Undone, page 1
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To my parents,
for believing in me
and supporting my dreams.
I couldn’t have done this
There are a number of people who helped me write this book. Words cannot even begin to express how grateful I am for all of you.
To Sarah E. Younger, my amazing agent and friend. Thank you for taking a chance on me and appreciating all of my many, many quirks. Our music mind-melds prove that we were meant to work together, and I’m so blessed to get to work with you and everyone at the Nancy Yost Literary Agency.
To Selina McLemore, my ingenious editor who uncovered a path that I didn’t even know existed. Thank you for helping me turn Undone into something so much more than I ever imagined it could be.
To Gloria Berry, for putting up with me and my crazy on a daily basis. Thank you for reading every day, listening to my ramblings, and helping me figure things out.
To Sarah Purcell, thank you for reading along the way and listening to more rants than I can count.
To Amy Smith and Chris Pennell, for being the most supportive bosses a girl could ask for. I owe you both many, many thanks.
To Kaitie Hotard, Katie Crandall, Catie Humphreys, Jenna Robinson, Jennifer Pezzuto, Jennifer Ewing, Diana Oliveira, Kelly Filippini, Marina Coleman, Amanda Blanchard, Michelle Blanchard, and Ronald Richard, thank you all for reading the manuscript and giving me invaluable feedback.
And to my mom and dad, thank you for all of your love and support. I owe you everything.
Short Fuses and a Whole Lot of Sparks
Bethelda Grimshaw was a snot-nosed wench. She was an evil, mean-spirited, vindictive, horrible human being.
Paige should’ve known. She should’ve known the instant she’d walked into that office and sat down. Bethelda Grimshaw had a malevolent stench radiating off her, kind of like road kill in ninety-degree weather. The interview, if it could even be called that, had been a complete waste of time.
“She didn’t even read my résumé,” Paige said, slamming her hand against the steering wheel as she pulled out of the parking lot of the Mirabelle Information Center.
No, Bethelda had barely even looked at said résumé before she’d set it down on the desk and leaned back in her chair, appraising Paige over her cat’s-eye glasses.
“So you’re the infamous Paige Morrison,” Bethelda had said, raising a perfectly plucked, bright red eyebrow. “You’ve caused quite a stir since you came to town.”
Quite a stir?
Okay, so there had been that incident down at the Piggly Wiggly, but that hadn’t been Paige’s fault. Betty Whitehurst might seem like a sweet, little old lady but in reality she was as blind as a bat and as vicious as a shrew. Betty drove her shopping cart like she was racing in the Indy 500, which was an accomplishment, as she barely cleared the handle. She’d slammed her cart into Paige, who in turn fell into a display of cans. Paige had been calm for all of about five seconds before Betty had started screeching at her about watching where she was going.
Paige wasn’t one to take things lying down covered in cans of creamed corn, so she’d calmly explained to Betty that she had been watching where she was going. “Calmly” being that Paige had started yelling and the store manager had to get involved to quiet everyone down.
Yeah, Paige didn’t deal very well with certain types of people. Certain types being evil, mean-spirited, vindictive, horrible human beings. And Bethelda Grimshaw was quickly climbing to the top of that list.
“As it turns out,” Bethelda had said, pursing her lips in a patronizing pout, “we already filled the position. I’m afraid there was a mistake in having you come down here today.”
“Excuse me?” Bethelda had asked, her eyes sparkling with glee.
“When did you fill the position?” Paige had repeated, trying to stay calm.
Really? So the phone call Paige had gotten that morning to confirm the time of the interview had been a mistake?
This was the eleventh job interview she’d gone on in the last two months. And it had most definitely been the worst. It hadn’t even been an interview. She’d been set up; she just didn’t understand why. But she hadn’t been about to ask that question out loud. So instead of flying off the handle and losing the last bit of restraint she had, Paige had calmly gotten up from the chair and left without making a scene. The whole thing was a freaking joke, which fit perfectly for the current theme of Paige’s life.
Six months ago, Paige had been living in Philadelphia. She’d had a good job in the art department of an advertising agency. She’d shared a tiny two-bedroom apartment above a coffee shop with her best friend, Abby Fields. And she’d had Dylan, a man who she’d been very much in love with.
And then the rug got pulled out from under her and she’d fallen flat on her ass.
First off, Abby got a job at an up-and-coming PR firm. Which was good news, and Paige had been very excited for her, except the job was in Washington, DC, which Paige was not excited about. Then, before Paige could find a new roommate, she’d lost her job. The advertising agency was bought out and she was in the first round of cuts. Without a job, she couldn’t renew her lease, and was therefore homeless. So she’d moved in with Dylan. It was always supposed to be a temporary thing, just until Paige could find another job and get on her feet again.
But it never happened.
Paige had tried for two months and found nothing, and then the real bomb hit. She was either blind or just distracted by everything else that was going on, but either way, she never saw it coming.
Paige had been with Dylan for about a year and she’d really thought he’d been the one. Okay, he tended to be a bit of a snob when it came to certain things. For example, wine. Oh was he ever a wine snob, rather obnoxious about it really. He would always swirl it around in his glass, take a sip, sniff, and then take another loud sip, smacking his lips together.
He was also a snob about books. Paige enjoyed reading the classics, but she also liked reading romance, mystery, and fantasy. Whenever she would curl up with one of her books, Dylan tended to give her a rather patronizing look and shake his head.
“Reading fluff again I see,” he would always say.
Yeah, she didn’t miss that at all. Or the way he would roll his eyes when she and Abby would quote movies and TV shows to each other. Or how he’d never liked her music and flat-out refused to dance with her. Which had always been frustrating because Paige loved to dance. But despite all of that, she’d loved him. Loved the way he would run his fingers through his hair when he was distracted, loved his big goofy grin, and loved the way his glasses would slide down his nose.
But the thing was, he hadn’t loved her.
One night, he’d come back to his apartment and sat Paige down on the couch. Looking back on it, she’d been an idiot, because there was a small part of her that thought he was actually about to propose.
“Paige,” he’d said, sitting down on the coff
It was wrong, everything about that moment was all wrong. She could tell by the look in his eyes, by the tone of his voice, by the way he said Paige and light. In that moment she’d known exactly where he was going, and it wasn’t anywhere with her. He wasn’t proposing. He was breaking up with her.
She’d pulled her hands out of his and shrank back into the couch.
“This,” he’d said, gesturing between the two of them, “was never going to go further than where we are right now.”
And that was the part where her ears had started ringing.
“At one point I thought I might love you, but I’ve realized I’m not in love with you,” he’d said, shaking his head. “I feel like you’ve thought this was going to go further, but the truth is I’m never going to marry you. Paige, you’re not the one. I’m tired of pretending. I’m tired of putting in the effort for a relationship that isn’t going anywhere else. It’s not worth it to me.”
“You mean I’m not worth it,” she’d said, shocked.
“Paige, you deserve to be with someone who wants to make the effort, and I deserve to be with someone who I’m willing to make the effort for. It’s better that we end this now, instead of delaying the inevitable.”
He’d made it sound like he was doing her a favor, like he had her best interests at heart.
But all she’d heard was You’re not worth it and I’m not in love with you. And those were the words that kept repeating in her head, over and over and over again.
Dylan had told her he was going to go stay with one of his friends for the week. She’d told him she’d be out before the end of the next day. She’d spent the entire night packing up her stuff. Well, packing and crying and drinking two entire bottles of the prick’s wine.
Paige didn’t have a lot of stuff. Most of the furniture from her and Abby’s apartment had been Abby’s. Everything that Paige owned had fit into the back of her Jeep and the U-Haul trailer that she’d rented the first thing the following morning. She’d loaded up and gotten out of there before four o’clock in the afternoon.
She’d stayed the night in a hotel room just outside of Philadelphia, where she’d promptly passed out. She’d been exhausted after her marathon packing, which was good because it was harder for a person to feel beyond pathetic in her sleep. No, that was what the following eighteen-hour drive had been reserved for.
Jobless, homeless, and brokenhearted, Paige had nowhere else to go but home to her parents. The problem was, there was no home anymore. The house in Philadelphia that Paige had grown up in was no longer her parents’. They’d sold it and retired to a little town in the South.
Mirabelle, Florida: population five thousand.
There was roughly the same amount of people in the six hundred square miles of Mirabelle as there were in half a square mile of Philadelphia. Well, unless the mosquitoes were counted as residents.
People who thought that Florida was all sunshine and sand were sorely mistaken. It did have its fair share of beautiful beaches. The entire southeast side of Mirabelle was the Gulf of Mexico. But about half of the town was made up of water. And all of that water, combined with the humidity that plagued the area, created the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. Otherwise known as tiny, blood-sucking villains that loved to bite the crap out of Paige’s legs.
Paige had visited her parents a couple of times over the last couple of years, but she’d never been in love with Mirabelle like her parents were. And she still wasn’t. She’d spent a month moping around her parents’ house. Again, she was pathetic enough to believe that maybe, just maybe, Dylan would call her and tell her that he’d been wrong. That he missed her. That he loved her.
He never called, and Paige realized he was never going to. That was when Paige resigned herself to the fact that she had to move on with her life. So she’d started looking for a job.
Which had proved to be highly unsuccessful.
Paige had been living in Mirabelle for three months now. Three long miserable months where nothing had gone right. Not one single thing.
And as that delightful thought crossed her mind, she noticed that her engine was smoking. Great white plumes of steam escaped from the hood of her Jeep Cherokee.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she said as she pulled off to the side of the road and turned the engine off. “Fan-freaking-tastic.”
Paige grabbed her purse and started digging around in the infinite abyss, searching for her cell phone. She sifted through old receipts, a paperback book, her wallet, lip gloss, a nail file, gum…ah, cell phone. She pressed speed dial for her father. She held the phone against her ear while she leaned over and searched for her shoes that she’d thrown on the floor of the passenger side. As her hand closed over one of her black wedges, the phone beeped in her ear and disconnected. She sat up and held her phone out, staring at the display screen in disbelief.
“This has to be some sick, twisted joke,” she said, banging her head down on the steering wheel. No service on her cell phone shouldn’t have been that surprising; there were plenty of dead zones around Mirabelle. Apparently there was a lack of cell phone towers in this little piece of purgatory.
Paige resigned herself to the fact that she was going to have to walk to find civilization, or at least a bar of service on her cell phone. She went in search of her other wedge, locating it under the passenger seat.
The air conditioner had been off for less than two minutes, and it was already starting to warm up inside the Jeep. It was going to be a long, hot walk. Paige grabbed a hair tie from the gearshift, put her long brown hair up into a messy bun, and opened the door to the sweltering heat.
I hate this godforsaken place.
Paige missed Philadelphia. She missed her friends, her apartment with its rafters and squeaky floors. She missed having a job, missed having a paycheck, missed buying shoes. And even though she hated it, she still missed Dylan. Missed his dark shaggy hair, and the way he would nibble on her lower lip when they kissed. She even missed his humming when he cooked.
She shook her head and snapped back to the present. She might as well focus on the task at hand and stop thinking about what was no longer her life.
Paige walked for twenty minutes down the road to nowhere, not a single car passing her. By the time Paige got to Skeeter’s Bait, Tackle, Guns, and Gas, she was sweating like nobody’s business, her dress was sticking to her everywhere, and her feet were killing her. She had a nice blister on the back of her left heel.
She pushed the door open and was greeted with the smell of fish mixed with bleach, making her stomach turn. At least the air conditioner was cranked to full blast. There was a huge stuffed turkey sitting on the counter. The fleshy red thing on its neck looked like the stuff nightmares were made of, and the wall behind the register was covered in mounted fish. She really didn’t get the whole “dead animal as a trophy” motif that the South had going on.
There was a display on the counter that had tiny little bottles that looked like energy drinks.
NEW AND IMPROVED SCENT. GREAT FOR ATTRACTING THE PERFECT GAME.
She picked up one of the tiny bottles and looked at it. It was doe urine.
She took a closer look at the display. They apparently also had the buck urine variety. She looked at the bottle in her hand, trying to grasp why people would cover themselves in this stuff. Was hunting really worth smelling like an animal’s pee?
“Can I help you?”
The voice startled Paige and she looked up into the face of a very large balding man, his apron covered in God only knew what. She dropped the tiny bottle she had in her hand. It fell to the ground. The cap smashed on the tile floor and liquid poured out everywhere.
It took a total of three seconds for the smell to punch her in the nose. It had to be the most fowl s
Oh crap. Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap.
She was just stellar at first impressions these days.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, trying not to gag. She took a step back from the offending puddle and looked up at the man.
His arms were folded across his chest and he frowned at her, saying nothing.
“Do you, uh, have something I can clean this up with?” she asked nervously.
“You’re not from around here,” he said, looking at her with his deadpan stare. It wasn’t a question. It was a statement, one that she got whenever she met someone new. One that she was so sick and tired of she could scream. Yeah, all of the remorse she’d felt over spilling that bottle drained from her.
In Philadelphia, Paige’s bohemian style was normal, but in Mirabelle her big earrings, multiple rings, and loud clothing tended to get her noticed. Her parents’ neighbor, Mrs. Forns, thought that Paige was trouble, which she complained about on an almost daily basis.
“You know that marijuana is still illegal,” Mrs. Forns had said the other night, standing on her parents’ porch, and lecturing Paige’s mother. “And I won’t hesitate to call the authorities if I see your hippie daughter growing anything suspicious or doing any other illegal activities.”
Denise Morrison, ever the queen of politeness, had just smiled. “You have nothing to be concerned about.”
“But she’s doing something in that shed of yours in the backyard.”
The something that Paige did in the shed was paint. She’d converted it into her art studio, complete with ceiling fan.
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Forns,” Paige had said, sticking her head over her mother’s shoulder. “I’ll wait to have my orgies on your bingo nights. Is that on Tuesdays or Wednesdays?”
“Paige!” Denise had said as she’d shoved Paige back into the house and closed the door in her face.
Five minutes later, Denise had come into the kitchen shaking her head.
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