Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The first chapter of STUCK WITH YOU is here!

Hello, Friends, and welcome to the countdown to my latest book, STUCK WITH YOU, coming out on September 2nd! Thanks for checking in and get ready for some exciting giveaway news, coming soon!




I'm so excited about this story, which originates in the world of THE FIRST KISS HYPOTHESIS and LOVE AND OTHER SECRETS, but takes a little road trip from Central Florida all the way to the Gulf Coast of Texas (which also happens to be where I live).

For those of you familiar with the character of Caleb Gray, who appears as a rather unlucky-in-love character from the first two books, you'll recognize him as he comes back to his family's beach house to confront the doubts he's having about his future. What he thinks is going to be a week of unwinding ALONE (though with his lovable mutt, Mo), takes a turn when he finds the girl he grew up with is crashing at the beach house with her friends. 

Caleb and Catie Dixon haven't been on friendly terms for many years, but a week at the beach, in the surf and sand, watching those beautiful sunrises, has a way of turning things around. 

To celebrate the soon-to-be-released story of Caleb and Catie -- or CayCay as their very own parents shipped them when they were kids--here's the first chapter of STUCK WITH YOU. Enjoy!

Chapter One
Caleb

     After twelve hours on the road, I’m almost where I need to be. 
     I roll down the windows, and the damp air of the Texas coast washes over my face. The salt from the Gulf of Mexico invades my nose, and out there in the dark, I can hear it—waves crashing, welcoming me home.
     I left Florida this morning with a cooler of sandwiches Mom packed for me, a full tank of gas, and Mo, my trusty mutt-slash-wingman, by my side. In just under two weeks, I have to be back to report for practice at Florida Central University, where I got a full scholarship and a spot on the
lacrosse team. It’s a pretty big honor.
     My parents are so excited to have four more years of cheering me on from the stands, even though it means I’m not going to their alma mater in Texas, UT Austin.
     The free money was a big part of that, too. This year they started a new branch of our family’s flooring store, which has been tough and expensive, and this will help. Everyone has to do their part. I’m on board with that.
     FCU has decent academics, too. I’m going to major in business. Dad says I can use the degree to take on more responsibility in the family company when my lacrosse
career is done.
     Everything is falling into place.
     Things couldn’t be better.
     I shift in the driver’s seat. Thinking of the future makes me tense, and Mo seems to know it. He barks then looks from me to the open window, like he’s telling me to chill, son. We’re at the beach.
     “Okay, okay,” I say to him. “I know. Happy place.”
     I dig my free hand into Mo’s fur, scratching him behind the ear where he likes it best. My life has gotten so twisted up in the last six months that sometimes I don’t even know how I got here. It’s been like an out-of-body experience that I’ve just stood back and watched happen.

     Back in December, I was near the top of my class at Lockhart High School in central Texas. I was playing club hockey. I had friends I’d known since preschool. I’d gotten automatic acceptance into UT Austin based on my class ranking. I was gonna keep playing hockey there and had even gotten offered some scholarship money. Everything was set.
     That’s when my parents made the announcement.
     After last fall’s crazy hurricane season, my parents and the Dixons—the family who co-owns our business—had an opportunity to open a branch in Florida. The timing was right, and they were going to go for it. My parents would move and open the store. I would stay and finish out the hockey season and the school year. I could live with the Dixons. But I guess even then I was feeling unsure about the future, because I told Mom and Dad that I didn’t want to stay. I wanted to go to Florida, too.
     My parents argued with me. My friends thought I was nuts. My hockey coach was pissed. It was senior year—who leaves halfway through senior year?
     I played it off as Mr. Easygoing, always game for whatever, but there was no way I was going to let my family do this without me. My father already has high blood pressure from all the time and worry he puts into the store, and my mom is pretty tightly wound, too. They needed me.
     Me quitting hockey was the big stumbling block for my father, but I promised I’d walk on to another team at my new school. Football? Baseball? I’d played them all. He was shocked when I chose lacrosse. Turns out, I am freakishly good at the sport, and my play caught the eye of a bunch of
scouts.
     That made it better for everyone. So, when I wasn’t killing it on the field, I helped my parents in the store, kept my grades up, partied a decent amount, and made some good friends.
     But by the time I walked across that stage in cap and gown a few weeks ago, nothing felt right. This plan for my life began to feel like wearing a too-small T-shirt, uncomfortable and tight and choking me. Even Mom and Dad noticed. Apparently, I was so distracted that they suggested I spend a week at the beach house before I had to be at Central. They said I could invite friends and party
it up (their words, not mine), but in the end I decided to go alone.
     Dad hugged me as I was leaving. “Go get your head clear. I know this is a tough time of life. Lots of changes, but it’s gonna be just fine.”
     Clear my head. Convince myself that there’s nothing wrong with this plan. Besides, it’s not like I have any better ideas.
     As I drive down Bolivar Peninsula toward Crystal Beach listening to some Chance the Rapper (not country, contrary to the Texas-boy stereotype), I already feel better. By the end of this trip, I’ll be back to normal. Mr. Easygoing. That’s me.
     As we enter town, I slow to a crawl. The main drag is hopping tonight—it’s the middle of July, high season in this part of the world. I pass by the Big Store, the one real place to shop here, where you can buy anything, from paint to pizza. I need groceries, but even at this time of night the
parking lot is jam packed, so I’ll come by tomorrow.
     I take the turn into Sandpiper Landing, the community where our house is located, and think back to a September over a decade ago. I was seven when most of Bolivar Peninsula was destroyed by Hurricane Ike, including our beach house. It was an old house—just a fishing shack, basically, but we came all the time. We loved that place. When the storm surge came through, all that was left was a
pile of sticks and one toilet.
     Lots of people decided to leave after that, but we (“we” being my parents and the Dixons, who co-own not only our business, but the beach house) rebuilt, stronger and better, and way nicer than it had been. So that’s where I’m headed, to CayCay’s Cove (don’t ask), our house at the end of Pelican
Lane, right on the beach.
     I drive down the narrow road slowly to avoid the summer renters who are running around in the dark—kids with sparklers left over from the Fourth of July; dogs; adults who, I’m gonna guess, are over their beverage limit. There are probably lots of cute girls here.
     Girls. I snort to myself. Those have been a whole other story this year. One girl really caught my eye in Florida, and she put me in the friend zone faster than a sheep at a mutton busting. In the end it was okay. She’s with my buddy Eli, and I can live without a girlfriend.
     “Who needs the female of the species, anyway, amiright, Mo?”
     He lets out an uncertain yawp as if to say “speak for yourself.”
     I glare at him in all his multicolored-coat glory—brown, red, black, white. Dog’s a mess. “Traitor.”
     Eventually I make it to the concrete slab under the house and park next to a car I don’t recognize. Probably one of the neighbors borrowing the space. When I get out, Mo follows, and I grab my duffel from the bed of the truck. I hear a loud, throbbing bass line that sounds like it’s close. I hope whoever is having the dance party shuts it down soon. I’m tired.
     I climb the stairs—the house is now a good twenty feet above sea level on concrete-reinforced wooden stilts to make sure we’ll beat the next storm surge—and I notice the front porch light is on. Last renters must have forgotten to switch it off.
     The top of the stairs opens onto the wide wooden deck that surrounds three sides of the house and gives a clear view of the water. There’s a half moon shining on the whitecaps at high tide, breaking again and again like they always have, like they always will. I bend down to the big potted palm in
the corner that Mom and Mrs. Dixon put there years ago. Stuck into the soil is the flusher from the original house’s surviving toilet. It’s a family tradition to “flush” it whenever we come back, for good luck, to ward off any future storms. In with the good, flush out the bad.
     Yeah, I know it’s a dumb superstition. Maybe because I play sports I still do it. I’d do anything to save this town from getting trashed again. And anyway, it can’t hurt, right?
     Just as I flush, the music gets louder, and I know it’s coming from the inside of the house. My jaw tightens. Dammit. So much for good luck. There are renters here, and I guess I’m sleeping in the truck with Mo as a pillow.
     Before I get lost, though, my dog needs some water. I can knock, find out when they’re leaving, and ask if they wouldn’t mind giving Mo something to drink. Maybe it’s one of our longtime renters who got their dates mixed up.
     I ring the doorbell, but the music is so loud now that I know they can’t hear it. I lift my fist to knock, but before I can, the door flies open. Three faces stare at me, and they all scream at the same time in a pitch so high I think they might have busted my eardrums.
     Mo barks, and instinctively I grab his collar.
     “Holy shit,” one of them says. “Caleb?”
     My ears still work, so that’s something, and even though I need another second to focus in the dark, I recognize the voice—an accent thick with attitude.
    Then my eyes adjust.
     I stagger back a little and huff out a breath. No way. “Catie?
     I haven’t seen Catie Dixon since the Dixon/Gray family Christmas party right before my parents and I left for Florida. My memories are not super clear of that night—my friends spiked Mrs. Dixon’s cranberry 7 Up punch with vodka—but I do remember what Catie was wearing. Shorter than it needed to be and too low cut, and I remember wishing I didn’t think she was so damn pretty. Now she’s wearing a bikini top and cutoff shorts.
     “Caleb Gray, what the hell are you doing here?” she demands in that know-it-all tone that I’ve heard my whole life, and then I realize even if she looks good—and wow, she looks good—she’s still the same Catie I grew up with. Some people never change, and Catie is one of those people.
     Bossy. Nosy. Forever in my business. I was happy to leave her behind when I moved to Florida. Couldn’t get away from her fast enough.
     I have no idea why she’s here, but I know this—the whole taking-a-week-to-relax-and-clear-my-head situation? I can kiss that goodbye.
     There’s no relaxing with her around—never has been, never will be.

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