GOING DEEP – To the Heart of the Story
Brooke Hastings almost won a Pulitzer Prize for her hard-hitting reportage. Now she’s sitting on the story of a lifetime and wants to prove she’s not a one-hit-wonder. But in order to get the world to take notice, she’ll need the help of the one person she loves to hate—Brian Dalton.
Brian Dalton stumbled into celebrity when he landed a show on the Earth Channel. But the hunky marine biologist never forgot the serious, studious boy who left Mobile a decade before. Now back in Alabama, he’s looking for the quiet life he always wanted and hoping for a chance with the girl he always loved. When Brooke asks him to help expose some of the lingering effects of the Gulf oil disaster, Brian jumps at the chance to help preserve the place both call home…
“If I didn’t have Harley Cade and his ten million ways of making a girl happy on the hook, I’d cling to that man’s hull like a barnacle.”
Brooke Hastings drowned a smirk in her martini glass. Twenty years of friendship did little to lessen the shock value of Laney’s declarations. Brooke took a cautious sip. The cocktail was pinker than a My Little Pony, but the triple sec and vodka packed a punch that more than made up for the girly color.
Dragging her gaze from the former classmate-turned-television-hunk she was here to stalk, Brooke turned to face her best friend. “That man told Mrs. Wise you had your Spanish conjugation written on your thigh.”
Laney refused to be put off by something as fickle as fact. “If I’d known he’d grow up to be rich, famous, and hot as Hades, I would have let him conjugate whatever he wanted on my thigh.”
“You told your mother you’d drown yourself in the ocean if she made you invite him to your birthday party in third grade.”
The feisty redhead at her side pursed her lips and made a great show of scanning the room. “She invited him anyway.”
Revisionist history or no, Laney wasn’t one who took being thwarted lightly. Nearly twenty years had passed since that birthday party, but the sour expression on her face said the sting of her mother’s betrayal hadn’t yet faded.
“Do you have Harley Cade on the hook?”
“I could,” her friend said, eying the crowded room. “I’d only have to give that line a little old tug.”
Brooke smiled. She admired Laney’s confidence, but she wished they could be having this conversation anywhere but in the middle of one of Mobile’s most popular social gatherings.
Glittering jewels and porcelain veneers shone in the light of the ancient chandeliers, adding sparkle to the mansion’s faded glory. The first floor of Putnam House, one of the ruthlessly preserved mansions that graced Mobile’s historic district, was crowded—every square inch packed with potential donors. Saints Preserve Us was the premier fundraising event for their alma mater, St. Patrick’s Academy, and one of Brooke’s mother’s pet projects. Her mother and her merry band of fundraising fiends plied their victims with Guinness, Jameson’s, and heaping helpings of flattery in hopes of getting them to write big, fat checks.
Thursday night television programming may not be what it used to be, but Brooke had a reason for being here. She wasn’t in a position to donate the scraps of cash leftover after she stretched her paycheck to the max. Frankly, she wasn’t interested in whether the football team could afford new jock straps or if the Drama Club had to—insert shudder here—rent costumes for their spring production. She wasn’t here because her mother insisted she come. No, she was trussed up in her Spanx for a reason. A motive she shared with 99.9 percent of the women in that room. She was there for Brian Dalton.
“Any Tucker sightings yet?”
The question jerked Brooke from her mini-sulk. The possibility of running into Jack Tucker was exactly what kept her miles away from the Gulf Shore’s social whirl in the last few weeks. News of Jack’s return to Mobile after his divorce had lit a spark of hope inside her. The possibility of rekindling their romance seemed to lighten the miasma of loneliness that covered her like a heavy blanket. Alone in her bed, she allowed herself to spin a fantasy of marriage and family that was not only attractive but convenient, as well. Then she ran into him at her parents’ club and her thinking shifted from possibly-maybe to never-gonna-happen.
Unfortunately, her mother had hopped onto the Jack Tucker bandwagon the minute the man crossed the city limits. Emmaline Hastings wasn’t a woman whose mind was easily changed. That meant Brooke’s best course of action had been to avoid Jack altogether. Eventually her mother would find a project more promising than the daunting task of marrying off her almost-thirty-year-old daughter.
“No. Thank goodness.”
“You used to get all twitterpated at the thought of seeing old Jack Tucker,” Laney drawled.
“And you used to spend your entire study hall plotting ways to torment Brian Dalton.”
Laney remained as impervious to criticism as she’d been in high school. It was one of her greatest charms. “He brought it on himself.”
Hard to argue that logic. Back in those days, Brian did earn a good bit of his torment. His fall from social grace started the day he displayed a clock powered by a potato for second grade show and tell. His position as class pariah was written in the stars before Brooke scored the blue ribbon at the eighth grade science fair, but he cemented it in high school. Brian Dalton was worse than a nerd. He was a nerd who thought it was cool to be arrogant and condescending to anyone he considered his intellectual inferior. This meant practically everyone.
He might have redeemed himself if he’d stuck to delivering the world’s shortest Valedictory address. But then he planted a kiss on the salutatorian that shook the entire auditorium.
Brooke never forgot the way her kiss-swollen lips tingled as he whispered the Alabama fan’s mantra of “Roll, Tide, roll” into her Auburn-bound ear. Nor would she forgive him for the scalding rush of humiliation he left in his wake as he walked away.
Going Deep – Available tomorrow, but pre-order today!