Wheeee, Wiley’s and Payton’s story is almost here! In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a tad excited about this, heh. Better still, this is just the first book set in Bitterthorn, Texas; the second Bitterthorn book is releasing in November in Carina Press’s military holiday duology, along with fellow CRCer, Rebecca Crowley (check her out, she’s awesome!).
UGLY DUCKLINGS FINISH FIRST was one of those gushers—a book that demands to be told and all you can do is hold on for the crazy-making ride. It didn’t start out that way, though. At first I just had a vague notion about a woman who’d been bullied during her teen years, only to turn things around in a big way in adulthood. But it was just an idea, with nothing else stitching it together as a story. Then a friend received a high school reunion invitation, sending her into an instant “omigod-I’m-so-fat-I-need-to-get-a-better-job-and-a-new-car-what’s-with-my-hair?!” spazz attack.
That did it. Her insecurity-induced panic was
hilarious all I needed to crystallize UGLY DUCKLINGS FINISH FIRST. 😀
I suspect just about everyone can relate to Payton, the heroine of UDFF. I mean, who didn’t feel awkward in high school? I have PTSD-like flashbacks of eating alone my first day as a Freshman, and thinking I’d never make a friend. I used those feelings when I pieced Payton together, and though she’s now achieved her dream of being a doctor and glammed herself up, deep down she’s still a mass of vulnerabilities. When it comes to that time in our lives, aren’t we all a little like that?
If any of this sounds remotely familiar, take a peek at Payton’s brave foray into her worst nightmare—her ten-year high school reunion!
She’d done it.
Payton Pruitt looked around, so pleased with herself it was all she could do to not break into an all-out victory jig right on the spot. She had come to the last place on earth she wanted to be, walked through the front doors like they weren’t her personal Gateway to Everlasting Hell and looked at the people who had made her life a misery a decade ago. And wonder of wonders, she hadn’t thrown up on her shoes.
In her book, that definitely called for a happy dance.
When she’d received the invitation, her knee-jerk response had been to throw it away before she broke out in hives. A reunion? What a rip-snorting laugh that was. It was amazing anyone from her class had the gall to invite her back, especially since they knew she had no friends to reunite with. Super-nerds like her never had friends in high school. Tormentors, though—that was another story. She’d had so many tormentors she couldn’t even count them all. Some days it had felt like a Hollywood cast of thousands.
It had taken weeks to work up the courage to come back to Bitterthorn, along with a couple of obsessive-compulsive trips to the salon to get her short brown hair cut to perfection by a stylist known only by one name. To further boost her confidence, she’d also bought the high-end hybrid car she’d been waffling on, using the excuse of needing a reliable vehicle to cover the four-hour drive from Houston to Bitterthorn. It didn’t help. That stupid invitation had proved to be a powerful little sucker. Despite her best efforts to prop herself up, it still knocked her off her hard-won high horse and back into the land of perpetual inferiority. And all it had done was simply invite her to step back into hell.
But when it came right down to it, there had never been any other choice. She’d had to come back to Bitterthorn High this one last time. If she ever wanted to have peace of mind again, she was damn well going to face the dragon that was her past and curb-stomp it until it stopped twitching.
Let the stomping commence.
Grim-faced, Payton made herself look for her past torturers in the crowd and even managed to spot a few. How nice, she thought, her upper lip curling. The heartless bastards looked like they were having a whale of a time, chatting it up and laughing like they weren’t as evil as the Spanish Inquisition. Did any of them remember tying her Pretty Bitties training bra onto the gym’s basketball hoop for all to see? Did any of these now-grown men recall how, as boys, they would literally run away screaming because she committed the unpardonable sin of walking the same hall with them? Even now, would any of them care that barfing up her breakfast had been a part of her daily getting-ready-for-school routine?
Probably not, on all counts.
It didn’t matter, Payton told herself, irked with the whiny pity party kicking up inside her. She wasn’t their victim anymore. The person who walked through the doors of Bitterthorn High’s gymnasium was no longer the ugly duckling they’d bullied. Her once frizzy brown hair was now smooth and sleek, her teeth a study of gleaming perfection after years of enduring braces and retainers. Her tormentors could suck it hard as far as she was concerned. She didn’t need their validation. Why would she? She believed in herself, and that was all that mattered.
Now, she thought, dropping the chain she was chewing on. Time to bounce before she puked her guts out.
“At last, my evening is complete.”
Startled by the voice so close to her ear the breath teased her hair, Payton snapped around to find herself captured by the greenest eyes she had ever seen.
Metal Mouth. Queen Geek. Dr. Payton Pruitt heard it all growing up. But she’s over it, and attending her ten-year high school reunion is the perfect way to prove it to herself. Even if there’s only one person she’s interested in seeing in Bitterthorn, Texas: Wiley Sharpe.
Now a respected lawyer, Wiley didn’t live down to the label Most Likely to Be Slapped with a Paternity Suit. But recent acts of vandalism suggest someone still sees him as a heartbreaker, and the reunion seems a likely place to find the culprit. Instead, Wiley comes face-to-face with his old pal Payton—and is wowed not only by her transformation into a ravishing swan, but by the connection they still share.
Payton is pleased the playboy she used to tutor has grown into an honorable man, but she’s too smart to fall for a guy with roots in a place she couldn’t wait to leave. But while Payton is an academic genius, Wiley is the one with the PhD in pleasure, and he intends to use it to convince her to stay…
QUESTION: Did you belong to a clique in high school, or were you a loner? I sort of floated between cliques, so I think I’d call myself a floater…
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