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About the author:
Like the heroines of One Week in Wyoming, Alexis Anne, Audra North, Julia Kelly, and Alexandra Haughton met online first. And, yes, there was much squealing and hugging and rejoicing when they (FINALLY) met in person at the 2014 Romance Writers of America annual conference in San Antonio.
Here is a short sample from the book:
If there were ever a time for a cowboy, take me away moment, now would be it. But there were no cowboys here—even though Joan had promised Jackson was filled with all kinds of tall-drinks-o’-water who wouldn’t leave her thirsty. It was probably for the best, Callie Emerson thought, as she pulled herself out of the coldest slush puddle in Wyoming. Right now she wasn’t exactly at her finest. She was used to making a splash in the society pages, sure, but she was rather more fond of the figurative splash.
The literal one totally blew.
“That was unfortunate.” Callie turned to Mrs. Berkhoven with her party smile firmly in place and attempted to wring out the hem of her sweater.
Helen just hmmed and remained a good three feet away, as if Callie’s unfortunate slippage incident were contagious. And maybe it was. Already, the damp had permeated the Lycra barrier. Geez Louise, that was cold!
“Maybe I should head back to the ho—”
“Nonsense,” Helen interrupted. “There’s a dear little place ahead on the corner we can rest in. I’m just a bit chilly, and exhausted. I could use some time by a roaring fire and maybe a little refreshment. Travel makes me so weary these days.”
Callie surveyed her mother’s best friend and barely managed to keep from rolling her eyes. Helen’s trim bob was perfection, as usual, and her chic little boots peeked out from the hem of her full-length mink. Oh yes, Callie could see how a private, direct flight to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, instead of dealing with a commercial flight out of New York with a stopover in Denver, would really take it out of a person.
She couldn’t really complain, though, as she’d been the beneficiary of said nonstop private flight.
But the “dear little place on the corner” wasn’t on the next corner. Not around a block and back around to some other corner, either. Oh, Helen, you are so next-to-helpless. Callie’s party smile threatened to crack into a million jagged pieces like so many ice crystals.
When Gran had inveigled the invitation from Helen in front of half of Manhattan yesterday, refusing hadn’t been an option. Callie had never dreamed she’d be conscripted to act as Helen’s companion this afternoon. But here she was, inappropriately dressed and soaking wet, lost in the middle of a western tourist trap.
She hoped she wouldn’t run into anyone she knew here, as it was entirely possible she looked like the biggest fool in Wyoming. It had been in the sixties when she’d left the city, and Callie had expected to be whisked from the tarmac by private car straight to the well-shoveled sidewalk in front of Jackson’s grandest hotel. She hadn’t prepared for a long, arctic trek.
Wyoming, in a word, sucked.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t that terrible—she’d gained a cute pair of heels out of the day, even though her favorite Italian leather hand-painted ballet flats were now totally ruined. And if Joan would ever call her back, Callie could be sitting by a roaring fire at the lodge, sipping boozy hot chocolate, getting some words on the page, and all would be right with the world.
“Pat’s Folly,” Helen announced, reading off a distressed wooden sign. “I don’t think this is the place, but I suppose it will do.”
Callie wondered who Pat was and if her original folly had been coming to Wyoming totally unprepared for life.
A gust of frigid air bit through Callie’s damp clothes, but Helen stood a good five feet from the door as if waiting for a doorman to materialize. Like that was going to happen. Callie shuffled some of their shopping bags and reached for the heavy brass door handle. Companion, lackey, doorman, she apparently played all the parts today. Private jet. It was worth it for the private jet.
“What was that, darling?” Helen swept by, still putting a good amount of distance between herself and Callie’s soggy sweater.
Callie’s eyes hadn’t even adjusted to the dim interior before Helen started in again. “I do hope that little suede clutch isn’t ruined. I’d hoped to carry it to dinner. You are planning to have dinner with Frank and me tonight? Before you meet up with your old friend?”
The appearance of the hostess gave Callie an opportunity to dodge Helen’s question. She loved Mrs. B., most days, but she had used up just about all her politesse this week leading up to her grandmother’s benefit luncheon. Would it be totally rude to head immediately to the restroom to repair her sad outfit and try again to get in touch with Joan to come rescue her?
Did she even care?
“Good afternoon, welcome to the Folly. How—”
“A table for two—and not one of those tall ones up by the bar. We’d like a proper table.”
The hostess looked a little shell-shocked after Helen’s curt orders. Ah yes, the city dweller’s brevity, giving New Yorkers everywhere a bad name. Callie felt compelled to add a whispered thank you.
The hostess winked in what Callie hoped was sympathy as she gestured them past lines of empty tables to one in the back by a medieval-sized fireplace. Bless her. Maybe Callie’s “unfortunate sweater bulge” would dry out a bit.
And her toes.
Quelle surprise, they’d barely sat down when Helen resumed her running monologue. “You should change into those fabulous heels you bought.”
Callie pretended Helen felt bad about Callie’s slip and trip, but she knew better. Helen just wanted to see the shoes again. And they were pretty fabulous shoes, all metallic and bondage-y.
“And the London-blue topaz. Callie, I don’t know what I was thinking buying those earrings, but they’d be perfect on you.” Helen rustled around in the shopping bags, pulled out a little velvet pouch, and slid it over. “Oooh, I can’t wait to see those against all that gorgeous length of your neck. Go on. Try them.”
If anyone thought it odd that Callie donned four thousand dollars’ worth of gemstone earrings at what was, at best, a local dive bar, they didn’t say anything. But then again, it was empty. Everybody must be up on the mountain, frolicking in the snow.
Callie vowed to never again frolic in the snow. No. Not her. Not ever. From here on out, she’d suggest beach vacations. One of her father’s ex-wives had a house somewhere in the Caribbean. Was it Three or Four? If it was Four, Callie would never see the inside of it again. But if Three had it, there was a very good chance she’d agree to let Callie host a girls’ getaway. Surely the others would go along with it. Who didn’t love the beach?
The waitress appeared with their drinks, and she oohed and aahed when Callie bent to roll up the soggy leggings she was wearing, transforming them into chic and sleek cropped-length pants to show off her new, sexy shoes.
Callie had to admit, the look wasn’t half bad. Completely inappropriate for her location, but not bad. She nudged her wet flats a little closer to the fire, hoping they’d dry while they ate, and listened to Helen prattle on.
It was probable she’d said three words to Helen’s every thousand this entire day. But she planned to order something called “Land Rover Nachos,” and that would shut Helen up pretty quickly. Nothing made a New York doyenne go thin-lipped faster than processed cheese product.
This was vacation! Could she soak in a vat of processed cheese product? It would be like a full-body paraffin treatment. And instead of drawing the toxins out, it would push them all back in. Um, yesssss. Hot, sweet, melty goodness. She’d take a vat of toxins and everything else that was indulgent and bad for you this week before—
“Keep those, dear. I’m going back for the others.”
“Keep what?” Callie was still toying with the idea of getting nachos and curly fries, but this was just supposed to be a snack. Please, God, let Joan see the missed calls and rescue me from dinner with the Berkhovens. “The earrings?” She fondled the length of the stones she knew in her bones matched the precise color of her eyes. “Helen, I’m not keeping these.” Though she coveted them madly. “Gran would never forgive you if you outdid her birthday gift to me this year.”
“But that’s half the fun.” Helen grabbed Callie’s chin and turned her face to the light to admire the jewelry. Callie would give anything for a peek in the mirror at the gems. “And besides, you’re the closest thing to a daughter I’ll ever have. I’ve given up on the boys ever bringing home a girl who cares more about sparkly things than grubbing around in the desert.”
Yes, they’re only saving lives by running a very successful NGO in the Middle East. Callie tried to let Helen’s words roll off, knowing the older woman meant well. Plus she knew for a fact Frank Jr.’s latest ladylove wouldn’t mind having a sparkler on a very important finger. But it got tiresome, being in the writer closet, so to speak. Keeping her identity as an author secret and only being seen as vivacious Callie Emerson, party girl and philanthropist, who put together a smashing luncheon and charmed old men out of multi-thousand-dollar checks. Not a thought in her pretty head.
That last was much closer to the truth than Callie would care to admit. She’d been stuck so long without a decent idea, and she had deadlines of all kinds breathing down her neck. If she could just get to Dabai. There were some things you couldn’t put in a text message or say on a video chat, and Callie needed a hearty dose of Joan’s no-nonsense style mothering.
If only she could confide in Helen…
No, Helen approached her role of godmother as more in the fairy-godmother vein than in the substitute-mother way. She’d cluck and coo over Callie’s fears, and buy her something pretty, instead of serving up a reality check.
She sipped at her gorgeous wine and both she and Helen continued to sit in quiet contemplation of the fire. Quiet. Damn, she should’ve thought to offer a drink to Helen when they’d first arrived, and half of the afternoon could have been saved. And her shoes.
“What if I borrow the earrings this week and return them to you back in the city after the holidays, Helen?” That would be the best solution, even if Helen demurred. She’d just need to enter a reminder on her phone to schedule a courier service to return them after Thanksgiving and—
“Callie, what on earth are you doing?”
She was quickly losing her mind, that was what she was doing. Callie bent to root through the shopping bags and the little metallic kiss-lock clutch she threw her ID and credit cards in when she traveled. Not there. The fall must’ve dislodged it.
No. No! She wouldn’t think about her phone lying in the frozen slush out on the sidewalk. Her poor, almost-certainly-dead phone. Best friend and lifeline.
Maybe it had fallen out at the last store, when Helen made her try on those ridiculous red ski pants. What was that place called?
No, wait. Callie had texted Lydia at the counter when she bought the bondage shoes.
All signs pointed to a slushy grave.
It wasn’t a big deal—she shouldn’t get frantic. She could overnight a replacement to the lodge. She’d be without a phone until Monday. It wasn’t the end of the world.
It was the end of the world.
She’d typed furtive notes on the plane when Helen had been taking circuits of the jet’s interior “to keep from getting cankles,” and Callie hadn’t been connected to the internet to back up her work. She’d anticipated a quick farewell with the Berkhovens at their hotel and an hour or so using the hotel Wi-Fi before Joan could pick her up.
Forcing herself to take a deep breath and exhale the negative energy, Callie sat back on her heels and tried to focus. Everything would be fine. It wasn’t that much of a loss. Only a thousand words and some bullet-point notes she needed to help her figure out the elusive ending of her Kiss and Tell series. She still had time, but the last book needed to be in her editor’s inbox before Christmas or she was toast.
God, she wished she could turn the ending into a cold, apocalyptic world of anarchy and chaos—just make it all explode and disappear.
“What did you say, Callie?”
“Nothing. Helen, I think my phone is missing.” And my life and my sanity and all the work I did this morning. “I have no idea what Joan’s number is at the lodge.” She tried to laugh that off. As if not knowing how to contact her friend was all that was wrong.
Helen waved a hand, as if to say she could work magic on the situation. And, Callie considered, she probably could. If they’d been in New York.
Callie could’ve worked some pretty fancy magic herself, had she been in the city, but out here, she doubted there was much to be done. She’d be lucky to find a pay-as-you-go flip phone. With buttons.
“Can I help you with anything?” The waitress was wearing boots that looked serviceable and comfortable. Warm. Like the kind Callie herself had in her luggage. The kind that did absolutely no good when you didn’t wear them.
“You may,” Helen said. “Our orders. I’ll have your famous chili chicken sandwich, but hold the bread and cut the chili mayo. And might I have some extra green leaf lettuce?”
Callie was still on her hands and knees in front of the bags, rooting around fruitlessly, but the waitress looked at her as if she were the normal one. Which was true. Helen had basically ordered chicken and lettuce, not their supposedly famous chili chicken sandwich.
“And for you, miss?”
She needed the processed cheese product now more than ever, but Callie was too upset about her phone to enjoy it. “Same. And would you mind bringing me a local phone book?”
“Don’t have one. Who you need to call? I’ve got numbers for hotels. Airport transport—”
“She’s trying to reach her friend, the owner of Dabai.” Helen pronounced “Dabai” all wrong, a little like Dubai, but she said it with such gravitas, the waitress just nodded. And maybe curtsied a little bit?
She looked back to Callie and put a hand to her chest. “You know Joan Halliday? Well of course you do—look at you, I should’ve recognized you from the wedding pictures. Her daddy came through real regular. Always had a story about Joan and her fancy East Coast friends.” She extended her hand in a lemme-help-you-up gesture.
Callie took the hand that was offered and stood, brushing the salty residue off the knees of her pants. Not so fancy now, am I?
“Course,” the waitress kept on saying, “I can call the lodge for you, but I’ve heard she’s hard to pin down when she’s writing.” Her voice got all whispery and she went from friendly to super-fan in about two-point-three seconds. Her eyes got that glassy, fanatical sheen. God, Callie loved that sheen. “You read any of her books? Girl can tell stories like you wouldn’t believe. I bet you get them all in hardcover, and autographed, don’t you?”
Callie didn’t have the heart to explain—and certainly not with Helen sitting there—that as Joan’s critique partner, she not only got to read all of Joan’s books, she got to read them first. Before they were even published. So she just smiled. “Actually, Joan’s not expecting me here today at all. I was supposed to fly in tomorrow. But if you can just give me the number to the lodge, let me borrow your phone, I’m sure I can—”
“There’s no need for that. Garrett,” the waitress called out. Callie looked around at the empty room. Maybe Garrett was the chef in the back. “Come with me.” She motioned for Callie to follow her to the front of the restaurant.
Ah, there. There was another patron in the place. A shadowy figure in the corner of the bar she hadn’t seen when Helen marched them in.
“Don’t you pretend you can’t hear me. I’ve got a job for you this afternoon.” The waitress walked up to the man and gave him a friendly punch on the shoulder. Callie heard a grunt, and maybe a word that sounded like “can’t,” but she couldn’t be sure because the guy sitting on the stool didn’t turn his face away from the sports highlight reel that was on the television screen above the bar.
“Don’t ‘can’t’ me, Garrett Win Carter. Your sister’s pretty city friend is here and needs a ride to the lodge.”
* * *
Well, shit. Win took a long drink of his Diet Coke and refused to turn to Peggy. He wasn’t running a damned taxi service to the lodge. He’d done as much as he could to avoid his sister since she’d come home last week; he damn sure didn’t want anything to do with one of her ridiculous friends.