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Hey, y’all! Love and Sorrow (Small Town Secrets #5) comes out tomorrow, so I wanted to give you a little sneak peek. First, the blurb…

Fight, flight, or f*ck up

Randi’s surviving the school of hard knocks with barely passing grades. Her entire life is imploding, which puts notions of love on the backburner. Justin, her best friend with benefits, could change her mind, but he’s even more commitment-phobic than she is. When Randi’s walls come crashing down and her family needs her undivided attention, she tries to deny what she feels for him. But can she make it through her ordeals without him by her side?

Now the excerpt (from Chapter Two)…

The kids had been in bed for an hour or two but here I lay in mine unable to sleep.  Over and over, I replayed the day’s events in my mind.  Worse, though, I felt helpless, unable to figure out what more I could do for my child.  Add to it, I hadn’t called Sarah’s father that afternoon to get information on figuring out in-network therapists in Winchester, meaning I also hadn’t scheduled that appointment.

The day had been far too emotional and I’d put off everything else.

And now, all I could think was that I was the world’s worst mother.

Finally, I got out of bed, pulling on a thin robe before going to the utility room at the back of the house to light up a cigarette.  Late at night, especially when it was cold out, I allowed myself to smoke inside—but this was the only room where I did.

I was also holding my cell phone, staring at it.  The time was a quarter after ten.

Not too late.

So I sent a quick text.  Hey, are you free?

Then I sucked down the smoke, feeling some of my anxiety beginning to dissipate.  If Justin didn’t answer, I’d try going to sleep again after finishing the cigarette.

But I’d almost finished it and had no response from the text I’d sent—meaning my friend was likely already occupied.  Just as I was ready to completely give up, though, he responded with a simple Yeah.

That was all the confirmation I needed to call.

“Hey, Rascal.  You know I’m always free for you.  What’s up?”

I didn’t actually want to tell him anything.  Instead, I wanted him to distract me from the incessant thinking.  “Today was pretty rough.”  I paused, because I wasn’t sure how to word my request.  After all, Justin would be at my place tomorrow night—but I needed him now.  “I, um…wondered if you’d mind coming over tonight to talk.”

“Well, uh…”

I knew immediately from his response that I shouldn’t have called.  “Never mind.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Hold on a sec.  Don’t get your panties in a bunch, darlin’.  I just need to finish up what I’m doing here.  I’ll be there, okay?  Just give me a little bit.”

It was then that I let out the breath I didn’t even know I’d been holding in.  “Okay.”  Deep down, I wondered what it was he had to finish up—but I didn’t actually want to know.  Instead, I was grateful that he was coming to rescue me from my brain.

Although it seemed like hours while I waited, smoking several cigarettes in that small room, it was actually less than thirty minutes before he arrived.  When he got there, he sent a text like he always did instead of ringing the doorbell for my kids’ sake.  I rushed to the front of the house, opening the door as I felt a strange and overwhelming onslaught of emotions welling in my chest.  “I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you.  Thank you so much.”  Before Justin could even make it through the door, I wrapped my arms around him tightly.

“Whoa.  What’s goin’ on?”

“Too much.”

He followed me in and we sat on the sofa.

His voice was appropriately soft, considering my house was small and the hallway leading to the bedrooms seemed to act like a megaphone.  “Well, do you wanna tell me about it?”

I looked at Justin, really looked.  Damn, I had it bad for this man.  His warm brown eyes searched mine as I tried to focus.

Could I tell him anything?

“Sarah set a fire in the girls’ bathroom trash this afternoon.”

“Shit.  That’s the kind of stuff I did in high school.”

Wait a second.  What?  “It’s not cool and it’s not funny.  Something’s going on with her.”

“Aw, Randi, she’s just a kid.  Kids do shit like that.  It gets attention.”

“It’s not just shit like that.  And it’s negative attention.  She was suspended.”


“Yeah.”  Maybe this was a bad idea, asking Justin to come over.  Unfortunately, he was one of the few friends I had.

“For how long?”

“The rest of the week.”

After a few moments of silence, he rested his hand on my knee.  “You gonna be okay?”

Letting out a long sigh, I said, “I think so.”  Then I looked in his eyes.  “It’s just been a rough day.”

“I can tell.”

“I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, so I couldn’t go to sleep.”

“That’s why I came.  You can tell me all about it.”

That was one of the things I loved about this man.  Unlike any of my past relationships, Justin actually listened when I had things on my mind.

Tonight, though, I wanted to get this shit out of my head—just for now, just long enough to go to sleep.

“I actually don’t want to talk about it, though.  I’m tired of thinking about it right now.  Can we maybe talk about something else?  What did you do today?”

“I replaced a fuel pump.  That’s about it.”  His hand that hadn’t left my knee squeezed slightly as his lip curled into a small smirk.  “I know what you need.”  Then he leaned over, kissing my neck.

This wasn’t why I’d called him over.

Actually…maybe it was.

I closed my eyes as my nipples grew taut in response to his warm lips brushing against the soft skin of my neck.  What better way to clear my mind?

Because I had no argument, I stood, taking his hand in mine as we headed toward my bedroom.

* * *

I climbed back in bed, having finished another cigarette, and looked at Justin’s back as he lay in my bed, softly snoring.  Amazing sex should have done the trick and yet here I was still tossing shit around in my head.  I’d drifted off for all of twenty minutes and then woke up again—but now I had some solid theories.

The first was that Justin was the problem with Sarah.  Somehow, some way, and maybe not (God, I hoped not) intentionally.

The second was me, that I was the problem.  I’d started college classes two nights a week a little over a year ago.  Maybe being gone more had caused Sarah to retreat into a shell…and become angry.

I let out a long breath, pulling my knees close to my chest, gazing at Justin’s outline.  The lights were off in my room, but the nightlight in the hallway shone inside.  God, I didn’t want to believe Justin had anything to do with Sarah’s change in behavior any more than I wanted to blame myself—but I had to face facts:  either scenario was a possibility, and I’d have to explore both notions further.

Even in the dim light, my eyes were able to focus on part of the tribal tattoo painted on his back.  The black wavy swirls over the entire breadth of his left shoulder had always fascinated me.  Then I drank in his mass of longish dirty-blond hair.  While he’d never let it grow past his shoulders, the unconventional length gave him a bit of a bad boy look, and I had to admit I liked that.  I’d never said a word about it to him, but I suspected he knew anyway.  Justin was one of the most confident men I’d ever met, and I knew he had no doubt that lots of women lusted after him.  In fact, I was pretty certain he’d learned over the years how to play on his looks.

Jesus.  I had to get some sleep or I’d have a hell of a time getting Devon to school tomorrow.  I lay down, snuggling up to Justin, draping my arm over his torso while bringing my head close to his neck, breathing in the almost nonexistent scent of his cologne.

But I lay there as one minute ticked on to the next and the next, and I allowed my eyes to open again so they could trace the outline of that tattoo and I leaned back.  After a bit, I rolled over again and started considering having another cigarette.  It was then that I felt the motion of Justin rolling over onto his back, but I could barely understand the words he mumbled.  “You’re pretty restless tonight.”

“I’ve got a lot on my mind.”

“Let it go, Randi.  Just for tonight.  It’ll all be there tomorrow.”

Easy for him to say.  He’d been sound asleep.  “I wish I could.”

What Justin said next surprised me, because it seemed out of character for him—which just hammered home to me how completely closed off I’d been from every soul I claimed to care about.

Except Justin was just a convenient friend, one who’d even called himself nothing more than a fuck buddy.

“It’s a choice.  You have to decide to let it go just for now.”

Instead of tuning into his words, I rejected them.  “Okay, fine.  Then I guess I don’t want to.”  I let out a long sigh, sitting up in bed again.  “This is my little girl we’re talking about here.  Somehow I’ve failed her.”

Justin finally rolled over to face me, his voice now sounding more awake.  “Why do you think you’ve failed her?”

“Whatever’s going on with her has been happening for a long time.  It took something this drastic for me to decide something needs to be done.”

Propping his chin in his palm, his elbow buried in the pillow, Justin finally opened his eyes—not that he could see a whole lot in the darkness of the bedroom.  “You can’t blame yourself for that.  You were hoping it was a phase.  Anyone would do that.”

“I’m not so sure.”  When Justin reached up, brushing the hair off my cheek with his free hand, I turned my head to face him.  “Let me tell you what’s really eating at me.  She didn’t start acting like this until last fall—maybe it was a little later, like around Christmas.  But I’m thinking this behavior might be, um…she might be reacting to the fact that I’m going to school again and I’m here less, or…”

Love and Sorrow, coming 2/23/21

“Or maybe it’s because I’m around?”

I hoped he couldn’t hear the relief in my voice that he’d come to the same conclusion I had.  “I’ve considered that.”

“It’s possible.”

“I know you didn’t know her that well before, but did she seem to change to you at all?”

“Like how?”

“Like…did she seem to act differently?  She used to be so lively, cheerful, outgoing.  And now she’s introverted, quiet.  She hardly ever talks.  She doesn’t even look happy, even when she should.”

“I don’t know.  I mean, I guess I didn’t know your kids well enough to know what they were like before.”  We were quiet for a bit before he said, “Do you think I remind her of her stepdad?”

I didn’t even have to give it a lot of thought.  “I doubt it.  He was…you guys are really different.  He was a big guy, hairy, burly, loud.  And she hasn’t been around him much since the divorce.  So I don’t think so.”

“I’m a big guy.”

“No, not like that.  He was hulking, really broad in the shoulders—and you’re…I’m not making any sense.”

“What did he do for a living?”

“Truck driver—and it wasn’t long before I appreciated when he was on the road.  I think that’s when I finally decided I’d had enough, when I saw how happy the kids and I were when he wasn’t around.  We were—well, I was more like my old self.  But maybe you’re right.  Sarah was a lot quieter when he was around.  I’d always thought she sensed my emotions, but she must have felt like I did…afraid that anything she might say could push his buttons, so it was safer to not say anything at all.”

“I can be loud sometimes, and I get pretty intense.  Maybe I remind her of him when I’m like that.”

“Maybe.”  But no.  Justin was nothing like my ex.

He rested his hand on my arm.  “Maybe I should disappear for a while.”

That was what I feared—but it was what had been in the back of my mind all along.  Justin was one of few friends and probably the only one I fully trusted, so I absolutely hated the idea of him not being around.

But Sarah was my obligation and she was far more important than any other relationship I might have.  From the moment I learned I was pregnant, her life became more important than my own.

My voice was quiet and sounded choked as I forced the words out.  “I’d thought of that—but then I also thought she doesn’t actually see you very often.  Could you really have that effect on her when you’re not here much?”  Justin was never alone with her, so I wasn’t worried about him doing anything weird.  Still…

“Ya never know.”

“I’m going to get her into counseling.  That’s what the principal and counselor at the school suggested.  Maybe a therapist could help her deal with whatever it is she’s going through.”  Suddenly, I was overcome with emotion, and a tear formed in the corner of my eye.  “I definitely can’t.”

Justin drew me into his arms and held me close.  “Hey.  Why don’t we give it a whirl?  I can disappear for a while.  If it’s me that’s making her this way, maybe she’ll open up when I’m not around.”  I nodded, still fighting back tears as he continued.  “And if nothing changes, then maybe it’s not me.”  I looked up at him and, uncharacteristically, he kissed my nose.  Then he bent his neck to the side, stretching.  “I’d better go now.”

But I kept my arms wrapped around him.  “Not right now.  I’m not ready yet.” He kissed me again, this time with passion and promise, and we made love one last time.  Sometime after I finally drifted into a restless sleep, Justin pulled on his clothes and left, closing the door behind him.

* * *

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