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Notorious

Notoriety sucks

Hayley Prescott has had it with being labeled The Widow of a murdered hero. But going home again might not have been her best move. Her self-appointed #1 Fan wants to be her confidant. And the guy who made her notorious in an entirely different way still lives in Gravers Bend—and is every bit as hot as he was back in the day.

 So does being the guy in the wrong…

 Years ago, Jon-Michael Olivet tried to apologize for making Hayley the hottest topic on their small town’s grapevine. She didn’t want to hear it. Well, he is not the boy he was then. He grew the hell up and now he just wants to move on. Hard to do when he can’t stay away from her.

 And if it’s not one damn thing…

 Before the two can deal with old issues, the paparazzi track Hayley down and her #1 Fan begins losing grasp on reality. Yet, Fate so often has plans. And Hayley and Jon-Michael’s best intentions may just go up in smoke.

 

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May 24, 2016
Fat Cat Press
ISBN-10: 09974416
ISBN-13: 978-0997441215

Between the Covers

I started Notorious in 1995 (I know, right?) and had written nearly the entire manuscript when the bottom dropped out of the Romantic Suspense market. In order to stay employed, I filed Notorious away and reinvented myself to fit into the new marketplace, and for the next two decades Notorious lurked in the depths of various computers. Then one day I hauled it into the light of day and started looking it over.

A lot has changed over the years. Tape decks and VCRs and cell phones that were just beginning to show glimpses of their future world dominance, yet weren’t far removed from their former shoebox size, had disappeared or been replaced beyond recognition.  I had written a bar owner who smoked as well–in Washington, which has long since been a no-smoking-in-public-buildings  state.

Then there were the changes in my writing. Like any muscle regularly exercised, it is constantly growing and improving. So the twenty-year-old manuscript definitely needed  dragging into the new millennium. But my voice was still me and the stories within the story (media intrusiveness, debate over the death penalty) are as topical today as they were in ’95. And with the help of fresh eyes in the form of my critique group, whom I catch a ferry on Tuesday mornings to meet in Port Orchard, and a new editor…Well, can I just say I am pret-ty damn proud of the end result?

Be sure to honk if you like it as well.

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Prologue

Concord Daily Star

Elusive Widow’s Silence Sparks New Dialog on Capital Punishment

First in a four-part series

Lawrence Wilson, 21, of Concord, New Hampshire, robbed a clerk at gunpoint in a local 7-11 on June 17, 2012.  Customer Dennis Prescott disarmed him, wrestled him to the ground, and held him until police arrived.

Wilson had no priors, and as his gun proved to be a toy, he was sentenced to three years for aggravated robbery.  He was paroled for good behavior on April 25, 2014, after serving a year and a half.

That evening he murdered Dennis Prescott in cold blood.

The victim’s wife Hayley Prescott identified Wilson as the man she saw exiting her house when she arrived home. Inside, she found her husband bleeding on the floor. He was rushed to Concord Hospital Trauma Center, where he remained in a coma before succumbing to his injuries on August 29, 2014.

In early 2015, Wilson was convicted of first degree murder and after two failed appeals is scheduled to be executed on August first. Unless granted a stay of execution, Wilson will be the first New Hampshire inmate put to death since Huey Long was hanged in 1939.

The Widow’s testimony played a large part in placing Wilson on Death Row, yet she shuns all media contact. Her refusal to comment on the death penalty has renewed debate on the subject. Attention shown this case from news outlets far outside New Hampshire indicates it is a topic with wide reach.

By: Joshua Kepler, Concord Daily Star staff reporter

Second Installment March 18, 2016

Chapter 1

The sun set late mid-June in the Pacific Northwest. Ordinarily going on eight in the evening looked more the way five p.m. did back in Concord, New Hampshire, where Hayley Prescott had lived since college. But in the final seven miles before the turnoff to her hometown of Gravers Bend, Washington, branches from the immense evergreens lining the highway met in a tangle overhead to form a tunnel-like effect that created a false dusk. She drove through the long dim stretch with the top down, greedily inhaling the Douglas fir and pine scenting the cool air blowing her hair around her head.

Her final year in Gravers Bend had totally sucked, but she never denied it was a beautiful, beautiful little corner of the world that sometimes smelled so divine it could bring tears to your eyes. The notoriety that hounded her back then had kept her from coming back for anything lengthier than a flying visit. The last time was three years ago in the wake of her mom’s unexpected death. But more than twelve years had passed since high school and she’d discovered in that time real trouble was having your husband murdered and finding yourself the center of a media circus.

Anticipation began to build in her chest, because she would soon see Kurstin McAlvey nee Olivet. Kurstie was the closest thing to family she had left, and she needed her right now. Quite desperately, she needed her.

The old Pontiac’s engine faltered and choked as she took a left off the highway. It hesitated on the edge of a stall, and she held her breath. Then the engine smoothed itself out and she exhaled in relief. Hang in there, she exhorted silently, sparing a quick glance at the odometer. Only five and a half miles to go.

The lake road’s winding length was less thickly forested, and shafts of sunshine speared through gaps in the branches overhead, dappling the hood of her car and the asphalt beneath her wheels. Then, as she rounded Devil’s Outcrop, the forest dropped away on the shore side and there, spread out in all its glory, was Lake Meredith.

On impulse she cranked the wheel and the car swerved off the road onto the scenic overlook. Before the car quit rocking on its shocks, she had begun double guessing herself. What on earth was she doing? Time was getting on and there wasn’t much point in stopping here—she didn’t even dare turn off the engine for fear it would refuse to start again.

Then she shrugged and switched off the Oldies station that had been fading in and out for the past several miles. The Cowboy Junkies died in mid-static crackle.

Immediately, the peaceful hush of her surroundings, the quiet lap of water against the pebbled shore below, seeped into her soul, soothing her. So, big deal, she wouldn’t turn the engine off. And why not take a moment? This lake held a lot of personal history for her.

Hunched over forearms crossed atop the steering wheel, she propped her chin on her uppermost one and narrowed her eyes against the glare coming off the water. Buttery sunlight flooded the lookout, shining unimpeded from over the treetops across the lake and glittering off the myriad wavelets feathering the water’s surface. Its heat baked her through the windshield while the shade at her back chilled her shoulders.

A tourist would look at Lake Meredith and see spectacular scenery with the added potential for a photo op or two. Hayley looked at it and saw the first eighteen years of her life. She had rowed boats and water skied on this lake. Gone skinny dipping with Kurstin. She’d traversed the train trestle across Big Bear Gap with her best friend and drunk beer at illicit bonfire-lit keggers with Kurstie and assorted schoolmates.

Lost her virginity on a blanket in the woods with Jon-Michael Olivet.

Heart inexplicably pounding, she stuffed her memories back into a compartment in the rear of her mind and determinedly sealed it. The Pontiac’s engine throbbed warningly and she pressed her foot against the accelerator to feed it the measure of fuel she had learned through trial and error would stop it from stalling. Easing the gearshift cautiously into reverse, she backed onto the lake road again, and pointed the hood toward Kurstin’s. Just an other mile or so, she mentally assured her clunker of a car, reaching to pat its cracked, imitation-leather dashboard. Do not die on me now.

Everything she owned was packed in the trunk or thrown on the back seat of her car. If worse came to worst, she was now at least within walking distance of Kurstin’s house. She would rather forego the pleasure of finishing her journey on foot, though. Coming home again after twelve and a half years of keeping her distance had been a tough enough decision as it was. She preferred not to arrive on Kurstin’s doorstep like some ragtag Gypsy queen, her ratty little pile of belongings piled at her feet.

Easing the Pontiac along the twisting shore road on the final leg of her journey, she noted the development that had taken place along Lake Meredith since her last visit. It was surprisingly minor given the growth rate of other areas she’d seen along the way. She’d give decent odds, however, that it chapped the bejesus out of Kurstin’s father’s hide. Richard had always felt rather proprietary about the area.

Hayley swallowed a snicker. Rather proprietary…that was good. Renaming it Lake Olivet would have seemed reasonable to Richard.

The Olivet estate hadn’t changed in the least. Hayley brought the Pontiac to a full stop at the apex of the circular drive, rammed the gearshift into park, then simply sat a moment looking up at the back of the rose-brick mansion.

Everything was precisely as she remembered. The lushly manicured, fully landscaped grounds still rolled between stands of trees down to the lake. The same black shutters framed sparkling windows, and oversized terracotta pots of flowers still flanked the kitchen door painted the same black enamel. Slowly, Hayley reached for the ignition key and turned it off, rolling her eyes in disgust when the engine continued to cough and chug and struggle to shut itself down.

Nothing like making a memorable entrance.

The back door banged open and her oldest and dearest friend came running across the brick patio. “Oh God, Oh God, you’re here!” Kurstin screamed.

A laugh exploded out of Hayley’s throat and she threw her door open, clambering out of the car. She didn’t get two steps before she was engulfed in the welcome warmth of her best friend’s arms.

They clung to each other for a long moment before Kurstin finally pulled back. Holding Hayley at arm’s length, she inspected her from head to toe. “I thought you would never get here,” she exclaimed. “I left work at noon because I was positive you’d arrive early.”

“I told you it would probably be around eight.”

“I know, I know. But I was so anxious to see you I convinced myself you’d be premature.”

“I am often immature—does that count?”

Kurstin laughed. “Oh God, I am so glad to see you, Hayley. I have missed you. Who else would say something so completely asinine to me?”

“Well, please, premature? You still haven’t figured out that real people don’t talk like that. And look at you!” She reached out with both hands to muss Kurstin’s immaculate blonde hair and then leaned back to eyeball her friend’s sleek shantung silk capris. “Don’t you own a pair of jeans these days?”

“Certainly I do. They are at the cleaners.”

Hayley laughed. This was the very reason she had returned.

Unlike Kurstin, she was from a strictly middle class family, but they had been best friends since the first grade. When Hayley’s dad had abandoned her and Mom a couple of weeks after her twelfth birthday, it was to Kurstin she had run. Her bestie had soothed her with unconditional love and assurances that it was not Hayley’s fault he had left as she had feared. A couple years later, she had done her best to comfort and support Kurstin in return when her friend’s sweet, warm-hearted mother died of an aneurism. And, of course, had continued to do so whenever Kurstin’s own father let her down.

Which, unfortunately, had been far too often.

The Pontiac chose that moment to give its final attenuated rattle and die an undignified, wheezing death. Open-mouthed, Kurstin watched its antics. Turning back, she cocked a brow. “Nice car.”

Hayley gave her a crooked smile. “I’m so glad you like it. I thought I’d sign over the title to your father as a thank you gift for letting me stay here a while. What do you think about just leaving it where it is and planting it full of flowers? We could tell him it’s the latest arrangement from FTD?”

“I think we’d better push it down to the garage before he shows up. My God, Hayley.” She walked around the car to view it from every angle. “This gives a whole new dimension to the term lemon.” She prodded a tire with the toe of her pristine Gucci flat. “Where did you get the thing anyhow?”

“Happy Hal’s Auto Barn in Manchester.” Seeing Kurstie’s eyebrows furrow, she added, “The New Hampshire city, sweetie, not the little town in Washington.”

Kurstin grinned. “Okay, that makes more sense. I wondered why you’d go though the hassle of buying a used car when you were only an hour or so from us.”

Hayley unlocked the trunk and reached in for one of her boxes. She hauled it out, boosted it into position with her knee, and secured her grip on it before pinning Kurstin in her sights over its top. “This puppy is pretty much a case of you get what you pay for. Don’t knock it, though; it brought me from one coast to the other. I’m satisfied I got my money’s worth.”

Kurstin shot her friend a look as she reached in the trunk to grab out two suitcases. “I guess it’s been pretty abysmal for you financially.”

Ignoring the urge to razz her friend over her ten-dollar adjective, Hayley simply answered the concern she heard. “We were wiped out by the time Dennis died,” she agreed. “We hadn’t much of a savings, I was still paying off the remainder of my student loans the small inheritance from Mom’s estate didn’t cover, and our insurance had a ceiling that maxed out in no time.”

She adjusted her grip on the box. “But I talked to the financial people at the hospital, who forgave a good sized chunk of the debt. And when I decided to come back here, I sold everything I still owned to pay off what was left. But, hey.”  Deliberately lightening the mood, she smiled crookedly and shrugged. “I’m free and clear now. Dead broke, maybe, but I can truthfully say I am no longer in debt.”

Kurstin dropped a suitcase to give Hayley a fierce one armed hug. “I’m so glad you decided to come home. You won’t regret it, Hayley; I promise you.” Turning her loose, she picked up the abandoned piece of luggage again and led the way indoors. “You know I’ve missed you like crazy.” She glanced over her shoulder at her bestie as they climbed the back staircase to the second story. “And I’ve worried about you since all this shit with Lawrence Wilson began. I am so sorry you had to go through so much of it alone.”

“I know you are. I was grateful for the times you were able to get back there. Your phone calls and letters really helped, too.”

“It hardly seems sufficient.” Opening a door midway down the hall, Kurstin made a sweeping gesture, inviting Hayley to step past her into the room. “I hope this will do,” she said.

“Oh, Kurstin, it’s wonderful.” Hayley carried her box in, dumped it on the bed, and looked around with appreciation at the spacious, beautifully appointed room. She turned back to her friend to assure her earnestly, “I won’t overstay my welcome here, I promise. I have an interview tomorrow, so once I get a few paychecks under my belt—”

“Don’t be absurd,” Kurstin interrupted her impatiently. “You stay as long as you need. My house is your house.”

“Yeah, well, frankly I was surprised you moved back here after your divorce. Don’t you find it a tad awkward living with Daddy again?” Especially when one’s father was the cold and controlling Richard Olivet.

Kurstin flashed her warm, charming smile, clearly not offended by Hayley’s blunt question. “Nope. Father doesn’t spend any more time here now than he did when we were in high school.” Both women remembered high school events that Richard had never attended and the two of them arriving home late at night to find this huge, isolated house dark and unwelcoming. Hayley had spent many an unplanned sleep-over on Friday and Saturday nights so Kurstin wouldn’t have to stay alone except for the gardener and housekeeper/cook, whose apartment was over the garage, and who still kept the house and grounds running impeccably. Her brother had generally arrived home even later than she did.

Kurstin shrugged now and added, “If he’s not working, he is at the club, and he still has that apartment on the other side of town. Which is a long way of saying I have the place pretty much to myself. Living here is convenient.”

“Well, blow me away.” Hayley studied her friend as they left the room for a last trip to the car. “I’m still trying to get used to the fact that you went to work in the family biz.” Kurstin had once harbored a great deal of resentment toward her father’s workaholic tendencies and the family-owned business that made him the richest man in Gravers Bend. So it had caught Hayley flat-footed last year when, via one of their two-hour long phone conversations, her friend had announced she was the newest hire at Olivet Manufacturing. Hayley was freshly amazed every time she thought of it and never failed to say so.

“Yeah, well, get over it,” Kurstin advised. “I told you I had no desire to remain in the city after Marcus and I split. Where else in this burg am I going to make enough money to support me in the style to which I am accustomed?”

“You got me there. What’s it like to work with Richard?”

“Not bad. I know it’s difficult to believe, but he actually leaves me to run Human Resources my own way. Jon-Michael’s the one who butts heads with him all the time.”

Even after all these years Hayley could feel her features stiffen at the mention of Kurstin’s brother. Considering the events of the past few years, a more-than-decade-old humiliation she had suffered at Jon-Michael’s hands should be a minor snag in the overall tapestry of her life. And for the most part it was. But perhaps because it was a humiliation dealt her during her impressionable teenage years she had never been able to completely shrug it off. The face she turned toward her friend now did not encourage a conversation that featured Jon-Michael as its primary subject.

Kurstin gave her the Big Sigh. But she let it pass.

It was Hayley who had trouble switching gears when her friend graciously changed the subject. The truth was, if she’d been surprised when Kurstin went into the family business, she had been downright astounded to learn Jon-Michael had done so as well. And that, by all reports, he was every bit as dedicated to the work ethic as his father had ever been. The concept was so foreign that Hayley simply couldn’t picture it. Much as she hated to admit it, she had tried. The visual refused to gel in her mind’s eye.

Jon-Michael, who had valued adaptability and innovation above all else, who from the day he could first string two words together had questioned every established truth and norm, working with Richard? Jon-Michael, whose bitterness in the old days regarding their father’s neglect had made his sister’s look pale in comparison? The mind boggled.

Richard had fully expected his only son to join the family enterprise—a prospect she recalled consistently prompting, “Yeah, that’ll never fucking happen,” from Jon-Michael. She itched to grill Kurstin about his reasons for such an about-face. She wanted to know specifically what he and Richard butted heads over.

Instead she bit her tongue and filled Kurstin in on the upcoming interview she had scheduled for tomorrow at Lincoln High School.

* * *

Jon-Michael lifted his upper body out from under the hood of Hayley’s Pontiac the next morning and wiped his hands on the rag he had stuffed in his back pocket.

The car was a piece of shit and he didn’t know what the hell he was doing working on it. Not that he couldn’t get it running again, of course, because he could. It would never be a piece of precision machinery and it sure as hell wouldn’t carry her back to New Hampshire if she developed a sudden urge to return there. But he could have it running sweet enough to get her around Gravers Bend on a fairly reliable basis. His aptitude with machinery was not the issue. The problem was how he’d allowed himself to be talked into working on the damn thing in the first place.

Okay, Kurstin was persuasive and could probably sweet talk the devil out of his cloven hooves. He sure as hell hadn’t presented much of a challenge when she rousted him out of bed an hour ago to do this. Besides–he admitted it—he was curious.

Hayley had hardly said a word to him in nearly thirteen years and he was…interested in seeing how those years had treated her. In the past two/three years in particular a whole a lot of shit had rained down on her  and he just wondered: had the events aged her?

Not so you would notice, he decided a short while later when the garage door opener whirred, the doors lifted, and she drove one of his father’s spare cars in. He didn’t plan pulling back into the shadows; he simply followed through on a split-second, subconscious decision to observe before they interacted. Barring an unlikely sudden craving on her part to hang around the garage, his presence here would pass undetected. Her vision would still be adjusting from bright daylight to the garage’s dim interior. Standing in the shadows, he watched as she climbed out of the car and slammed the door.

Damn. He thought he was prepared. He wasn’t.

She still had the same thick, so-dark-brown-it-was-nearly- black hair he remembered. It was all twisted up into one of those girly, vaguely French-looking do’s, but nothing could tame the myriad flyaway tendrils that escaped around her forehead, temples, and nape. She still had the same long nose, same curvy lips, the same poreless skin, unlined as far as he could see.

A silent breath of mirthless laughter slid up his throat. Yeah, big surprise. She was Kurstie’s age, thirty to his thirty-one. Not exactly a senior citizen. And running his gaze over her, he did not fail to notice her little cupcake breasts were exactly the way he remembered them in the little bikinis she had run around in with his sister, as was the ass that was surprisingly round on a woman built along such lean lines. Gimme, his body whispered.

His body could be a mindless testosterone-driven animal, however, so he sternly ignored it.

She punched the button to activate the garage door. Watching her skirt swish around her calves as she ducked beneath it, leaving the garage and him behind, he tried to visualize her naked and wondered if that view remained unchanged as well.

Not that he would know the difference. He couldn’t remember a goddamn thing about what it had looked like before.

That was where the curiosity stemmed from, of course. Hell, it was so obvious it was damn near Freudian. He’d made love to girls before Hayley and to women after, and most of their faces had long ago faded from his memory. But he had never slept with anyone else where he’d been unable to recall a single detail of the encounter afterward. It was bound to make the woman involved stand out in his mind. Who would not be curious about the female who had featured in the one night of his life to which he hadn’t the slightest recollection?

And that was aside from the sick knowledge that before the night was through, he had done something that shamed him to the bone once he’d sobered up.

Jon-Michael thrust the memory aside, rolling his shoulders impatiently. What the hell—forget it. It was a long time ago and he was a different man than he had been then. Hayley had moved on and so had he. There was no point in beating himself up over an action so ancient it creaked, regardless how piss-poor it had been. No point at all.

Picking up a five-eighths ratchet, he bent back over the Pontiac’s engine.

 

“Congratulate me,” Hayley demanded.

Kurstin looked up to see her friend sliding into a chair across the dinner table. “For?”

“I am now officially among the employed.”

“Congratulations! The interview went well, I take it?”

“Aside from the principal’s curiosity about my husband’s murder, yes, pretty well. I got the job, anyhow. That’s the good news.”

“Aw, I’m so sorry, Hayles.” She looked up from snapping out and placing her linen napkin in her lap. “That must have been rough.”

“I’ll live.” But she looked weary.

So Kurstin stretched a leg under the table to poke her friend with her toes. “You said that was the good news. That sounds ominously as if there’s bad news to go along with it.”

“Well, I’m officially hired as Lincoln High’s brand new student counselor. But school doesn’t start until September.” Her shoulders twitched in a tiny shrug that could not quite pull off a sense of nonchalance. “The bottom line is I’m employed but I still don’t have a job. I need to find summer work so I can start bringing in a paycheck.”

Kurstin considered her friend for a moment. Then slowly, reluctantly, she asked, “Do you still know how to mix a Tequila Sunrise?”

“Sure. I bartended all through college—which you well know.” Hayley sat up straighter. “Why? Do you know of a bar here in need of one?”

“As a matter of fact, I do.” Kurstin bit her lip. Oh, she was bad, so bad, to be doing this. On the other hand— “Remember Bluey’s down on Eighth Street?” It was for a good cause after all. That was the thing to remember.

“I’m hardly likely to forget it,” Hayley replied dryly. Her mouth curled up at one corner. “You and I got kicked out of there in, what? Our senior year?”

“Summer after senior year,” Kurstin agreed sadly. “They even stripped us of our fake ID, the bastards.”

“After it took us the better part of the summer to lay our hands on them, too.” Hayley grinned at the memory. “My God, I haven’t thought about that in years. Do they still offer up the hottest blues and jazz in three counties?”

“They do.” Kurstin shifted uneasily in her seat, feeling guilty. She couldn’t do this; Hayley would never understand. “On second thought, maybe it’s not such a superlative idea,” she said.

Hayley looked at her in patent surprise. “Are you kidding? For once one of your adjectives is right on the money. It is an excellent idea!”

“No, trust me; it’s not for you,” she insisted. “I know they need a bartender, but now that I think of it, it’s a bit of a step down from school psychologist, yeah? I mean, you didn’t go to school all those years for this. Forget I mentioned it.” She waved a hand. “We’ll find you something worthier of your education.”

“Okay, you’re scaring me here. It’s not like you to be such an elitist. So tell you what.” Hayley gave her a look. “I’ll be a snob about it next summer. This summer I only have forty-seven dollars to my name. And chances are I can make more in tips tending bar than I’d make in salary at any office job I’d qualify for.”

“Are you sure?”

“Absopositively.”

Hey, I tried, Kurstin assured herself righteously. Truly, a woman could not do more than that. “Well, if you’re certain. I’ll call the owner and set up an interview.”

“I can’t get over this.” Hayley planted her elbow on the table and her chin in her palm and smiled across the table at her. “I cannot reconcile my old trouble-making buddy with the respectable wheeler dealer, mover and shaker you’ve turned into. Omigawd!” she straightened in her chair. “Have you become a Gravers Bend Junior Leaguer?”

“Hardly.”

“Thank God. Still, you are a very big fish.”

“In an exceedingly small pond.” She slanted Hayley a look. “You’re giving me infinitely more credit than I deserve. It happens I hired the granddaughter of Harve Moser, the guy who owns Bluey’s, for a summer filing job at the factory. And I heard through one of the regular band musicians  his bartender quit without notice last week.” She shrugged and tried not to look as guilty as she felt when she thought about who that musician was. Well, what the hell. Hayley had said it herself: she needed a decent paying job and she needed it now.

Kurstin nevertheless hastily changed the subject. “I had somebody over to look at your car,” she said and picked up the little hand bell to the right of her plate, giving it a brief ring. The door swished open a moment later and Kurstin’s cook and housekeeper Ruth, carrying two salad plates, entered the room. She smiled at Hayley as she set hers in front of her, gave her a quiet, “Welcome home,” then exited as quietly as she had entered.

 

Hayley felt as if she had stepped onto a movie set. “This is too spooky. Last week I was slapping together tuna sandwiches for lunch. Now I’m being waited on like visiting royalty. I can’t get used to it.”

“Never mind that,” Kurstin advised with the carelessness of someone accustomed to a lifetime of being served. “About your car—“

“I wish you hadn’t done it. You know the shape my finances are in. I don’t have any idea when I’ll have enough money to pay a mechanic.”

Forget paying. It was done as a favor to me.”

Bitterness surged up Hayley’s throat. “How very grand for you,” she said flatly. “Must be nice.” The words echoed in her head in the wake of the sudden silence following them, and she set down her fork. “I’m sorry,” she said in stricken contrition. “That was so uncalled for.”

“No, I’m the one who should be sorry,” Kurstin said. “I’m trying to take over, just like I always do. I want everyone to be happy, so I bulldoze situations into whatever configuration I think works best to accomplish my ends.” She pushed salad around the plate with her fork for a second then set her silverware aside as well. “Regarding which, I suppose I had better make a clean breast of it and tell you the truth about…”

The doorbell rang and Kurstin cast her a beleaguered glance across the table.  “Oh, for God’s sake,” she said impatiently, rising to her feet. “Now what?”

“Never say you’re going to answer that yourself?” Hayley demanded in faux shock. “Is it the butler’s night off?”

“You’re so droll. We still make do with Ruth and Ernesto.”

Hayley raised her eyebrows at her and Kurstin flashed her a sheepish smile. “Okay, and a cleaning company that comes in once a week.”

The doorbell rang again and breathing, “I’m coming all ready,” Kurstin whirled away to answer it.

Sneak Peek from Chapter 10

“Haul out those glamour duds, girlfriend,” Hayley said. “I wanna see what you’re wearing to the big bash Friday night.” She dropped onto her back atop the plush coverlet on Kurstin’s bed. Pushing up on her elbows, she shook her hair out of her eyes and watched her friend disappear into the walk-in closet.

“I can’t work up any enthusiasm for this party,” Kurstin said from the other side of the wall.

“Why not?”

“Well, it is just more of the same ol’, same old, isn’t it? Deja vu all over again. I’ve lost count of the number of Fourth of July dances I have attended at the club.” Kurstin emerged from the closet holding several gowns. “There won’t be a soul there I haven’t known my entire life, Dad and Jon-Michael will snipe at each other all night, and I’ll be stuck in the middle as usual.”

“So, blow it off. Come to Bluey’s and I’ll put a reserved sign on a stool at the bar. We have a good band playing this weekend.”

“Don’t think I’m not tempted. Except then I would have to make up a raft of excuses for both Father and the stockholders expecting to see me at the club, and in the end it would turn out to be more trouble than it’s worth.”

“Plus, you’re a social creature by nature. You will probably have a great time once you’re there.”

“Yeah, maybe. What do you think, this one?” Kurstin held up a white floor-length gown. “Want to know what I would do this weekend, given the choice?”

“Too bland,” Hayley decided, eyeing the dress. “What would you do?”

“Get laid. This one?” She held up a pale green strapless number.

“Oh, God, you too?” Hayley sat up and impatiently waved away the dress. “Forget the wardrobe for a minute. How long has it been for you? I bet it hasn’t been nearly as long as it’s been for me.”

“Don’t wager your hard earned paycheck on it.” Kurstin draped the gowns over a slipper chair and crossed the room to join Hayley on the bed, bracing her spine against the tall footboard. “It might turn out to be the biggest sucker bet you ever made.”

“You think so? Well, tell me this, then,” Hayley said. “Have you had sex more than twice in the past two and a half years?”

“Well…yes.”

“Not me.”

“Yeah, but you’ve had some turbulent years. At least that is an excuse of sorts. I don’t have an excuse, aside from the fact that I know every man in town.”

“Ooh. In the biblical sense?”

“No. Try to stay on track here, Hayles. If I knew them all in the biblical sense, we would not be having this conversation.”

Kurstin tapped her foot against the Aubusson rug. “I know their families, their histories—hell, I bet if push came to shove I could even quote you their childhood illnesses.”

Hayley scooted to an upright position. Sitting cross-legged, she grasped her ankles and pressed her knees toward the mattress, then allowed them to relax, lazily working them up and down like butterfly wings opening and closing. She looked up from the contemplation of her bare calves to meet her friend’s gaze. “If you could have just one evening of uncomplicated, guilt-free, fantasy sex, what kind of man would you pick?”

“A construction worker,” Kurstin promptly replied. “With a hard hat, hard hands, and a great big, hard…”

“To resist smile.” Hayley grinned.

“That, too. It is definitely up there, right after really hard working hips. What about you? Who would you pick?”

“Remember ‘Ranch’ romances?”

“Please,” Kurstin said with pained loftiness. “You know I only read enlightening fiction.” But she could not prevent herself from squirming beneath the get-real look Hayley gave her. “Okay, okay, I might have read one. Possibly two.” Her foot stilled on the carpet as she leaned forward. “And man, was I enlightened,” she admitted enthusiastically. “This gorgeous rancher had the little blonde heroine every which way there was. It was great. Inspiring, really.”

“Exactly,” Hayley agreed. “That’s who I would pick. Some big ole rancher with ten gallon shoulders and a stallion-sized dick he has to strap down with thingamajig on his holster just to prevent himself from ravishing me on the spot every time I come on the scene.” She laughed but then immediately sobered. “Instead I get real life. How lowering. I got my period this morning, I have a zit starting next to my nose, and you know how I get when it comes to the opposite sex. I can talk trash with the best of ’em, provided it’s only you and me. I don’t have a problem holding my own with the barflies who hit on me at work, because that’s business. But when it comes to doing the Up Close and Personal with a regular guy, all that introversion I have worked like a slave to overcome rears its ugly head. Every stinkin’ time.”

“And the closest I’m bound to get to a construction worker in this lifetime is an ancient Coke ad on TV that I, um, may have recorded back when,” Kurstin admitted, climbing off the bed and reaching for the topmost evening gown draped over the dainty slipper chair. She held it up in front of her. “So, back to real life. What do you think? Should I wear this red number to wow the local boys at the country club dance? Or do you like the pale green better?”

End of Excerpt Like it? Order it!

Notorious is available in the following formats:

Fat Cat Press

May 24, 2016

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