Amber Thompson always thought she wanted a superstar boyfriend—until he kicked her to the curb on the eve of his big break.
When Amber’s best friend, Scott Malone, comes running in to save her once again, she realizes he’s the man she truly wants. The only problem? Scott isn’t interested in pursuing a woman on the rebound.
Determined to prove she’s ready to commit, Amber comes up with a plan to woo Scott, only to have it derailed by explosive family secrets. With her assumptions about everything—including herself—dismantled, she finds herself torn between a need for answers and protecting her mother’s past. But Amber knows if she has any hope of a meaningful relationship with Scott, she needs to figure out who she is—and that means unearthing even more secrets.
Will Amber find what she’s looking for? And if she does, will she find it in time to help her win the man of her dreams?
Vodka & Chocolate Drops is the fifth book in the Blueberry Springs series. Read it as a standalone or a part of the full set!
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SNEAK PEEK: CHAPTER 1
Don’t watch their special guest, Amber. Turn off the TV.
Amber Thompson cranked up the show’s volume and perched on the arm of the couch, her breathing becoming unsteady as she waited for her ex-boyfriend to take to the screen. With trembling hands she checked to see if the tub of double chocolate ice cream was really and truly empty. It was.
That was the thing about breakups. They made you desperate to fill the gaping hole inside, desperate to avoid the evil, heartbreaking ex forever, and yet still starved for every detail about him.
Amber sighed and went for the dill pickle chips, mowing her way through the mess of crumbs in the bag’s bottom as the man she’d lived with for the past year appeared before her in his new role as a debut novelist—smiling, confident, charming. Everything.
It was his time to shine.
Her chest tightened and she riffled through a bowl of discarded foil wrappers from chocolate drops. She’d been such a fool. How had she ever convinced herself that a handsome, award-winning newscaster would stay with her forever? She should have known that he wouldn’t choose permanence with her, a small mountain-town nobody.
A choking feeling welled up inside her as Russell Peaks was introduced by the show’s host. The suit she’d helped Russell choose hung beautifully off his trim shoulders. He looked happy and relaxed. Not at all like someone who had just ditched his live-in girlfriend by phone the night before.
He’d delivered the lines she’d been half expecting since their first kiss: “Amber, babe, I can’t do this back-and-forth thing between the city and Blueberry Springs anymore. It’s over. I won’t be coming back.”
Other than to collect his belongings from their shared rental and tow away the holiday trailer he used as a writing cave, of course. Stuff she planned to have ready at the end of the property by the time he came for it tonight.
She didn’t want to face him and the fact that she wasn’t enough, wasn’t special enough. She was just a nobody who had gone to the city in hopes of finding whatever was unique inside herself, and instead she’d found someone to use her. She’d spent months coaxing Russell through writer’s block and periods of self-doubt, and now that his life, his world, was taking off he’d dismissed and rejected her, just as her father had before she was even born.
Her life was never going to change. She was never going to be anyone special.
The interviewer asked Russell, “What was your inspiration for Ember Unfolded?”
“I’ve always been crazy enough to believe I can change the world with the written word, whether as a newscaster, reporter, or novelist,” Amber whispered, expecting him to say the lines he’d rehearsed in front of their bedroom mirror.
But instead of his practiced lines, Russell said, “Inspiration was all around me as I wrote this book.”
The only thing that had been all around him was Amber, and she was hardly inspiring. What a big fat liar he was.
She found a chocolate drop and popped it in her mouth, disappointed that it didn’t seem to help her mood.
“Rumor has it you’re dating a woman named Amber. It’s not a difficult leap to assume that Ember
Unfolded’s main character, Ember, may have been based on her.”
Amber sat straighter. She’d been mentioned on air.
The interviewer thought Amber was the main character.
Her skin ran cold, then hot, and she almost lost the chocolate drop when her mouth fell open.
She’d begged Russell for months to let her read the manuscript, but he’d insisted it was a surprise. She’d felt frustrated, yet special at the time, but now she wasn’t sure the book was going to be the type of surprise she would appreciate.
She scrambled up the creaking wooden staircase to the bedroom, then pawed through the drawers of Russell’s bedside table, looking for the key to his mobile writing office, where he kept copies of the manuscript. Nothing. All the drawers were surprisingly empty. She ran to the bureau where he kept his clothes. Also empty. He’d been moving out for weeks and she hadn’t noticed. He’d been using her right up until the final hour before his success, then had discarded her like garbage.
She took in their bedroom with fresh eyes. A Writer’s Digest and Newsweek on the nightstand, a stack of books on the bureau and a print he’d chosen on the wall. That was it. The only signs that he’d slept in this room for a year.
Below, Amber could hear Russell on TV. “That’s the mystery, isn’t it? Who is Ember?” There was a pause, then in a quieter, not quite reverent tone, he said, “Amber Thompson and I are no longer dating.”
Ember Unfolded. The title had never made any sense to her, but now… Ember was the heroine and inspiration had been all around him.
If he’d dumped her on the eve of his book’s release, “Ember” couldn’t be good news.
Swallowing the panic that was ripping away her strength, Amber ran down the stairs two at a time, avoiding the one at the bottom with the loose board. She rummaged through the junk-food wrappers on the coffee table, looking for her car keys. She needed to read the book. She needed to know the truth.
The interviewer was still asking about the Ember/Amber connection, and Russell replied quickly, “She hasn’t read the book. And no, it has nothing to do with our breakup.”
Amber froze, fingers of dreading clawing their way up her spine.
She began digging faster for her keys.
Russell had not only used her, but had lied to her by omitting what the book was truly about.
Her tablet. She could get the book without even leaving the house. She flicked through apps until she found the one she wanted, then bought and downloaded Russell’s book, livid that she had to pay for a book she had helped create—both advertently and inadvertently. She glanced up at the TV in time to see a woman join Russell on the studio couch. His editor, Sabrina. She was gorgeous and everything Amber wasn’t. Her glossy hair a rippling sheen over her super-toned shoulders. Her black dress hugging every slim curve of her well-defined body. She had impossible hips and no apparent belly roll. How could a woman even survive with that little body fat?
Russell gave Sabrina a long kiss on the lips and Amber stood suddenly, knocking over the coffee table, sending her tablet flying. Her ex broke the kiss and smiled at the camera again.
Smiled at Amber.
That son of a…
Everything suddenly became clear.
Stress hadn’t caused Russell to become more and more distant over the past few months.
The workload as a debut author and the long drive from the city hadn’t led to the late nights.
The book’s problematic pacing wasn’t responsible for the distracted look in his eyes.
And the nights when he never came home? Those weren’t caused by late-day business meetings. It was because of Sabrina. All of it Sabrina.
Amber had played the fool and now everyone she knew would see it. Everyone would know how blind and naive she’d been. It was all right there in high definition. She fell onto the couch, gripping her head, trying to hold everything in, trying to stop the desperate thoughts slamming through her mind.
She made herself focus on Sabrina’s perfectly made up lips. Lips that had just kissed Russell. Had kissed him before. Casually. Passionately. Lips that claimed ownership. Lips that had probably kissed him while… no, don’t think about it.
Amber bunched her hands into fists, while her heart pounded hard and fast. He had been hers, the only thing keeping her from a life as a small-town nothing. And he’d used her. Lied to her. Cheated on her.
“Now Russell, don’t be so mysterious,” Sabrina teased, her voice laced with a flirtatious note that made
Amber want to barf. “You can tell them about your muse.”
When he remained silent, the interviewer asked him how much artistic license he’d taken and whether Ember was real.
Sabrina laughed in a way that made it clear she had plenty to say on the subject. “Russell was very fortunate in that—”
“A gentleman never kisses and tells,” he interrupted.
Amber grabbed the tablet, her mind barely functioning as she skimmed the first chapter. She set down the book, unable to take any more. What she’d read proved he was a liar. He’d kissed. He’d told. It didn’t matter what coy lines he used on television, it was all there in the opening text. He’d taken something intimate and sacred. He’d taken her trust and betrayed her.
The sounds in the room narrowed until the only thing Amber could hear was her own heartbeat, the force of its thumping breaking her, little by little.
The program changed from the noon show to a soap opera, and its theme song woke Amber from her shock.
How had she been so desperate for love and recognition that she’d become blind to what Russell was really doing, to who he really was?
Who would be that dumb?
A nobody. A stupid, desperate, needy loser trying to live in a world where she obviously had never belonged.
Tears slipped down her cheeks as she stood. She couldn’t stay here any longer, surrounded by memories of Russell. She needed to leave before everyone in Blueberry Springs got hold of this and she became the talk of the town. After running upstairs, she began tossing her clothes and toiletries into a duffel bag, then hurried on through the old house, collecting her computer and other possessions. Ten minutes later, she dropped the bag in her car and slammed its protesting door as she turned to stare at the place.
If she ran away she would be letting Russell win one more time. She’d be making it easy for him to collect his last few things and skip off into his future of fortune and fame. By running, she’d be telling everyone in her hometown that Russell was right: she was a nobody anyone could use, and it was easy—she’d just disappear.
And if she left, she would be leaving her mother to deal with the ensuing gossip about her only daughter.
Her mom would be left to defend Amber and all her failings. Alone.
Determined, Amber marched back into the house and began collecting items Russell had left behind or brought into their home. Picture frames, throw pillows, a vase, books, music, dishes, collectibles, magazines―everything she could get her hands on. Unable to carry more and unable to find a cardboard box, she stormed outside, where she opened her arms, satisfied with how things crashed and smashed at her feet as they tumbled down the front steps. Ignoring the gorgeous mountain view, she turned and entered the house once again. Room by room she cleared everything of Russell, wishing it felt more cathartic. But the more she worked, the more her mind replayed the hurt of how he’d used her, lied to her, then made it all public.
With tears streaking her cheeks, she ripped at the bed. After balling the linens in her arms, she opened the window and whipped them out into the early spring chill. The mattress! She wanted to burn the mattress. She wanted to burn the whole place down so there would be nothing left for Russell to face but her and the effects of his betrayal.
Anger roared through her veins with a power that made her arms shake and her quads throb as she thought again about the way he’d kept the book a secret from her. How she’d brought him meals in his little holiday trailer. How she’d been so excited to be a part of his world and to be living with a writer.
Hide-a-key. He’d hidden a key on the outside of the trailer. Within minutes she’d found its hiding spot on the RV’s underside, and popped the door, dumping all his possessions inside. Next, she went to the machinery shed where Russell’s aunt—their landlord—stored her late husband’s old backhoe and bulldozer. Amber couldn’t tow the trailer out of the yard with her car, but with the backhoe she could.
She started up the machine and then, after experimenting with the levers and pedals, eased it out into the uneven, sloping yard, lifting the tongue of Russell’s trailer with the bucket. She began tentatively backing the trailer around the house, planning to leave it parked along the property’s edge. If she didn’t have to talk to her ex again she’d be less likely to say something that would result in a sequel to Ember Unfolded. Or end up sued for placing her foot so far up his you-know-what that he’d need dentures.
She turned the backhoe’s bucket, trying to angle the trailer away from the yard’s steep drop-off. She could easily end up with it pinned against the cliff’s edge if she wasn’t careful. But instead of turning away from the dry gulch, it veered closer. Amber slammed on the brakes before the RV went too far, but the sudden stop popped the trailer’s tongue off the bucket, and she watched, aghast, as Russell’s writing cave bounced along the ground, away from her. She let out a squeak as it rolled over the edge, disappearing as though it had been pulled by an undertow.
She jumped out of the machine and peered over the cliff. The trailer struck the rocky bottom as she watched, its thin walls shattering on impact, sending up a cloud of papers as its propane tank exploded, engulfing the debris in a massive ball of flame.
With jellylike legs she patted the air beside her, seeking something to support her. This was definitely going to complicate things.
END OF SNEAK PEEK
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Copyright © 2017 Jean Oram. All Rights Reserved. Not to be copied or distributed in any form without explicit permission from the author Jean Oram. Contact her to inquire further.