“Mulligan” is done!

I am proud to announce Mulligan, my award-winning, light-hearted contemporary romance, is finished at 91,000 words and I am starting the query/submission process.

GR_2017_Finalist

Pitch for Mulligan:

A best-selling author gets revenge on her ex, an accomplished singer/songwriter, by casting him as the unsavory characters in her books—revenge, by proxy. They’re thrown together at a charity event and are still drawn to each other, but their past, his estranged wife and the secrets that surround all of them are landmines they have trouble crossing. Can she write him off for good or will he be able to rock her world?

Below is the first chapter for Mulligan.  (Please forgive the formatting).

Chapter 1

“His smile was accentuated by the dimple that made him seem almost boyish. It was a ploy. Many predators had a way of luring in their prey, after all. But, she wasn’t his snack du jour, not today. Not ever again.” – page 26, Made for Dreams by Jaime Nichols

Addison’s minivan coasted to a stop at the intersection of Cheat Road and Mileground on the outskirts of Morgantown. Even with the fresh West Virginia air coming through her cracked window, she feared her lunch would make a surprising reappearance as she took in the sights of her college hometown. The familiar turns in the roads felt instinctual, and all leading her to the one place she’d thought she’d never return. A town she couldn’t help but associate with powerful memories, both painful and sweet.

“Addison, are you there?” Her best friend Tracy’s disembodied voice resonated through the hands-free speaker.

“I’m here,” Addison said.

“So, what do you think?”

“I’m thinking this was a bad idea,” she said even as she turned down Spruce Street and pulled up across from the place they used to live.

Tracy sighed. “That’s not what I was talking about. About the premiere?” Addison ignored her best friend.

This sucks. She no longer had any warm and fuzzy memories of living here. The heartache she’d spent the last seven years running from—along with the guilt she carried about the way she tried to run from it—sucked away the fun, happy memories she had. She was tired of the negative emotions hanging onto her.

“Addison, you need to get out more. Come to opening night at least.”

Addison could add pressure in her chest to the ailments suddenly afflicting her— indigestion from the vengeful fast-food burger or a heart attack, she couldn’t tell.

“This was such a mistake.” Even as she spoke, she threw the car into park, staring at the house. She wanted to put the past behind her. She was better than this. If there was anything she was going to do this weekend, it was going to exorcise the blasted past and let it go.

Elsa in her blue dress began singing in her head.

Oh, come on. She cringed as her alter ego bitch-slapped her subconscious. As an author, she’d never write a character who was as pitiful as the way she was acting now.
Tracy relentlessly drew her attention back. “Okay, tell you what—focus on the signing this weekend and on getting past Connor’s anniversary. We can discuss the rest later, okay?”

“Fuck it,” she whispered to herself, but Tracy overheard her.

“That’s my girl!” she said. “Hon, you have to stop hiding—You need to get off that little hill you call a mountain, up there all alone with your monster dogs, your writing and your angst.

Connor would cringe if he saw how you’ve isolated yourself. Get past this. Move on.” Addison hugged the steering wheel as she silently stared at the house.

Tracy sighed. “Listen, I know this unveiling is forcing you outside your comfort zone, especially in that town, but this is a great thing for you to do. Maybe holding your first book signing there isn’t ideal, but it’s a good way to help Frannie.”

“I’m still mad at you for talking me into this.”

“I can live with that.”

Let it go.

Was that Elsa or her subconscious cheering her on?

He wasn’t worth any of the heartache you suffered, but it’s your own damn fault letting it go on this long.

Addison scowled at herself in the mirror. She put the car in drive and headed to her destination. At the stop sign, she turned left and stopped at the traffic light.

A flashy Mercedes convertible rolled up in the lane beside her. It was an unusual vehicle for this part of the country where jeeps and pickups were more the norm. She glared through her Jackie O sunglasses expecting to find a frat boy jamming out, happy to be the center of attention.

The driver wasn’t a frat boy.

Finn!

Full-scale panic seized her—as if pushed into a freezing body of water only to realize you can’t swim.

She may have let out a cry, a whimper or a colorful variation of the cuss words that were banging around in her head.

She wasn’t sure.

Her foot slipped from the brake as she instinctively slouched down in her seat. Addison found enough feeling in her legs to reapply the brake while peering over at him. His short black hair was wind-blown, gleaming in the sun, and seemed perfectly suited to the expensive black convertible. He wore Ray-Ban sunglasses and a white t-shirt, and had scruff on his face as if he’d just left a Rolling Stone Finn always looked that way, even when he was just her friend—just a normal guy who played guitar.

This couldn’t be happening. This sort of thing only happened in movies.
You know, like the one where the audience is yelling at the dumb heroine, “Run, you idiot!” as the guy with the chainsaw looms behind her. Yeah, running into that guy would’ve been preferable.

“Hello? Earth to Addison . . . ” Tracy’s voice called. “Come on, it can’t be that bad. You need to socialize with the world again—.”

The light changed and her car slowly advanced, but she kept up enough of a distance to avoid the car in the left lane.

“Tracy . . .” Addison said with a slight tremble. She gritted her teeth. “Who else was invited this weekend?” Silence.

Her best friend of eight years and agent for the last five was as quiet as a mouse.
A dead mouse.
Not good.

She closed her tinted windows and sunroof. The last thing she needed was the occupant in the flashy sports car to pay attention to the freak-out occurring in the minivan next to him.

She couldn’t help stealing glances at him and was torn between gawking and hiding which made her even more of a menace on the road.

“Tracy . . . please, please tell me the stress of being back in town has caused me to hallucinate and that the man sitting at the stoplight next to me isn’t Finn Mulligan,”

Addison growled, failing to stifle her panic.

“Oh my God! Seriously?” Tracy’s high-pitched voice screeched then leveled out. “How’s he look?”

“Tracy!” Addison slapped the steering wheel, wishing it was her friend.

“Okay. . . okay . . . honestly, I had no idea. I just heard it was a possibility this morning.” Tracy’s voice softened as she continued, “I think he is performing at a concert tomorrow night. It was a last-minute decision.”

Damn. Being delusional would’ve been preferable.

“Uh-huh. Well, that piece of information might have been helpful!” Addison yelled at her dashboard. The light turned green and she let the convertible pull ahead of her.

She saw him having a rather heated conversation of his own. Self-defeating instinct had her briefly inching down her window just to hear him. It was a kick in the gut to hear his voice for the first time in seven years. The profanity spewing through the window, which was as natural as breathing to him, amped up the alarm inside her head. His voice had once given her sweet words that warmed her heart and equally powerful dirty ones warmed an area farther south.

Even his jet-black hair blowing in the breeze spurred flashbacks of running her hands through it, as she felt the graze of his beard between her thighs. Both caused a tingling sensation on her skin. How could he still have this impact on her?

“Addison?” Tracy abruptly brought her back to reality.

Her heart and head spun her out of control. She had to get off the road. At the very next turnoff she found the nearest parking spot at a gas station and let the panic she’d been trying to hold back, over take her. She leaned her head back on the headrest and closed her eyes, wishing to be somewhere else when she opened them. She put her hands over her face and took a deep breath.

“Damn it, Trace. I wouldn’t have come, if I’d known.” Elsa’s song ramped up in her head.

Screw you, Elsa.

“Finn would’ve found out you were scheduled to be there, and your absence would be questioned. Do you want him to know the impact he still has on you after all this time? Are you going to give him that type of power over your life? Over your career?” Tracy paused for a moment and the silence was heavy.

Tracy appealed to Addison’s inner tough girl who wouldn’t let anyone push her around.
There were two things Addison didn’t want Finn to know—how badly he’d hurt her when he left without an explanation, and how her life had changed since they parted.
The tough girl part of her would be no match for the emotional monster created by Finn, a monster created out of heartache and vulnerability. She needed to keep the monster in check.

“What am I going to do?” Addison’s breathing came in gasps and the adrenaline kicked in with sweat on the back of her neck. It was all she could do to stop from laying her head down on the steering wheel and closing her eyes.

“Breathe, honey,” Tracy said.

Addison gripped the steering wheel tighter to keep her hands from shaking. Finn was still at the stoplight. He used to like to run a yellow light and not stop. Well, not today. He obviously was distracted by his phone conversation and wasn’t in the need for speed.

Damn.

It was a good thing she’d given Michael the Jag as a favor for the weekend and taken the minivan. Otherwise, she’d be driving with the top down as well. She would’ve been even more of a menace since there wouldn’t be any hiding then.

“Listen. He’s probably going to the golf tournament tomorrow and then the concert tomorrow night. Just stay away from both. Besides, there’s no way he’s going near your appearance tomorrow. There are more exciting events to distract him.”

“Jeez, thanks. Now I’m freaked out not only about Finn, but also that no one will show at my less than exciting event. Thanks for calming me down.”

“You know what I mean,” Tracy quickly added. “More exciting events for a rock star like him. How many men do you think are going to be at an appearance for a best-selling romance novelist? No matter how successful you are, and how many best-sellers you’ve sold, if there are any men there tomorrow it will probably be because their wives and girlfriends dragged them. They’d rather be golfing,” Tracy explained.

“Besides, I told you, your event is sold out. People are coming into town just to meet you, the elusive Jaime Nichols. Frannie even had requests from national media to cover the event. More exposure for her charity.”

“Not helping the panic, Trace.”

“Just remember why you are there. You get to spend time with Frannie and her family, and raise money for a very worthy organization. Try to avoid Finn as much as possible. If you do run into him, act casual—like you are old roommates, because you are. You were once cool friends before the part where you had earth-altering, amazing sex and messed everything up.”

Silence again, this time on Addison’s part.

“Are you there?” Tracy asked.

“Yes, I’m just replaying the last part in my mind to fortify my resolve and gather my wits enough to drive.” Tracy was right, it was too late. Frannie had promoted her appearance as one of the keystones to the weekend fundraiser for the local Children’s Hospital. She couldn’t run home. Although she could get there by dinner, if she left now.

No. She was going to stick this out.

The unveiling of the elusive New York Times best-selling author, Jaime Nichols. She couldn’t ditch the weekend fundraiser. Frannie told her they’d scheduled a local band who was mildly successful with their new single. Of course, if Finn was available, it changed everything. The other band was probably opening for him, now. A famous, successful songwriter in their little college town was big news.

Frannie and Finn had grown up together, and she was the lynchpin who’d brought Addison into their group in her junior year. Addison knew Frannie from freshman year, and when Frannie told her she had a room available in their off-campus house, Addison had agreed to it before even knowing who was already living there.

The day she’d moved in wasn’t the first time she’d seen Finn, but it was the first time they’d met. Finn performed at the local bars and pubs in town and had a bit of a following. Well, she was being kind. He was a player, something she’d discovered after living across the hall from him.

She looked up and saw that he had pulled away and let out a long exhale. She reminded herself this weekend was about Frannie and her daughter. It wasn’t about her. It wasn’t about him. It was about raising money for sick children and their families. It was also about proving to herself she could get past what had happened between them and move on with her life. Finally.

Putting the car in gear, she reversed and slowly pulled back onto the road, praying he was far enough ahead to avoid him. She wasn’t so lucky. Really, did he drive like an old man now? Once again, he was in front of her and turned into the entrance for the dark red-brick historic hotel. She pulled up behind him in the semi-circular loading area and put the car in park trying to slump down in her seat to hide herself until the valet could reach her.
“Besides,” Tracy continued drawing the word out cautiously, “maybe this would be a
good time to clear things up with him.”

“Again, Trace. Not helping,” Addison said, not wanting to get into the same argument they’d had numerous times. She didn’t need to rehash what had happened in order to move on with her life.

“Oh, beautiful. He’s staying at the Hotel Morgan, too. Great. Guess there isn’t any way to avoid him after all. I’ve got to go check in and try not to have a nervous breakdown in the process.” She put her head in her hands. “Do you think they have a service entrance around back?”

“Okay, okay. Backbone, girl. Don’t let him see you sweat. Pretend you don’t notice him and see if he approaches you first, then act surprised to see him. It should help keep his ego in check,” Tracy suggested. “Should I send in reinforcements?”

“It wouldn’t hurt. Someone is going to have to save me from myself this weekend.”
Addison watched as Finn put the top up on the car, handed the keys to the valet, and walked into the hotel. She took a cleansing breath and said, “You better be on call for me 24/7 to calm me down.”

“You’ll be fine. It was seven years ago. The initial confrontation is bound to be awkward but remember, you made a shitload of money writing about the ass instead of spending it on therapy. You won.”

“True. I just don’t want him to know it. I’m still pissed at you, Trace. Wish me luck.”

“Girl, you don’t need it. You are Addison Woods, aka Jaime Nichols. You kick ass! Call me later.”

The phone disconnected.

Addison pulled down the mirror over her visor and resolved not to run into Finn. Her auburn hair was in a messy ponytail, barely any makeup on her face and she was dressed in a tshirt, shorts and flip-flops for God’s sake! She looked down at herself and noticed all the dog hair. Perfect.

Dammit. She was a full-grown, successful adult, not an insecure college student. Why was she hiding? She had nothing to be afraid of—Finn was the jerk who’d treated her like a doormat. She was going to grow a backbone and strut herself in there. If he saw her, he saw her. She tightened her ponytail and pulled out her lip gloss from her bag. If he was going to see her, she at least needed to put on some shiny armor. She pushed up her sunglasses and got out of the minivan.

The valet approached her as she slowly opened the sliding door behind her, reached for her suitcase then straightened as she pulled it out and lingered a moment before handing over the keys. Maybe if she stood out here awhile, Finn would be gone before she went in. No need to hasten this unwanted reunion.

Accepting the claim ticket, she walked into the hotel with her head held high.
Though there would’ve been more cheer and optimism had she been on her way to the gallows.

There would be hundreds, maybe thousands of people attending the weekend events, if she counted the students. With so much going on, maybe she could avoid him.
Frannie must have been the one behind his last-minute invitation. Their mutual friend probably didn’t know what had happened. Addison had never told her and she highly doubted Finn had ever fessed up to anyone about their secret week. He was probably embarrassed.

Truthfully, Addison hadn’t really thought Finn would lower himself to remain in touch with “little people” like Frannie, the people who had known him before he became a star. Guess it was just her he hadn’t kept in touch with.

Ouch.

Why did it still sting after all these years?

Even with psyching herself up, she was relieved not to see him when she stepped into the hotel lobby. Maybe he’d already checked in? Her shoulders relaxed, and she gave a sigh of relief.

She approached the reception desk, digging through her purse for her wallet. “I’m checking in. Last name Woods,” she told the front desk clerk, “first name Addison.” She cringed when she realized how loudly she’d said it. It was as if the hotel quieted just as she spoke her name. Of course, it had.

“Well, crap.”

Her identification wasn’t in its designated spot. She dug into her purse like a claw from an arcade and pulled out a multitude of junk including a hairbrush, receipts from fast food, a beat-up emergency tampon and finally, her ID. She extracted the ID from the wad in her hand and gave it to the clerk who raised an eyebrow in subtle judgement.

The tampon unceremoniously fell to the floor. She placed her fistful of stuff on the check-in counter and bent to the retrieve the tampon.
Her sunglasses fell off her head as she dropped to her knees in an effort to reach for the errant tampon. Suddenly, a pair of black boots and worn jeans appeared in her path.

“Addy?”

Well, damn.

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