Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sneak Peek: Chapter 2 of Derailed

How about another glimpse at Derailed? The first round of revisions is nearly complete, but I have more revising to do between now and publication, so be aware that this isn't the final version.

Stay tuned next week, when I'll do a cover reveal. I've also got a little something else up my sleeve with one of my already published novels.

ARCs for Derailed will be ready in early September, and members of my mailing list will have first crack at them. If you'd like a chance to get your hands on one, you can join my mailing list, Nicole C's Book Babbles.

Previously posted: chapter 1.

Chapter 2

Jamming the heels of her hands into her eyes, Lou did her best to rub the blurriness from them. Though she’d tried to sleep during the six hour flight, she hadn’t had much success. She hadn’t had much success at sleeping at all over the past week, ever since her dramatic exit from Wayne State University. Just the thought of it made her stomach clench, and she pressed her lips together to suppress a moan.
The other passengers jostled and shoved, trying to pull their carry-ons down from the overhead compartments so they could elbow their way off the plane. Lou remained in her seat, staring blankly out the window at the nondescript tarmac below. It looked just like the tarmac at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, and if she hadn’t felt the descent herself, hadn’t heard the pilot speaking in both French and English, Lou might have thought she’d never left home.
Intense fatigue weighed her down; unsurprising, seeing as how she’d been traveling for around ten hours already. She’d booked the tickets months ago, dismayed that there hadn’t been any direct flights from Detroit to Paris. Instead, she’d had to fly to New Jersey and wait through a two-hour layover before she could get on a plane bound for Charles de Gaulle. Her parents had offered to drive her to the airport, but she had refused, hoping they hadn’t noticed the desperate edge to her voice when she’d turned them down. She’d been avoiding her mother ever since she had quit her job, hadn’t even told her yet what she’d done, and Lou knew she could not sit in the car with them. When she got back from France, she’d face them, she told herself. By then, she would have to feel better.
Once the aisle cleared Lou stood, rolling her stiff neck around on her shoulders while wondering if she should have bought one of those neck pillows. It had seemed like a superfluous expense, given that she rarely traveled, but now she was awash in regret. Maybe she would have slept if her neck hadn’t been bent at such a painful angle. She took one last swipe at her burning eyes before pulling her carry-on down and shuffling to the front of the plane.
“Enjoy your stay,” one of the flight attendants said, beaming at Lou with a blinding white smile. Lou wondered how she mustered the energy to smile like that, to say those same inane words, day in and day out.
Shit. I’m becoming one of those annoying people who can’t do anything but think about how much the world sucks.
“Thanks,” Lou said, trying but failing to smile in response.
Forty-five minutes passed before luggage finally appeared on the carousel, and Lou shouldered her way through the crowd, taking up a position next to the belt. She wouldn’t have been in such a hurry if it weren’t for the fact that Melinda and Benoit were waiting for her, having insisted on picking her up from the airport. Guilt gnawed at her because she knew they were in the midst of reception setup, but Lou was also thrilled at the thought of seeing Melinda again. It had been a month since Lou had last seen her best friend, when she’d gone to witness Melinda and Benoit exchanging their vows. Due to the stringent French regulations regarding marriage, Melinda and Benoit had decided to get married in Chicago but have their reception in France. Melinda had been crazy busy with planning the party, and last minute preparations for the journal publication had eaten up all of Lou’s time.
Now it all seemed like such a pointless waste. She could have spent that time with Melinda, taking her to bridal shops and paging through magazine after magazine, debating how Melinda should do her hair. Lou’s eyes stung, and she wiped a few tears away, focusing on the bags meandering by, searching for her nondescript suitcase in a sea of nondescript suitcases. Locating it at last, Lou pulled it a short distance away and paused for a minute, pulling a cleansing wipe from her carry-on and giving her face a careful going over. She would have to tell Melinda what had happened, of course, but she would not dump on her best friend on the eve of her reception. Melinda was over the moon about her marriage, and Lou couldn’t have been happier for her. She’d put her own unhappiness aside for the time being, because there was no way she was going to steal her friend’s joy.
Except that she didn’t have a choice. Despite Lou’s best efforts, Melinda took one look at her and her smile faded. Pulling Lou into a smothering embrace, Melinda asked in a worried tone, “Lou Lou, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Lou lied, gasping for air. “I’m just tired. Jet lag, you know.”
“If you’re done strangling Lou, I’ll take her bags from her,” Benoit said, his voice warm with amusement and affection. A huge grin covered his handsome face, his dark eyes crinkling at the corners.
“Sorry,” Melinda said, taking a step back from Lou, a sheepish look on her face as she pushed an errant auburn lock behind her ear. Her big green eyes looked misty. “I’ve missed you like crazy.”
Lou handed her carry-on to Benoit and pulled her best friend into another embrace, dropping a kiss on Melinda’s cheek. “I missed you too.” To her horror, Lou got all choked up. Turning hastily away, she gave Benoit a quick kiss on the cheek, then bent over her suitcase, fiddling with one of the zippers as if searching for something.
“You guys shouldn’t have come all this way,” Lou babbled. “I would have been fine to take the train on my own and—”
“I couldn’t wait to see you,” Melinda interrupted. “Besides, it’s not like it was such a sacrifice to spend a night in Paris with my husband.” Pronouncing the word ‘husband’ with relish, she turned a moony gaze on Benoit, and Lou suppressed a sight of relief.
“She was glad to get away from my mother,” Benoit stage-whispered to Lou.
“From both our mothers,” Melinda said, rolling her eyes. “I love them dearly, but they’re driving me nuts. When I suggested trying some sort of French/American hybrid wedding, someone should have shot me.”
“Thanks, but I’d prefer they didn’t,” Benoit said, putting his arm around his wife and giving her a squeeze. “It’ll all work out okay, you’ll see.”
A wave of guilt threatened to drown Lou. She felt like the world’s biggest ass. Here she was, moping about what had happened at work while her best friend was going nuts trying to coordinate her wedding reception.
“It’ll be beautiful,” Lou hastened to add. “I mean, it’s Provence. It couldn’t be anything but, right?”
Melinda put her arm through Lou’s and they headed for the exits. “Sorry for all this traveling. I’m sure getting on a train is the last thing you want to do right now. Take a nap if you need to.”
“No, it’s okay. I got some sleep on the plane,” Lou lied.
Frowning, Melinda tilted her head back and peered up into her friend’s face, taking in Lou’s disheveled wheat-colored hair, her puffy blue eyes. “Brace yourself, because I’m sure you’ve never, ever been told this before, but you look like shit. You did not get any sleep.”
“I need some coffee, that’s all. I don’t sleep well on planes,” Lou said, sighing.
“Wait here. I’ll get us some coffee,” Benoit said, setting Lou’s carry-on down and heading off for a pastry stand.
“Seriously, what’s going on?” Melinda asked. “Is it your grandfather? I’m so sorry.”
Fighting back the tears was now impossible, and Lou scrabbled in her sweater pocket for a tissue. Lou had been extremely close to her grandfather, and his death six months earlier had hit her hard. The irony was that work had been her salvation at the time. “No. Yes. It’s… Shit, I didn’t want to talk about this now, not with your reception coming up, but I quit my job.”
“You did what?” Melinda asked, her eyes round and huge, her mouth hanging open.
“It’s a long story and I don’t really want to get into it now.” Dabbing at her tears, Lou left another streak of black mascara on her tissue. “No way in hell am I going to ruin your celebration.”
“Oh, Lou, don’t worry about that. You’re not going to ruin anything. I’m so, so sorry.” Melinda pulled her into another tight embrace, and Lou dropped her head on her friend’s shoulder. “Your life is kind of shit right now, isn’t it?”
Lou laughed in spite of herself. “Gee, thanks for your tact. But, yeah, it pretty much is.”
“Is it petty of me to be kind of relieved that I’m not the only one who doesn’t always have her shit together?”
Laughing again, Lou squeezed Melinda. “Yeah, but I still love you.”
“Listen, feel free to be a basket case. God knows I was a huge one a few years ago, and you were an angel to put up with me.”
Benoit returned juggling three tiny cups, one in his right hand, two balanced in his left, with his chin resting on the top cup for balance. His face creased in concern. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, it’s just that I quit my job,” Lou said, hurrying to take one of the cups from him before he dumped the scalding liquid all over himself.
“What?” he asked, looking stunned.
“It’s a long story,” Lou sighed. “Do you guys mind if we save it for another time? Right now I just want to forget about it. Anyway, it happened in another world. I’m in France and I’m determined to make the most of it. Come on, tell me all about what’s been going on with your mothers. I’m dying to hear about the clash of the cultures. And what the hell is up with this thimble? Where’s my coffee?”
Melinda laughed and sipped her espresso. “You are such an American,” she teased. “Sometimes, less is more.”
Making a face, Lou downed her coffee in one go, gasping as it scalded its way down her throat. Melinda’s words seemed to echo in her head.