An artist would paint them as a tribunal of witches—four powerful women, coolly fingering the threads of my fate. Claire, Annie, Zoey and Mac were draped across the silken furniture on the back deck of my bungalow, their faces glowing in the candlelight, wineglasses held aloft.
The night was unseasonably cool for Austin in September. Despite the chill, I sat straight-backed, warmed by the force of their undivided attention.
Claire tipped back her wine, ruining the dramatic stillness that had fallen after I'd dropped the bomb about Ben. When she was done sipping, she arched an eyebrow. "Simple solution. Off him. I'll represent you at the trial."
Mac pulled her fleecy blanket higher over her shoulders. "Please. Criminal law is a world apart from corporate law. You're not the master of everything."
"And you learned that in 'one' semester of law school?" Claire turned to her. "Astounding."
"Hey!" I snapped. "Constructive advice only." If I didn't stop a Mac-Claire repartee session, we could be here all night. Mac felt it was her holy duty to remind Claire that she was not an all-powerful, all-knowing being, despite the fact that Claire played one convincingly. Claire, for her part, liked to suggest Mac was a dilettante, simply because she'd attended one semester each of law school, business school and even cooking school, before landing her job in finance. Or banking. Or...something to do with money.
Honestly, none of us knew exactly what Mac did. It was a mystery that Claire, Annie and I were still trying to unravel. Sometimes we asked her pointed questions, hoping to get clues without tipping her off, but so far, her answers had been more confusing than illuminating.
But tonight, there was no time for an episode of 'What Does Mac Do?'
There were more important matters at hand. Exhibit A: my impending doom.
I sank lower in my chair and looked up at the night sky, where the stars shone weakly against the light pollution from the city. "I need 'explicit' instructions for tomorrow. What do I wear? What do I say? Do I open with a joke? 'Hello, Ben, fancy seeing you back in the city where I ruined your life. Now that you have a shot at ruining mine, I'd love to hear you expound upon that New Age radical forgiveness I hear California's famous for.'"
"First," Claire said, "tell us again about how you ran for your lives from a horde of children at Disney World. I want to picture it in detail. It's going to be my new happy place."
"I'm guessing from all the context clues that Ben Laderman isn't a person we like?" Zoey looked expectantly between Annie and me. She and Annie had been dating for over a year now, but in that time, I had absolutely 'not' been moved to share the Ben Laderman story.
Annie leaned into Zoey; they were curled together on my big outdoor armchair. "Actually, it's the opposite." Even teasing, Annie's voice was soft and warm, which was her way. "Stoner liked Ben very, very much." She looked at me. "I can still remember when you came home gushing about him after that first night."
"We 'all' heard about it," Claire said, her face lit with that special brand of glee she experienced only when recounting my embarrassments. "She hadn't been that crazy about a guy since Danny Erickson in high school."
I opened my mouth to hiss at Claire for even mentioning Danny, but Mac cut me off. "And you know full well Stoner is 'not' a romantic. She's like the farthest thing from girlfriend material on the planet. Doesn't fall in love.
Guys are good for one thing and one thing only, wham-bam-thank-you- ma'am. Love-'em-and-leave-'em-Lee, we call her—"
"All right," I said, throwing a pillow at Mac. Satisfyingly, it clipped her in the forehead. "Zoey gets it. And it's not like she doesn't know me by now."
I raised another pillow and eyed Claire threateningly, just in case she was thinking about bringing up Danny Erickson again. He was a relic from long ago, back when I was a different person. A girl who still thought love and romance were possible. I didn't like to be reminded of it.
"Watch the wine!" Mac clutched her glass protectively.
"Okay, so this Ben guy was able to get under Stoner's skin." Zoey looked impressed. "Then what happened?"
"Then Stoner was Stoner," Claire said. "You know why we call her that, right?"
I groaned. This story did my reputation no favors.
Zoey blinked. "Because her name's Lee Stone and it's funny?"
"Oh, that's just a coincidence. No, in college, back when Stoner actually dated people for a hot minute, she had this boyfriend who was obsessed with her. Like, we all thought he was going to propose senior year."
I rolled my eyes. "Nate wouldn't have proposed."
This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book THE LADY TEMPTS AN HEIR by Harper St. George.