Center of Gravity Sneak Peek

June 17, 2015

AuthorAfter six years behind the anchor desk at two CBS affiliates, Laura moved to the Alabama Gulf Coast to raise her family. Her accolades in broadcasting include awards from the Associated Press, including Best News Anchor and Best Specialized Reporter.

Laura works at Spring Hill College as the school’s web content and social media manager and​ is active in her community—participating in fundraisers for the American Cancer Society, Ronald McDonald House, and Providence Hospital’s Festival of Flowers.

Laura was recently awarded a 2-book deal with Thomas Nelson Publishing, a division of HarperCollins. Her novel, Center of Gravity,
set in Mobile, Ala., will be published in July of 2015. Laura is represented by Elizabeth Winick Rubenstein, president of McIntosh and
Otis literary agency in New York.​ Her writing awards include those from William Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Competition, Writer’s Digest, RWA, and the Eric Hoffer competition.

She holds a master’s degree in journalism from The Ohio State University and a bachelor’s degree in English from Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She is currently pursuing a second master’s degree in interactive technology from the University of Alabama. She is a native of Upstate New York and currently resides near the Alabama Gulf Coast with her two children.

Connect with Laura:

http://lauramcneill.com/

http://lauramcneill.com/layouts/blog/

https://twitter.com/LauraMcNeillBks

https://www.pinterest.com/lauram0528/

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5280308.Laura_McNeill

https://www.facebook.com/lauramcneillauthor?ref=hl

https://instagram.com/dixiegirlwriter/

 

The truth could cost her everything.

Her whole life, Ava Carson has been sure of one thing: she doesn’t measure up to her mother’s expectations. So when Mitchell Carson sweeps into her life with his adorable son, the ready-made family seems like a dream come true. In the blink of an eye, she’s married, has a new baby, and life is grand.

Or is it?

When her picture-perfect marriage begins unraveling at the seams, Ava convinces herself she can fix it. It’s temporary. It’s the stress. It’s Mitchell’s tragic history of loss.

If only Ava could believe her own excuses.

Mitchell is no longer the charming, thoughtful man she married. He grows more controlling by the day, revealing a violent jealous streak. His behavior is recklessly erratic, and the unanswered questions about his past now hint at something far more sinister than Ava can stomach. Before she can fit the pieces together, Mitchell files for divorce and demands full custody of their boys.

Fueled by fierce love for her children and aided by Graham Thomas, a new attorney in town —Ava takes matters into her own hands, digging deep into the past. But will finding the truth be enough to beat Mitchell at his own game? Center of Gravity weaves a chilling tale, revealing the unfailing and dangerous truth that things—and people—are not always what they seem.

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Chapter 2
Ava
Wednesday, March 24

Life never quite turns out the way you plan. Take my first attempt at gourmet cooking. The twelve-week long class was a wedding gift from my husband, Mitchell. I think he secretly hoped the instruction would uncover my amazing talent and I’d be the next Giada De Laurentiis.

So armed with a new apron, thick, glossy new cookbooks, and dazzled by my new home’s professional kitchen—full of gleaming stainless steel utensils—I bounced fearlessly into the day of instruction.

I proceeded to set both oven mitts on fire, much to the horror of nearby students. The next week my crème brulee singed into a charcoal volcano. Week number three, the heady scent of cloves caused a wave of nausea so strong I had to run outside and gulp fresh air. I turned out to be pregnant, of course. So much for the Food Network and my budding career as a chef.

Since then we keep a fire extinguisher handy, and I work from a collection of stand-by, no-fail recipes. We’ve decided that I do excel at comfort food: chicken salad, tacos, and oatmeal cookies. Tonight’s plan: fresh vegetables and pasta.

With baby Sam on my hip, I maneuver down the clean, gleaming aisles of Fresh Market, chatting on the phone with our contractor.

“Heart Pine?” I echo, leaning over to pick up fresh broccoli florets. “Isn’t that . . . really expensive?” I pause and wince when he tells me the cost.

At Mitchell’s request, our contractor is building us an amazing staircase in the foyer of our hundred twenty-year-old home. Crafted to mirror late-eighteen hundreds décor, it will be quite the showpiece. Lovely and very, very expensive.

“So the down payment? You’ll need it this afternoon?” I ask, selecting a ripe, ruby red tomato and holding it up to the light like a jewel.

The contactor confirms that he will, in fact, need quite a large sum. I almost drop the fruit, but manage to set it carefully in the buggy. Mitchell hasn’t left me the cash or a check. To withdraw it from my household account would take every last penny. The pennies I’ve been saving, in secret, for the boys’ swing set. The swing set I haven’t told Mitchell about yet. Mama always says it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, after all.

I stop wheeling the shopping cart to rub the back of my neck. “And if we miss you today?”

His answer’s clear. He’ll be gone, out of the country, for a week. We’ll be behind schedule, and Mitchell will be less than pleased.

“I’ll meet you at the house in thirty minutes.”

Throat tight, I hang up and check the time on my phone. Sam breaks the tension with a giggle and presses his cheek to my chest. He’s flirting with the produce clerk, a cute redhead with big blue eyes. Sam’s the most sweet-natured child, and his blond curls, pink cheeks, and dimples draw a bevy of admirers. Of course, as his mother, I’m unduly biased. He’s always had my heart.

As I lean to press my lips to his head, my cell buzzes again. It can’t be the contractor again. With a small sigh, I answer and press the phone to my ear. “Hello?”

Urgent and clipped, the voice on the phone stops my world. A comet screaming toward Earth, bent on near-destruction.

It’s about Jack. My third-grader. There’s been an accident.

I leave the groceries, stammering out an apology to whoever can hear me. My shopping cart, filled with organic chocolate ice cream, soymilk, and Mitchell’s favorite whole grain bread, sits behind us, forgotten. On my budget, it was wishful thinking anyway.

I dash for the automatic doors which open with a hiss and a jolt. Luckily the parking lot’s not crazy, and I make it to my Jeep in a matter of steps.

As I buckle him in, Sam gurgles and bats at my face, wanting to play. With a shaking hand, I rub and kiss the top of his sweet head, tuck his very necessary fuzzy brown bear close, and shut the door. I sprint to the other side of the Jeep, jump in, and almost lose my shoe.

My Jeep’s old engine cranks on the first try. Thank you. I give the dashboard an affectionate pat. This is no time to be temperamental.

The wheels groan and grab gravel, throwing it like confetti as I drive out of the parking lot. Sam claps his hands at the clatter of stones and pebbles. My cell phone slides to the floor out of reach. The slip from the drycleaners falls in between the seats.

Around a curve, the folded pink heart I keep tucked in the visor flutters to the seat beside me. Jack and Sam’s homemade valentine. Construction paper, glue, and crayon – more precious than any gift. Two small stick figures, a taller one in the middle with a hair bow. I press two fingers to the soft paper and say a prayer.

***

The road rushes under the wheels. I rearrange snippets of the frantic conversation. Gash. Some blood. Breathing fine. Emergency room. A few more miles to the hospital.

I flash back to this morning. Packed sack lunch, flop of dark hair across his bare forehead, navy backpack slung over one shoulder. A surge of pure love courses through my heart. A stab of worry steals my breath. I force myself to focus.

The traffic light ahead flashes green to yellow. Intersection’s clear. I push the accelerator to the floor, glance in the rearview mirror. Air from the open window catches Sam’s wisps of hair. He smiles, showing off his first few baby teeth, and reaches a chubby hand at the rays of sunshine streaking by, trying to catch the light.

Thump. Thump. The Jeep jerks to the left. I guide the wheel, hold it steady, and take my foot off the gas. When I pull over and brake, the abrupt stop sends up a dust cloud.

“Uh-oh,” Sam says.

I unbuckle, jump out, and survey the damage. A glance at the tire confirms it. Flat. Dead.

Hands on my hips, I bite my lip.

Tentatively, I grab the jack from the back of the Jeep, the weight of it solid and heavy in my hands. I can fix this. After all, in my former life, as a school counselor at Mobile Prep, I was the problem-solver, crisis manager, and shoulder to cry on. I always handled situations. And I didn’t need help.

Then my eyes fall on Sam as he babbles and blows bubbles in the back seat. I hesitate, gripping the metal between my palms. As the sun beats down on us, heating my skin, my pulse begins to race. Maybe I was fearless because I didn’t know any better. I wasn’t a mom then. I didn’t have two children depending on me. Trusting me to do the right thing, be on time, and not screw up.

I catch a whiff of gasoline and hear the faint rumble of an engine behind me as I open the red Jeep door and stretch for the cell phone. I dial quickly, hoping that my husband answers.

“You’ve reached Mitchell Carson . . .”

A heavy footstep crunches on the pebbled pavement behind me. I hang up and whirl around, nerves already frayed.

“Ava?”

Disbelief hits me. I take in the broad shoulders and smartly-pressed uniform and erupt with emotion at the pure, dumb luck of finding Officer Mike Kennedy next to my broken-down Jeep. Between sobs, I squeeze out an explanation. “Jack . . . the school . . . accident.”

Mike holds up a calloused hand to stop me. He’s rescued me more than once. “Whoa! Slow down, Ava.” His forehead wrinkles. “He’s at Springhill Medical Center?”

Throat tight, I nod, trying to process what to do, what to say. Fingers trembling, I reach for the pink heart. Something to hold onto. A piece of Jack.

“I’ll take you.” Mike opens my door. In no time, he transfers Sam and his baby seat to the patrol car, straps us in, and gets back on the road.

The scenery whips by, a blur of trees and signs. I clutch my phone tight and try Mitchell again. Voicemail.

“Can’t get through?” Mike asks.

I drop the phone into my lap and shake my head.

Mitchell’s job pulls him in ninety different directions at once. My husband’s a newly-minted college vice president of advancement and somehow balances all of his responsibilities with finesse. My heart still stops when I see him. My husband has the voice, the look, and the irresistible charm of a George Clooney twin.

It’s not all roses, though. With baby Sam, our marriage is more difficult than I ever expected. Life’s busier, more exhausting, juggling diapers and soccer games. We’re both getting less sleep. But that’s normal, right? Our date nights, which used to be weekly, are non-existent. Making love during stolen lunch hours doesn’t happen anymore. And instead of talking about the symphony or the latest bestseller, we discuss schedules.

I push the thoughts away. Everyone goes through a rough patch. I glance over at Mike instead and study the scar below his hairline. Ten stitches from a nasty tumble near the creek bank when we were little kids. He never cried.

“Jack will be okay, Ava. He’s a tough kid,” Mike assures me, eyes on the road. His thick-knuckled hands rest on the wheel. Protect and serve. His mantra as long as I’ve known him. Even as a child, he knew he wanted to be a police officer. Mike’s always been reliable, predictable, steady. A rock. Even on the worst days.

We pull up to the ER doors. Mike slams the cruiser into park. Police scanner static fills the air with letters and codes. “Hey, duty calls,” Mike says. “I’ll get a tow truck over shortly. Go in there and find your boy.”

I scoop up Sam, unbuckle his seat.

Hold on Jack.

 

 

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One Comment

  • Laura McNeill June 17, 2015 at 11:35 am

    PATRICIA ~ Thank you so much for including this look at Center of Gravity! I really appreciate you spreading the word 🙂

    So excited to be on your blog today; I’m a coffee lover, so adore the set up and background photos! xo, Laura