Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sneak Peek: Chapter 1 of Derailed

For the last couple of weeks, I've been working my way through Derailed, my next Anne Wentworth book. For those of you who've read Phoning It In, you'll recognize the main character, Lou. If you haven't read it, no worries. This book is a standalone novel, but I always wanted to tell Lou's story, and it's been fun to spend some time in her head.
I visited Belgium and France earlier this summer, and spent a lot of my trip collecting photos, brochures, and guidebooks as I researched the setting for this book. It's been a joy to write, and I hope it's a book my readers will love. 
The book is still a work in progress, and I won't have advance reader copies ready until early September, but I wanted to offer a taste. (Psst: subscribers to my newsletter will get first crack at ARCs, so if you haven't signed up yet and want to do so, click here: Nicole C's Book Babbles) What you see here may not be the same as the finished product, but I present to you chapter one of Derailed.
Chapter 1

It’s here. It’s finally here.
Lou’s hands shook as she dumped her laptop bag, purse, and lunch bag onto her desk. Tubes of lipstick, a tin of mints, and some loose change spilled out of the purse and rolled across the desk, and she gave them an impatient swipe, clearing space. Dropping into her chair, knees trembling with such vehemence that they probably wouldn’t have held her up much longer anyway, Lou took a couple of deep, shaky breaths as she opened the journal, spreading it out over her desktop.
This was her big moment. This was what she’d been waiting for, slaving over, for the past two years. All those extra hours of working on the project, all the time and money she’d spent earning her PhD, it was all about to pay off. She tried to keep a smirk from spreading across her face at the thought of being the boss at last, able to call the shots instead of having to do her superior’s bidding. Her anticipation and excitement were almost indecent.
A sense of unreality filled her as she found the article. She slowed her pace, skimming its contents, smiling with pride whenever she found a section for which her research had provided critical support. Her breakthrough that had made this all possible, her discovery had released them from years of gridlock. Though she hadn’t wanted to admit it, she had been on the verge of giving up, and she’d had the sense that the rest of the team was right there with her. As long as she lived, she’d never forget the jubilation they’d all felt when she found the solution, the way they’d all danced around the lab like a bunch of drunken idiots, laughing and cheering and celebrating.
Turning the last page with a sigh of deep satisfaction, Lou flipped back to the beginning, her eyes scanning the title with greedy anticipation. There it was. Her name seemed to leap right off the page, and she couldn’t resist letting out a small, satisfied sigh. Closing her eyes, she savored the moment, wanting the sweetness to last.
Time to go see Dwight and reap the rewards at long last.
Standing, Lou smoothed her lab coat and headed for her boss’s office, spine ramrod straight, shoulders back, head held high, walking the way endless hours spent with a book on her head under the watchful eye of her mother had taught her. Dwight was on the phone when Lou entered his office, but he glanced up and waved her in. Closing the door with a quiet click, Lou perched on the edge of a chair, folding her hands in her lap and waiting for him to finish his call.
“Good morning, Lou,” he said after he hung up, his voice pleasant. “I take it you’ve seen the journal.” His open expression was the picture of serenity.
“I have,” she said, unable to keep herself from beaming. “It’s great, don’t you think?”
“I do. We all worked very hard and have reason to be proud. I’m already starting to field calls about it. This has been a boon for the department.”
“That’s fantastic!”
He nodded at the enthusiasm in her voice, a smile on his face, playing the doting father figure. It didn’t fool Lou, though; she knew he had a ruthless streak a mile wide.
It doesn’t matter. I’ll be out from under his thumb soon enough.
“So, what can I do for you?” Dwight asked.
Her stomach fluttered. “I thought now might be a good time to talk about the supervisory opening.”
“Ah.” Steepling his fingers, he rested his chin on them, and a sense of dread crept over Lou. The pose was classic Dwight, a clear indication that he was about to deliver news she wasn’t going to like. “I hope you know, Lou, how much we value your contributions here. You were instrumental to the project, and I know you’re eager for advancement. While I have no doubt that you have an exemplary career ahead of you, the directors and I are concerned that you might not be quite ready for it. After all, you’ve only just earned your PhD, and this was your first major research project.”
Swallowing, Lou tried hard to beat back the red flood of fury. She thought back to the start of the project, to the way Dwight had dropped heavy hints that there was a promotion waiting for her if she took part. “I’m sorry, Dwight, but I thought that you and I—”
He held up a hand, and Lou closed her mouth with such force she was pretty sure the snap was audible. “I’m sorry, Lou. As I said, I think you have a bright future ahead of you, and we’ll definitely consider you for future openings, but we believe you aren’t ready yet. We’ve decided to give the position to Jim.”
Lou’s head pulsated with such pressure she thought it might explode. “Jim?” she echoed, disbelief plain. Jim had also worked on the project, but there was no way he was more qualified than her. For one, the ink on his PhD was barely dry, so how did Dwight get off saying Lou wasn’t ready? To make matters even more insulting, Jim hadn’t been nearly as integral a member of the project team as Lou had. The work he’d done was strictly pedestrian, steady and of decent quality, but nothing that had added any real value to the team. Lou knew it and so did Dwight.
“Yes, Jim. I’m sure you agree that he’ll make an excellent addition to the leadership team.”
It was all too much. With one last attempt at civility, Lou said, “Dwight, you and I had an agreement. You told me that—”
“I remember what I told you.” An edge crept into Dwight’s voice, and Lou could see his careful mask slipping. “I also remember that I made you no promises.”
“Bullshit.” Jumping out of her chair, Lou loomed over Dwight, clenching her hands into fists. He goggled at her, his big, round head such a tempting target that Lou tightened her fingers, her nails digging into her palms. “You all but promised me that promotion. And you and I both know that Jim is less qualified than I am. I can’t believe you’re screwing me over like this.”
“You’re out of line,” he said, bristling. His face went blotchy as he fought for control.
“I’m out of line? You have some impressive balls, I’ll give you that. If it weren’t for me, that project would have gone nowhere, while Jim could have been replaced by anyone else with no discernible difference.”
“I was lead on the project, as you well know, Louisa. I was in a unique position to observe the work everyone did, and—”
“Oh no. Don’t even try that shit with me. I don’t care how hard you try, you’ll never be able to sell it. You’re unbelievable. After everything I’ve done, I can’t believe you show your gratitude with a giant ‘fuck you’.”
“I won’t tolerate this insubordination. You’re on immediate disciplinary action. I’m going to take this to Frank and—” he spluttered.
“Don’t bother,” Lou sneered. “I’m done putting up with your bullshit. I don’t need you, Dwight, but you do need me. I’m the best researcher in this lab. You know it, I know it—hell, everyone who works here knows it. And I’m done. Good luck making further breakthroughs without me. You can take this job, and you can shove it straight up your ass. I quit.”
“This is highly unprofessional. You can’t just—”
“Watch me.”
“If you walk out of this office, you’re done,” he barked, his face going from scarlet to plum.
Turning on her heel, Lou strode from his office. She hadn’t realized she was shouting but, judging by the whispered conversations and the way everyone in the lab was trying their best to look anywhere but at her or Dwight, she’d been loud enough for them to hear everything.
Good, she thought. I hope I’ve destroyed whatever piddling authority Dwight may have had.
Stalking back to her desk, Lou forced herself to calmly gather her things. She took the last couple of reams of copy paper out of a box and carefully stacked them on top of another box, taking the empty one and filling it with the few personal possessions she kept at the lab. The laptop would have to stay, but she kept backup copies of everything on USB sticks at home, so that was no big problem. It took her all of five minutes to get her stuff, then she shucked her lab coat off, badge still attached, and folded it neatly over the back of her chair. Without a backward glance, Lou walked out, her face placid and unruffled.
Once in her car, however, she crumpled, leaning her forehead against her steering wheel and taking in great, sobbing breaths.
What the hell did I just do?
Panic clawed at her, strangling her, and she battled the urge to leap out of her car, run back to Dwight’s office, and throw herself at his feet, begging for forgiveness. It wasn’t that she cared about what she’d said to him. The words had been clawing their way out of her throat for years now, always bitten back at the last second. But she had devoted everything to her career, joking with her best friend that she was married to it, but there’d been some truth to that statement as well. Without her career, she didn’t know what she had. Every last decision she’d made had always come down to what was best for her future, and she’d just thrown that future away with both hands.