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Nellie Hawthorne is a woman who has it all. A devoted husband, her own business, a wealthy lifestyle. But the Nellie she is now is much different from her past. A past filled with abuse, addiction, and men. Nellie’s carefully constructed new life is suddenly in jeopardy when a blast from the past emerges in her small town and her overbearing mother-in-law starts pushing for grandchildren and questions start being asked. A budding new friendship presents itself at an opportune time, and a once friendless Nellie finds herself growing closer to Prue Doherty.
Prue Doherty is the quintessential good girl. Always making the right decisions, always playing it safe. Until she meets a man that could change all of that. Still reeling from a devastating breakup and betrayal that had her fleeing from Chicago and settling into suburb life with her mom close by, Prue finds herself in a damaging funk. But everything changes when she befriends Nellie Hawthorne.
Nellie is trying to escape her past. Prue wants that perfect future. While both women strive to change their lives, they continue to cling to the past. But what defines us? Who we were then . . . or who we are trying to be now? Lies, manipulation, and deceit are woven throughout the pages of this edgy women’s fiction novel, with an ending you won’t see coming.
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From Chapter 1
I pulled up the schedule and minimized it to a small square, dragging it up to the top of my screen. I loved keeping an eye on the appointments, seeing the client name turn purple upon checking in, then yellow when their room was cleaned after they were finished. Our salon had three Versa Spas and sixteen regular tanning beds, all varying in speed and power. Mondays could be a fairly busy day, as people have their high hopes for the week, their mental to-do lists of how to get it started off right. Even during summer season the tanning salon stayed busy. Heaven forbid one of the suburbanites looked less than stellar taking their children to the pool or their summer activities and camps.
I blew out a breath. I could feel my old self threatening to peek through my carefully worked on new persona. My Mrs. Hawthorne persona. I wasn’t the old Nellie. I wasn’t.
I turned back to the computer, watching the check-ins and check-outs start to happen. I scanned the schedule again. Mostly familiar names in there. One in particular stood out to me on that day. Prue.
I clicked on her profile, which opened up the client information, including their photo we scanned from their driver’s license. Yep, it was the woman I’d been observing the past . . . oh, two weeks or so. Cute blonde bob, though longer now than in her picture. Bright green eyes. Petite. I remember being the one to give her the tour when she first joined as a member. I towered over her, and I’m 5’7.
She stuck out to me because she seemed so . . . sad. Something in her piercing green eyes stuck out to me that day. I didn’t know what her story was and I knew it wasn’t my business. We all deal with our own shit in our own way. But something . . . just gave me a pause. I never really had an empathic bone in my body, and I wasn’t the girlfriend type. I tried doing that whole have chicks on my side that I can count on and have each other’s backs years ago and that didn’t pan out. Nah. It’s just me and Harrison now. And our neighbors and Harrison’s work friends and the girls at the salon, but these are all acquaintances or employees. Not friends.
Working on a graphic for the Labor Day sale distracted me from my thoughts, and I forgot about Prue and much of anything else. I worked on a color scheme that popped, a layout that was aesthetically pleasing, and squeezing in all the pertinent details to the sale. At noon on the dot, my phone gave a chime. Time to break for lunch. If I didn’t schedule my reminders, I would forget to eat all together. And yes, I cared about my body and my health and I worked out, but I did not skip meals. I was not anorexic or bulimic, thank you so much. I was healthy.
I drove to the deli and picked up a typical lunch—turkey and cheese on wheat bread, loaded with spinach, green peppers, lettuce, a few pickles, and low-fat Italian. I asked for an apple and, back in the office, grabbed a Smart Water out of my personal mini fridge. I watched YouTube videos while I ate—everything from how to perfect my winged liner to design tips to music videos. This was my time to zone out. To forget work and deadlines and schedules and invoices and just chill.
At ten to one, I started cleaning up my mess. Throwing my wrappers away. Wiping up some apple juice dribbled next to my MacBook. Clicking out of YouTube and getting back to the daily schedule. And, just like clockwork, I watched Prue’s name become highlighted. She tanned Monday and Thursday at one o’clock each day. Ten minutes a time, though she stayed in the room for nearly twenty.
I headed out to the front desk, while Kerri took off for the day. The next employee, Sasha, was scheduled at two o’clock, so during this hour, I sat out front and checked people in and out and cleaned rooms. I loved my job. My career. My business. And while no, I didn’t need the salon to help us financially, I loved having a schedule. A normalcy to a life that had rarely seen any. A purpose.
“Have a good rest of your day, Kerri. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Sure thing, Nellie. Catch you on the flip.” Kerri waved enthusiastically and headed out the door, gaudy pink Coach purse slung over her shoulder, already thumbing away on her ginormous cell phone. I made a mental note to buy my best and favorite employee a real designer purse this year as her Christmas bonus. Coach was so . . . basic.
I shook my head as I took a seat behind the reception desk. Listen to me! Coach was basic. How so much could change in so little time. If you had told me this would be my life at twenty-nine not even ten years ago, I would have laughed in your face. Or tried to rob you.
I looked up when I heard a noise and saw Prue approaching the desk, head down, car keys in hand.
“Thanks for coming in!” I said cheerily, a smile on my face.
She glanced back at me, just for a moment, but I saw the tears slipping down her face before she managed to put her sunglasses on. “Thanks,” she practically whispered, before she was gone.
I frowned, looking at the screen. I checked out her room on the computer, then proceeded back to room 8 to give it a clean. Wiping down the bed, I couldn’t stop thinking about this particular client. Why was she giving me the vibe that I should . . . help her? Offer her a shoulder to cry on or at least just someone to talk to? Maybe she was like me and never had a real friend she could count on. Maybe I could be that person for someone. Maybe making a new friend was just what I needed right now. To remind me that I had changed my life for the better, and I could still be that better person. Maybe the timing was perfect, what with my past threatening to return. This was the life I ran away to. I had to keep it together.
Samantha March is an author, editor, publisher, blogger, and all around book lover. She runs the popular book/women’s lifestyle blog ChickLitPlus, which keeps her bookshelf stocked with the latest reads and up to date on all things beauty, fashion and fitness. In 2011 she launched her independent publishing company Marching Ink and has five published novels – Destined to Fail, The Green Ticket, A Questionable Friendship, Up To I Do and Defining Her, and one holiday novella, The Christmas Surprise. You can also find her on Youtube sharing beauty reviews and creating makeup tutorials. When she isn’t reading, writing, or vlogging, you can find her cheering for the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Cubs. Samantha lives in Iowa with her husband and Vizsla puppy.