Here is the first teaser for my upcoming novel, THE FABLE OF US, scheduled to be released on February 2nd! I'm really, REALLY excited for you all to read this one. My love affair with writing found its way back to me with this one and has decided to hang around (much to my great relief). I'm so excited for what's coming this year . . . can't want to share it all with you.
Missed you all!
Missed you all!
“Boone?” I said, twisting my neck to look at him. He hadn’t stopped looking at me. “What are you doing this week?”
He reached for his replenished drink and lifted it in my direction. “A whole lot of this.”
I swallowed when he did, but I was fighting the voice in my head that warned me this was a bad idea—quite possibly my worst idea to date. “How would you feel about earning some extra money?”
Boone settled his glass on the counter, keeping it clutched in his hands. “Who says I haven’t already earned so much of it I couldn’t possibly be interested in earning any more?”
Now it was my turn to lift an eyebrow in his direction. While the Abbotts were known for the wealth spilling from their ears, the Cavanaughs had been known for the past few generations for the opposite.
From his worn brown boots that probably should have been tossed out last summer, to the plaid button-down shirt I had a distant memory of him wearing back in high school, I had my answer. Plus, there was the whole issue of . . . “That last five dollars in your wallet that is now in Tom’s pocket might say something about you not having so many more of those you wouldn’t be interested in making more of them.”
Finally his face gave way to emotion. Just a flash and only for a moment, but his eyes narrowed at the same time his forehead creased, like he was almost insulted. “You Abbotts think you can buy the world and anyone in it. I’ve known that about your family for years, Clara, but I guess I didn’t realize that gene had been passed down to you.”
I refused to back down, not after bringing it up. Besides, Boone’s impressions of me couldn’t get much lower.
“Ten thousand dollars,” I said and shut up after that.
Boone was clearly as shocked by the number as I’d guessed he’d be. Ten grand was a lot of money to anyone anywhere. Especially to earn in one week. Down here though, working the kinds of jobs Boone had worked back in high school and probably still did, that was a third of a year’s salary.
He looked away for a moment, glaring at the wall across from us, before his gaze cut back to me. His shoulders were tense, his neck so rigid that his veins and muscles were showing. Part of me knew he felt insulted that I was offering him money in exchange for a favor—part of me felt ashamed for the same—but Boone’s and my relationship had been severed years ago. This was nothing more than a business transaction between a couple of acquaintances.
“You know, the last time someone offered me that chunk of change over a few drinks, it wasn’t followed by an offer that was on the up-and-up.” His voice was cool and removed, the way he was looking at me the same.
“What I’m about to ask isn’t illegal, I promise. It’s not even inside.” I shook my head. “It’s just . . . maybe a little deceitful.”
He huffed and gave a nod. “I’d expect nothing less.”
When I thought of a way to phrase what I was about to suggest, nothing sounded quite right. No matter how I worked the pieces of my proposition in my head, no arrangement made it seem less undignified. So I went with the most basic explanation.
“All I need from you is for you to pose as my plus one for the week. Nothing more. One week, ten grand. What do you think?” My words came out too fast, my voice too high. Because no matter what I tried to convince myself of, no matter how much radio silence had passed between us, Boone and I were not and would never be mere acquaintances. We had too much history to ever be “acquaintances.”
Boone was silent for a minute. One long minute I thought would never pass. When he did finally say something, I’d been two seconds away from leaving and spending the next seven years trying and failing to forget about Boone Cavanaugh again.
“Let me get this straight, because I thought I understood the English language, but I cannot get my head wrapped around what you just said.” Boone scooted his stool a half foot in my direction, the skin between his brows pinched in a deep line. “Are you asking me to show up at your family’s place with your family inside and pose as your date for the wedding?”
I shook my head. Hard. “As my plus one. That’s all.” My traitor voice gave me away though. Still too high and fast.
Boone didn’t miss it either. Something that resembled the stirrings of a smirk worked its way into his expression. “As your boyfriend.”
He wasn’t going to make this easy. Not that he had any reason to. “As my plus one.”
Boone’s smirk became as pronounced as it got. His head tipped just a bit, his eyes flashing, and his mouth turned up in a hint of a smile. “As your lover?”
My fingers curled into my palms. “As. My. Plus. One.”
An uneven chuckle vibrated in his chest as he studied me. He probably couldn’t figure out my business deal any more than I could. “Why? Why me?” He held out his arms and shrugged. “With all the history between us and the history of your family treating mine like we were trash . . . why choose me?”
I picked at the frayed ends of my cut-offs, considering his question as much as I was considering my answer. I had too many reasons to ask him, most of those reasons ones I didn’t want to legitimize by voicing . . . even to myself. When I’d left Charleston seven years ago, I’d told myself the Boone Cavanaugh chapter of my life was over. Yet here I was reopening it, or starting a brand-new chapter.
Boone continued to wait, his silence screaming at me.
He wanted to know why, so I gave him an answer, though it might have been the least honest one I had. “Limited options.” I scanned the few dozen customers, most of them older than my father and most looking like addiction had played some recent role in their lives. “Running short on time.” I tapped my wrist. “That’s why I choose you. Now if you’re done with the Q & A, what’s your answer?”
My pulse was pounding in my neck as I waited. I needed him to say yes. I needed him to agree to crawl into that cab with me and pose as my plus one for the next week because even though my family weren’t fans of the Cavanaughs, showing up single was a worse crime.
“Am I to understand that who you’d originally planned on bringing as your ‘plus one’ fell through?” Boone scooted his stool down another foot.
I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do more: scoot closer or farther away. “Stop talking like an asshole. If you have a question, ask me for Christ’s sake.”
“I didn’t think debutantes were supposed to take the lord’s name in vain . . .”
I was tempted to slug the smirk right off his face, but I didn’t. I needed him to agree. I needed to not show up solo and become the target of sabotage setups and sneaky double-dates the whole week.
“Fuck you, Boone Cavanaugh,” I fired off before I could bite my tongue.
A second of silence passed between us, then he laughed. “There’s the Clara Belle Abbott I’d been convinced had been adopted at birth. Damn, I missed her.”
I found myself laughing with him, because crying seemed like the less enticing option. Laugh or cry—the beat of Boone’s and my relationship. “So does that mean you’ll do it?”
Boone wiped his eyes, his laugh rolling to an end. It had been forever since I’d heard him laugh, but it sounded the same. Just like I remembered. “If you answer my questions to my satisfaction.”
“And there’s the Boone Cavanaugh who makes so many conditions no one can ever get close enough to him to get through.” I peaked a brow at him, letting him know he wasn’t the only one allowed to take shots.
“You were planning on bringing some rich California boy toy with you this week?”
“I was planning on bringing my boyfriend who, yes, lives in California, but was a transplant from Ohio, and who was very middle class, with me this week.” The three or four or five shots were making my mind muddy. I couldn’t tell if I was saying too much or too little, but Boone seemed satisfied with my answer.
“But that fell through?”
I nodded, my head stuffed full of cotton and tequila.
“You broke up with him.” It was a statement, not a hint of doubt in his voice.
“He broke up with me.”
Boone’s forehead creased. “How long ago?”
“Three days ago.”
Boone’s mouth parted some. “The guy broke up with you three days before he was planning to fly down here to support you and save you from the blood-suckers?”
“Boone—” I warned.
“Sorry, the creatures of the night,” he continued, not hiding his smile when my frown deepened. “I gotta tell you, you really know how to pick ‘em. First Ford McBride, the behind-your-back-fucking-your-little-sister loser, and then this prick who bailed on you a few days before you flew out to face your own personal Armageddon.”
I cracked my neck from side to side. Boone wasn’t saying anything I hadn’t heard or told myself a thousand times, but it felt different coming from him.
“Let’s not forget to toss you into that knowing-how-to-pick-‘em pile,” I muttered, more to myself than to him, but he didn’t miss it.
“You didn’t pick me, Clara. I picked you.” For the briefest moment, I caught a glimpse of the Boone I remembered. The one who’d occasionally open himself up and share his world with me.
I swallowed. I’d finished my last shot minutes ago, but I felt like hundred-proof alcohol was streaming down my throat. “Any more questions? I’ve, or we’ve, got to get going unless I want my dad calling the sheriff to come looking for me.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time, would it?” A smile pulled at the corner of Boone’s mouth.
“It wouldn’t be. But at least this time the sheriff wouldn’t have to lie to my daddy about how he found me, and who he found me with.”
“Or where he found us . . .” Boone’s gaze shifted away, staring at the wall opposite us like he was seeing something else.
“So?” I pressed.
He took another sip of his drink. “Aren’t you going to ask me if I’m seeing someone? Don’t you care if I’ve got someone in my life I’ll need to explain this little week-long arrangement too?”
“Of course, yes, I should have thought of that. Do you have . . . someone? Do you think she’d care if you did this?”
Boone finished his drink before rising from his stool. He’d always been tall, but it looked like he’d stretched another couple inches in the years since I’d seen him. And that was definitely the same shirt he’d had in high school. I remembered those buttons. The shiny marbled ones that snapped closed . . . or popped open.
“I’ve only ever had one someone special, Clara, and she turned me off to the whole idea of ever having another.” He wouldn’t look at me as he talked. “So no, there’s not someone special in my life to care what I do or who I do it with.”
He tipped his chin good-bye at Tom as he headed toward me. I scrambled off of the stool, trying not to sway in place when I stood. I wasn’t short—in fact, I was taller than average for a woman—but standing a foot across from Boone Cavanaugh, I felt very small. Almost like he could squish me between his thumb and index fingers.
“Ten thousand dollars? Seven days?” He shuffled a step closer, putting himself so close that if I kept swaying in place, I was going to sway right into his arms. That shouldn’t have seemed like such an appealing option.
I nodded because I couldn’t form any words I trusted to say out loud—because I’d just been hit by a familiar scent. One I’d tried to delete from my memory, and one I knew I never could. Boone smelled like my childhood. Like the best years of my life in Charleston. Salty from sweat, sweet from his mom’s and sister’s shampoo he used to use instead of buying something more manly, and sour with the reminder of the past. I wanted to bury my face in his shirt and breathe him in until I’d had my fill, but if this next week was ever going to work, I couldn’t let past feelings and history bleed into the picture.
I couldn’t wreck him again—and I couldn’t let him wreck me again.
Distance. Arm’s length. Collected, cool, and calm. That was my marching beat for the next week. Boone and I had started out as friends; we could do it again.
My vision was blurry from the shots, the background of the bar hazy and undefined. The only thing I could see clearly was him.
His hand lifted, moving toward my face. Just when I thought he was about to cup my cheek and kiss me, his fingers grasped a chunk of my hair swinging just above my shoulders. He studied it for a moment like he didn’t recognize it. After a minute more of that, he leaned in, dropping his mouth to just outside my ear. He was messing with me. I knew that. It wasn’t enough that I was paying him ten grand; he was going to cost me more by the end of this.
“You’ve got yourself a boyfriend. Temporarily,” he whispered, his voice raising bumps on my forearms.
Lifting my shoulders, I cleared my head and slowly shoved him back until he was an arm’s length away. “A plus one. Temporarily.”