Just One More Minute: Chapter 2

Just One More Minute, by Elizabeth Barone

Matt slumped into a chair in Katherine’s office. After hearing the news the other night, he hadn’t even wanted to open the bakery for the next day. There was no point. The place was lifeless without her. But she’d made it abundantly clear to him that she wanted him to keep the place going if anything happened to her. Her lawyer was definitely making sure sure that he followed her last wishes, too.

So he’d opened up Elli’s on Saturday and accepted a steady stream of customers mourning Katherine. He spent the day serving them coffee and pastries, pushing his own feelings aside. There was no choice. If he thought about his mentor too much, he would break. Katherine had been more than that, really. She’d been like a mother to him.

He’d closed early and fallen into a heavy sleep, resolving not to open on Sunday. But the lawyer had given him a friendly wakeup call that morning, imploring him to get to work. Matt didn’t know what to expect, but nothing had changed. People continued to flock to Elli’s, offering him their condolences and treating the weekend as a memorial service in and of itself.

He dragged a hand through his brown curls, sighing. He’d made it through most of the weekend, but he had no idea what would happen next. Without Katherine, he had no job. It was only a matter of time.

The smart thing to do would be to skip the wake that evening and spend the night figuring out what he was going to do. He’d graduated high school only by the skin of his teeth. College hadn’t even been an option. If it wasn’t for Katherine, he and his family would be homeless. And he would never be able to thank her for what she’d done for him.

There was no way he could miss her wake, though. The thought of seeing her in a casket simultaneously made him nauseous and sent pain searing through his chest, but he had to pay his last respects. He owed her at least that—even if it would cost him dearly.

Matt rubbed his face with his hands. The whole situation was all too familiar. He’d been one of very few people who had known Katherine was sick. She hadn’t even intended to tell him, but he wasn’t stupid. He knew the side effects of chemo. He’d watched her get weaker and weaker, once again powerless to stop the inevitable. On its own, his grief for his father was unbearable, but losing Katherine was like ripping a scab off a large, still raw wound. The anger, sadness, and helplessness enveloping him were familiar, but that didn’t make dealing with those feelings any easier.

Shoulders slumped, he stood from his seat. On his way into the kitchen to clean up, he paused in the hall. The front end needed a run-through, too. His limbs felt frozen. Without any customers, the place felt too empty. Katherine would kill him if he left the place anything less than spotless, though. Torn, he glanced back at the kitchen, then at the cafe. Normally he wasn’t so indecisive, but he felt reluctant to clean either room. All he wanted to do was go home and collapse into bed. Maybe then he’d wake up and discover it’d all been a bad dream.

Danny and his mom were waiting at home for him, though. The thought of his family jolted him into action. They depended on him. He needed to stay strong.

It didn’t take long for him to clean up, even though he took his time. Once he started, he relaxed easily into the familiar ritual. He was suddenly all too aware that the sooner he locked up, the closer he’d be on his way to the wake. There was only so much procrasti-cleaning he could do, though. Squaring his shoulders, he put the mop away and grabbed his keys from the office. He set the alarm, then slipped out into the hot afternoon.

His pickup didn’t have air conditioning. He’d parked in the shady corner of the parking lot earlier that morning. Though it’d been dark when he arrived, the truck rested underneath a sprawling oak. Even though he’d left the windows wide open, when he opened the door, steaming hot air rushed out at him. The sooner he got it moving, the better.

He took the long way home—not that there was really a long way in Watertown. He crossed the small town into the even smaller town of Oakville within just a few minutes. Parking in front of the three-family house where he and his family lived, he shut the engine off. He needed to compose himself before he walked in and Danny saw his face.

The wake would start in just a couple of hours. Everything was happening too quickly. He needed a moment, but life was unrelenting. The best he could do was stop fighting and let himself be carried.

The problem was, he had no idea which direction he should float in.

Steeling himself, he pushed open the car door and got out. As he walked toward the door that led to his apartment, he felt eyes on him. Casually, he glanced up to the third floor. His upstairs neighbor Burton glared down at him through the blinds.

“That old fucker blocked me in again.”

Matt turned toward the door to the first floor apartment, shoulders tense. He did not feel like dealing with Maureen at the moment. If he brushed her off, though, she would take it personally. She and Burton had already dragged him into their war, each trying to force him to pick sides. He had no idea how Switzerland always remained so neutral. Juggling neighbors was hard. Besides, he was inclined to get along with Maureen because she frequently looked after Danny for him.

“What else is new?” he asked, keeping his tone light.

Maureen nodded toward the other side of the house. “So I knocked his garbage over.” She smirked.

Great. Burton would, without a doubt, blame Danny. Every time Matt’s little brother played outside, Burton made an effort to intimidate him back inside. The old fucker was territorial and mean. Matt opened his mouth, then shut it. Reminding Maureen that she had other neighbors would do no good. He’d have to remember to clean up the mess as soon as she went inside. He climbed the steps to his door and put a hand on the knob.

“Want a cigarette?” Maureen asked, holding out the pack to him.

He considered it. A cigarette would help soothe his nerves. But he’d promised Danny he would never smoke again, and he intended to keep that promise—even if his mother didn’t. “I’ve got a wake to get to.”

Maureen’s lips twitched to the side and her eyebrows slanted. “Sorry to hear that.” She took a drag from her cigarette. “I’ll catch you later, then,” she said, exhaling smoke as she spoke.

Closing the door behind him, Matt climbed the flight of stairs that led to the final door to his apartment. They were steep, creaking and groaning beneath him. He still thought the placement of the stairs was odd, but he was glad that there were two doors separating him from his neighbors.

As soon as he opened the door, Danny flung himself into his arms. “Matty,” his little brother said affectionately. The kid hadn’t hit puberty yet, and his voice was still childlike. Soon that would change, though.

“Is Mom . . . ?” Matt let the question hang in the air.

Danny nodded. “She said to get her up before the, well, you know.” He looked down at the floor.

Matt knelt in front of him. “You don’t have to go, if you don’t want to.” He considered for a moment. “But you’d have to hang out outside the funeral home—unless you want to stay with Maureen.”

His little brother shook his head rapidly. “I’ll bring my Gameboy.”

Matt smiled. The Gameboy Advance had been his, from his own childhood. Despite its age, Danny loved the Pokemon Red and Super Mario Bros. games that Matt had played at his age. He was glad he’d held onto it. Neither he or his mother could afford to get Danny the latest Nintendo handheld device, and definitely not something as expensive as an iPad. But if the kid knew the difference, he didn’t let on. Danny was a good boy.

Straightening, Matt glanced around the kitchen. Cereal bowls from that morning were still on the table, soggy Os floating in probably rancid milk. He sighed. “You’ve got to remember to clean up, Danny.” Though he hated that his little brother had joined the Take Care of Mom club, eleven was old enough to put a dish in the sink.

After he rinsed the bowls out and set them in the sink to soak, Matt headed into the bathroom. “I’ll be out in a few. Wake Mom up,” he called over his shoulder.

* * *

He pulled into the funeral home’s lot and followed one of the usher’s directions into a parking spot. “Danny,” he said, turning in his seat. His little brother sat bent over his Gameboy. “It’s too hot to stay in the car while we’re inside so go sit in the shade over there.” He pointed to a grassy area. A bench sat underneath a tree. From there, engrossed in his game, Danny probably wouldn’t even remember that he was at a funeral home. Or so Matt hoped.

Matt unbuckled his seat belt and slid out of the car. At some point, he’d have to stop babying his little brother. He knew that. But he’d never forget the look on Danny’s face when they first walked into another room in another funeral home, six years earlier. Matt hadn’t even been prepared for how their dad would look, the once tan skin ashen and flat. Their father had looked like a sleeping statue, a parody of himself.

Shaking the memories away, Matt went around to his mother’s side of the car. He opened her door and offered her his arm. She glanced up at him from beneath thinning lashes, her eyes somber.

“You can hang out with Danny, if you want,” he said gently.

Relief flickered across her face for a moment, then she shook her head. She lifted her chin. “Katherine did so much for you—for us,” Emily said. She clasped his arm and climbed out of the car, grimacing in pain at his touch. Grief had not been kind to her. Where she’d once been strong, Fibromyalgia wracked her nerves, the stress of losing her husband aggravating her illness.

Still, he was able to lead her into the funeral home without much trouble. He started to guide her to a seat, but she shook her head. Nodding, he led her toward the line. It was long.

While they waited, he tried to look anywhere but the casket. The room was crowded with people, many of the faces familiar. He glanced at the line of family members receiving condolences. He’d only met Katherine’s brother Noah once. He could only assume the woman standing next to him was his wife. He knew Katherine hadn’t exactly seen eye to eye with her family, but he’d never learned why. He was pretty sure that, if Katherine could have it her way, none of them would be at the wake or funeral.

The line of mourners moved forward, rapidly passing time shoving Matt closer to the casket. He forced himself to focus on something else as he moved his feet.

Next to Mr. and Mrs. Ellis stood their daughters and son. Their oldest daughter, he knew, was a relatively successful theatre actress out in New York City. Their son was a teenager who regularly got into trouble, though. He’d barely graduated high school, but only because he preferred to smoke pot and snort pills in the school bathroom. Katherine was not fond of either Mia or Leo.

But she’d loved her other niece.

Matt’s eyes fell on the young woman named Rowan. He’d never met her, but he felt as if he knew her. As he took in the sight of her, his breath caught in his throat. The dress she wore hugged her curves, its pencil skirt shape falling to just above her knees. Though the neckline reached her collarbone, parts of the dress that stretched across her breastbone were tastefully cut out in three diamond shapes. Light brown hair fell in waves down to her waist. She was stunning—much more so than the photos on Katherine’s desk hinted at.

Pale blue eyes met his from across the room. Recognition flashed across her face. Her eyes widened. He smiled, starting to lift a hand. Rowan’s eyes narrowed in a hard glare. Her lips twitched in distaste.

Turning around, he glanced about for the object of her anger. No one in the vicinity seemed to even notice her, though. He glanced back at her. She was definitely glaring at him.

And she wasn’t happy.

Matt took an involuntary step back. The line moved forward—Murphy’s Law. He realized that his mom was eyeing him expectantly, one brow lifted in question. For once, his mother was more possessed than he was. He shook his head at himself, then joined her. Throwing a glance at the casket, he tried to decide what he was going to do once up there.

People knelt, bowed their heads, and after a few seconds, made the sign of the cross. Then they stood up. Though his father had been raised Jewish, Matt’s parents had basically raised him Protestant. All that came to an end six years before. He knew Katherine’s family was far from religious—never mind Catholic—so the ritual seemed even more impersonal to him.

What he really wanted to do was shake her awake and take her out for a coffee, escaping from the too warm room and all the formalities. The thought was absurd, but there it was.

Suddenly it was his turn.

He hadn’t noticed his mother go ahead of him. She stood off to the side, waiting for him.

Matt wiped the palms of his hands on his worn black Dickies. He stepped forward. Swallowing hard against the dry knot in his throat, he knelt down in front of the casket. He found himself staring into Katherine’s arm. Quickly he bowed his head.

He didn’t know how to pray, or if he should even bother. He had no idea what happened after life. Heart thudding in his chest, he tried to think of what he’d want to say to Katherine if he’d had the chance.

I’m sorry, he blurted into the spaces of his mind. I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry—

Someone in the line behind him cleared their throat. Matt’s head snapped up. With a final nod, he jumped away from the casket and joined his mom.

She gave his arm a squeeze.

Together, they turned toward Katherine’s family.

“I’m so sorry,” Emily said, clasping Noah’s hand.

The man nodded his thanks. The bitter, sticky scent of marijuana oozed off of him. His eyes were red-rimmed and glassy. In fact, Matt noticed as he moved down the line shaking hands, the entire Ellis family smelled like weed. A smile tugged at his lips but he forced his face to remain blank. Part of him wished they’d invited him to spark up. The scent was so strong, it almost knocked him over. All of them were engulfed in it—except for Rowan.

He stopped in front of her. She smelled clean, a light fragrance hovering around her like an aura, enveloping him in soothing warmth. Standing next to her family, she was a complete contrast—in more than one way. Her father and brother, for example, wore rumpled jeans. Rowan stood out in her funeral black. And while her family’s eyes were bloodshot, relaxed smiles painted their faces. Her eyes were red and swollen, and her mouth tugged down in a frown.

So maybe she hadn’t been glaring at him after all. Her family appeared almost jovial. No wonder she looked so pissed.

He held out his hand to her. “I’m Matt,” he said.

She wrapped her arms around herself. “I know who you are.” Her tone was sharp.

He blinked. Okay. He wouldn’t take it personally. She’d just lost her aunt, after all. “Katherine really loved you,” he offered. “She talked about you all the time.”

For a moment, Rowan’s face softened. A smile lit up her face. Then fresh tears filled her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he said softly.

She gazed at him, a mixture of emotions playing off her face—feelings he couldn’t read.

He stood there, feeling more awkward with each second that passed. His feet felt rooted to the floor, though. Something about her drew him in. It was familiar, almost as if they knew each other. But he’d never met her. Only through Katherine’s stories did he know that she made delicious pastries and that her face turned bright red when she swore. But still. He felt an almost relief in her presence, the same kind that came from being reunited with someone you love and haven’t seen in a long time.

It was ridiculous. He didn’t believe in instalove. The crazy thing was, though, that for a second, she looked like she felt something too.

Then the mask slipped back over her face. Her eyes narrowed, guarded.

He needed to say something. People behind him pressed closer. He was holding the line up. He should tell a funny story about Katherine, bring that smile back again. Give her something to carry with her. Blank static filled his mind, though. He’d spent the last two years working with Katherine, yet he couldn’t recall a single moment. His pulse echoed in his ears. He realized that he might just be having a panic attack. The wake was proving to be too much for him.

Resolving to find her again before he left, he mumbled another quick sorry, then hurried away. He retreated to a seat at the back of the wide room. Then he cursed himself.

He’d had a chance to pay it forward, to spread some of Katherine’s kindness toward him to her niece. And he’d botched it—completely. Bringing his hands to his face, he bent over. Suddenly, he needed air. He stood and headed toward the exit.


JUST ONE MORE MINUTE
Available November 18th

A down-on-her-luck waitress inherits a bakery with the man who stole her dream job—and broke her heart.

PRE-ORDER NOW
Special $0.99 Offer*!

Kindle · iBooks · Nook · Kobo · More
Add to Goodreads

Or 1-click buy for your Kindle:


*Offer ends November 18th; regular price $2.99. Hurry and pre-order now to save!

Just One More Minute: Chapter 1

Just One More Minute, by Elizabeth Barone

Rowan peered into the oven, her hand guarded by a thick oven mitt. The scent of chocolate wafted toward her. Though the brownies smelled done, the slightly chocolate-coated toothpick in her free hand told her otherwise. “Just one more minute,” she decided. Pushing the pan back inside, she closed the door.

Brownies were hardly a healthy dinner, but she’d had a long night at work. Usually she didn’t mind her job waitressing tables at the diner. Sean’s regular crowd gently teased her but left generous tips. But Sean’s was also right off the highway, and every once in a while they got drunk strangers. Her soiled clothing was currently cycling through its second run in her old washing machine. After being vomited on, anyone would need a good dose of chocolate.

And wine.

Maybe it was a sign that she needed to get out of waitressing. The problem was, she had no idea what she should do instead. She’d finished her A.S. in May. Given her experience, she could apply for a management position at a restaurant. The pay would be decent, but she just wasn’t sure that she wanted to work holidays and weekends for the rest of her life.

Sighing, she turned away from the oven and grabbed her notepad. With a swipe of her pen, she adjusted the time on the recipe that she was working on. In the three years since she’d started her blog, she had yet to post a recipe for brownies. She was about to remedy that.

Her blog was also an option. Because of it, she earned a pretty decent side income. Between affiliate sales and paid product reviews, she was able to pay her rent, and her waitressing income took care of her bills and other expenses. Now that she was out of school, if she quit her job and focused on her blog full-time, she could easily turn that income into a living. The idea of sitting in her kitchen all day didn’t really appeal to her, though. She liked bantering with her customers at Sean’s. Though her readers left great comments and busted her balls just fine, it wasn’t the same as face to face interaction.

She had no idea what she wanted.

The timer on her oven went off. Her minute was up. She pulled the pan of brownies out of the oven and set it on top of the burners of the stove. Immediately she turned the oven off. Despite the sun having set hours ago, the temperature outside hovered in the upper eighties. It was going to be a brutal summer.

Her father would tell her that she was crazy for baking in eighty-degree weather—and that she needed to add something special to those brownies. She rolled her eyes at the thought,

then frowned, pushing away the memories of her childhood. She’d moved to New Jersey almost the second she graduated high school, and she’d never looked back. She was over it and her parents. Mostly.

The brownies had to cool before she could cut them, so she left the oven and ambled into her living room area. As she crossed the small studio, she glanced at a photo on the wall of her aunt Katherine. Her heart twisted. She hadn’t seen her aunt in two years. They talked on the phone occasionally, but things weren’t the same. Too much was unspoken between them.

Closer to the air conditioner, she felt the sweat on her face drying. She sat down on her futon, tucking her legs underneath her. She drummed her fingers on her thigh. She didn’t have cable, and opening up her laptop and surfing YouTube would only make her feel guilty that she wasn’t working on her blog post instead. She bit her lip. Maybe it was time to get cable.

Her phone vibrated against the worn coffee table. Frowning, Rowan leaned forward for it. It was almost midnight. She didn’t recognize the number. Silencing the phone, she figured someone had probably dialed wrong—it happened.

Almost a minute later, a notification flashed across the screen. One new voicemail. Her frown deepened. She’d had enough of drunks for one night. Reaching for the phone, she plucked it off the table. Without listening to the voicemail, she deleted it.

The brownies had cooled for long enough. Hopping off the futon, she returned to the oven. Knife in hand, she brushed a strand of mousy brown hair from her face and began slicing the brownies free. She stifled a yawn. She’d better wrap up her brownie fix soon. She had a morning shift at the diner.

Balancing a plate of square brownies in one hand, she trotted to the refrigerator. She set the plate down and poured herself a glass of milk. She plucked three brownies from the plate and carried her feast back to the futon.

It didn’t take long for her to eat them. With a sigh, she brought her dishes to the sink. Then she opened up the futon. Stripping down to just her tank top and panties, she lay down. She stared into the darkness for a long time before sleep came.

It was Friday night.

* * *

When Rowan woke early the next morning, she had another voicemail from the same number. She stared at the screen of her phone for a long moment. The number had a Connecticut area code. While that didn’t necessarily mean anything—she’d bought her phone when she was still living in her home state—she couldn’t ignore the alarm bells going off in her head. Still, she didn’t have time. It was going to have to wait.

She dressed quickly and, on her way out, grabbed a brownie for breakfast. She arrived at Sean’s just as her boss of the same name was unlocking the door.

“Morning,” she greeted him.

He gave her a half grunt, half sigh in response, then a crooked smile. Pushing the door open, he motioned for her to go first. As she passed him, she couldn’t help but notice that his eyes were underlined by dark circles. His long hours at the diner were taking their toll. He’d never been a morning person, but she knew he’d stayed long after they closed the night before, prepping for the next day.

As far as she knew, she was the only server he’d scheduled for the morning. Usually, she appreciated the gesture. Though she knew it was really because he knew his sunrise customers preferred her to the other servers, it was nice to be valued. But early Saturday mornings were always slow. There was no one on their way to work. The sleepy little town caught up on rest and yard work on weekends.

With a sigh, she tied on her apron and prepared for the long day ahead. Even though she and Sean would be the only ones drinking it for the better part of the morning, she made coffee. She set tables with paper placemats and rolled silverware. When she was finished, she brought her boss a cup of coffee and perched on the counter next to him. They sat in silence for several long minutes. While she watched him prepare the register and type up the specials for the day, her thoughts again turned to her impending future. She loved the diner, but it wasn’t exactly a career.

Just before he flipped the sign to open for the day, Sean gave her shoulder a squeeze. “Everything okay, kiddo?”

“Man, I must look bad.” Though Rowan often suspected that he considered her like a daughter, he rarely asked about her personal life. She never asked about his, either, though. She knew he’d come to New Jersey a stray, too, but didn’t know the circumstances.

“You look like you’re in deep thought.” He gave her a smile, the crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes crinkling.

She bit her lip. He was the closest thing she had to a father figure. Maybe he could give her advice. Taking a sip of her coffee, she watched as he sank into a chair at one of the tables. “How did you decide that you wanted to run a diner for the rest of your life?”

His eyebrows rose. “The rest of my life? Are you trying to punish me?”

“Well, you know what I mean.” Her stomach rumbled. Suddenly she regretted having eaten nothing but brownies in the last twenty-four hours.

One of his eyebrows twitched. “I didn’t really know,” he hedged, hitting the print button on his laptop. Underneath the counter, the printer coughed and spurted. The sheets that would become table tents for the day’s specials spewed onto the tray.

“You ended up here somehow,” she persisted. “What did you decide to do after finishing high school?”

Sean collected the pile of copies and began assembling them. “I didn’t.”

“You didn’t finish high school?” she teased.

“No.” His brown eyes met hers.

Feeling her cheeks flush, she managed a small “Oh.”

“Rowan, those were different days. My grades weren’t the best, and I was always getting into trouble for minor things. They didn’t really know what to do with me, to tell you the truth. So I left one day and never went back.” He finished putting together the table tents and began dispersing them to the tables.

She sighed. “I just don’t know what to do,” she said.

“Well, you graduated high school and college, so you’re two steps ahead of me.” His eyes twinkled.

The door opened and the white-haired Mr. and Mrs. Kostenko shuffled in for their morning coffee fix. Rowan grinned at them in greeting and grabbed two mugs. Her day had begun.

* * *

Halfway through her shift, she paused for a short break. As she passed Sean at the grill, he handed her a plate of food. “Eat.”

With a nod, she carried her meal to a table tucked into a dim corner of the diner. Lifting her fork, she also slid her phone out of her apron. It was the weekend and she was officially done with school. She shouldn’t spend it alone.

She meant to text a friend from the community college she’d attended, but froze. There were two more voicemails from the Connecticut number. Dread pitted in her stomach. One or two calls she could write off as a wrong number. Four were a whole other story.

Someone was trying to get ahold of her.

Glancing at Sean’s back, she lifted the phone to her ear. “Hello, this is Attorney Damien Ward again,” the voicemail began. “I’m looking for Ms. Rowan Ellis. It is extremely important that you contact me as soon as possible regarding an urgent family matter.” He left his phone number and encouraged her to call him back immediately.

She bit her lip. It sounded important, but she couldn’t discern the nature of the call from his voice. He seemed calm and collected, not the bearer of bad news. And though his Connecticut area code made her inclined to take him seriously, there was a part of her that realized he could be a scam artist.

But scam artists didn’t call repeatedly in the same day, at least not in her experience. Usually they waited twenty-four hours, or called from different numbers without leaving voicemails.

Maybe it wasn’t anything to worry about. If something had happened to her parents or siblings, one of her family members would have called. Not some lawyer. At least, she thought so. Sometimes her family acted so indifferent toward her, she supposed it was possible that they would alert her passively.

The lawyer had said “urgent family matter.” Maybe her parents were getting divorced. But they wouldn’t need her approval for that.

Her brow furrowed. There was that time her father had a questionable relationship with one of his students. A professor at Naugatuck Valley in Waterbury, he’d been spending a lot of time with an eighteen-year-old in one of his philosophy classes. Though rumors flying around said they were having sex in his office, the investigation had been dropped and he’d been cleared. At the time, Rowan’s mother hadn’t even been jealous. She suspected her parents had somewhat of an open marriage. Maybe something like that was going on again, and her father had to go to court.

She wanted nothing to do with it.

Picking up her fork again, she decided not to call Ward back.

* * *

Her shift at Sean’s ended at one in the afternoon. She escaped into the steamy summer air and headed toward her car. With the rest of the day wide open, she should hit the beach or do something equally relaxing. Every bone in her body ached for a nap, though. She’d only slept four hours the night before.

She slid into her car and gingerly touched the steering wheel. Grimacing, she pulled her hand away. She turned the key in the ignition and blasted the air conditioning. It didn’t take long for cold air to come out, but it would take a few minutes until the steering wheel was cool enough to touch. She pulled her phone out of the back pocket of her pants and reached for the cord that connected her phone to the stereo. The screen of the phone lit up, the familiar Connecticut number flashing.

Rowan sighed. As much as she didn’t want to get involved with her family’s affairs, she felt bad for wasting the lawyer’s time. It wasn’t his fault that her family was a train wreck. She pressed the phone to her ear. “Hello?”

“Oh!” He sounded surprised. “I was going to leave you another voicemail.” He chuckled. “My name is Attorney Damien Ward. I’ve been trying to get in touch with you.”

She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “I’ve been working.” Testing the steering wheel, she deemed it cool enough to grip. Holding the phone to her ear with one hand, she used her other hand to guide the car out of Sean’s parking lot. Though it was illegal to drive in New Jersey while using a phone without a hands-free earpiece, she’d mastered the art of dropping her phone at the first sight of a patrol car.

“Are you working now?” the lawyer asked in his smooth baritone.

“No.” She turned onto the street and headed toward her apartment.

“I’m afraid I have some bad news.” He hesitated for a moment.

Rowan’s heart pounded in her chest. Suddenly she wasn’t so sure that it had anything to do with her family’s antics. Something awful had happened.

“I’m your aunt Katherine’s attorney. I handle her business affairs, and her estate,” he continued.

Rowan’s heart dropped into her stomach. She swerved onto the shoulder of the road, throwing the car into park.

“Your aunt wanted me to notify you immediately, should anything happen to her. I’m so sorry, Ms. Ellis. Katherine passed away last night.” His voice, filled with regret, was suddenly drowned out by a high pitched ringing in her ears.

A sob escaped her lips. Not Katherine. Though they had their problems, she loved her aunt. Katherine had been the only member of her family to treat her like a normal person. It couldn’t be true. “How?” she gasped.

The attorney sighed. “Cancer,” he said, voice breaking. “She didn’t want anyone to know.”

Tears gushed down her cheeks. She sat numbly, the engine still running. Cold air blasted against her face, but she didn’t feel it.

“The wake is tomorrow night,” Damien Ward said. “I’ve made all of the arrangements according to her final wishes. I’m so sorry, Ms. Ellis.”

Rowan suppressed the urge to scream. This couldn’t be real. Instead, she slammed her fist on the steering wheel. Pain jolted through her arm, but it was nothing compared to the ache in her heart. She would never get the chance to make up with her aunt. Suddenly she felt childish for running away. At the time, she’d felt double-crossed. That job at her aunt’s bakery was supposed to be hers. It was the whole reason she’d gone to a technical high school and studied culinary arts. But her aunt had given it to someone else instead, and Rowan had decided to move on, out of state. She’d barely spoken to Katherine over the last two years. Now she would never make amends. Her shoulders slumped. She’d been so, so stupid.

“Ms. Ellis?” The lawyer’s tone was gentle. “Your aunt wanted to make sure that you were taken care of in her absence. She’s left her house to you. I can meet you before the wake tomorrow to give you the keys.”

She barely heard him. It was all too much. She didn’t want the house. She wanted Katherine.

“I’m so sorry,” he said again. “I know this is a lot to absorb. But she made it very clear that I was to tell you about the house right away, so that you wouldn’t have to stay with your parents.”

She almost laughed. Even in the afterlife, her aunt was still her ally. Guilt roiled through her stomach. She’d been a stupid teenager. And now she would never be able to fix things.


JUST ONE MORE MINUTE
Available November 18th

A down-on-her-luck waitress inherits a bakery with the man who stole her dream job—and broke her heart.

PRE-ORDER NOW
Special $0.99 Offer*!

Kindle · iBooks · Nook · Kobo · More
Add to Goodreads

Or 1-click buy for your Kindle:


*Offer ends November 18th; regular price $2.99. Hurry and pre-order now to save!

What Happens On Tour: Chapter 2

After what seemed like the longest pause in the history of her life, Poppy exhaled. She rocked backward on her heels, heart split down the middle. Part of her wanted to be thrilled. Going on a national tour was everything that South of Forever—and she—had been working toward. That kind of success would surely put them on the map, and probably give her the kind of job security that her generation so rarely saw. Still, it was too soon.

She’d hoped that South of Forever had a good few years before they hit that kind of critical mass. Most people wanted their success in a hurry, but Poppy wanted to finish school. She needed to, she thought as she twirled a strand of hair around her finger. Frizz lined the strand, her natural, tight coils threatening to escape her sleek waves. Pretty soon she’d need to get it relaxed again.

She bit down on her lip. The last thing she needed to be thinking about was her hair. Griff eyed her with something between concern and suspicion. For a moment, it was as if he could see straight through her. She swallowed hard.

“That’s amazing,” she croaked. There was no way that she would be able to go on tour and make it to her classes. If she went with the band, she would inevitably flunk out. If she stayed in Boston, though, she would be giving up everything she had ever dreamed of. Glancing at Griff, she lifted her chin. She needed to say something more positive than that. She was his manager, after all. “When?”

The question flew out of her mouth before she could catch herself. Once again, she was speaking without thinking. Her mother would say that she invited trouble just by opening her mouth.

Griff seemed not to notice the struggle clawing at her heart, though. He put his hands in his pockets and turned back toward her mother’s house, keeping his pace slow and leisurely. If things were different, she might be able to pretend that they were on a romantic walk, digesting their Thanksgiving meal. His next words burst that particular bubble instantly. “This is kind of springing it on you, but Saul said that they’re leaving Monday.”

Her eyebrows flew toward her hairline. “This Monday?” she squeaked.

“I know it’s super last minute, and I wouldn’t normally ask you to take off in the middle of a holiday.” He spread his hands, chagrin lining his face in a grimace. “But I need you.” He cleared his throat. “We all do.”

She took a moment to collect herself. “Who’s Saul?” she asked, changing the subject. Her mind roiled. There was no way she could juggle school and a tour. A national tour meant that she would be thousands of miles away from Boston at any given time, hours away from class.

As they neared her mother’s house, Griff slowed even more. She wondered whether he was prolonging their time alone together, or if he was just naturally a slow walker. Or maybe, she mused, he just wanted privacy to discuss band business.

“He’s like the Jett of King Riley.” Griff lifted a shoulder, an amused smile playing on his lips. “He definitely seems to be in charge, but he’s also their lead singer.”

“Oh.” She looked down at her toes. Despite the chill in the air, she was glad that she had worn her wedges. They made her legs look great, her floral printed skinnies practically painted on her. She put a finger to her lips. If she went on tour with South of Forever, she was going to have to learn King Riley’s band members’ names. Arguably, she should already know who they all were, considering she was a band manager and they were part of the Boston scene—her band’s stomping grounds. Technically, they were competition. She rocked back as she remembered a conversation that she had overheard between Perry and Max not so long ago. “Didn’t Perry used to be King Riley’s bassist?”

Pressing his lips together, Griff nodded.

“Is that going to be an issue?” She crossed her arms over her chiffon blouse and raised an eyebrow at him.

He lifted a shoulder. “I hope not.”

“Perry is a guaranteed problem,” she reminded him. Though he had mellowed out considerably since she’d met him that summer, he still made half-hearted passes at her and drank too much during shows. Even if he could tame his womanizing and borderline alcoholism, she could see him being the first to pick a fight with the other band. “Is this even a good idea? What did he get kicked out for?”

Griff chuckled as he angled back toward the house. “You think he got kicked out?”

“This is Perry we’re talking about.” She slowed, glancing at the front porch. It was empty. Breathing a sigh of relief, she put a hand on Griff’s arm. “Did he ever mention why he isn’t part of King Riley anymore?”

“Jett got the impression that he left on his own terms,” Griff said. “You’re right, though. No one asked, and he never said.” His eyes met hers, and a tingle zipped through her. Though her hand was still on his arm, he made no move to pull away.

Her breath caught in her throat. Blinking, she forced herself to focus. Griff was ten years older than her—at least, her true age. Everyone in South of Forever thought she was twenty-two, but she was eighteen. All of the guys she’d dated in high school had been her age or a couple years older. There had never been a need to lie.

“So, barring any Perry incidents, are you up for this?” He grinned at her and, for a moment, she thought she might faint.

He wasn’t the kind of smoking hot that made it on the covers of magazines or in underwear ads. He had a certain boyish charm that easily bent, fitting the rock star image. He could go back and forth between any look if he wanted to. She had seen pictures of him during high school, with hair grown out to his chin and the slightest hint of stubble on his face, thanks to Jett breaking out the scrapbook she kept. Poppy would have never pegged Jett for the sentimental type, but she had photos of Griff that even his own mother would probably never show mixed company. Poppy’s cheeks reddened at the thought of a photo of his bare ass. It was from his Perpetual Smile days, during a drunken night on tour. He’d mooned the entire band and Jett had snapped a photo that she later pasted front and center in her scrapbook.

Poppy realized that she had spaced out more than usual. Her cheeks blazed and heat pricked at the back of her neck. Clearing her throat, she started walking back toward the house. “I should really get back to dinner,” she said, avoiding his question.

“Of course.” Griff kept pace beside her. He ran a hand through his hair. He touched her arm as if he wanted to say something else, but then drew away.

Again, she couldn’t help but wonder what might happen if she went on tour with South of Forever for a few months. It could be like a vacation. Of course, she would be working, coordinating merchandise and hanging out backstage. She beamed at the thought of herself standing behind a merch table. She could wear one of the band’s T-shirts. Better yet, she could bring a real sense of fashion to their wares. So few bands even carried shirts for women and, when they did, they shrunk easily or were cut wrong. Then again, she wasn’t sure how much she could do in just a few days, especially with the holiday weekend.

She shook her head. She couldn’t go on tour with them, not if she wanted to finish school. Her mother and grandmother would kill her if she dropped out to go away with some band. She could only imagine the looks on their faces. They might even disown her. They’d come close enough when Jay announced his new career as J-SON, L.A.B. Records’s new face of hip hop.

She wanted to cry. A perfect opportunity was about to be wasted.

She realized that they were standing in front of her house. A sigh escaped her lips. “Well, I’d better get back to dinner.”

Griff nodded, shifting from foot to foot. “Yeah, sorry for interrupting.”

She wished that she could invite him in. If things were different, she would have no problem bringing a guy home. Her family would have a million questions, though. Jay knew the truth, but her mother and grandmother didn’t, and their curiosity about the man in their house would almost definitely blow her cover. Yolanda and Audrey didn’t understand tact or saving their questions until boyfriends went home. Poppy was pretty sure that they enjoyed embarrassing her.

Clearing his throat, Griff nodded toward the house. “I’m sure you have to discuss things with your family.”

Her jaw dropped open. It was as if he knew. Licking her lips, she shook her head. She wanted to tell him that wasn’t it, but she had no other excuse for not jumping at the chance to go on tour. “It’s just that I planned on being here for the whole weekend. They’ll be disappointed.” She gave him a smile, lifting a shoulder.

“Well, let me know what you decide.” He pulled keys out of his jacket pocket and pressed a button. The lights flashed on a glossy rental car that she had overlooked. She heard it unlock. He leaned in, as if to give her a kiss. Her heart stopped. She tilted her face, shock freezing her thoughts. Instead, though, he gave her a quick one-armed hug, then stepped away.

She watched as he climbed into the car, almost too small for his tall frame. Then, forcing her feet to move, she headed up the front walkway. By the time she got to the porch, he was gone. She wondered if she’d just imagined the entire exchange. As she eased back inside, though, she realized her entire family sat in the living room.

Her mother beamed at her. “I knew you had a boyfriend,” she blurted. “You’ve been so busy, I knew it couldn’t just be school.”

Grandma Audrey gave Poppy a knowing look. “He’s cute.”

“He didn’t stay long,” Jay remarked. He shot Poppy a questioning glance, but said nothing else.

She burned to tell Krista what had happened. She couldn’t think of a graceful way to exit the conversation or to ditch dinner, though. Krista was the closest thing she had to a best friend. She’d had friends in high school, but none of them had been super close, and they had all gone to different colleges around the country. Some were even overseas, traveling the world with the military.

Nodding toward the kitchen, Poppy indicated the food, probably cold. “Are we eating, or what?”

Her grandmother shot out of her seat on the couch and bustled into the kitchen, Yolanda close on her heels. Poppy heard Grandma Audrey swearing, and stifled a laugh.

“So what happened?” Jay whispered. “Everything okay?”

“Later,” she mouthed. She would tell him everything, but only after dinner—and only after she conferenced with Krista first. If anyone knew what to do, it would be Krista.


South of Forever’s first tour is about to begin, and so is Poppy’s career—if she can keep all her lies straight.

CONTINUE READING

Chapter 1 · Chapter 2 · Chapter 3 · Chapter 4 · Chapter 5

BUY NOW

Kindle · iBooks · Nook · Kobo · More

Or 1-click buy for your Kindle:

Cover Reveal: What Happens On Tour

Untitled design

Drum roll, please—it’s time for the official What Happens On Tour cover reveal! You may have seen my puzzle over on my Instagram profile, but there’s nothing like seeing this baby in HD. Designer Starla Huchton needs some serious applause.

Are you ready? I’m tingling, I’m so excited.

3…

2…

1…

What Happens On Tour (South of Forever, Book 3), by Elizabeth Barone

South of Forever’s first tour is about to begin, and so is Poppy’s career—if she can keep all her lies straight.

Poppy Hampton may be rock band South of Forever’s new manager, and she may have successfully launched her brother’s music career, but she sort of lied about her credentials. She also may have aged herself up a bit in her resume. It’s no big deal.

All she has to do is make sure they don’t find out.

Until the band’s sexy drummer—and the guy of her dreams—Griff tells her that it’s finally happened: South of Forever has been invited to go on tour with the fast rising rock band, King Riley. She’d be thrilled if such an exciting opportunity didn’t mean choosing between her career and her education—or if dating Griff didn’t mean lying to him about the ten-year age difference between them. Can Poppy launch her career without destroying it before it’s even started? And if she risks everything to follow her heart and be with Griff, can she keep her secret safe?

What Happens On Tour is the third book in the South of Forever series, a steamy contemporary New Adult romance that follows a fledgling rock band on its way to the top.

Available August 19th.

PRE-ORDER SALE

Pre-order now for only $0.99!

Kindle · iBooks · Kobo · More

What Happens On Tour (South of Forever, Book 3), by Elizabeth Barone

Catch up on the South of Forever series:

Buy Diving Into Him and Savannah’s Song now »

Savannah’s Song: Delayed

Savannah's Song (South of Forever, Book 2), by Elizabeth BaroneSome of you may have just received an email from Amazon, Kobo, or Apple letting you know that Savannah’s Song is no longer available for pre-order. I promise, the book is still being released. I had to cancel the pre-order because I am no longer self-publishing it; Savannah’s Song will be released by Booktrope sometime next year.

This is huge for me, but it also means a bit of a delay in the South of Forever series. For the next few months, my publishing house will be re-releasing all of my work.

This was not an easy decision. It’s a huge opportunity for me. It means I can focus more on writing. But it also means that it will be a little while before my next new release.

Bear with me. I’m in a bit of a transitional period. 😘