Monday, 18 August 2014

Blog tour: Extract from Summer at Castle Stone by Lynn Marie Hulsman

 

Today I'm very excited to be sharing with you the entire first chapter of Summer at Castle Stone by Lynn Marie Hulsman as part of the HamperImpulse blog tour.

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Chapter One

“I’m so sorry I’m late!” Maggie came barreling into the vestibule, and down the wide aisle in geisha-like steps. Even in her towering heels, she managed to overtake the hostess. Smoothing her long, curve-hugging skirt, she lowered herself into the chair opposite me, and gave a satisfied sigh. “There!”

“You look amazing,” I told her. And she did. Maggie may have grown up in the middle class beach town of Spring Lake, New Jersey, AKA “The Irish Riviera,” but she’d adapted to Manhattan flawlessly. Her chic Bumble and Bumble haircut (done by a student stylist during her lunch break — I covered her desk at work) was none the worse for wear from the rain, and she had on the exact right shade of MAC lipstick (“buy drugstore mascara and powder, Shay, but drop real money on your lips”).

In the beginning, I represented something to Maggie. You could say that my parents belonged to the intelligentsia, but that word makes me uncomfortable. Money or no money, they traveled in circles with innovators, movers, and shakers. Maggie’s parents, and their parents before, worked with their hands and functioned in the practicality of the here and now. Whereas Maggie had lived in a dormer bungalow situated in a neighborhood filled with people who only drove into the city for the Rockefeller Center Christmas show or to consult with medical specialists, I’d grown up in a high-rise surrounded by writers, editors, and those who had the money to see that magazines, newspapers, and books got printed. Even my grandparents had been schoolteachers, professors, and artists. Maggie absorbed every story about being sent to camp at the artsy Usdan Center, and the noted personalities at the cocktail parties thrown at our Upper West Side apartment when I was a kid. Rough around the edges, Maggie tried to blend in with this kind of society. So it didn’t take long before she realized I’d been trying to blend in my whole life. We kept each other’s secrets. How much we needed each other went unspoken. Maggie was reared to be tough and hard, and I was reared to keep my failures under my hat. I loved her, temper and all, and she protected me.

“Thanks,” she said to the waiter as he handed her a linen napkin. She signaled to the waiter and whispered something in his ear. “Now then, I want to hear everything about your book deal. Start from the beginning, and don’t leave anything out.” She reached across the table and squeezed my hand. “Twins in success!”

“What?” I asked.

“You go! Then, I’ll tell you my news.” She beamed at me, eyes wide open.

“Right, about that. Well, Brenda said no.” I drained my glass, and held it out to a busser.

“What?” She spat, biting off the end of the word. “Are you telling me that she didn’t pick up The New Adult’s Guide to Making it in the Big City? That’s ridiculous!” Did she see your two articles in the Observer? How to Be an Adult at Work and How to Be an Adult at Weddings? Pure genius! Did you tell her that they’re thinking of making How to Be an Adult a regular column?” Her eyes blazed.

“Never mind,” I said. “You win some, you lose some.” I didn’t want to ruin our night out together with a pity party. Changing the subject would do me good.

“Anyway, how was your day, Mags?”

“It was, you know…” she tapered off and her eyes got really big. She was looking over my shoulder, shaking her head “no” in small, twitchy movements. I turned around in my chair, and caught the back of a waiter carrying champagne in a silver bucket, heading in the opposite direction.

“What was that?”

She shrugged.

“So what about your blog, Shay? The writing is solid and witty, and your timing couldn’t be more on the money. It’s so current.”

“To be honest, my blog hasn’t gotten much traction.”

“It still might. You’ve proven yourself with the book contracts Brenda’s given you. And for almost no money! After all those Dumbass Guides you’ve ghostwritten for her? The Dumbass Guide to Picking a College, The Dumbass Guide to Getting Him to Propose…You could write The Dumbass Guide to Writing a Dumbass Guide! Did you offer her the alternate title? Adulting? That’s so fresh! I can see the short-haired girls starring in the HBO series now! Why would she think twice about putting your name on a cover as sole author?”

“Well, the phone call didn’t last long…”

“And after you swooped in, cleaned up that mess of a green smoothie book that that idiot personal trainer slash diet guru, slash cable TV personality couldn’t write? OK, tell me this: Are you getting your name on the book as co-writer or not?” She took a greedy gulp of water. I shook my head. I hated giving Maggie the disappointing news.

“Wait, what? Brenda, your agent, told you no on the phone? She didn’t give you the courtesy of delivering the news face-to-face?”

“Well, you know how busy she is,” I said, my face heating up. “To be fair, it was a quick conversation. I shouldn’t have called on a Friday.”

“She’s your agent! Evan would never treat me like that. You’re allowed to call her.” Maggie shook her head. “I’ve been saying for a year that you need to let me talk to Evan about you. He’s a big fan of Hank’s. I think that’s why he signed me, because I dropped both your names. He’d snap you up in a heartbeat.”

I shifted in my chair. The waistband of my skirt was bunching up from the dampness. “You know, Brenda’s been pretty good to me. Like she said, tons of writers would kill to do this ghosting.”

“Bullshit. How many people out there write as well as you? This should have just been done and dusted. Your proposal is brilliant. I bet she didn’t even read it. Does she know who your father is?”

“Probably, but we’ve never talked about it. I want to get a deal on my own merit. You know it wouldn’t count in Hank’s eyes if I got it through him.”

“That’s on you, not your father. He never said that. Look, first thing Monday, you need to just show up there and insist that Brenda pay attention to you.”

I snorted. “I can’t just barge in.

“Yes, you can. Even if I have to drag you in by the hair, you are going to see Brenda Sackler on Monday. And she’d better give you the kind of book deal you deserve!”

Maggie finished the rest of her water, and her shoulders relaxed. Thank God. I just wanted to move on, and stop talking about books. Le Relais wasn’t where I wanted to be tonight, but it was wonderful to spend time with Maggie. Ever since we met on Day One as slave-assistants for HPC Publishing, we’d clung to each other. I found her in the copy room, cursing out a notoriously volatile senior editor who cut the line in front of her. She had her fist raised to punch him. The words, “you’re fired” sat on his lips when I intervened to usher him out to the hallway. I “explained” that she’d just had a scare with an ovarian biopsy. The mention of gynecology and cancer will cow any man. Maggie appreciated that I’d risked my job for hers. That kind of loyalty meant something, and from that day forward, she had my back. It was just a matter of time before she forced out her dippy, model-wannabe roommate, and moved me in to our tiny, illegal sublet Hell’s Kitchen.

A busser appeared and set a basket of assorted artisanal breads before me. He must have read my mind. I was starving. “Can I get another vodka and soda, and can she have a dirty martini, up, three onions?” He nodded and glided toward the bar. I sighed with pleasure. My blood had begun to warm. The first drink did me a world of good, and another was on the way. Being out on a Friday wasn’t so bad after all. In fact, I was starting to enjoy myself.

“You never answered me. How was your day?” I asked, dragging a slice of dark, grainy bread through the modernist ramekin of the bed oil the olives were lounging in.

“Well,” Maggie said fiddling with her cutlery, “It was really, really good. There’s something I want to tell you, but for right now, I just want tonight to be about us. We never go out together anymore. I’m always sleeping over at Eric’s, and you’re always staying late at the office. And we’ve both been pounding away on our own books.”

Our waiter floated up to the table, and set a pretty pink cocktail with a strawberry on the rim in front of me. “From the gentleman at the bar.”

“Well, well, well,” Maggie said, eyes twinkling. “Looks like your day’s about to get brighter.” “Oh my God, what do I do?” I leaned toward her, whispering. “Do I accept it?” I locked eyes with Maggie, willing myself not to look over at the guy. “If I do, what does that mean? Do I have to go eat dinner with him, then?” I panicked. What if he turned out to be boring, or a creep? Plus, I was here with Maggie. It was a girls’ night. “Should I clink glasses with the air, but in his direction? Like they do in the movies?”

Just then, the waiter reappeared. “My apologies, ladies.” He picked up the glass, moved it to Maggie’s side of the table, and bowed, sliding backwards from our table, and down the aisle toward the kitchen. Maggie looked down into her lap and sighed.

“It’s OK, Mags. Seriously.” I tried to laugh. “Did you think I thought that was for me? Pfft! I was joking! This is good. I mean, this is great! Now I don’t have to eat dinner with him. Oh no, do you? Have to go eat with him? You can, if you want to…”

“Shh!” Maggie raised her eyebrows at glasses guy. She held up her left hand, and pointed to her engagement ring. She toasted him with her glass, and mouthed “thank you.” He turned his broad back to us, and faced the bar.

“His butt’s flat. He’s not that cute,” she said, wrinkling her nose. I took a last look at his broad shoulders and shiny black hair. He kind of was that cute.

“You can do much better,” Maggie told me. I doubted it.

“Anyway, you have a date tomorrow with whatshisname, that hot guy from Ray Diablo’s book launch.”

“I know, right? So hot,” I said. I concentrated on forgetting about my ex-future husband at the bar and tried to recall what the guy I’d met at the launch actually looked like. And his name.

Hundreds of people had come and gone last night as I sat working the door at the launch. From outside, I listened to all the fun happening inside the ballroom at the Puck Building. Ray Diablo’s brand was the flavor of the moment, and there was a parade of A-listers from the food world, and plenty of television people to boot. Hundreds of people came and went, carrying plates of fancy nibbles. A trash can sat next to my station. I watched as dainty talk show hosts and botoxed second wives took only a demure bite of their spectacular canapés, and trashed the remains. The smell of food dizzied me. I had half a mind to dive in after some of the less sampled morsels.

I was told not to eat on duty, and by the end of the night the two white wine spritzers I’d sneaked had gone straight to my head. When Jaden (Bradyn? Devon?) laid his card down and said, “54 Below, Saturday, 9 p.m.,” it had felt more like a summons than an invitation. But maybe that was sexy, what did I know? “Really, really hot.”

“Come on, let’s order,” Maggie said, summoning a waiter, and we did. After the starters came and were eaten, I felt a lot better. By the end of the meal, I had forgotten my troubles and had moved on to enjoying myself. The restaurant was, after all, a feast for the eyes, and every bite I put to my lips was sublime. I can’t cook, but I adore fancy food. Besides, I was getting to spend hours gossiping and chattering with my best friend.

“Hey, it’s getting late and you never told me your big news! We talked a little bit about Eric’s new job, and then I talked the rest of the time about how Ray had that hissy fit, and fired his co-writer in the middle of the launch party.”

“Ray Diablo is a giant dick,” Maggie said. “I’m tired of seeing his smug face all over the Food Channel. I hope that poor writer got a ton of money for her trouble.”

“From what I hear, she did. And her name on the cover. She’s one of Brenda’s clients, but way up the totem pole from me.”

“Phht! You write better than she does.”

“Maybe, but she’s making country-house money writing for famous chefs, and I’m not. More to the point, no one knows my name.” Over Maggie’s shoulder, I saw a crowd gathering at the hostess stand. The hostess pointed to our table. A gorgeous girl in a gold dress, and matching silver wig and false eyelashes, and holding a bouquet of gold and silver balloons was being led down the aisle toward our table.

“Margaret Doyle?” the shiny girl asked in a loud voice. Maggie nodded.

“These are for you, from your father, Mr. Patrick Doyle: Congratulations on selling your novel!” She tied the balloons onto the back of Maggie’s chair, as the tables near us broke into light applause, and a mixed chorus of “congratulations,” “well done,” and “awww!”

Just as the back-patting and well-wishing died down, Maggie’s phone rang. She dove sideways to fish in her bag.

“Your novel sold!” A quick stab of jealousy lit up my ribcage, and it embarrassed me. “Why didn’t you tell me?” I felt dazed. “I mean, that’s amazing, Mags.”

She held up a finger, mouthing, “Sorry, one sec.”

“No, it’s fine. Take the call,” I said, forcing my face into what I could just tell was a twisted grin. It was just as well she wasn’t looking at me.

“Yes, Daddy, they just arrived, this very minute. Thank you!” Maggie gestured helplessly, pointing at the phone with a knitted brow. I waved her off. “It’s fine!” I whispered. I sipped my drink and pretended not to be there in order to give her the feeling of privacy. I looked away, and caught sight of Mr. gorgeous from the bar descending from his stool and walking out.

“Well, I’m hardly a little girl! Yes, I’ll always be your little girl…I’m happy you’re proud, but Eric was naughty for spilling the beans…”

“Hey, Shayla. I didn’t mean to make a huge thing out of my book deal. It’s just…I thought we’d be celebrating together, shoulder to shoulder.”

No, it’s fine!” I insisted. “You didn’t know. I kind of set you up, I guess. I should never have said Brenda was excited about my book. I got carried away. ‘Don’t count your chickens till they’re hatched,’ Hank always tells me.” A lump rose in my throat. Maggie’s dad always told her things like, ‘You can do anything you want to do in this world,’ and ‘Go get ’em, Tiger!’

“This is your time,” I said. “I’m happy for you! Seriously. With the engagement, you know, and the book, and everything.” I reached across the table and squeezed her hand.

“Thanks for being so great.” She squeezed back. “You’re my best friend.” She was fizzing with nervousness, and smiling like a maniac. “Let’s get out of here. I’ll get the check. Dinner’s on me.” We looked up to find a waiter, but one was already swooping in for a landing. In his hands was an exquisite, sculptural cake topped with sizzling sparklers. “Here you are, ladies. Enjoy!”

On the top of the cake, in swirling script, it said “Wonder Twins.”

I held my hand up to shush my friend. “Don’t.”

We ate the cake in silence.

* * * * *

Do you want to read the rest of Summer at Castle Stone after this tempting first chapter? Of course you do! So get the ebook from Amazon, Waterstones or your own preferred retailer. For more exciting news and extracts from the novel, be sure to visit the other stops on the blog tour this week:


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