Friday, August 30, 2013

Sneak Peek: Chapter 4 of Derailed

Derailed now has a release date! It will be available on Amazon, Kobo, and B&N on October 9, 2013. Click here to add the book to your Goodreads to read shelf.

Want to get your hands on a copy before then? Subscribers to my newsletter will have first crack at advance reader copies, so be sure to join Nicole C's Book Babbles for this and future giveaways, and notification of new releases. NetGalley users will also have the opportunity to request the book for review purposes. Stay tuned for a NetGalley availability date.

Missed the previous installments? You can find them here: cover reveal and book description, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3.

(Did you happen to notice that The Eye of the Beholder is 99c right now? It'll be 99c through Saturday, August 31 on Amazon, Kobo, and B&N. Wouldn't want you to be without something to read over Labor Day weekend, after all!)

Chapter 4

Uncle Georges spoke with a thick French accent, and his English was pretty basic, so Lou had a lot of trouble understanding him. After a while she gave up trying, instead fixing her attention on soaking in the beauty of the farmhouse and fields. The inside of the farmhouse was a strange mixture of modernity and rusticity that she found jarring at first, but after a while she could see how the strange juxtaposition formed a compelling and interesting whole. Looking at the old walls of the farmhouse, some of them adorned with crumbling, faded frescoes, she was overcome by a sense of the passage of time. Long, long ago people had walked these same worn terracotta tiles, had slept in the small, cool bedrooms, had eaten in the low-ceilinged kitchen, its exposed oak beams darkened by a mixture of smoke, hand-applied stain, and time.
“He said that the house dates back to the seventeenth century, though it’s obviously been renovated several times,” Yves said to her in a low voice as they passed through the kitchen’s French doors and onto the outdoor terrace, where Blaine and Julia were sitting.
“Thanks,” Lou said, looking up at him in surprise. She wouldn’t have expected the considerate gesture from him.
“You looked a bit lost,” he replied, his mouth doing that irritating quirk again, the one that made her feel like a complete idiot.
“I am American after all,” she said in an acid tone.
“As if I could forget it.”
To her frustration, she let out a low grunt of annoyance. She didn’t want him to know how much he got under her skin, yet she seemed incapable of being anything but transparent with him. Had she lost her ability to feign indifference when someone really got on her nerves? God knew it had been exercised enough, thanks to her job.
Looks like once I opened the floodgates, I couldn’t close them again.
A sudden wave of dizzying fatigue descended on her and she closed her eyes, rubbing a hand over them. The late afternoon sun gilded the fields, and the scent of lavender seemed even more powerful than when she had first arrived. It made her sleepiness worse, and she felt herself sway a little on her feet.
“Jet lag,” Julia said with a sympathetic look. “It sneaks up on you.”
“It sure does,” Lou said, blinking and making an effort not to yawn. The farthest from home she’d ever been was Chicago. Despite her repeated claims that she would one day run off to Hawaii, Lou had never been willing to spare the time away from work for a real vacation, and so she’d never done more than take a day or two to go to northern Michigan. She tried not to think too hard about all the years she’d wasted.
“You want to head back to the inn? We can have a drink, wait for dinner,” Blaine suggested.
“Yeah, let’s do that,” Lou said. “Let’s find Melinda and Benoit first, say goodbye.”
They thanked Uncle Georges for the tour, Lou complimenting him on his home, and he beamed at them, his sun-browned skin creasing in pleasure. Leaning toward Lou, he surprised the hell out of her by kissing her, pressing his left cheek to her right, then switching sides. It was more of an air-kiss than anything, but Lou tried her best not to seem too rigid. This stranger’s sudden invasion of her personal space shocked her, and she hoped she didn’t appear ungracious. Her cheeks were burning as she, Blaine, and Julia turned and headed off to find Benoit and Melinda, Yves staying behind and striking up a conversation with Uncle Georges in French.
“Yeah, it freaked me right the hell out too,” Blaine whispered to Lou.
Julia giggled and said, “I think it’s nice—once you get used to it, that is. The first time, it is kind of weird.”
“Benoit’s family is nice, but let’s just say that their concept of personal space is a little different from ours,” Blaine added.
“I guess so,” Lou said. Her family’s idea of showing affection was to exchange handshakes at reunions. The only family members Lou had ever kissed were her grandparents, and that had been a quick, dry peck on the cheek. “I’m not sure I’ll get used to that.”
“You will,” Blaine told her. “You’re going to experience a lot more of it, trust me.” The look on her face seemed to amuse him very much, and he gave her shoulder a reassuring pat.
They found Melinda and Benoit in deep discussion with their mothers. Neither of their fathers were anywhere to be seen, and Lou imagined Mr. Majors and Mr. Carelli making an alliance, agreeing to keep one another out of harm’s way at all cost. Knowing Melinda’s father, he was probably holed up somewhere in the house, examining the books and making notes about the history of the place. Maybe he’d include the details in his next novel. Melinda had told her that the modest success of his first book had earned him a new contract, and he was hard at work on his second book.
“We’re going to take Lou back to the inn for a drink,” Blaine said. “She’s fighting off jet lag.”
“Lou, I’m sorry! I didn’t even think… Do you want me to come with you guys?” Melinda asked, looking anxious. Lou tried to determine if Melinda was asking out of concern for her friend or because she was looking for a means of escape.
“It’s okay, Min. If you have things to do here, stay. I don’t want to interfere with your plans. In fact, I’m sorry I’m so useless today. I promise to be a better maid of honor tomorrow.”
“I know. Imagine that: you spend hours in airports and on planes, then sit through a train ride, and you’re tired. You have some nerve,” Melinda teased. She gave Lou a quick hug. “Truth is, I do have some things I need to get done here, then we’re having dinner with Benoit’s family. But tomorrow night we’re all going to have dinner, the seven of us.”
“Seven?” Lou asked, glancing at Julia, Blaine, and Dem.
“Yves will be there too,” Melinda said.
Lou resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “Is he staying at the inn too?”
“No. He’s staying with some friends in the next town over.”
Thank God.
“That sounds good,” Lou said. “And I’m serious about tomorrow. I want to help however I can.”
“I know.” Melinda pulled Lou into another hug, taking the opportunity to speak in a low voice in Lou’s ear. “Listen, tomorrow before dinner I’m going to get away for a while, and you and I can go get a drink, talk about what happened at work.”
“Don’t worry about it, Min. It’s not important right now.”
“Shut the hell up. Of course it’s important. Just because I’m having a wedding party doesn’t mean your life is on hold.”
“Aren’t you supposed to act like a selfish bitch right about now?” Lou teased.
“Don’t worry, I’m working my way up to it. For now, you’ll have to settle for me continuing to act like your best friend.” With another squeeze, Melinda released Lou and turned to say goodbye to Julia and Blaine.
“Save me,” Benoit whispered as he gave Lou a quick hug.
She let out a low laugh, trying to stifle it so the mothers wouldn’t hear. “This is only the beginning, buddy.”
“Is it wrong that I’m gladder than ever Melinda and I moved to Chicago?”
“You guys ever think about moving a little farther away? Like maybe to China?”
“It’s worth considering.” A broad grin lit his face as he straightened up. “Get some rest tonight. Hopefully you’ll feel better tomorrow. Jet lag is a real bitch.”
“Yeah, it is.”
“Ready to go?” Blaine asked, pulling car keys from his pocket.
“I can’t believe you agreed to let him drive you around,” Melinda joked.
“Beggars can’t exactly be choosers, can they?” Lou asked. “Since I don’t know how to drive a stick, and since I couldn’t find a rental agency that had an automatic available, there wasn’t much else I could do.”
“You’re all just jealous of my mad driving skills,” Blaine sniffed.
“Has he ruined the transmission yet?” Benoit asked Julia.
She smiled. “He’s come close, but he’s going to have to work harder to do some real damage.”
“You’re going to be the one to teach the baby to drive, right?” Lou asked.
“What you all don’t realize is I’m going to finally have an ally in this baby,” Blaine said in a haughty tone. “This child is going to idolize her daddy, to the exclusion of everyone else.”
“I’ll remember that when it comes time to change the smelly diapers,” Julia told him.
“Her?” Lou asked.
Blaine’s jaw dropped and he cast a sheepish look at Julia, who sighed and smiled at him in an affectionate manner. “I knew you’d never be able to keep it under wraps,” she said, without a trace of anger in her voice.
“Oh, babe, I’m so sorry. You had such a cute plan to tell everyone, and I went and ruined it,” Blaine said, looking devastated.
“It doesn’t matter. It makes me happy to see how excited you are about the baby. And I bet you’re right, I bet she’ll be the daddy’s girl to end all daddy’s girls.” Putting her hands on his cheeks, Julia pulled Blaine’s face down to hers and gave him a kiss.
A pang passed through Lou as she watched the two of them. In her peripheral vision she saw Benoit take Melinda’s hand and exchange a significant look with her, and Lou knew it wouldn’t be that long before Benoit and Melinda were cooing about having a baby. It wasn’t as though Lou was overly worried about her own biological clock; she still felt pretty ambivalent about motherhood. But everyone else seemed so happy, so stable. Lou had thought she was happy, stable. Now she had no idea what she was.