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Teasing A New Day
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The wait is over. A New Day is finally here! Below, I’ve got a teaser for you.
Some books create themselves, and this was one of the most fluid, write-itself romances I have ever experienced. Most of it was written on a romantic getaway in a gorgeous Pacific Northwest small town that Carrie can never get enough of. Very inspired.
Oh, and have you ever really looked at (gridiron) football player’s arms? Just saying. Talk about inspiration.
Add hoppy IPAs, hiking, good food, and interior design? I was in pure heaven just writing it.
My mom is usually my first beta reader, and I loved it when she called partway through and said, “I didn’t want her to be mad at him.” To which I honestly responded, “Hey, I can’t control their behavior.” I once read that a huge percentage of writers report hearing their characters’ voices in their heads. So true. I can see them, I can hear them, they are so real, and my goal is for you to live inside the story, like I do.
A New Day
You were working long hours, and I needed a little release, that’s all. Mariella meant nothing to me. Babe, I miss you so much—
Haley pitched the phone across the cavernous ivory living room. True to form, the phone hit the curtain—thanks to her shitty aim—and slid safely to the floor. Didn’t even crack the screen.
Shoulders slumped, her throwing arm nagging from a useless tantrum; she slogged across the frigid tile to grab the dang thing. Glaring at the traitorous device, she deleted the stupid email. And blocked the sender.
Ten years. Ten years she’d given to that creep. Eight years of marriage. They’d been so young. So foolish.
And come on. Long hours? She wrote her blog from home. If he’d needed any “release,” all he had to do was knock. Or at least have the decency to dump her first.
And it wasn’t just Mariella. Not that she had proof, at least not in the vivid way that she had with Mariella. That revolting vision was imprinted in her brain. Red lace. Big tits. Enthusiastically bouncing on top of her husband. In their bedroom.
Monthly girls’ night always involved excessive quantities of appletinis and sex tips. And, okay, maybe she was being paranoid, but it always seemed like those tips were awfully specific. Now she knew.
It wasn’t paranoia.
And they’d teased her for being a prude. With a snort worthy of a prized bull, she stomped across the room and plopped onto the stack of cardboard boxes. She wasn’t a prude. She was normal.
Sleeping with your friend’s husband was not normal. Nate had accused her of cheating weeks prior, in one of his many lame-ass excuses when he got caught, claiming a wife couldn’t be so disinterested, or so hard to please, unless she was getting it elsewhere.
Ha. Didn’t occur to him she was disinterested because she wasn’t attracted to him anymore? That she was sick of being treated as a… a… a thing, a showpiece, a housekeeper, rather than as an intelligent, independent woman? That she could only take so many digs before she realized this wasn’t what she’d hoped? And she’d been considering couples’ therapy.
A vigorous knock at the front door interrupted her pity-fest. No one knocked as aggressively as her mother. Dear Patricia did nothing mildly. Haley almost envied her mother’s fierce personality. Almost.
Thanks to a judge with keen insight that finalized her parents’ divorce, when Haley was suffering in silence while enduring puberty, figuring out boobs and periods and zits on her own, Haley was placed with her father. Miracle of miracles. Drake was a good dad. Not great, but there had been love.
“Hello, Mother?” she said as she pulled open the extra-wide, extra-thick front door that had cost more than her blog earned in a year. With a sweep of her arm, she welcomed Dr. Mallory into her home for the first time. And last.
Patricia breezed past her and tensed her shoulders, her platinum hair not daring to shift out of place as she eyed the paltry stack of Haley’s belongings. Haley had insisted they liquidate everything, especially the house they’d lived in not even two years, and a quarter of that was spent liquidating while moving at a snail’s pace through this mess of a divorce. Every time she thought she was free, he’d find another hurdle to slow the process. She didn’t want to spend months arguing over who owned the Waterford crystal glasses or the bone china that she’d detested from the moment Nate had insisted they add the finery to their wedding registry. Yet, that is exactly what had occurred.
“Haley, dear. How are you holding up?” Haley almost sighed and went in for a possibly maternal hug. Nope. Not Patricia’s style. Patricia didn’t even seem to catch the hint that Haley was drowning in need for simple affection. Nothing new, from her mother or her husband. “You must be so distraught.”
“Actually, I’m glad it’s finally over. I feel… relieved. Foothills sounds like the change of pace I need.”
“Well, I suppose Foothills could use another woman with excellent taste. You can commute to Seattle. I know a few people you can call for help to find a prime location to open an interior decorating firm.” Patricia’s calculating eyes were alight with her own brilliance. “We could carpool together every day. I have no doubt you will want to work the extra hours, anyway, like I do on surgery days.”
“Mother, I’m not sure that running an ‘interior design firm’ describes what I do. My blog is steady and my share of our assets should be enough to keep me comfortable.”
“You must have a long list of clients here in San Francisco. You’ll be able to acquire a whole new clientele in Seattle, but—”
“Mother, it’s a blog. Freelance at its best. All those photos were from my friends’ houses. I didn’t finish college and don’t know the first thing about starting a brick-and-mortar business. Nor do I want to.” Nate’s studies had come first. But she’d made the most of it. Of the loneliness during his long hours. Of ensuring they had a meticulously run home and social standing.
Her home decorating blog had been for her alone. It was more successful than she had anticipated, but she’d had unlimited use of Nate’s income to do regular remodels to keep her designs fresh. And elevated social status decried upgrading homes every few years.
Patricia pulled her bug-eyed sunglasses back down and stalked to the front door. “Well, load up your boxes. Our road trip will be such a fun adventure. I wish you could have kept the Porsche, but I suppose the Land Rover is more practical for the trip.” She almost shrugged, but her stiff shoulders couldn’t quite make the movement convincing. “Our first night is at a winery in Sonoma.”
“I’m sure it will be great.” She’d only seen her mother during summer and winter breaks as a teenager, and even less frequently over the last decade. The mother-daughter trip to move her back home had been Patricia’s idea. Having gone through several divorces herself, Patricia seemed almost sympathetic.
Touchdown Fire, this is it, San Francisco Fire wins the Super Bowl. What a play. Forty-yard pass nearly intercepted, Halseth snatches the ball and spins, making the final push into the end zone and… oh man, did he just—
Finn shut off the rehash. Get over it. He clenched his jaw, grinding his molars until he heard a crunch. His knee throbbed just watching the latest over-played recap. Best fucking game of his life. But not even the adrenaline of the TD could mask the pain as his knee bent ninety degrees in the wrong direction.
Two surgeries later, months of physical therapy, and he was almost back to a decent sprint. Not that any team in the NFL was going to touch him again. Twenty-eight wasn’t old, but it was for a wide receiver with an unstable knee.
He headed for the stairs, but halted when Pops strolled in the front door. The scent of smoked salmon wafted off him, honey and salty and soothing and familiar. Hmm, smoked salmon today. Pops had nailed the smoked meats and cheese recipes, carving out a unique niche in Foothills.
Not Finn’s thing. He’d rather handle the front end of things. So far the arrangement had been working great, his sister in the kitchen where Mom used to reign, and Evan nudging Pops gradually out of the smokehouse and into the office.
“Hey, Finn. You okay?”
“Yeah. Of course.” Finn grabbed the rail to the stairs, hovering as he waited to hear the lecture Pops had undoubtedly been holding on to for months now.
“Great. That’s great. Things still going okay behind the bar?” Nearly matched in height, Finn shared his father’s broad, athletic build, chocolate eyes that crinkled when they smiled. And, although Scott’s hair was dappled with gray, it was as thick as Finn’s chestnut.
“Actually, yeah. I like it.”
“That’s what I hear. Some of the regulars tell me you’re a natural.”
He ran a hand through his hair, ruffling the defiant cowlick. “I don’t know about that, but it suits me.”
“Great.” Uh-oh. Never a good sign when Pops was in bobble-head compliment mode. “If you need me to jump in and take on more so you can look for a coaching position or, you know, something that suits you better, just say the word.”
“Sure.” Nodding again, he stepped up to the next stair.
Finn stepped up a few more steps.
Chuckling, Finn turned and leaned against the rail. “Yeah, Pops?” Lovably nosy, Scott’s crinkly eyes creased more heavily today. Pops scratched his fingers through his salt and pepper hair, grinning as he said, “I’ll quit harassing you in a minute. I worry.”
“I know, Pops.”
“I haven’t seen Trace around much. You two doing okay?”
Finn shrugged, a familiar hollow gnawing in his gut. “I guess.”
“I know you guys have a history. It made sense you’d reconnect when you got back to town, but, well…”
“I know, Pops. It seemed like the right thing to do when I came back. But, well…”
“It’s okay to take a break, let her know you weren’t ready.”
“I’ll talk to her.” Knowing Trace, she’d be understanding. Maybe they’d chat when she got back from her big trip.
When he’d come back to Foothills a few months ago, she’d stopped by to see how he was doing. She’d been checking in on his mom regularly anyway, so she’d waited until he’d been home a few days before interrupting.
He dashed the rest of the way up the stairs and tossed on his running clothes. He pulled on his knee brace and headed for the backdoor. He almost made it, when his watch chirped with an incoming call. Huh, speak of the devil.
Stepping outside so his dad and sis wouldn’t hear, he answered, “Yeah?”
Trace’s sweet voice vibrated through the tiny speaker of his smartwatch. “Hi, Finn. I’m flying out in a few days. I was hoping we could talk before I go?”
“Sure. I’m heading out for a run.” He could already hear the guilt oozing through her voice, but she wouldn’t do it over the phone.
“Are you working tonight?” Yep. He knew exactly why she wanted to meet up.
“Yeah. I want to get in a run first, so, uh—”
“Of course. No problem. I won’t keep you. Can I bring over coffee in the morning?”
Of course he was okay. He’d been fine for weeks now. His dad, his sister, his little brother. Maybe they weren’t yet. Mom’s presence still coated every square inch of the family home. They all missed her like a missing limb. Fuck, it didn’t take a therapist to figure out his first knee surgery failed because his heart was too damn broken to let the rest of him heal. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Okay. See you in the morning,” she closed with a regretful brightness in that unshakable pleasantness.
He looked to the forest beyond, the orange glow of the sun threatening to knock him down with a scorching summer heat if he didn’t get his ass in gear. “See ya.”
“Okay. Later.” She hung up. He almost wished she’d get it over with on the phone, but she’d want to do it in person. To make sure he was actually okay. As if coffee and pastries would soften the blow.
They’d been hot and heavy in high school, never apart. When he’d come home to Foothills after… everything, reconnecting had seemed obvious. He stretched out his stiff limbs and took off down the road at an easy pace, not wanting to re-ignite the swelling that had nagged at him for a solid week after he’d run on the bum knee too hard a few weeks back. Foothills needed a gym. He was a sprinter, dammit, and his knee didn’t tolerate this sort of shit anymore.
By the end of the two-mile loop, about all his joints could handle today, the sun had warmed the cedar boughs that canopied the last of his path. Pungent, the earthy scent welcomed him home. He swung open the front door, kicking off his shoes. They landed with a spin in the basket. After wiping the briny layer of sweat from his forehead before it dripped into his eyes, he skated across the linoleum floor to the foot of the beige-carpeted stairs.
Zoe, his little sister and bossiest of the Halseth clan, pierced the air with her shrill voice. “Don’t you think about taking all the hot water.”
He stopped mid-step, hovering before daring to climb the next step.
Like a cranky apparition, she popped out from the pass-thru to the kitchen. She held her coffee a few inches below her lips and glowered through the steam. “Finbarr Halseth. If you take another thirty-minute shower like you did yesterday, I’m going to kick your ass and you can do all the cooking tonight, as I’ll be too frozen to move.”
Finn angled his head and looked down at her. “I’m so sorry, your highness. My physical therapist thinks hot water will help relax my muscles. Unless you want to tend bar and man the kitchen tonight?”
She glared into her coffee, then back at him. “Just no jerking off in there.”
From deep in his throat, his laughed echoed out loud. “Never. But I am investing in a lock for my bedroom door and will be perfectly willing to tell Pops about Josh Stevens and the car incident.”
“You wouldn’t,” she growled, expression pure pout, her brown eyes heavy with menace.
“Then let me take my damn shower.”
“Fine,” she muttered, spinning around on her heel and heading back for the kitchen.
Still chuckling, he hobbled up the stairs. He dropped his clothes on the bathroom floor and turned the faucet to steaming. Flipping back the blue flowered shower curtain, he stepped over the beige bathtub wall and into the shower.
Ahh, he sighed as the hot water drenched his skin. As soon as he got downstairs, he was propping his knee up with a big-ass icepack until he had to leave for work. Aiming the showerhead as high as it would go, he ducked his head and let the water stream down his body.
Grabbing his cock, he relaxed in the steam of the shower, tracing his thumb over the shaft… then remembered his sister’s threats.
Fine. He missed living alone. With an unlimited budget and on-demand hot water.
Finn shut off the water and stepped out, his knee a bit looser than it had been that morning. Day by day, he regained mobility. He pulled on a pair of jeans and a Halseth’s Smokehouse and Pub black t-shirt, then hobbled half-speed down to the kitchen for a cup of coffee and a long ice on that knee before his shift started.
Trace would be up early with apology coffee and pastries for them both. Bright eyed and bushy tailed to put him at ease, even for the somber occasion. Finn’s alarm squawked rhythmically, shattering the tranquility of the sun-drenched morning. Hauling his ass out of bed, he limped across the bedroom and silenced the alarm. The first few steps were always the roughest before things loosened up.
He’d have to look for a place with enough room to add a gym or something; he was going nuts in the cramped space, his equipment boxed up in the garage. Pops was in better shape than he was these days, but Pops had full access to the high school gym as the football coach.
The moment he reached the bottom step, the doorbell rang. Like clockwork. He unlocked the front door and greeted his coffee date.
Standing adorably sincere in pink capris and a black summer sweater, Trace held out a travel mug she’d brought from home. He smiled and accepted the ordinary brew. She knew he wouldn’t have wanted the fancy shit from the coffee stand that was laced with sugar and sweetness.
“Good morning,” she said. Without a hint of make-up this morning, she looked so much the girl he’d loved so long ago. Clenching tight in his chest, his heart contracted in anticipation of another blow.
“Morning. Come on in.” He led the way through the entry to the kitchen. “Warm out there?”
“It’s pleasant. Want to sit outside?”
He nodded, opening the slider and motioning for her to go out first and choose her seat. No way in hell he was having this conversation in the middle of the family kitchen. Evan would already be at work, but Zoe and Pops would be able to hear every damn word if their bedroom windows were open. Oh well. Save him the explanation when they interrogated him later.
Trace followed the winding gravel path through shrubs overgrown with blooms every color of the rainbow that his mother knew by name and personality to the small table in the middle of the rose garden. Damn, he ought to get out here and prune. Brenda would be so disappointed in the overgrown mess now that she wasn’t here to tend to it. Not that anyone shared her green thumb, but he’d look it up and see if he could figure it out.
She set out a paper bag on the table. “Mom sent along a dozen of your favorites.”
He peeked in the bag, the savory scent of cheddar and bacon croissants almost tempting his stomach to accept food. Rolling it shut again, he set it back so he could see her. “Thanks.”
They sat in silence for a bit, the morning breeze fluttering the leaves around them.
By the time he reached the midway point in his coffee, he realized she was struggling to find the right words. Okay, he could handle more small talk. “So. When do you leave?”
“Saturday.” She crossed and uncrossed her ankles, not quite facing him.
“Yes.” She smiled finally as the awkward melted to normal. “You know me. I started packing the moment I got the offer.” Yeah, she’d have been ready weeks in advance. “Finn. I, um, was hoping we could talk about something.”
“Sure.” Here we go. Just rip off the damn band-aid. It had been too long, anyway. Their little experiment had been a stinging example of how you can’t go back.
“When we… I mean… wow, this is hard.” She drained the last of her coffee and set the flowered mug on the table between them. “Do you ever think we rushed into getting back together?”
Staring blankly into the overgrown ravine beyond, he shrugged. “Yeah. Probably.”
Her shoulders relaxed. “I mean, I was so excited that you were back home, but hated why. At first, I thought you needed time to adjust. Not that I expect you to feel even remotely normal yet; you have so much to process. But it’s been months and things haven’t changed.”
“When we were kids, I think we were only apart when you were at away games. I don’t know what I was expecting this time around. Something along those lines, I guess. But I’ve hardly seen you. You didn’t even know what day my flight leaves, and certainly haven’t offered to drive me to the airport.”
“I can take you to the airport.”
“That’s not what I meant.” She sighed, leaning her elbows onto the table between them.
Recognizing she needed more, he turned toward her. “Look, Trace, I know what you meant. You’re right. I’m not the guy I was. We’re not the people we used to be. We were pretty great in high school, but a lot’s happened since then.”
She lit up as he said the words she must have been chewing on for days. “Exactly. I mean, when I get back, we can talk more and see where we’re at. But, well, I don’t want to be apart all summer, both of us thinking we need to keep this going. I know the timing is terrible. You’re still grieving your mother and floundering from leaving football and coming home. I also think that’s part of the problem. You don’t need one more thing on your plate, and I think that’s what I’ve been. One more ball in the air.”
Actually, he was a pretty damn good juggler. But she might be right. Maybe after he settled in, got his own place, found his routine, the spark might re-ignite. Doubtful, but possible. “Thanks for being there for me through all of this. You’re right. I don’t have the capacity to be involved right now. You deserve someone that can prioritize you. And that’s not me. I love you, just not the way I did before.”
Air flowed easily in and out through her lungs, and he watched as she sat up, that gentle smile widening to amused. “You’re such an ass.”
“What?” He sat up straighter, laughing in utter confusion as she smiled while seeming to insult him.
“Here I am, dumping you, days before I skip town, while you’re going through the worst grief. Don’t let me off the hook way so easy.” She nudged him under the table like she had in the old days to let him know she was messing with him. “Can you at least pretend to be furious with me? Yell and throw things?”
He chuckled with her, then adopted a comical glower. “Dammit Trace. Don’t crush me like this, you heartless bitch.” He nudged her back. “There, is that better?”
She laughed and sat up higher, contorting her amusement with an angry face. “Screw you, Finn.”
“There. Now we can call it a real break-up.” Smiling, he stood and held his hand out for her.
Trace accepted and let him pull her up, but she dropped his hand and wrapped her arms around him in a bear hug. “I am going to miss you.”
Hugging her back, he rested his cheek against her wild strawberry blond hair. “I’ll miss you too. Enjoy your adventure this summer.”
She pinched his side and pulled away. “I’ll call you when I get back. Stay out of trouble.”
Strolling down the garden path, a swing in her hips, he watched his oldest friend walk out of his life again. They’d always be friends, but the wave of relief rushing from his lungs told him they’d made the right decision.
At First Sight
Behind the Scenes
I confess: I’ve skipped books about the side character I didn’t care for. Until I finished the rest of the series and felt compelled to go back. And, dang it, sometimes it turns out to be my favorite.