Friday, September 6, 2013

Sneak Peek: Chapter 5 of Derailed

The first ARCs have now gone out to members of my mailing list! If you're a member and didn't receive my newsletter, check your spam folder to make sure the message didn't end up there. I'll be adding the book to NetGalley in about a week.

Derailed will be released on October 9, 2013, and will be available on Amazon, B&N, and Kobo.  In the meantime, how about a look at chapter 5?

Missed the previous installments? You can find them here: cover reveal and book description, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4.

Chapter 5

Steam billowed around her, the water pounding over her head, and Lou let several choice curses fly. Awesome powers of deduction hadn’t been required to know that taking a good old American-style shower would result in a flood of epic proportions—not that the shower head could be placed high enough for her to stand under it anyway. Her room had its own bathroom but was equipped only with a tub and a handheld shower head that wasn’t even attached to the wall. Instead, it was hooked into the faucet on the tub, a small cradle for the head also attached to the faucet. From time to time, Lou liked a good, relaxing soak in the tub, but she felt coated with grime from all the traveling she’d done the previous day, and the thought of sitting in her own filth was less than appealing. She’d been so tired the previous night that the prospect of showering had seemed like an insurmountable task; she hadn’t even made it to drinks, let alone dinner with Blaine and Julia. The minute they’d reached the inn she’d begged off, retreated to her room, and promptly fell into a stupor, fully clothed.
Now that it was morning and she’d slept for hours and hours she felt more alert, but it wasn’t enough to sweeten her mood as she sat hunched in her tub hosing herself off. A faint headache pulsed in her temples, and her emotions roiled, making her feel like she was about to boil over.
“Damn this country,” she muttered as she moved her arm the wrong way and sent water cascading over the bathroom floor. For some reason the sight of the puddle filled her with despair, and before she knew what was happening, she was sobbing. She had the presence of mind to turn the water off before she inundated the bathroom, then she buried her face in her knees and let the tears flow, all the while hating herself for being so weak.
She had no idea why it surprised her that Dwight had cheated her out of the promotion. It had been obvious from day one that he would do whatever was in his own best interest, and she had often warned herself to be on her guard around him. More fool her for having trusted that he wouldn’t use her for his own purposes, then discard her when he no longer needed her. What an idiot she’d been for thinking he might actually help her out.
What hurt the most, though, was that none of her other colleagues had stood up for her, or even reached out to her after she had left. They had worked with her for years, sharing the lab space with her, joking with her, going out for drinks with her. True, most of them were junior like her and intent on keeping their jobs, but that didn’t make her want to forgive them. The sense of betrayal cut deep, and no matter how often she told herself she didn’t care, she did care. She cared a lot.
When the tears dried up at last, she felt hollow. Who was she without her job? She’d once given Melinda hell about the amount of time she spent holed up alone in her condo, and Lou was aware of the hypocrisy of her own social isolation. Trust didn’t come easily to her, and Melinda’s move to Chicago, Blaine’s move to Ann Arbor, had left her without any close friends nearby. Throwing herself into her job with even more fervor, she lost herself in work in an effort to dispel her loneliness.
Panic clawed at her throat, and she breathed in short, quick gasps, knowing she was on the verge of hyperventilating. What now? When she went home, what would she do? How could she face her mother, who would probably give her that I-told-you-so look, all the while sniffing that delicate sniff that told Lou exactly what her mother thought about career women? In her mother’s eyes, she was a failure for not yet having snagged a man. Lou didn’t share that opinion, but it hurt just the same that her mother sneered at her life choices.
Her father wasn’t much better. Beaten down by years of working at a job he hated, and being married to a woman for whom he had little left but contempt, he wouldn’t have the spare energy to work up any sort of empathy for his daughter. He wasn’t a bad or cruel man, but he had all but given up on life, and the cuts inflicted by his indifference were almost as painful as those inflicted by her mother’s disdain.
To hell with them, she thought, wiping at her swollen eyes. She didn’t really care what they thought, hadn’t for years, but she was so overwhelmed with the sense that her life was falling apart that she couldn’t resist adding to the heap. The thought of going home to the silence of her apartment was unbearable. She’d try to find another job, of course. Lacking independent wealth, she couldn’t hope to survive without one. But now that she had gained some distance from her altercation with Dwight, cold fear sliced through her. She’d made such a scene with him that there was no chance he would give her a good recommendation. If he was wary enough of a lawsuit he might offer up a neutral opinion, but that was the best she could hope for—unless he’d made it his mission to blackball her outright, which she wouldn’t put past him. Any way she looked at it, Lou was pretty sure she was well and truly fucked.
That wasn’t even the worst of it, though. The worst was that, as shitty as the politics could be, as soul-sucking as it was to have to chase grants in an effort to survive, Lou had loved the job. She had loved the sense of discovery, had even loved the intense frustration brought on by her failures because she was so amply rewarded by her successes. Grouse about her job as she might, she had loved it with a passion that made her feel alive, that made her want to get up in the morning, and now she had lost that. She didn’t know if she’d ever find that same passion again, and it terrified her.
Sucking in a few shuddering breaths, she forced herself to calm down. She’d promised Melinda that she would help with the reception and she was going to keep that promise. Melinda deserved this happiness, and Lou wasn’t about to let her friend down. Depressed as she was, she’d be far more depressed if she started withdrawing from her friends and lost them. As she resumed her shower, a blessed sense of numbness settled over Lou.
It was early, but Blaine was already downstairs in the breakfast room when Lou entered. “Where’s Julia?” she asked.
“Sleeping in,” Blaine said, stuffing half a croissant in his mouth and letting out a low moan. “This food is so good,” he sighed, his words garbled.
“Ugh. You’re such a pig. How could Melinda stand sharing a cubicle with you all that time? Did you eat like this in front of her too?”
He paused to swallow and take a gulp of juice. “Are you kidding? These are my company manners. I never bothered using them with Melinda.”
“Is that regular coffee?” she asked, pointing at his cup. “Thank God. I thought I was going to have to drink it out of a thimble this whole trip.”
“Nah. Pro-tip: you can usually get a full cup when you’re having breakfast at a hotel or when someone makes it for you at their house.” He graced her with a sage nod.
“What, you’re an expert on France now because you’ve been here three whole days longer than I have?”
“Something like that.” He grinned at her and wolfed down another mouthful of croissant slathered with Nutella.
A staff member appeared, placing a small basket of pastries before Lou and asking if she’d like orange juice or coffee. The girl gave a polite nod when Lou said she’d like both, and left to fetch them.
“So what’s up with you?” Blaine asked. He sounded casual, but his tone was more serious than usual, and Lou knew he had seen right through her.
“Jet lag?”
He made a sound like a buzzer. “Try again.”
Setting a croissant on her plate, Lou sighed and picked at it. “I quit my job.”
“You what?” Spluttering, he grabbed his napkin and mopped up the coffee on which he’d just choked.
“Don’t make me repeat it.” Lou flicked a flake of croissant to the other edge of her plate. It was gorgeous, what with its golden brown outside and its perfect flakiness, but her appetite was nowhere to be found. She was thirsty, though, and she took a long pull on the juice the server set before her.
“What happened?” Blaine asked, his voice laced with concern.
With another sigh, Lou propped her elbow on the table and her forehead on her hand and told him the whole sordid tale. By the time she’d finished his eyes were bulging and his face had darkened.
“What a fucking prick!” he growled, his voice loud enough to attract the attention of the few other diners.
“I’ll drink to that,” Lou said, saluting him with her coffee cup.
“Shit, I’m so sorry, Lou. I wish I could say something better than that, but it’s all I’ve got.”
“I appreciate it.” And she did. For as much of a goofball as he could sometimes be, Blaine was also an excellent listener.
“Well, fuck him.” Blaine’s tone was harsh. “Don’t let him ruin your life. I know you’re upset and I don’t blame you, but you’re in France. Let yourself go. Drink some wine. Eat obscene amounts of pastry. But, most of all, don’t let him win. He doesn’t deserve that and neither do you.”
“Thanks.” Lou pecked him on the cheek. “That’s good advice. I promise to try to take it. Just do me a favor, okay? I know you’ll tell Julia, and that’s fine, but let’s not talk about it right now.”
“No problem,” he said, giving her shoulder a squeeze. “And I’m serious about eating. You didn’t have anything last night, and it’s not like eating pastry here is torture. Just try some.”
“Is that pain au chocolat?” Julia’s voice asked, behind Lou’s shoulder. She sounded rapturous.
“Pan-oh-wha?” Lou asked.
“Pain au chocolat,” Julia repeated, saying the words more slowly. “It basically means to-die-for pastry goodness stuffed with dark chocolate that makes you want to weep. You have got to try one. Trust me, you won’t be sorry.”
Eyeing the pastry, Lou picked it up and took a bite. Then she took another one and another one. Julia was right, she was anything but sorry.
“I think I’m going to marry this pastry,” Lou moaned. Maybe France wouldn’t be so bad after all, notwithstanding the horrible lack of a proper shower.