’d misheard.
As Gabe stood at the head of the holiday table, I stifled a sudden urge to grab the table edge and send all the plates, the food, the candles, the glasses, the silverware (and possibly some of the guests) flying.
“Congratulations, Gabe and Alicia,” someone at the end of the table cheered.
My face heated, and my hands balled into tight fists underneath the tablecloth. I looked away from Gabe. His eyes were too bright, too excited, and he appeared too intoxicated by love for me to witness this scene without having an epic meltdown.
I scanned the people around the table, finding only tears of joy and raised wine glasses. Tears pricked at my eyes and threatened to spill over. I closed them for just a moment, careful not to let them fall.
Don’t do this now. Don’t fall apart here. Wait for later.
I took a shuddering breath. My chest tightened.
I loved Gabe. I was supposed to be the woman sitting next to him as he stood there beaming and raising his glass. He was supposed to be gazing excitedly at my face, while I held out my left hand for everyone to see the sparkling engagement ring.
Not hers. Mine.
“Well, a wedding is just what this family needs.” Gabe’s Uncle Roy smacked the tabletop. “A good reason to throw a party.”
Everyone at the long table laughed, and glasses rose all around me. My mother patted my knee, and made me jump. “Open your eyes, dear. You’re being melodramatic.”
I opened my eyes, and a couple of hot tears defied my will. They slid down my face, undoubtedly taking my Double Extend mascara with it. Great day to go full-on 60s retro with my makeup. Before anybody could see, I dabbed at my cheeks, hopefully removing any evidence of my anguish.
Gabe’s voice rang out above the music and crowd. “I gave her the ring this morning by the tree in the living room. She jumped up, and knocked over Dad’s reading lamp when she hugged me.”
Alicia caught my eye and smiled sweetly, though the happiness didn’t quite meet her eyes, which were narrowed.
Click here to grab a copy of KEEPING SECRETS IN SEATTLE and start reading today!
Next I tried dipping my toes into the Fantasy Young Adult pool with my (traditionally) published novel, Underwater:
I reeled my head back in Hayden’s direction. “What’s all the fuss about? I…oh.”
It was if things were suddenly moving in slow motion as he came around the corner. The first thing I noticed was his arm connected to the hand on Hayden’s shoulder. It was so defined that it looked as though it’d been Photoshopped. When my gaze rolled upward, I saw that the guy was cut enough to stretch the armholes of his worn black T-shirt. The knees of his faded black jeans were torn to shreds, as were the ankles, which were slit at the sides to make room for his dirty, scuffed boots.
When his face came into focus, my stomach tangled itself into a figure eight. His square jaw was dusted with whiskers; his cheekbones looked like something carved out of marble. On the each side of his neck were three tattooed lines, drawn at a diagonal just below his earlobes. Dark brown hair the color of chocolate hung in waves around his face. His mouth pulled upward atone corner in a smirk that made my heart grind to a halt.
“Who’s that?” Evey said.
I couldn’t focus on my sister. The hot dude was monopolizing my focus. “I…uh…I don’t know.”
Evey’s eyes locked on him as he sauntered down the hallway. His head was half a foot above everyone else’s. “Well, whoever he is, the girls are all staring at him the way Dad looks at a prime rib.”
“Huh.” I fingered a long strand of my dark hair, faking indifference while my heart coughed and groaned to a reluctant restart. She was right. Every single set of female eyes in the hallway was locked on the mystery boy.
He approached us, and the air around me filled with the aroma of the water grass that grew between the rocks along the edge of the lake.
Evey immediately turned to her closed locker, pretending to check and recheck the padlock. My fingers froze as soon as he fixed his gaze in my direction.
His eyes were the clearest, most crystal blue I’d ever seen. They looked ethereal, the same color as a robin’s egg, and slightly iridescent. I swear to all things holy that they could see right through me to the metal lockers behind my chair.
He scrolled his gaze down to my scrawny legs, which were covered in dark gray tights and propped on the footrest of my chair. His stare strayed from my legs, travelling over the metal framework of my chair as though he’d never seen one before.
The side of his mouth dropped, and his smile faded away. It was as if the sun slid behind a cloud, and I was inexplicably disappointed. I waited for his nerves to take over. The shifting eyes. The fidgeting. I’d seen it all.
None of that happened. Instead, he held out his hand. Whether he knew that he was setting off tingles up and down the back of my neck, I had no idea. But he did, and it felt amazing.
Click here to grab a copy of UNDERWATER today and get reading....dive in with both feet, ha!
After Underwater, I decided to try my hand at self publishing...and started that adventure with Baby & Bump:
“I…uh…uh…” My mind was blank. Completely blank. I’d never been caught vomiting by a hot doctor before.
Fletcher knelt down and took hold of my wrist. “Having a lot of nausea?” He grew quiet and looked at his watch. It occurred to me that he was taking my pulse.
“If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought my child hates me, and wants to slowly kill me from the inside out.” I leaned against the toilet and blew my hair off my forehead. It felt like I’d thrown up at least two major organs.
He chuckled, the sound low and gravelly. It made my empty and twisted belly heat up like a fire pit. “Are you able to keep anything down at all?”
Sweat soaked the hair at the nape of my neck, and I suddenly realized how terrible I must have looked. Curse my ultra-white skin and freckles. Whenever I’d thrown up as a kid, I turned a pasty shade of gray, and my nose got splotchy and red.
I shook my head. “Not really. Although I ate a tic tac yesterday, and I don’t think that came back up.” I looked at the now clean water in the toilet wearily. “Though it may have just now.”
Again he laughed, then put his finger under my chin to raise it. Fletcher’s bright, aqua blue eyes searched mine for a few beats. “Your pulse seems all right, and your pupils aren’t dilated. I think you’re going to be fine.”
“Great.” Using another piece of toilet paper, I wiped the back of my neck off. “How long does this morning sickness last? And why do they call it morning sickness? Shouldn’t it be called ‘all damn day’ sickness?”
When he smiled, it showed a row of bright, white teeth. They were nearly perfect, with the exception of one of his canines, which was just slightly out of alignment. It was the most endearing flaw I’d ever seen. I was surprised at how squirmy he made me feel, considering I’d just finished puking my guts out.
“A lot of women get morning sickness all day long. The good news is, it should subside around twelve to fourteen weeks,” he said. “My ex wife got so mad at me when her morning sickness kicked in. She said it was a cruel joke from God.”
Ex wife? My ears perked up and I sat up straighter. Well, as straight as I could between the bathtub and the toilet. “You were married, Dr. Haybee?”
He sat down Indian-style across the bathroom rug from me. “Come on. Call me Fletcher.”
“Oh, I don’t want to be disrespectful.” I looked down at my tee shirt and brushed at a wet spot on the chest. Dear Lord, I hoped it was water and not puke. I reached up to the countertop where the kid’s toothbrushes were set up, grabbed the tube of toothpaste, and squeezed a dollop onto my finger.
He shrugged. “What’s disrespectful about it? I’m going to deliver your baby. That’s pretty intimate. We may as well be on a first name basis.”
“Okay, then, Fletcher. Did anyone call you Fletch growing up?” I smiled before starting to scrub my teeth with my finger.
Rolling his eyes, he picked at a dark piece of lint on the fluffy white rug. “Yeah. It drove me crazy.”
I rose up onto my knees, spit the toothpaste into the sink, and quickly rinsed my mouth out. “I can relate. Everyone has called me Bump for as long as I can remember. Geez, even my high school principal called me that.”
“No kidding?” Fletcher grinned.
“Wish I were.” I pulled my knees to my chest, and leaned against the cool porcelain of the tub.
“There’s a certain amount of irony in that, you know.” When I gave him a strange look, he nodded at my midsection. “Beings you’re pregnant, and will soon have a bump.”
“Thanks for reminding me.”
Get your copy of BABY & BUMP for only 99 cents today!
Followed shortly after that by book 2 in the This & That Series, Apples & Oranges:
A woman with a giant nose ring squealed with delight. “Oh, my! Sounds delicious. Thank you.”
“I told you the brie center was genius,” I whispered to Lexie. As soon as nose ring lady walked away, I added, “Scoring those recipes will be worth abstaining from sex with Demo-the-mechanic. Because his grandmother’s baklava recipe alone could make his prowess in the bedroom seem wanting.”
My friend’s eyes widened as she scanned the room. “Um, are you sure about that?”
I plucked a mushroom off of her tray, and popped it into my mouth. “Positive,” I said around my mouthful. “Knocking the dickhead off of his high horse will be an added bonus.” When I finished chewing, I swallowed and blinked at Lexie. Her face had gotten almost as red as her hair. “What’s up with you?”
“Well, I don’t know about Demo the dickhead,” she said lowly, her eyes bugging out of her head. “But you’ve got a tasty pastry staring at you over there. And oh… oh, my.”
“What? Who?” Brushing crumbs off of the front of my shirt, I looked over my shoulder. Sweat instantly pricked at my hairline. “Holy crap! It’s him.”
There, at the far end of the room talking to a group of men, was Demo—watching me with a half annoyed, half amused expression on his face. He looked a little out of place, with a plaid shirt tucked tucked into a pair of pressed cargo khakis. On his feet he wore scuffed church shoes, and his wild brown hair had been gelled into submission. Everyone else in the room was wearing their best. Suits, dresses, slacks, ties. But not Demo Antonopolous. With his scruffy five o’clock shadow and grease stained fingernails, he looked like he’d stumbled into the wrong party on his way to a Nascar event.
He kinda looked like hell. The sad part was? He looked good that way.
“Damn…” It came out half groan, half whimper, and I regretted saying it the second it came out my mouth. A fire had started deep down low in my belly.
Lexie choked on a snicker. “No time like the present to put this plan into effect, Mar.”
“Shut up,” I snapped. She just grinned at me, the cocky little brat. “Fine. It’s time for my ten minute break anyway.”
“I couldn’t agree more.” She handed the nearly empty mushroom tray to me and grabbed the baskets. “Go give him some mushrooms. A way to a man’s heart is through his—”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever. I tried that with your husband and he still rejected me.”
Her cheeks pinked when she smiled like a lovesick tween. “Okay, then. Good luck.”
Tugging the elastic out of my hair, I shook it so that it tumbled down over my shoulders, and prayed there wasn’t a health inspector at the meeting tonight. Then, after hoisting the tray up onto my shoulder, I sauntered my way across the room, swaying my hips like a hula dancer. I was pretty sure I looked like a moron, strutting around like a cat in heat, but I could tell by the way Demo’s jaw dropped that it was getting the desired affect.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” I purred, swirling the tray off of my shoulder and holding it under their noses. “Want to try some of my lobster stuffed white mushroom caps? From what I’ve been told, they’ll melt in your mouth.”
All of the men in the semi-circle dove into the mushrooms like they’d been in a Turkish prison, but Demo stared at me, his brows pinched together. “What are you doing here?” he asked.
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It was around this time that I wrote the lovely story of first love between two polar opposites, The Art of Being Indifferent:
I blinked back the prickling sensation of impending tears. No way in hell was I going find out. I wasn’t willing to cry on Paula’s shoulder or anyone else’s. I hated rejection. It stung like a slap but didn’t leave a mark. The marks rejection left were below the surface.
I would use the walk home to pull myself together. I didn’t need Paula to sense a crack in my façade, and to try to weasel in with her super-mom-routine.
Just off the back parking lot was a path leading to a tiny beach on the sound that nobody ever seemed to use. I’d discovered it my first week in Twisted Tree, and it had become my favorite way home. Sometimes I sat on the cracked, white logs for hours, watching the tide come in after school. The Coulters’ house happened to be just close enough to my beach I could run home through the woods in time to avoid getting in trouble.
Today felt like a good day to chill there. Digging into my pockets, I fished out my ear buds and tucked them in. Time to give Etta James some of my undivided attention. I came around the corner into the back parking lot of the school, smiling to myself when I saw it sat practically empty except for a few leftover teachers’ cars. The front lot was probably filled with kids piling into cars and yelling back and forth at the bottleneck in the exit. Glad I didn’t have to walk through that madness.
“Do you think this is a joke?” a man’s voice, deep and authoritative, screamed.
I looked around to see where the voices were coming from, my finger fixed over the play button on my iPod. There, along the back fence of the lot, was a parked sedan, its driver’s side door open and engine running. Backed against the side of the car stood Drew, with Mayor Baxter standing just an inch or two from his face. His hand clenched Drew’s neck, and his snarl was so angry I felt the tension from ten yards away.
I froze, unsure what to do. They were having their little pow-wow right by the trailhead I needed to get to.
“Look me in the eye when I’m talking to you.”
From what I could see of the side of his face, Mayor Baxter’s glare exuded pure venom. Gone was the crinkly-eyed grin he wore when he kissed babies heads and cut ribbons at the few Twisted Tree events I’d been to. Now he could have been any one of the cold bastards my mom had brought home before the state yanked me.
My blood ran cold. Back when I was six or seven, I’d ticked off one of my mom’s boyfriends—Kyle, I think—in the Burger King parking lot. I’d dropped my milkshake, getting it all over his boots, and he’d pinned me up against the side of his beat up old car and yelled at me until a lady in a nearby minivan hollered at him.
Look at me when I talk to you, Kyle had yelled.
I’d finished that afternoon off with a broken collarbone.
I ducked down beside a pickup truck to avoid being seen.
Drew turned his focus from the trees behind his dad’s head to his face. His face was red, and I could see the muscle in his jaw flexing. I couldn’t tell if he was trying not to cry or trying not to punch his dad in the face. Maybe both. And who could blame him?
“Why in the hell are you pulling a D in literature, Andrew?”
Drew’s Adam’s apple bobbed. “I don’t know, sir.”
Mayor Baxter’s hand squeezed his neck. “Wanna try answering that again?”
“No…” Drew closed his eyes. “Sir.”
I held my breath. What a bully. Every time I’d ever seen Mayor Baxter in town, he was nothing but polite and charismatic. He reminded me of a game show host, the way he paraded his wife and son around. And the house they lived in? I’d walked past it at least three dozen times and marveled at the manicured lawn and curved driveway every time. Never once had I thought this kind of stuff was happening behind closed doors. I thought dads like this only existed in the low income housing my mom kept us in.
“You want to piss away your chance at a scholarship, fine by me,” Mayor Baxter growled, using his other hand to grind his finger into Drew’s chest. “But if you think for a second you’re going to get one dime of my money to pay to be a bum, you’re kidding yourself.”
“I’m not gonna be a bum, Dad,” Drew croaked.
Mayor Baxter grabbed Drew’s hair, and jerked his head back and forth one time. Hard. “Excuse me?”
Drew flinched, and I swear I felt the pain on his throat myself. “Sir,” he choked.
My chest felt tight, and I rubbed at it absently. I’d been in Drew’s position so many times. So many times. With my mom’s boyfriends, with my mom, with my aunt, with my grandpa, with scattered foster parents over the years. It never got any better, even when it happened to someone else. It was scary as hell no matter what. Even from across the parking lot.
“I don’t want your money, sir,” Drew went on. “I don’t need it.”
“Like hell you don’t.” Mayor Baxter released Drew’s neck and rammed his fist into the side of his car, rocking it back and forth. “You’re just like your mother. She wouldn’t survive five minutes without my gold card. Neither would you, you spoiled little prick.”
Drew looked away from his father, his eyes scanning the parking lot.
Don’t look him in the eye, Drew, I thought, watching him. He doesn’t deserve your respect. Don’t give it to him.
His green eyes locked with mine, and I froze. Busted again.
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And just this week, the 3rd book in the This & That Series came out, called Then & Now:
The hair on the back of my neck stood up as soon as I heard the familiar deep voice behind me. I might have sat up straighter, too.
“Mason.” I squeaked.
I’d been avoiding my neighbor for the past three days. It was no easy feat, considering the fact that he’d decided to wash his Jeep shirtless on one of the days, and the other two days were spent playing basketball with the neighbor kids at the end of the cul-de-sac. Again, shirtless.
I was beginning to think Mason had a shortage of adequate upper body wear, and I needed to run to Walmart to grab a three pack of tee shirts for him.
But that would mean he would cover himself up. And well, who had time to go shopping anyway?
He put his hand on the chair across the table from me. “Anybody sitting here?”
I cringed inwardly. Awkward.
It had taken me a few days to get over the barrage of memories that came rushing back to me the other night. Those moments in the back of Mason’s squad car when I was wringing my hands and sliding my wedding rings on and off nervously. I remember sweating so badly that my back stuck to the hard seatback, and every time the police radio sounded, I would suck in a gasp of air and almost get sick all over the partition. When we’d arrived at the hospital, he’d caught me as I toppled over upon spotting my sobbing friends in the waiting room.
All in all, not my best day.
“Yes.” When Mason’s face fell, I pressed my lips together tightly.
I wasn’t good at lying. I never had been. When Lexie threw a softball through the church window as a kid, she’d sent me inside to lie to our moms about how it had happened. I’d wound up confessing our sin and getting us both grounded for a week. “No. Go ahead and sit down.”
One corner of his mouth tugged upward. “You sure?”
“Why not?” I bit the insides of my cheeks. “You’ve already seen me at my worst. A few times now.”
He sat down and rested his cup on the table. “Listen, about that day—”
“Stop.” I put up a hand. “You don’t have to explain. That day… those days after Brian died… they’re all a blur.”
“You don’t even have to explain,” Mason said. “When you’re a cop, people are usually pissed off you’re there. Usually my presence indicates a problem—not a social call. I see people at their worst a lot.”
Snorting, I took a sip of my iced mocha. “Do kids your age really use that term? Social call?”
Mason put his palms down on the tabletop and leveled me with just a look. “Okay. Let’s make a deal. How about I never bring that day up again, and you never refer to me as a kid again. Deal?”
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