out of eden the mcgraws
Sometimes paradise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be!
That’s what I, Kylie McGraw, have discovered since sacrificing my dreams of traveling the world to run the family shoe store. But if I have my way, peaceful Eden, Indiana, is in for a major shake-up…
It all began on my birthday, when I got drunk and disorderly over Eden’s hunky new police chief (and my former high school crush), Jack Reynolds. Then I may have, in my Cosmo haze, witnessed a murder in progress. Now I’m almost certain I’m being stalked by the mob, while he-of-the-distracting abs Jack continues to think I’m nuts. However, there comes a time when a girl has to kick off her sensible shoes (size 7, cushion insoles) and go after what she wants. So if I can just survive long enough to put on my sexy new red heels, that’s exactly what I intend to do…
the mcgraws / book 1
hqn books, september 2010
what people are saying
(author’s note: chapter edited for length. More fun in the real deal!)
“You are a heel. A chunky heel. A chunky, boring heel. Please don’t take this personally, but I’m over you.”
“I knew it was a mistake to let you drink Cosmopolitans.”
“I’m not drunk.”
“You’re talking to your shoe.”
“I was talking to my shoe. Now I’m talking to you.” Sensible slip-on in one hand, toxic cocktail in the other, Kylie McGraw leaned back against the red vinyl seat of one of the four booths in Boone’s Bar and Grill and frowned across the table at Faye Tyler, two of her—strike that—one of her splendiferous best friends. They’d grown up together in Eden, Indiana—Paradise in the Heartland—according to the slogan emblazoned on the green water tower planted on the outskirts of town. Someone had even painted red apples on the elevated tank so that the tower resembled a, you got it, apple tree. This was, after all, Eden, a place where most residents lived out their years because who would want to leave paradise? Except for the occasional thrill seeker and random oddball. Although sometimes fate intervened and even they stuck around. Kylie and Faye were prime examples.
Kylie sipped her drink and studied her friend, reflecting on how they’d come to this moment.
Faye, who’d wanted to be a rock star, was married with two kids and owned the local bed and breakfast.
Kylie, who’d wanted a husband and kids, was single and running a business she should have inherited. Nothing was going according to plan. Even her dream of touring Asia, a dream she’d nurtured since the age of thirteen, seemed doomed. It’s not that her life was horrible—just horribly boring.
This morning she’d woken up another year older, thinking about another year of the same. 352 days of ordinary. She’d barely made it through the long, uneventful, dull-as-the-mayor’s-speeches day. Then Faye had picked her up for her birthday celebration and it was official. Kylie had reached the end of her extraordinarily vast and famous patience.
Faye and her slightly blurry twin snapped their fingers two inches from Kylie’s face. “Earth to McGraw. Are you zoning or comatose?”
Kylie adjusted her black oval glasses and blinked away the double image, conceding Cosmopolitans packed a mighty punch. Either that or Boone had screwed up the ingredients. Possible since he’d referred to a mix recipe and his reading glasses were forever perched on top of his balding head.
“Okay. Maybe I am a teensy bit tipsy, but I am not, absolutely not drunk. And even if I was . . .”
She grappled for a righteous excuse. “It is my birthday.”
“I’m not saying you aren’t entitled to cut loose,” Faye said, nursing a frosty mug of Budweiser. “It’s just that you always drink beer.”
“Exactly!” Kylie jabbed her shoe in the air to emphasize her point. “I always drink beer.”
Faye sighed. “I have no idea what that means.”
“It means I can’t take it anymore.”
“The predictability. The routine. The mundane. The run-of-the-mill, unremarkable, habitual, sameness—”
“I get the picture.”
“Today is my birthday.”
“September fifteenth. Same day every year.”
“And every year we spend my birthday together.”
“Since you turned twelve, yes. We’ve yet to miss a celebration which goes to show how much I love you. I could be home watching MTV.”
“You see my point.”
“Same ol’, same ol’.”
Faye shrugged, smiled. “Not following.”
“Every year we celebrate my birthday the same way. Pizza King. Movie. And since we turned twenty-one, Boone’s Bar and Grill.”
“Except we skipped the movie this time and came straight to Boone’s,” she said with a frown. “It’s seven p.m. We’re the only ones here aside from a few guys throwing back happy hour brewskies and you’re already half-tanked.”
Kylie scrunched her nose. “I heard that mobster flick’s more violent than The Godfather and The Departed combined. Did you really want to see it?”
“Not really. But since the Bixley only runs one feature, it’s not like we had a choice. We could have closed our eyes during the gory parts.”
“We would’ve missed three-quarters of the movie!”
“That’s not the point! We always celebrate your birthday the same way. Pizza. Movie. Boone’s. It’s tradition.”
“It’s boring.” Maybe it was the alcohol, but Kylie could swear the curls of Faye’s bleached hair drooped along with her smile. “Not you,” she clarified, “tradition.”
She glanced at her friend’s manicured fingernails. Tonight they were metallic blue. Tomorrow they could be vivid orange or neon pink. Sometimes she even adorned them with decals and rhinestones. She was nearly as creative with her hair styles, although she changed the shade every other month rather than every other day. Her thrift shop wardrobe ranged from 1960s Annette Funicello to 1990s Madonna. “You,” Kylie said with sincere admiration, “are the Gwen Stefani of Eden.”
Faye tucked her platinum shoulder-length curls behind her ears and quirked a thinly tweezed, meticulously penciled brow. “I take back the scathing remark I mentally slung your way.”
Kylie was not so adventurous with her appearance. Her wardrobe was casual. Loose fitting clothes in muted, earthy tones. Minimal make-up and accessories. She came from the less-is-more camp.
She wasn’t sexy or funky or feminine. She was . . . sensible.
She was also miserable.
She set aside her right shoe—the left was still on her foot—and wrangled her natural blah-boring brown, overly thick, overly long hair into a loosely knotted ponytail. “It’s hot in here.”
“Blame it on the Cosmos or your heated rant,” Faye said. “It’s the same as always—comfortable. Boone keeps the thermostat set at sixty-eight year round. You know that.”
Kylie wanted to scream at yet another example of predictability. Instead, she propped her elbow on the table, footwear in hand. “My life is like this shoe. Sensible. This town is like this shoe. Practical.”
“Shoes, schmooze!” someone complained. “What’s a guy gotta do to get some chicken wings around here?”
They turned their attention to the grumpy complainant, Max Grogan, the town’s retired fire chief, seventy-two and prickly as a porcupine. Armed with two bottles of beer each, he and his cronies—Jay Jarvis (of J.J.’s Pharmacy and Sundry), Ray Keystone (Keystone Barbershop), and Dick Wilson (the town mayor)—were engrossed in their bi-weekly game of cards.
“Keep your pants on, Max!” Wanda, their waitress, shouted.
“An image I can do without.” Faye shuddered. “Max’s dingy.”
“You can tell you’ve got a five-year-old at home,” Wanda said with a grin. “Dingy. That’s cute, hon. Happy Birthday,” she added before leaving.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing dingy’s Max,” Kylie said, tripping over her words. She pinched the end of her tongue. Also numb. Dang. “I mean Max’s dingy.”
Her friend groaned then leaned forward. “You have got to be kidding. I know you’ve been sexually deprived since the asshole split town, but you cannot be that desperate for a thrill.”
“Actually, I am.” Although, it was spurred by lack of zest, not sex. She’d felt melancholy and hollow since Spenser’s phone call this morning. She wasn’t a stranger to disappointment and usually she sucked it up and moved on, doing what she had to do, doing what was best for all involved even if it didn’t feel best for her. But today she hadn’t been able to wrangle the disappointment and as the day crawled by, depression had given way to desperation and uncharacteristic behavior. She mentally kissed her nurturing, passive self goodbye. Time to take action. Time to shake up the life she was stuck with.
“At least it would cause a sensation,” Kylie said, shocked at the vehemence in her tone. “Can you imagine the headlines?” She mimicked a newspaper barker, shouting her concocted news just as the song ended and the noise level dipped. “Max Grogan drops his pants in protest of tardy service!”
“I ain’t flashing my willy just because you’re bored, Kylie McGraw.” Max grunted as he dealt a new hand. “Kids.”
“Kids who don’t know when they’ve had enough,” said the mayor. “Even worse.”
“Maybe you should switch to soda,” called Mr. Keystone.
“Maybe you should mind your own beeswax,” said Kylie.
J.J. tsked. “She’s usually so nice.”
“Yeah, but tonight she’s fun.” Ashe approached Kylie with another Cosmo and a smarmy grin. “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.”
Kylie dropped her head in her hands with a groan.
“Go away,” Faye said. “And take that evil drink with you.”
“Hey, I’m just trying to please the birthday girl. She said she wants a sensation.”
Kylie banged her fists to the table and frowned up at the man. “I’m talking about something extraordinary, you thick-skulled bozo. People expect you to seduce me and they expect me to fall under your spell. Boone knows Max and gang will show up twice a week to play Pinochle and they know they’ll get twofer beers, kick-butt chicken wings, and a comfortable room temperature of sixty-eight. Faye expects me to drink beer because I always drink beer. I expect Faye to whine about her summer guests because she always whines about her summer guests. The majority of Eden will watch Into the Wild Saturday night and gossip about Spenser’s adventures most of Sunday. The Bixley will never expand to a multiplex theater and storefronts on Main Street will always look as they did in 1955, because progress moves at a snail’s pace in Eden! Nothing out of the ordinary ever happens!” Kylie vented, voice slurred and shrill. “You can set your watch by this town. We are boring, people!”
“Ooo-kay.” Ashe backed away with the drink, his free hand raised in surrender.
But Kylie wasn’t done. “I bet I know what you’ve been talking about,” she said to Max and friends. “Omertà. That’s all you ever talk about because you’re obsessed. Never mind the mob series is off the air and you’re just now catching up compliments of DVD. That’s typical. Out of step with fashion and the arts. Yup. That’s us! Behind the times. Boring and passé.”
“I came in here for cards and beer,” shouted Max. “Not to be insulted!”
“That does it,” Boone called from behind the bar. “You’re cut off, Kylie.”
She jabbed a finger in his direction. “I knew you’d say that.”
“Predictable,” Faye grumbled.
“But wise.” Looking harried, the normally unflappable woman rooted in her oversized purse and pulled out her Orchard House souvenir keychain, available at the front desk for the bargain price of $3.99. “I’m taking you home,” Faye snapped. “You’re making a spectacle of yourself.”
Fueled by years of frustration and three Cosmopolitans, Kylie pushed out of the booth, her compact body trembling with Godzilla-like rage. “Well, get use to it. All of you! Because starting tomorrow there’s a new Kylie McGraw in town. I’m going to shake up paradise. Just you wait and see!” She made it half way across the hardwood floor before her nylon footies slid out from under her and Kylie tumbled butt over heels.
J.J. whistled low. “Wasn’t much of a wait.”
Dazed, she squinted at the sea of faces spinning above her. “Stand still, you guys.”
“We aren’t moving.” Faye stooped and inspected Kylie’s noggin. “How hard did you hit your head? Are you seeing double?”
“Of course, she’s seeing double,” Boone said. “She’s shit-faced.”
Swearing, Faye tried to pull her friend to her feet, but Kylie’s arms and legs went all noodly. “I could use some help getting her in my van,” she said to the men.
Ashe, the smarmy, blurry dog, rubbed his paws together and smiled. “I’ll do it.”
“Touch her, Davis, and I’ll kick your ass.”
It was a voice she hadn’t heard in a long time, but one she’d know anywhere and in any state of mind.
Ashe knew it, too. “Just trying to help.”
Knowing the dog’s true intention, the circle of faces that had been staring at Kylie snorted then turned their attention to the don’t-challenge-me stranger. Only he wasn’t a stranger. He was one of Eden’s own. Or at least he used to be.
Jack Reynolds. Kylie’s first major crush. Although crush was putting it mildly. Best high school bud of her infuriating brother, this man had made tofu of her teen hormones and ruined her for other men well into her twenties. He’d also broken her heart. Three times to be exact. Not that he knew it, but that wasn’t the point.
She adjusted her crooked glasses and blinked up at the obsession of her youth. Dark cropped hair. River blue eyes. A buff body and a warrior’s heart. Hands on denim-clad hips, the most handsome man in the universe ever towered above her. Then again she was flat out on the floor. She hadn’t seen him in years and usually her stomach fluttered when she did. Either she was completely over him or the mass quantities of vodka had paralyzed her vital organs along with her limbs. “Heard you were back in town.”
“No secrets in Eden.”
No kidding. That’s why Kylie generally guarded her words. Jack’s sister, on the other hand, vented to anyone who would listen. Jessica Lynn shared Jack’s good looks, but none of his good sense. A self-centered former beauty queen, it was always: Enough about you, let’s talk about me. Hence, most everyone knew about the feud between the estranged siblings plus some of the particulars. Kylie noted the particular of most interest to her. “So, did you accept the job as Eden’s Chief of Police?”
She quirked a hopeful grin. “You been in here long, Chief Reynolds?”
“Going to arrest me for drunk and disorderly behavior?”
“Shoot,” she complained as he hauled her off the floor. That would have brought Spenser running.
Dizzy, she rested her head against Jack’s shoulder, her face nuzzled against his neck.
God, he smelled good.
He tightened his hold and suddenly she was hyper aware of where she was.
In Jack Reynold’s arms!
That’s when she felt it. Her traitorous stomach fluttered. Or maybe she’d overindulged in pepperoni pizza and cosmopolitans. Yeah, that was it. Crushing on Jack was hazardous to her heart. Better to battle an upset stomach than a doomed attraction. At least she could cure the former with Alka-Seltzer.
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