Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sneak Peek: Chapter 6 of Derailed

I'm working hard to finalize Derailed, and it should be available to NetGalley users by early next week, but I'll keep you posted.

Release date isn't far away! On October 9, 2013, Derailed will be available on Amazon, B&N, and Kobo. Until then, whet your appetite with this peek at chapter 6.

Missed the previous installments? You can find them here: cover reveal and book description, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5.

Chapter 6

With a vengeance, Melinda took Lou up on her offer of help. When they were done for the day, Lou was even more exhausted than she had been the previous day but she had also been far too busy to brood, which was a good thing. In fact, when they’d said their goodbyes to the families and headed off in Melinda and Benoit’s rental car, Lou felt considerably more cheerful.
“So, do you want to talk about it?” Melinda asked, her eyes darting to the side to steal a quick glance at Lou. Melinda wasn’t normally a nervous driver, but Lou didn’t blame her for being on edge. The small French roads and crazy drivers were enough to make anyone’s hair stand on end, no matter how steely their nerves.
“Thanks, but not right now. Hey, when did you learn to drive a stick anyway?”
“Benoit taught me. He learned when he spent summers here, and I asked him to teach me. I wanted to be sure I could make a quick getaway if necessary.” Melinda winked, but then her smile faded. “Are you sure you don’t want to talk?”
“I’ll give you the abridged version and then I don’t want to talk anymore. It’s too depressing, and I’m feeling okay for the first time in a week. Anyway, here goes: Dwight reneged on his promise to promote me after the project. Instead, he gave it to another guy who did about a quarter of the work I did, none of which had any real importance to the project.”
“What! The! Fuck!” Melinda shouted, the car swerving violently.
“I don’t want to die in France!” Lou yelled, bracing herself against the door frame.
“Sorry, sorry.” Wrestling the car back under control, Melinda blew out a breath. Her face was set in rigid lines, and she looked angry enough to kill. “I can’t believe he did that to you.” Her hands shook on the wheel, her knuckles white. She shifted with an alarming grinding noise and groaned, biting her lip.
“It’s not the poor car’s fault,” Lou said. Then she laughed. It felt good, so good that she kept on laughing until they reached the cafe, then she wiped a tear from her eye. “Like I said, I don’t want to talk about it. Blaine encouraged me not to let it ruin my trip, and I think he’s right about that.”
“Fuck Dwight,” Melinda said in a vicious growl. She pulled on the parking brake with such force Lou thought she might rip it right out of the car.
“Fuck Dwight,” Lou agreed, her tone solemn. “Now let’s go drink some wine.”
Heading for the cafe, Melinda put her arm around Lou’s waist and squeezed. “I love you. Dwight is a prick. It won’t be long before it’s obvious to everyone that he’s lost without you—and that’s all I’m going to say about it,” she added, putting her hand up to fend off the protest that Lou was about to utter.
“Good. I don’t want to talk about Dwight. I want to drink copious amounts of French wine and talk about the reception. It’s been ages since you and I have had a chance to hang out together alone. Not that I’m complaining about Ben, of course. You know I love him.”
“I know. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get in the way sometimes,” Melinda said, a mischievous smile on her face.
“What’s his extended family like? His Uncle Georges seems nice, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t understand half of what he said. It’s a good thing you speak French.”
“Yeah, it definitely makes things easier. They’ve all been so nice to me, though I think I’m sort of a curiosity to them. They think of Benoit as being almost French because he’s spent so much time here, but I’m pretty sure they all refer to me as ‘the American’—not that I mean that in a bad way. I think being an American earns me points with some of his relatives, especially his younger cousins.”
“Fess up: it makes you feel all exotic, doesn’t it?”
Laughing, Melinda bumped Lou’s hip with hers. “Something like that.”
The cafe was small, rustic, and obviously the local watering hole. Cigarette smoke thickened the air outside, and Lou stared around her in disbelief. “Does everyone in this country smoke?”
Melinda made a face. “It seems like it sometimes. Don’t get any ideas. Remember how long it took you to quit? Do you want to have to go back to the patch?”
“No,” Lou said, but she couldn’t help but feel a little wistful. The cigarettes were so enticing, and she’d had such a shitty time of it lately.
She forced herself to thrust the thought aside, instead looking around and taking in the decor. Like most of the buildings in town, the cafe was old and charming. Bistro tables were scattered around outside, almost all of them occupied, and they overlooked the square, making them perfect for people watching. She and Melinda claimed one of the vacant tables, and Lou craned her neck to get a good look inside the cafe. A zinc-topped bar stretched along the back of the room, more bistro tables scattered around the cafe’s interior. As with Uncle Georges’s house, the ceiling was low, with visible oak beams. The floors were tiled, and Lou realized that the last time she could remember seeing carpeting was at Newark Airport. It was as if they were in a postcard image of a French cafe, and if Lou weren’t sitting in it, she wouldn’t have believed it was real.
“This place is…” Lou searched for the right words. She didn’t want to say anything trite or sound like an idiot. It was all so different from what she was used to that she couldn’t quite shake a sense of unreality, like she was on a movie set or something.
“Perfect.” Melinda sighed.
Lou nudged her friend. “Sometimes I think you waited around for a guy who was at least vaguely French so you’d have an excuse to be places like this. Don’t tell me you’re thinking of moving here.” She was teasing, but the thought pierced her. It was bad enough having Melinda in Chicago; what would she do if there were an ocean between them—not to mention the six-hour time difference?
“Nah, not really. I wouldn’t mind it, but I’m happy with my job. It’s fulfilling to finally be doing something I love, you know?” The moment the words were out of her mouth, Melinda looked like she wished she could grab them and stuff them back in. “Shit, Lou, I’m sorry. That was so insensitive.”
“No, it’s okay. You put up with a crap job for a good, long time. You deserve to be doing something you care about. Just because I’m miserable right now doesn’t mean I want to see you miserable as well.” Putting her hand over Melinda’s, Lou gave it a squeeze.
The server dropped some menus on their table. She didn’t have any in English, so Lou had to rely on Melinda to translate, and it made for a welcome distraction. Lou didn’t want Melinda to be all awkward around her, she just wanted to enjoy the easy friendship that she missed so much. Though the two of them spoke, texted, or emailed on a daily basis, it wasn’t the same as it had once been, and Lou hadn’t wanted to tell Melinda how much she missed her for fear of making her friend feel guilty.
“Can I buy you ladies a drink?” an unwelcome voice asked as Melinda was describing a cocktail to Lou.
“Yves!” Melinda cried, standing up and exchanging three cheek kisses with him. “Join us. You don’t even have to buy us a drink.”
“But I will all the same,” he said, taking the empty chair next to Lou, who refrained from twisting her mouth up in distaste. She could feel Yves eyeing her.
“Hello, Yves,” Lou forced herself to say.
“Bonsoir, Lou,” he said, offering her a grave handshake.
“Will you guys excuse me a minute? I need to use the bathroom,” Melinda said. “Yves, if the server comes back, you know what to order for me.”
“Your usual,” he said with a smile.
“Could you describe it for Lou? Trying to do justice to translating food and drinks is too much of a challenge for me.”
“Of course.” Yves waited until Melinda was gone before saying to Lou, “I fear you and I got off on the wrong foot.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Lou said, her voice stiff. She fought not to go rigid. He was sitting far too close to her, and he smelled delicious.
Why the hell did I just think that?
“Yes, you do.”
Annoyed, she looked at him, catching the amusement in his eyes. “I thought French people were supposed to be polite. In case no one’s ever told you, it’s not polite to pry,” she blurted.
Throwing his head back, Yves let out a throaty laugh, and Lou didn’t bother hiding her annoyance. He fixed his gaze on her when he stopped laughing, and she was unable to avoid his eyes. “Honestly, I’m not the tosser you think I am. I just have a very dry sense of humor. I suppose what Benoit said is uncomfortably close to the truth, but then it’s difficult to live in London and not pick up at least something of the sense of humor. At any rate, I thought Americans were supposed to be obnoxiously friendly.”
Snorting, Lou tossed her head and stared him down. “Trust me, Americans aren’t the only obnoxious people in the world.”
“Touché.” Yves smiled at her, and she tried not to notice how perfect his teeth were.
“Tell me about this cocktail,” Lou said, bringing the conversation back to safer territory.
Obliging her, Yves started talking about orange bitters, grenadine, and white wine, but Lou didn’t pay much attention to the words. Tapping her fingers on the table, she waited for Melinda to return, relieved when her friend appeared at the same time as the server. She didn’t know why she was so determined to dislike Yves, but something told her that letting him win her over might not be such a great idea.