Until It Fades: A Novel by K.A. TuckerUntil It Fades: A Novel by K.A. Tucker

Until It Fades: A Novel

byK.A. Tucker

Paperback | June 27, 2017

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“Touching and complex…Tucker unerringly hits all the high notes of romance—the spark, the emotional depth, the mental and physical struggles—while creating a couple who seem perfectly attuned even when they are in conflict.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Twenty-four-year-old truck stop waitress and single mother Catherine Wright has simple goals: to give her five-year-old daughter a happy life and to never again be the talk of the town in Balsam, Pennsylvania (population three thousand outside of tourist season).

And then one foggy night, on a lonely road back from another failed date, Catherine saves a man’s life. It isn’t until after the police have arrived that Catherine realizes exactly who it is she has rescued: Brett Madden, hockey icon and media darling.

Catherine has already had her fifteen minutes of fame and the last thing she wants is to have her past dragged back into the spotlight, only this time on a national stage. So she hides her identity. It works. For a time.

But when she finds the man she saved standing on her doorstep, desperate to thank her, all that changes. There’s an immediate connection, and it’s more electric than the bond of two people who endured a traumatic event. It’s something neither of them expected. Something that Catherine isn’t sure she can handle; something she is afraid to trust.

Because how long can an extraordinary man like Brett be interested in an ordinary woman like Catherine...before the spark fades?
Title:Until It Fades: A NovelFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:368 pages, 8.25 × 5.31 × 1.1 inShipping dimensions:8.25 × 5.31 × 1.1 inPublished:June 27, 2017Publisher:Atria BooksLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1501133381

ISBN - 13:9781501133381


Rated 5 out of 5 by from Contemporary romance at its finest! Until It Fades is contemporary romance at its finest. It captured my full attention at the very beginning and kept me completely engrossed until the final page. With characters that I immediately cared about, a story that is rich with emotion, and a romance that will make even the most hardened hearts believe in love, Until It Fades is a perfect, well-rounded romance that just hit all the marks. Living in a small community, you can expect that everyone is going to know your business – your triumphs, downfalls, and your misfortunes. Unfortunately, once you’ve made a reputation for yourself in a small town, it’s nearly impossible to shake it. Catherine has experienced her share of difficult times in her twenty-four years. She made some poor choices in her teenage years. She did things that, looking back now, she regrets. Despite her attempts to move forward with her life, she still feels the judgment, hears the whispers, and sees the sneers from the locals. The book is told from Catherine Wright’s perspective. It is told from the present day, but it does have flashbacks to 2010. In my opinion, the flashbacks were an important aspect to understanding what was transpiring in Catherine’s life at such a pivotal time. While her past was complicated, messy, and raw, it did help to shape her into the strong, determined, resilient woman that she was today. It didn’t matter how many times her situation got her down, she persisted and persevered for her daughter’s sake. She did the best she could with what little she had. Catherine wasn’t a perfect character, she had flaws, but that’s what makes her so real and normal. She had grown and matured from her experiences, and while those experiences did leave her hesitant to love, trust, and risk her feelings again, she couldn’t help but want to open her heart to a man with whom she felt an undeniable connection to. Let me just take one moment to mentally appreciate the fictional character that is Brett Madden. I adored him. You know when an author has created wonderful characters when her readers can feel their intensity and charisma jump off the pages. She created the perfect love interest for Catherine. I wanted them to find peace and happiness, I wanted them to lean on each other, to heal, and to fall hopelessly in love with each other. K.A. Tucker has excelled at writing a slow burning romance. I always appreciate when an author takes her time to develop the relationships between the characters. This slow building chemistry added to the anticipation. She allowed her readers the time to become acquainted with the characters, to become invested in them, to feel the emotions right along with them. She didn’t rush any part of the story. It flowed effortlessly and superbly. I was captivated and savored every word as I witnessed Catherine and Brett’s story unfold. Until It Fades is an impeccably written romance. It is filled with realistic emotions, fantastic characters, swoon-worthy romance, humor, and so much heart. Oh, and K.A. Tucker still succeeded at throwing in a twist that I can honestly say I didn’t see coming (shakes head in shame). As I was nearing the end of the book, I was dreading getting to the final page. I didn’t want it to end. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to these characters and their story. I could have easily read another three hundred pages or more. When a reader can say that, you know that the book is a winner!
Date published: 2018-07-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Really Solid Read! 3.5 stars! This was the first book I've read by K.A Tucker, and it will not be the last. The writing was fantastic, and she is clearly a superb storyteller. There were so many parts of this story I loved and completely got lost in, but also a few that really ruined it for me. I loved the premise, and the characters, but I was just so frustrated by the Cinderella story at play here. The ending was just such a "perfect" ending that it just didn't sit well with me. It was predictable and unrealistic, but nonetheless cute as hell. This book was very enjoyable, heartwarming and romantic. I'm looking forward to reading more from this author. This was a good start for me!
Date published: 2018-06-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brett Brett Brett This man is is amazing, My second favourite Tucker book!
Date published: 2018-02-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great read KA Tucker never disappoints. I know I can pre order any of her books and I will love them. Another great store.
Date published: 2018-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from k.a. tucker never dissapoints! Soft, Romantic, and a fast read. Until it Fades is my favorite book of 2017!
Date published: 2018-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Until It Fades This is my first time reading a book by K.A. Tucker. What immediately drew my attention about this book in particular was that the protagonist was a single mom. I was excited to see what this was about and how everything would possibly pan out in the end! It's a fairly light and fun book to read. At times it was a bit of a slow book to read but it just made me anticipate when Catherine and Brett would finally get together. I adored the characters and plot, and loved K.A. Tucker's writing. This entire book was just overall amazing to read. I would highly recommend picking this book up and checking out today! Seriously, it's that good. eARC was kindly provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Date published: 2017-11-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from LOVED IT! great novel. KA tucker has a way of writing her novels that really touches her audience. This was the second book by her ive read and while I feel that the ten tiny breaths series was better I did enjoy this one I loved her characters and the story was really nice.
Date published: 2017-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really enjoyable romance This is a romance, but I think it managed to stay away from the over-the-top, too good to be true romances that often turn me off. I loved the characters and their development. Great read
Date published: 2017-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from sweet great plot/character development and not a lot of angst. definitely on the less steamy side but that didn't take away from the story at all. it was wonderful to read such a well written romance. #plumreview
Date published: 2017-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sweet Great plot/character development and not a lot of angst. Definitely on the less steamy side but that didn't take away from the story at all. It was wonderful to read such a well written romance. #plumreview
Date published: 2017-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A MUST READ FOR SUMMER! just in time for the long weekend!!! K.A. Tucker is one of those authors that I will read no matter what. I don't need to read the back, or know a thing about the book. I am never let down by her books. Until It Fades did not disappoint. From the moment you open this book (until you sadly put it down because it ended too quickly!) you fall into a world of amazing characters and settings. It's a place you want to live and people you want to know. Catherine is a young single mother working to support her family. Brett is an amazing hockey player with a great future a head of him. One night their lives unexpectedly collided. He owes her his life, if he could just figure out who she was. She wants nothing to do with the spot light, but a force pulls them together that neither can ignore. But how long can a famous hockey player love a diner waitress. How long will it last Until It Fades? I absolutely loved this book. As always KA Tucker doesn't disappoint.
Date published: 2017-06-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Review from This is the Story of My(Reading) Life Until it Fades is a girls dream type romance. You know growing up when you imagine your celebrity crush(or just a celebrity) coming into your life in some way and sweeping you off your feet in some whirlwind romance? Until it Fades is mostly that for Catherine. She saves the life of one the NHL's biggest stars and her life immediately changes. Catherine is a small town girl, who had a really rocky and tough time in her later teen years. A scandal that the town blamed her for and then becoming a mom at eighteen. Catherine works at a truck stop diner to support her daughter, Brenna, well trying to build a relationship with her family again. Then enters Brett. Catherine saved his life and well that's going to bond two people whether they want it to or not. Until it Fades is a pretty light read. There are a few grittier subjects that shaped Catherine and where she is today. But for the most part, Tucker lightly touches on what could have been a really dark book. Romance is the genre here, but I feel like it wasn't fleshed out enough. Until it Fades it quite plot heavy. Catherine isn't in the best head space, so she needs to build up her confidence again. The fact is that Catherine and Brett spend more than half of the book apart and barely talking. So yea there was that element of the slow burning, but also once they get together it really is a whirlwind. I mean rich guy, poor girl, you know. I really liked it. It really worked the for the book and their characters. Let's talk characters. Catherine is super likeable. She fell for the wrong guy as a teenager; more like manipulated into falling for him and that caused her life to derail. But she knows what hard work is. Catherine is humble and kind(almost to a fault). Being there for her daughter, Brenna is everything to her. Brett is a really stand up guy. I dare you not to fall for him. For someone who could be a total douchebag based on his families status, he's the farthest thing from him. Watching him fall for Catherine and Brenna is really sweet. The accident made him realize that even at twenty-six he needs to plan for a future that can change at the drop of a hat. Brett is a truly nice guy who gives a crap. He's caring and adorable. Where do I find a Brett? Not being a kid person, I'm surprised by my thoughts here. But Brenna totally stole the show. She's a really smart five years old. Has her wits about here. Listens to Catherine and her grandparents. But like any kid, she's going to repeat things or speak her mind. Which is really hilarious on the page when it gets Catherine into an awkward moment. Supporting cast is awesome! Keith, Catherine's best friend is so dependable and a true friend. Misty is a bit of a mess herself, a little overeager, but you can't fault her where Catherine is concerned. Leroy and Lou, Cath's surrogate parents. The owner's of the diner and her safe place. Catherine's family could not be any different than Brett's. It's funny to watch them interact the few times they do. Jack, Catherine's brother is a mischievous college hockey player whom I'm crossing my fingers gets his own book soon. Until it Fades is a really solid book. It's more of a plot-driven romance, and although that's not my favourite I still found it to be super enjoyable. I sped through the story just wanting to see Catherine and Brett finally kiss. I know patience is a virtue that I don't have. But it definitely pays off. If you're looking for something on the lighter side of the romance scale. Something that leaves you wanting more with a side of great characters than pick up Until it Fades ASAP. P.S. That easter egg for Toronto fans; I see what you did there, Tucker.
Date published: 2017-06-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More than a fairy tale Reading over the acknowledgements written at the end of this story I have to agree with a few sentences that K.A. Tucker has written there: "It's very different from the ones I've written recently. It's light (for me), it could be called trope-y (by others), it's full of love and family and laughter, and it has left me with a broad smile and a sigh of content." Wow - what else needs to be said? I concur on all of these points. I loved the "lighter" side of Ms. Tucker's writing. (although I will love any-and-all things written by her). I wouldn't necessarily call it "trope-y" all-around; there were a few twists and turns, a few places where I audibly gasped, and a few more times where I sighed happily with tears in my eyes. Brett and Catherine's friends and family are the perfect mix in this story. I loved that the relationships seemed honest and true. The term "fairy tale" was tossed a few times within the dialogue and I agree with it. And that's not a bad thing. With all the bad in this world, it's nice to pick up a book and escape into a world where even when bad things happen, you have that little flash of hope that the characters will find their fairy tale ending. **Complimentary copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review**
Date published: 2017-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I loved this book! 4.5/5 stars KA Tucker is one of my favorite authors. So Until It Fades was one of my most anticipated reads of 2017. And it did not disappoint me! Until It Fades is a contemporary romance. I would categorize it as somewhere in between New Adult and Adult, but it also could be considered Woman's Fiction. It is a standalone. The narrator is 24 year old waitress Catherine/Cath. The book is set in the tourist town of Balsam Pennsylvania, which has a population of three thousand people. The book takes place in the present (2017). But there are some flashbacks to 2010. I was completely hooked right from the first chapter. I am not usually a big fan of going back and forth in time. But in this case I was so interested in 2010 that I did not mind at all. Also most of the 2010 stuff is in the first couple of chapters. The premise: Something happened in Cath's life when she was 17. It was a turning point in her life and it greatly affected her relationship with her family. But there was also a backlash from the community and the town turned against her. Now she's an adult trying to live her life. Now in the present, Catherine is on her way home from a date when she sees something that ends up being key to the story. The pace of this book is very different from most books in the contemporary romance genre. It's definitely a much slower pace in regards to the romance. But I actually enjoyed the slower pace. I really could not put this book down. I do like contemporary romance. But I don't like predictability. There were actually a lot of enjoyable things in this story, including some twists that I did not see coming. The things I liked: Hockey plays an important part of the story. I loved how the author made hockey such a key element in this story. Two of the characters in the book play hockey. And a few others are big time hockey fans. It really worked for the story. The characters were so unique and well-developed. I was so impressed with the characters in this story. I adored Lou, the lady who owns the diner. I loved actress Meryl Price. I enjoyed Cath's friends Misty and Keith, and her brother Jack. I even enjoyed Cath's parents. Brett was such a lovable guy. And little Brenna was fantastic. I was really fascinated by Catherine's relationship with her family. I liked seeing what it was like in 2010 and what it was like in the present. Not all families get along all of the time. And sometimes people make choices that their family does not agree with. I really love that the author spent so much time on Cath's family dynamics. I thought that the small town/tourist town setting was very interesting. I really enjoyed that Cath was from a small town. And found that it worked very well with this story. The slow pace of the romantic aspect of the story was so unusual. There are no romantic scenes at the beginning of this story. The book takes a completely different approach. There is a lot of character development and plot development that takes over the first half of the book. But there is romance. The author just takes her time to get to it. I found it interesting that we only get Cath's POV. There are so many books these days that give us dual points of view. But I loved that we only get to see what Cath is thinking and feeling. This is her story and it totally works for this book, IMO. Overall, this book is a different kind of book for this author. The pace of the romance is very slow. There were a couple predictable events. But I could not put this book down. It was sweet and charming and it made me feel good while I was reading it. There were definitely enough interesting plot points to keep me completely invested in the story. I would highly recommend this book! *I only read the full book blurb after finishing the book. I hate spoilers and find that so many book blurbs give away too much of the story. I was shocked at how much this blurb gave away. Do yourself a favor and don't read the entire book blurb. I really do not think that I would have enjoyed this book as much if I had read the blurb beforehand. Complimentary copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Thanks to Atria and netgalley for allowing me to read this book.
Date published: 2017-06-12

Read from the Book

Until It Fades Chapter 1 March 2010 The Subaru station wagon comes to a sliding halt in a parking spot out front of the Balsam County police station, the fresh blanket of snow coating the asphalt making the streets slippery. And my stomach sinks with the realization that I’ve been tricked by my own mother. “What happened to going to the mall, Mom?” She’s been quiet since we pulled out of the driveway; I just assumed she was pissed at me. These days, she usually is. “Did you honestly think we’d just pretend that nothing happened and go shopping?” Her eyes remain focused ahead as she says, “I had to get you in the car somehow.” I’ve seen her pull this same trick on our golden Lab, Bingo. He thinks he’s going to the park, so he eagerly jumps into the backseat, his tail wagging and his tongue lolling, only to end up at the vet. Falls for it every damn year. This is so much worse than a trip to the vet. Shutting off the engine, she unfastens her seat belt. “Okay. You know why we’re here.” When I don’t unfasten my seat belt, she reaches over and pushes the release button for me. Her expression is stony, her tone is worn-out. “I reported Mr. Philips to the police yesterday. They need your statement, so we are going in there and you are telling them everything right now.” “But . . .” My stomach drops at the same time that heat crawls up my neck. “You promised that you wouldn’t do this!” “I made no such promise, Catherine.” Oh, my God . . . I need to warn Scott before she forces me in there. It’s like she can read my mind. She snatches my phone from my grasp. “That’s mine! Give it back!” I dive for it, but she holds on to it tight, slapping my hands away. “The police will want this for evidence.” “That’s an invasion of my privacy.” I’m doing my best to put up a calm but defiant front. Inside, I’m screaming. Because there is evidence on my phone that I should have deleted. That Scott told me to delete and I assured him that I did, but I haven’t yet, not all of it. Not the message where he told me I was beautiful. I love lying in my bed and rereading that one. “Just drop this already. Please, Mom. Or how about let’s just go to the principal. Let him fire Scott if he thinks he needs to. Okay?” I plead. My mom’s face contorts. “The principal is his father. The superintendent is his uncle. And his mother is a Balsam! You think they’ll want this to get out? They’d just find a way to sweep this under the rug.” Which is exactly what Scott and I were hoping for when, two nights ago, my mom heard me tiptoeing down the stairs and followed me—quietly, in her nightgown and housecoat—outside and around the corner, to where Scott was waiting for me in his car. I’m not sure what made her more angry—that she caught me sneaking out to meet up with my English teacher, or that I tried to sell the “he’s helping me with my assignment over spring break” excuse to her, standing on a sidewalk at one in the morning. “Besides, it’s too late. The police are investigating.” She takes a deep, calming breath. “I have an obligation, Cath. This is what good parents are supposed to do when they find out that a thirty-year-old man has taken advantage of their teenage daughter.” I squash the urge to roll my eyes. That’ll only infuriate her. “Nothing happened. And, besides, age of consent is sixteen. Stop making it sound like he’s some dirty old man.” Scott is fun and handsome and could pass for early twenties. He wears ripped jeans and Vans, rides a motorcycle, and listens to The Hives and Kings of Leon. I’m far from the only girl in school to fall for him. I’ve been infatuated with him from the very first day I sat down in his class. “He’s your teacher! And what kind of idiot do you take me for? I know exactly what’s going on, so stop lying to me.” She reaches for her door handle. And I know I’m not going to get anywhere with her by continuing to deny this. “But Mom . . .” I seize her forearm, feeling the muscles tense beneath my grip. I’m fighting to keep my bottom lip from quivering. “Please. I love him. And he loves me.” He’s told me so. Quiet whispers in between stolen kisses after school lets out and he’s helping me with my portfolio for college applications. Loud shouts in between our tangled breaths the two nights I’ve managed to sneak away and ride my bike to see him. There’s the faintest flicker of pity in her eyes before they harden. “You’re barely seventeen, Cath. It’s a crush, that’s all. It won’t last. It’s not real.” “No, this is different.” “Whatever he’s told you, whatever promises he has made, they’re all lies. You’re a pretty, young girl and he will tell you whatever you want to hear if it means he gets sex.” “You’re wrong.” “Even if I am, it doesn’t matter because you cannot be with him, Catherine!” “You are just . . . impossible!” I smack the dashboard with my hands, tears of frustration burning my cheeks. She’s not listening. She doesn’t care how I feel. She doesn’t care how happy he makes me. Her eyes are now focused on the windshield, on the thin blanket of snowflakes settling against the glass. The car didn’t even have enough time to warm up in the five-minute drive over. “One day you’ll see that I’m right. Until then, you need to stop being so selfish.” Selfish! “But we aren’t hurting anyone!” “Really? What do you think this mess is going to do to our family? We all have to live here! And your brother and sister have to go to the same high school. The rumors and the gossip and . . .” She heaves a sigh. “I’m sure people are already wondering about our parenting abilities. We will be the topic of conversation at every dinner table from Belmont to Sterling after this.” “Yeah, because you reported us!” For someone who’s so worried about her image, I’m surprised she’s not just as eager to keep this quiet as Scott and I are. “God dammit, Catherine!” My mother explodes. “You are so desperate to be treated like an adult. Show me you deserve it and start acting like one. Take responsibility for your own actions.” “Fine! I’ll end it with him!” Even as I shout the words, I know it’s an empty promise. I’m not ending anything with Scott. “Oh, it’s ending, all right. And one day, when you’re a parent, hopefully a long time from now, you’ll understand why I’m doing this.” One day, when you’re a parent . . . Next to “because I said so,” that’s her party line. But wasn’t she ever seventeen and in love? “You can’t do this. You’re going to ruin his life. What if they put him in jail?” “That’s where he belongs, if he’s preying on his students.” “He’s not preying on anyone.” “Please. It’s you today, and it’ll be some innocent fifteen-year-old tomorrow.” I hear what she doesn’t say—that I’m not all that innocent. I huff out a sigh. “It was just the once.” She shakes her head angrily. “Has this been going on since you broke up with that boy?” I avert my gaze. “Why couldn’t you have just stayed with him?” What? “You hated Ethan!” I’ve never seen Mom as happy as she was the day I told her that I’d dumped my cigarette-smoking, Mohawk-sporting boyfriend of three months, by far my longest relationship before Scott. She didn’t even ask why, or if I was okay. She didn’t care. “I’d welcome him back with open arms at this point,” she mutters. “I don’t want Ethan.” I haven’t given him a moment’s thought since the day I ended things. In hindsight, I don’t know what I ever saw in him. He’s failing half his classes and will likely still be playing video games and bagging groceries at Weiss in ten years’ time. I don’t want him, or any of the other boyfriends I’ve been with either. That’s what they all are. Boys. Scott is a man, and he makes me feel smart and beautiful and talented. He treats me like we’re equals. We talk about everything from art to music to places around the world that he wants me to see with him. He makes me think about my future. Our future. “We’re moving to Philadelphia after I graduate next year. Scott will get a teaching job there, and I’m going to go to college for art. He’s been helping me with my portfolio. Mom, you should see it, it’s kick-ass.” This is the right angle. College is all she talks about at home. Cath, where are you applying? Cath, you won’t get in anywhere decent with these grades. Cath, you can’t make it without a college education. She sighs, drops her gaze to her lap. “I told you, we’re in love.” I hold my breath. Maybe this is all just a scare tactic. Maybe she’ll sigh again and then tell me to put my seat belt back on and— “Get out of the car. They’re expecting us.” Hot tears stream down my cheeks. “What’s Dad going to do when he finds out that you brought me here?” I’m grasping at straws now, and we both know it. Mom and Dad were fighting about me behind closed doors last night, so she must have told him her plan. He may have disagreed with her, but even he knew that she’d do what she wanted to anyway. That’s just how she is. That he wasn’t at home this morning is telling. Not that he’s around much to begin with. She collects her purse and keys and steps out of the car without a word. I consider holding the door locks down and taking a stance, but I know that it’s futile. One way or another, Hildy Wright always gets her way. So I wipe the tears with the back of my hand and throw open the car door. “I hate you!” I scream, using all my strength and anger to slam the door shut. Maybe I can still run. Can they actually make me talk? Do I need a lawyer? Heavy footfalls crunch in the snow behind me and my back tenses. “Everything all right here?” Sheriff Kerby asks in his smooth, authoritative voice. “Yes, Marvin. We’re just here for Catherine to give her statement.” Mom and the sheriff have been in the same bowling league for twenty years. Of course she’d go directly to him. I take a deep breath and turn to face the older man, his cheeks rosy from the blistering-cold winter wind. He has a kind smile, but I don’t let it fool me. He’s about to help my mother ruin my entire life. But the Philipses do have a lot of sway around here, I remind myself. And people love Scott. They loved him back when he was taking the Balsam High baseball team to the state championship, and they love him more now that he gave up a teaching job in Philly to move back home and teach here. Maybe that will be enough to get whatever bullshit charges are coming dropped. Scott said it’s technically just a misdemeanor and those get tossed all the time, so maybe nothing big will come of it. Then, we’ll have the last laugh. And when I move to Philly with him? My mother will be dead to me. With grim determination and what feels like a lead ball in my stomach, I march up the steps to the station. She’s wrong. Scott and I are meant to be together. It is real. And I will never forgive her for this. December 2010 I sit with my hands folded in front of me, fighting the urge to shrink into my seat as I quietly watch Lou Green drag her pen down the length of my résumé. Misty warned me that the owner of Diamonds would seem a bit intimidating, with her stern face and harsh tone. I so desperately need this job that I’ve been unsettled by nerves all last night and this morning. By the time I stepped through the diner’s doors fifteen minutes ago, overwhelmed by the buzzing voices and clanging pots in the kitchen and the potent smell of hot pancakes and sizzling bacon, my stomach was churning fast enough to make butter. It doesn’t help that Lou’s interviewing me in a booth, smack-dab in the middle of all the bustle, where countless sets of eyes can survey me with abandon—some merely stealing glances, others downright staring. Are they always so interested in potential new staff? Or is it just an interest in me, the high school slut who tried to put Scott Philips in jail? “So you have no waitressing experience.” Lou says it so bluntly, I can’t tell if she’s merely stating a fact or pointing out a reason why this interview should end now. “No, ma’am. But I’m a fast learner.” “Aren’t they all,” she murmurs dryly, more to herself. “You livin’ with Misty?” I nod. “For about three months now.” In the apartment she shares with her long-haul-truck-driving father who’s home one night a month. I moved out of my parents’ house on my eighteenth birthday, when my mother could no longer force me to stay. It’s her legal duty, after all, to house her children until they reach the age of majority. And Hildy Wright is all about the law. “And how’s that goin’?” Lou asks. “Fine.” For the most part. Misty isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed and she rarely shuts up—a nightmare early in the morning when I prefer to drink my coffee in quiet solitude and she’s all bubbly. But I can’t complain because she’s given me a place to live and she’ll be the reason I get this job, if I do. Plus, she’s pretty much the only friend I have left. From the expression on Lou’s face, I can only imagine what she thinks of Misty. Her opinion can’t be all bad, though, given she hasn’t fired her, and she humored her request to interview me. “I see you were a cashier at the Weiss in Balsam, from November of last year until March?” “Yes. That’s right. Five months.” “What happened?” “It wasn’t a good fit.” I swallow the knot that’s forming, thinking about the day the manager, Susan Graph, pulled me into her office to hand me my vacation pay and tell me that it would be best if I didn’t come in anymore, due to what was going on in my personal life. This, after only a month earlier giving me a glowing employee review. The worst part about it is that I have to shop there because it’s the only grocery store in Balsam. “I can work any shifts you want. Early mornings, midnights . . . anything.” I’m trying not to sound too desperate, but I don’t think I’m succeeding. Then again, maybe employers like desperate employees—we’ll put up with just about anything. And I will put up with just about anything. Misty makes good money in tips. The kind of money I need so I can save up and get as far away from Balsam County as soon as possible. I’ve been waiting for a job opening here for months. “How will you get here? Do you have a car?” “With Misty, for now. And I figured I could buy something cheap after a few months.” Diamonds is a fifteen-minute drive from Balsam, on Route 33, way too far to bike. Lou’s pen shifts back to my education. She frowns. “You haven’t finished high school?” “No, ma’am.” She peers up at me from behind thick-rimmed glasses, her curly mouse-brown hair framing her face in a short crop. If I had to guess, I’d put her in her midfifties, though it’s hard to say. “Don’t you know how important having your high school diploma is?” I swallow against the rising shame. “I do, but . . . I decided to take a year off.” I’d thought of lying about it on my résumé, but Misty warned me that Lou’d fire me for lying if she ever found out. Plus, there’s no way Lou hasn’t heard about “the Philips mess,” as my mother likes to call it. Everyone around here knows about it. It’s been the talk of the local news since Scott was arrested nine months ago. “People makin’ it hard on you, are they?” She poses it as a question, but I get the feeling she already knows the answer. I nod. “That whole business with that teacher is . . .” Lou purses her lips, and I grit my teeth, waiting for her to say something like “What kind of girl are you?” or give me a stern “You should be ashamed of yourself” frown. She would be far from the first. I’ve heard it plenty and from every direction, it seems, especially after I recanted my statement ten days later—after I learned that no DA would force a seventeen-year-old “victim” to testify—and the charges against him were dropped. At the store, where Scott’s family and friends have more than once passed by me, making comments about how I deserve to be punished for trying to ruin his reputation, how I should stick to boys my own age, how someone needs to teach me to close my legs. At school, where the many students who adore Scott trailed after me in the halls, hissing “slut” and “skank” and “attention whore.” Walking down Main Street, where strangers point me out to their friends. I’ve become a local celebrity, as ridiculous as that sounds. “You and him . . . it’s over and done with, right?” Lou says instead. I open my mouth to deny that it ever started, but her eyes narrow, as if calling me on the lie. And so I answer with a small nod instead, even as my throat tightens and the first prickles of tears touch my eyes. Great, I’m going to cry in my interview. I’m sure Lou will be chomping at the bit to hire me now. But the whole ordeal still stings today, even more than it did the day Scott was let go on bail and wouldn’t answer my phone calls and texts. I convinced myself that he had no choice but to avoid me, that it must be a condition of his release. And it was . . . partly. The rumors began quickly and spread like a stomach virus at a day care, just as nasty. Whispers in art class—but not so quiet I couldn’t hear them—about how I had thrown myself at him and then accused him of rape; how he turned me down and I was so mad I decided to destroy his life; how I was a stalker who’d lingered around his house late at night, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. If anyone considered the alternative—that Scott and I had been together, that I’d been forced to give a statement—they kept it to themselves. The charges were dropped and Scott’s job was reinstated, only he was no longer teaching my art class. He was no longer glancing my way as we passed in the halls. It was as if what we’d had, had never happened. As if I didn’t exist. Lou clears her throat. “Well, that’s for the best. Nothing was ever going to come of that, anyway.” “No, I guess not,” I agree softly. Too bad it took me so long to see. A waitress strolls past with a plate of fried onions and my stomach does a full flip from the smell. “You okay? You’re awful pale all of a sudden.” “I’m fine.” I glance over at Misty, punching an order into the computer. She grins and gives me the thumbs-up. I wish I could be as confident as her. A woman at the table two over from us is staring at me. That’s Dr. Ramona Perkins, my dentist. Or ex-dentist. In April, we got a phone call to tell us that her office was reducing its patient load and that she would no longer be able to accept my family for appointments. In a town of three thousand, Perkins Dentistry is the only office. Now my family has to drive almost thirty minutes away, to the far side of Belmont, to get their teeth looked after. My mother was in shock at first, given she started with Ramona’s father, John Perkins, when she moved to Balsam twenty years ago. But after a few questions, she found out that Dr. Perkins is best friends with Scott’s mother, Melissa Philips. The other two women have the decency to look away, but Dr. Perkins spears me with a haughty glare and then offers loudly, “Wives will have to hold on to their husbands when they come in here, with that one serving them.” “You know what? I think we’re better off talkin’ in my office.” Lou heaves her squat, plump body from the booth, collecting my résumé on her way past, not so much as glancing Ramona’s way. She leads me through the kitchen, where a heavy-set, ebony-skinned man is flipping pancakes through the air with one hand and stirring a pot of grits with the other with deft precision. “That’s Leroy. He’s the head cook around here.” “But she takes me home at night and does my laundry. Occasionally refers to me as ‘husband’ too.” Leroy winks, and then his face splits into a wide grin. I force a returning smile, but I’m afraid it’s unpleasant at best because the overpowering stench of grease from the deep fryers is making saliva pool in my mouth. “Three tables of four just came in,” Lou warns him. “Don’t know why it’s so damn busy all of a sudden. I should be out there coverin’ tables. We’ll wrap this up quick. Here’s my office, right . . .” I lose her words as I shove through the door marked STAFF RESTROOM, making it just in time to dive for the toilet before my oatmeal makes its reappearance. Lou’s waiting for me when I step out a few minutes later, her arms folded over her ample chest, the look on her face unreadable but alarming all the same. “The smell of sausage must have gotten to me.” “You can’t handle the smell of breakfast sausage and you want to work in a diner?” I can almost hear the “you idiot” that she mentally tacked on to the end of that. “I don’t know what happened. I guess I’m just really nervous.” I really need this job. “I promise it won’t happen again.” She twists her lips in thought and then heaves an exasperated sigh. “Stay here.” She disappears into her office and returns a moment later. “I keep a box of these in my office. Between all my waitresses, we have at least five scares like this a year. I’d rather make my girls know one way or another than have them droppin’ dishes and forgettin’ orders all day long because they’re eaten up by worry for the wonder. So do me a favor. Go on back in there and pee on this.” I stare at the thin foil-wrapped package she just shoved in my hand, feeling my cheeks burn. “No . . . I’m not . . . This isn’t . . .” I’m on the pill. “You a hundred percent sure of that?” I quietly do the math in my head. It’s been how long since . . . Oh, my God. “Yeah, thought so. Go on, now.” Lou ushers me through the door with a forceful hand, pulling it shut behind me. With a flushed face, I quietly fumble with the wrapping, though I don’t know why. It’s not like she doesn’t know what I’m doing. “This must be the worst interview you’ve ever had?” I call out with a weak giggle as I position myself on the seat, stick in hand, hoping I’m doing this right. “Nope. A girl from out near Sterling has you beat. Cops came in and arrested her right after she finished tellin’ me how trustworthy she is. Turns out she robbed her previous employer the weekend before.” “I guess she didn’t get the job.” And, I suspect, neither will I. Over the flush of the toilet, I hear Lou call out, “Two minutes for the results!” I take my time washing my hands as I wait, avoiding the little strip that sits on the back of the toilet, forming its answer. The sense of failure overwhelming me. I spent a lot of time getting ready for today’s interview, ironing a simple white blouse I borrowed from Misty, curling the ends of my ash-blonde hair so it falls nicely over my shoulders. Misty said Lou likes subtle makeup so I skipped the black eyeliner and stuck with lip gloss rather than the bright pink that I usually wear. Pots are clanging and loud voices are calling out orders in the kitchen. “I know you’re busy. It’s okay if you have to take care of your customers. I’ll show myself out.” There’s no response, and I start to think that Lou is gone until she calls out, “Time’s up!” Taking a deep breath, I reach for the stick with a trembling hand. “No, no, no . . .” My back hits the wall and I slide to the floor, my eyes glued to the second dark pink line. There’s no mistaking it. Oh, my God. But how? I’m on the pill! Granted, I missed a few here and there, especially over the past couple of months. Hot tears roll down my cheeks as I grip the test, thinking back to the only night this could have happened. I was so hurt . . . So drunk. So stupid. As if I haven’t fucked up my life enough. How am I going to do this? I can’t live at Misty’s with a baby, and there’s no way I’m crawling back home. I don’t have a job and now who the hell is going to hire me? The door opens without warning and Lou steps in, peering down at me with my arms wrapped around my knees, sobbing uncontrollably. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the results, I guess. She hesitates, but only for a second. I get the impression Lou isn’t the type of person to beat around the bush. “Do you know who the father is?” Fair question to ask the town slut, I guess. I bob my head. “How far along are you?” I quietly do the math. “Seven weeks, maybe? Or eight?” “You gonna tell him? Get him to help?” “I don’t know.” “It’s only right.” I avert my gaze to the faded rose linoleum floor. I think I’ve sufficiently screwed up my chances at getting this job. Misty comes barreling into the tight space. “Leroy said you were—” Her voice cuts off when she sees the test in my hands. “Oh, no . . . Cath!” Her hands go to her stomach, pressing against it. “Oh no, oh no, oh no!” After a moment, “This is all my fault!” She looks about ready to burst into tears. “You’re not exactly equipped to be blamed for this, Misty,” Lou points out. “No, but I’m the one who convinced DJ to bring his friend from New York to that party, so he and Cath could meet.” “DJ, your ex?” Lou spits out his name. I’m guessing she dislikes him. Most people do. DJ Harvey is a snake disguised as a hot guy. If cash goes missing from your house at a party, you can bet it’s in his pocket. If there’s a fistfight and he’s around, you can bet he provoked it. Smashed window or spray-painted wall? Check for his fingerprints. I never understood how Misty could ignore the shadiness. It has only hurt her reputation. Misty’s blonde curls bob with her nod. Lou sighs. “And I suppose the guy who got arrested with him is this friend from New York?” Everyone around here has heard about DJ and another guy getting busted for dealing marijuana and coke in Belmont the very next day after that party. It was a reprieve for me, because it gave people something else to talk about. Misty was smart enough to dump DJ right away, though she cried for a week after. Another head bob. Another heavy sigh. “On second thought, I wouldn’t be too quick to say anything. No one needs to know your baby’s daddy is a drug dealer. Not like he’s gonna be able to support you from jail anyway, and it sounds like he’s gonna be there awhile.” “People saw me get into his van, though.” Actually, they saw Matt drag me into his van after I lunged for a girl who spat in my hair. In all the months of gossip and sneers since Scott was arrested, it was the first time I had physically lashed out. I was drunk and so angry; I couldn’t help myself. Matt lit a joint and we hung out in the back of his VW van for hours, complaining about how fucked up life is as the party raged around us. It felt good talking to someone who didn’t know a soul around here besides DJ and didn’t seem to give a shit whether I slept with my teacher or not. He wasn’t bad-looking and had me laughing by the time he leaned over to kiss me . . . And now I’m pregnant. As if I haven’t provided these people with enough to gossip about. Not that I should be worrying what people say or what they think about me anymore. I have a bigger issue now. Another human being to take care of, when I can’t even take care of myself. “Don’t matter what they saw, as long as you don’t admit to anything. It’s none of anyone’s business,” Lou tells her. “Misty, you’ve got tables to take care of. And you keep your trap shut about this if you’re a real friend, got it?” Misty offers me a sympathetic smile and then ducks out of the bathroom. “Okay, let’s get some saltines and water in you to settle that stomach, and then you can sit down with the menu. It’s big, but the sooner you learn it, the faster you can move from hosting and bussing to waiting on your own tables.” Wait . . . I stare up at the woman who hovers over me in the tiny but clean staff restroom. “You want me to work?” She shrugs. “Better to stay busy than to leave free time for regrets, I always say.” “But, I mean, you’re actually giving me the job? Why?” I can’t help sounding incredulous. She twists her lips. “Well, I’d say you need this job more than you did when you walked through my door twenty minutes ago, wouldn’t you?” “Yeah, but . . .” Dr. Perkins’s words come to mind. “Aren’t you worried what your customers will say?” She snorts. “I don’t have any use for those kind of customers. They’re the same kind who think I shouldn’t be married to my husband for the color of his skin. Besides, anyone who can’t see how that teacher used you for his own needs is a damn fool.” She rests her hands on her hips. “So, do you want the job or not?” “Yes.” I furiously wipe the tears from my cheeks with my palms. “Well, all right, then. And no more cryin’. Leroy doesn’t allow cryin’ in the kitchen. Gets him all flustered and then he starts droppin’ pancakes. Ask Misty, she’ll tell ya.” I force a smile and pull myself to my feet, trying in vain to ignore that voice in the back of my head, screaming at me. Telling me how badly I’ve fucked up my life.

Editorial Reviews

"Dark, ominous, and sexy...compelling from beginning to end."