Center of Gravity Blog Tour @LauraMcNeillBks @GoddessFish

Center of Gravity

by Laura McNeill

 

NBTM_TourBanner_CenterOfGravity

 

ROOM WITH BOOKS encourages our readers to follow the tour and comment.

 

About the Book

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.

BookCover_CenterOfGravity

 

Excerpt

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.

 

Author Interview

Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing Laura McNeill author of Center of Gravity.

Hi Laura, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Please tell us a little about yourself and your background. What were you like at school?

English was always my favorite subject, followed by art class. I’ve always loved reading and looked forward to analyzing everything from Shakespeare to William Faulkner. I played sports (field hockey, soccer, softball) and was also a basketball cheerleader. At home, I learned to cook and sew with my mom and spent time with my father sailing and flying.

What are your ambitions for your writing career?

I’m so excited to share Center of Gravity with everyone. The manuscript had been written for a while, and went through many revisions to get to its present storyline. I look at the novel as the launching off point for the next phase of my career – that as a domestic suspense author. My second domestic suspense novel, Sister Dear, comes out in April 2016.

I started out in the business under the pen name Lauren Clark and was discovered by my agent through the second book I published on Amazon (Dancing Naked in Dixie). In all, I wrote 4 books—all in the humorous Southern fiction genre—and one short story under Lauren Clark.

Which writers inspire you?

I really admire Sue Monk Kidd, Joshilyn Jackson, Anita Hughes, and Pam Jenoff.

Give us an insight into your main character. What does she do that is special?

Ava Carson, my heroine, really morphs from innocent newlywed to an intuitive and mature woman. The trigger that changes her–and her life—is a tragedy involving her children. When she realizes the full impact of her husband’s betrayal, she digs deep within herself to find the strength to try and save her boys.

What are you currently working on?

I am working on the final revisions to Sister Dear, a story set in Brunswick, Georgia near St. Simons Island. Sister Dear involves a woman who goes to prison for a crime she doesn’t commit, only to discover that the person who holds the key to her freedom is someone very close to her. She must do some intense detective work to piece together the clues, which leads to a very intense show-down at the end! Think Orange is the New Black meets White Oleander (Janet Fitch – awesome novel!).

Which actors/actresses would you like to see playing the lead characters from Center of Gravity?

Ava – Jessica Chastain

Mitchell Carson – Christian Bale

Graham Thomas – Chris Pratt

What made you decide to sit down and actually start writing?

I had just finished up a 6 year career in TV news reporting and anchoring! My head was FULL of ideas!

Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?

I’m definitely a morning person. I like to get up, make coffee, and write first thing, before I check email or social media. There’s something special about the solace and quiet of the morning, before all of life’s other distractions kick in and take over!

Where do your ideas come from?

A variety of places. Some are real-life experiences from friends or family, others are what-if questions, like Sister Dear (What if a woman went to prison for a crime she didn’t commit?)

Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?

I’m definitely a plotter. The more detailed the better.

What is the hardest thing about writing?

I think it’s in the details. Getting the ending just right. Making the characters likeable, yet flawed. Coming up with a few twists. Giving the reader a worthwhile read. Those are all of the things I strive for … and worry about!

Do you read much and who are your favorite authors?

I read a lot! Right now, I am reading Pam Jenoff, Jennifer Wiener, Kristin Hannah, and Mary Kubica.

For your own reading, do you prefer eBooks or traditional paper/hard back books?

I have a library of lovely hardback books, but my go-to is Audible books or e-books on my iPhone. I’m on the go all of the time, so it helps to always have a book at my fingertips!

What books are you reading at present?

The Nightingale (Kristin Hannah). Pretty Baby (Mary Kubica). Maybe Someday (Colleen Hoover).

Tell us about the cover and how it came about.

We were really looking for an attention-grabbing cover, one that was different and set it apart from many of the novels out today. We went through almost a dozen versions of the cover, and finally tweaked it enough to settle on the Center of Gravity cover you are looking at today. I think that the unraveling rope/wire captures the tension of Ava’s marriage unraveling.

Who designed your book cover?

A wonderful designer at Thomas Nelson/HarperCollins!

Do you have a trailer for Center of Gravity?

I don’t, but I really love book trailers…maybe I’ll have one done for Sister Dear.

Do you think that giving books away free works?

I think free books can work, especially if it is a short story, novella, or the first book in a series of 3-6 books. It’s completely up to the author, but it can be a way of gaining new readers. The free content, however, has to be quality content, or readers won’t bother to pick up the rest of the series or other books that an author has written.

How do you relax?

I love to read for relaxation (unless it’s a thriller). I’m also a yoga fan and love being outdoors and spending time with my friends.

What is your favorite quote?

Read a lot. Write a lot.  – Stephen King

What is your favorite movie?

The Shawshank Redemption

How can readers discover more about you and you work?

Website Blog |  Twitter | Order On Amazon | Pinterest | Goodreads | Instagram | Facebook |

Any final words?

I appreciate my readers so much. I’ve met so many fabulous people over the past few years and am grateful for all of the connections and friendships I’ve made. Getting a note from a reader or a mention on Facebook absolutely makes my day!

Thank you very much for taking joining us for this interview.

 

About the Author

AuthorPhoto_CenterOfGravity (2)After 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 the Author

Author’s Website: http://lauramcneill.com/

Author’s Blog: http://lauramcneill.com/layouts/blog/

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LauraMcNeillBks

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/lauram052

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5280308.Lauren_Clark

Instagram: https://instagram.com/dixiegirlwriter/

 

Giveaway

Laura McNeill will be awarding a $20 Amazon/B&N gift card to a randomly drawn winner via Rafflecopter during the tour.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

Center of Gravity Book Tour with Character Cast

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.
Pre-Order your copy today.  

MediaKit_AuthorPhoto_CenterOfGravityAfter 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

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/

Character Casting

Ava Carson – Emma Stone

 Emma Stone

Mitchell Carson – Christian Bale

 Christian Bale

Jack Carson – Jonathan Morgan Heit

 Jonathan Morgan Heit

Graham Thomas – Chris Pratt

 Chris Pratt

Lucy – Carla Gugino

 Carla Gugino

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http://driftingintobooks.blogspot.com/

Center of Gravity Book Tour

Center of Gravity

by Laura McNeill

 

SBB_TourBanner_CenterOfGravity copy

 

ROOM WITH BOOKS encourages our readers to follow the tour and comment.

 

Click here to follow the tour

 

About the Book

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.

MediaKit_BookCover_CenterOfGravity

 

Excerpt

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.

 

About the Author

 

MediaKit_AuthorPhoto_CenterOfGravity

After 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 the Author

Author’s Website: http://lauramcneill.com/

Author’s Blog: http://lauramcneill.com/layouts/blog/

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LauraMcNeillBks

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/lauram052

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5280308.Lauren_Clark

Instagram: https://instagram.com/dixiegirlwriter/

 

Giveaway

Laura McNeill will be awarding a $10 Amazon/B&N gift card to a randomly drawn winner via Rafflecopter during the tour.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Center of Gravity Sneak Peek

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.

Pre-Order your copy today

Amazon

 

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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