Ellora’s Cave will be releasing Betting the Farm on August 13, 2014! I hope you will give it a read. In the meantime, here’s a short excerpt to whet your whistle:
“So how was the wedding?” Grace asked over the rim of her water glass.
Kai had agreed to meet Grace for lunch Tuesday, atonement for being left alone Saturday night at Sam’s Tavern.
“Boring as watching paint dry, like most weddings. I’ve decided that if I ever do get married, I’m throwing a big barbeque with a live country band. We’ll have it inside a barn and everyone can wear jeans and boots and get drunk on beer. There won’t be a bottle of champagne in sight, just ice-cold kegs of Bud Light. My cake will be made out of Twinkies or those little powdered sugar donuts that come sixteen to a bag.”
Grace looked at her as if she’d sprouted a spiked horn in the middle of her forehead. “Your mother would have a stroke.”
Kai shrugged and picked at the crust on her half-eaten sandwich. “It’s my wedding we’re talking about, not hers.”
Grace scowled. “Okay, Sad Sally, what the heck’s going on with you?”
“I don’t know.” Kai pushed her plate away. “Since I’ve been back, I feel…lost. I’m supposed to start a job at my dad’s company soon but I can’t seem to muster much enthusiasm for it. My mother is already becoming suffocating, planning my induction into every horrific, female-bonding gaggle in existence, trying to set me up with any eligible bachelor in town. Strike that—any rich, eligible bachelor. I’ve got to find my own place, and soon, or I can’t be held responsible for my actions.”
“Have you started looking?”
“There are a few houses in town for rent. I’ve written down phone numbers as I came across them. I thought I’d sit down tonight and make a few calls.”
“You could move in with me if you’d like,” Grace said.
Kai patted her friend’s hand and smiled. “That’s kind of you to offer but your place is tiny enough with you in it. I’m afraid it wouldn’t take long before we were on each other’s last nerve.”
“You’re probably right, with a single bathroom to share. I wouldn’t mind having a bigger place myself. Maybe we should look for a house we can rent together. Something with three bedrooms and two bathrooms.”
Kai loved Grace, but the truth was she didn’t want a roommate. In college she’d shared a dorm room, then afterward, an apartment with two casual friends. Once she’d graduated and landed a job interning for Southard & Smith, she’d leased a small one-bedroom apartment and loved having her own private space. Once you’ve experienced the freedom of lounging around in your underwear, it was hard to give that up.
“The rent on houses that size can be kind of steep,” she said, hoping to throw Grace off the idea of cohabitating.
Grace pursed her lips. “Yeah, I hadn’t thought about that. My rent is six hundred dollars a month now. By the time you add in my utilities and such, that’s about all I can afford on my junior loan officer salary.” She made air quotes around the junior, her tone saying she was a tad bitter about the title. Serenity was a hard place for women to be treated equally in professions such as banking and government. Sad and unfair, but that was one of the unfortunate realities of small-town life. “Say, I meant to ask you. How’d you get home from Sam’s Saturday night?”
Damn if she hadn’t moved on to an even touchier subject.
Kai considered lying to Grace too but decided against it. She could only cover up so much before the tales would catch up with her. “Fritz took me home.” Okay, she still wasn’t being completely honest, but no way was she telling Grace she’d spent the night in his bed, even if nothing happened between the two of them.
Grace’s green eyes widened. “Fritz, as in your ex-boyfriend?”
“Is there another Fritz in Serenity?”
“I bet that was some reunion.”
Kai frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Just that everyone in town knows how pissed off he was when you left. Jessie said for nearly a year afterward, he drank like a fish and picked fights with anyone who would stand still.”
“That was a long time ago. He was nice to me, a perfect gentleman,” she offered, not bothering to keep the defensiveness from her tone. “And how would your brother know how he behaved after I left? I thought he traveled in different circles than Fritz?”
Grace shrugged. “Their paths crossed at a party one night. Jessie overheard him grumbling about you being too good for him and Serenity. When he defended your decision to leave, it turned into an argument. Fritz got pissed and punched him in the face.”
Kai gasped, clapping her hand over her mouth. “Oh God, Grace. I’m so sorry that happened to Jessie. I’ll be sure to apologize the next time I see him.”
“Why should you have to apologize when you weren’t the one who threw the punch? Like you said, it was a long time ago. They were boys, jacked up on excess booze and testosterone. You know how those things can get out of hand. Jessie’s probably forgotten it ever happened.” She narrowed her eyes at Kai. “I could ask you the same thing. Have you forgotten everything or are there still buried feelings between the two of you?”
Kai averted her gaze for fear that Grace might see the truth—that Fritz had been all she’d thought about since he’d sidled up behind her in Sam’s, reminding her body of the powerful effect he’d always had on her. Her mind was quickly following suit.
“I guess there will always be something between us. You never forget your first love, right?” She was trying to sound flippant when she knew good and well there was more to it than chaste memories of puppy love.
“Well, I hate to bring this up, but your parents will have an absolute cow if they hear of you seeing him again. You know how much they hated it when you dated him before.”
That observation made her bristle with anger. Not at Grace, but the unpleasant reminder of her parents’ biases. “I’m not seeing him again, and besides, I’m a grown woman, dammit. If I did want to see Fritz, it’s none of their business.”
Grace held up her hands, red curls bouncing around her shoulders as she shook her head. “Hey, I’m only stating the obvious. Feel free to rebel at will. Just be prepared for the repercussions. Serenity might’ve grown since you left but it still has that small-town mentality. You’d be wise to remember the gossip vine here is like kudzu—wild, rampant and hard to kill.”