On my Sassy Seven Authors blog from this past Sunday, I let you all know that I've started three different books. (Man, are they different in writing style and genre.) I also mentioned that I've written several chapters in each of these stores, but now I'm stuck. I need to decide which one I'm going to concentrate on and get my butt into gear to finish.
I truly like each of these stories. They speak to me. I don't know which one to show some lovin' to first. Trust me. This situation isn't BS. It's the real meal deal.
So in this past Sunday's blog I asked that you read the complete first chapters of each of the three stories. The first story's chapter that I posted was a paranormal romance currently entitled Spirit Warrior - Link to Boru. (Brian Boru was the last King of Ireland.) Click HERE to read that blog and the chapter to Spirit Warrior.) BTW - if you're reading this before Wednesday, then you can see I obviously lied. I didn't wait to post this blog until Wednesday. I know. I know. I'm a big turd.
Today I'm posting the first complete chapter (unedited, mind you!) of a story I've entitled The Good Wife's Guide. It's a story that's more a woman's fiction with comedy and romantic elements.
On Saturday (yes, really Saturday because the rest of this week is jammed packed with stuff I've got to do. Do you really think the Spurs can win without me cheering at the top of my lungs from the nose bleed seats?) Once again...On Saturday I'll post the complete first chapter to my third work in progress, Leaving John Wayne. That post will be on this blog - my personal blog.
So what do you do? Well, after reading all three of the posted first chapters from these three different stories, I need for you to tell me which story to focus on and finish first. I promise - scout's honor - which ever story receives the most votes will be my next completed book. You've got some serious power, don't you?
How to you vote? Great question. You can leave a comment at the end of the blog or e-mail me at Brenna.Zinn@brennazinn.com. Pretty easy if I do say so myself.
You on board? I hope so. I'm counting on you to help me decide.
With that in mind, let me leave you to your reading. I hope you enjoy chapter one from The Good Wife's Guide.
The Good Wife's Guide by Brenna Zinn
“Good Lord, Kelly, is that story true?” A pretty petite brunette wiped her watery eyes with the back of her hand. “You really blew the microwave door off its hinges trying to nuke a 25-pound turkey?”
I forced a smile and nodded at the woman and her buoyant wonder twins, though I didn’t know her from Adam. I think Matt said her name is Becky. “Yes.”
All around the crowded formal dining room, my fiancé’s colleagues, the fine people from Volt Gas and Oil, hooted and pointed at me. The twiggy thirty-something woman wearing mounds of gaudy jewelry crossed her legs tight, obviously trying not to pee as she laughed. The long-legged redhead with flawless makeup grabbed her sides and sucked air. Even the overweight balding guy nursing his Scotch in the corner shuddered then bent at the waist. His belly convulsed so badly, he stretched out his arm, preventing his drink from spilling down his bulging striped shirt.
The couples wedding shower hosted by Matt’s was quickly turning into a one-woman comedy routine, but I wasn’t trying to be funny. I was just answering their questions and trying to make conversation. I wanted these people to like me. After all, they were a part of Matt’s life and soon to be in my life, too.
“Everything was fine until I heard the explosion and smelled smoke,” I explained. “When I opened the door to the kitchen, that turkey was little more than a giant fireball sliding belly down on the floor straight for me.” In my mind I relived the entire awful scene of my first and only attempt at cooking a real Thanksgiving meal. How was I supposed to know cooking a turkey would take more than an hour?
Once again the room shook with a thunder of laughter. The stacks of fancy-wrapped shower gifts trembled on the dining room table, threatening to crash onto the hardwood floor.
A knot of anxiety settled in my stomach and my face heated. What must these people, my fiancé’s work friends, think of me? Or Matt for wanting to marry me? I eyed the mounds of frilly silver and white decorations covering the table and floor, wishing I could shrink and hide among it all.
“What’s going on in here? What are we missing?” Matt, his tie now loosened and the top button of his dress shirt undone, entered the dining room with two of his junior executive friends. The wide, easy-going smile on his bronzed face lit up the entire room and lightened the heavy weight of dread pressing against me.
“Matt, you never told us how funny your fiancé is.” A short man with slicked-back hair and a bad complexion pointed his long-neck beer bottle in my direction. “She’s a riot. Knowing what I know about your mom, I can’t believe you’re marrying a woman who doesn’t even know how to cook. You’ll both starve.”
The love of my life, my blond six-foot-three tower of power, stepped to my side and placed a protective hand on my shoulder. “I’ll gladly eat boxed macaroni and cheese every day of my life as long as I have Kelly by my side. She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m damned lucky she agreed to be my wife.”
Eternally my hero, Matt bent and kissed the top of my head.
Every woman in the room “ahhed” in unison. So did my heart, which also skipped a beat. There was no doubt in my mind. I was marrying the most wonderful man in the entire state of Texas.
I glanced up to see Matt’s bright blue eyes shining back at me and suddenly wished we were alone, he was naked, and I was running my fingers through the golden hair on his broad chest.
“Who needs food when you’ve got true love?” Chet Sloan stretched the word “true” until the one syllable nearly snapped into two. Matt’s co-worker strode into the room, making a great show of rolling his eyes. Like a creature from the underworld, his handsome but dark presence seemed to suck all the energy out of the party. “And here I thought the best thing to happen to our boy, Matt Murphy, was getting him off his parents’ ranch and into Volt Gas and Oil. Course it always helps when one personally knows the owner of the company you work for, doesn’t it, Matt?” Chet smiled, but the effort produced little more than a sneer.
Matt stiffened and his hand tightened on my shoulder, but he didn’t dignify Chet with an answer.
Following suit, my back became rigid as Adrianne Sloan slithered next to Chet, her husband, and entwined her thin arm in his. The meaning of her gesture was clear. Back off, bitches, this man is mine.
Not that anyone would dare cross Adrianne. For as small as the woman was – she couldn’t be more than five-foot-two and a hundred pounds – she managed to intimidate most everyone, including me. With a body and face constructed of a series of hard lines and edges, there simply was nothing soft or friendly about her. Everything from her pinched smile and pointed chin down to her spiked heals was razor sharp. Even the ends of her short blonde hair stuck out like quills.
Adrianne glanced at her watch then honed her biting brown eyes on me. “Now that Matt’s here, can you finally start opening your gifts? Chet and I have other important places to be and this party was supposed to have been over an hour ago.” Her nasal accent sounded as Chicagoan as her starched white shirt and black skirt looked.
A cold chill skittered from my neck to the small of my back. I hated when Adrianne acknowledged my existence, preferring instead to stay well under her radar. But for once in my life I wasn’t responsible for anything running late. “Sure.” My voice sounded little more than an uneasy squeak. “No problem.”
“Here, Kelly. Open this one first.” Becky handed me a large box covered in silver foil paper, topped with a white satin ribbon. “I hope you like it. I hear it’s all the rage in Europe.”
I took the box and spent a moment appreciating the wrap job and bow, all the while wondering if I was doing the right thing. Being watched and measured by everyone, these near strangers, unnerved me to my core. Was I opening the present too fast? Too slow? Was I showing enough gratitude? The weight of peer judgment took all the fun out of getting the gift in the first place.
When the contents of the box were revealed and all the ooos and aaaahs from the crowd faded, I hugged Becky, a gesture I’d seen my mother do in her social circles a million times. If getting familiar with near strangers worked for mom, surely it would work for me. “Thanks so much. I love it. I’m sure I’ll use it all the time.”
I had no idea what the thing was or what I was supposed to do with it. Based on the picture of an oven on the front of the box, I guessed it was something for the kitchen, but I couldn’t be certain. My mom’s cook, Anna, would know. I’d ask her about it in the morning once I’d fully recovered from this evening of torture.
I sat back on my chair, pushed back my 1960’s vintage paisley skirt, and looked for the next gift to open. A large white bag with silver tissue paper sat on the floor next to me. I grabbed the handles and tugged, but the bag didn’t budge. Whatever was inside weighed a ton.
“Don’t worry. I don’t think even you can break it.” Adrianne pushed the bottom of the bag with her pointy black shoe, making the contents thud. “But, after what I’ve heard about you, anything is possible.”
I was a good six inches taller and thirty pounds heavier than Adrianne, but I didn’t have the nerve to defend myself or make a quick comeback. She was too damned intminidating. Instead, I reached a shaky hand into the bag to remove the first layer of tissues and bumped into something round, metal, and solid. I pulled out what felt like a heavy thermos.
“Oh, look. It’s a little fire extinguisher,” someone from the group said, sounding as surprised as I felt to see the shiny red device.
Adrianne’s thin lips stretched into her version of a smile. She placed her palm on her hip and tapped her pointy black shoe on the walnut floor. “There’s more.”
I stuck my hands back inside the bag and removed a first-aid kit and an ancient, leather-bound book.
“I heard how you nearly burnt down Matt’s apartment when a candle you were lighting caught his curtains on fire.” The innuendo in Adrianne’s voice came through loud and clear. “I figured you’d need this stuff sooner or later. I’m guessing sooner rather than later.”
A nervous laugh rumbled quietly through the assembled group of Matt’s friends. Gaudy jewelry woman shifted uncomfortably in her seat and placed a hand over her mouth. The tinkling clatter of the hundred or so charms on her bracelet temporarily drew away attention from me. For that, I was grateful.
I took a deep breath and swallowed my pride. Adrianne was right. I had burned Matt’s curtains. And his sofa, his coffee table, and most of his living room carpet. The Booneville Fire Department put out the blaze before it consumed anything else.
Unfortunately the entire drama was the lead story on the six am news the next morning. Everyone in Booneville and the surrounding six counties saw Matt and me shivering outside his condo wearing nothing more than robes while fire fighters ran back and forth with ladders and hoses. For weeks afterward I was locally known as the Flaming Fiancé. This was not a particularly good thing considering my daddy, the Honorable Judge Brice Beaumont III, was up for re-election in a year and a little more than a few of his constituents whispered less than nice things about his beloved daughter who was caught half-naked in her fiancé’s front yard.
Goose pimples flared up and down my arms at the memory. Next to this wedding shower and the exploding turkey, the “fire incident” and resulting gossip was the most embarrassing situation of my relatively short life.
I looked at the remaining pile of gifts and then at the expectant group and inwardly sighed. Could I just die now?
Adrianne tapped a glossy red fingernail on the cover of the old book. “That was hard to find, but you desperately need it.” Her eyes narrowed and shot death rays in my direction. “I insist you read it cover to cover.”
Though I nodded my head and feigned a smile, my chest squeezed without mercy. The horrible woman was a spawn of the devil, and she was trying to kill me. Death by public humiliation.
I squinted as I tried to read the tarnished gold embossing on the well-worn, somewhat tattered jacket. The book obviously had been around for a while and read by dozens of people. “The Good Wife’s Guide?”
“That’s right,” Adrianne droned. “It’s a classic. No proper wife should be without her own copy.”
More uncomfortable laughter sounded from the guests.
I opened the cover and turned a few fragile pages to the publication information. “The Good Wife’s Guide, A Helpful Manual for New Brides. Copyright 1954 by Helen Ann Gengler, published by Nickleback Books.”
My mouth dropped and my stomach turned. The mortification was now complete. Did everyone here think I needed an Idiot’s Guide to teach me how to be a decent wife? Was I that pathetic?
Despite my overwhelming embarrassment, I somehow I found my voice. “Thank you. These are . . . practical gifts.” I barely got out the words. I thought I would be sick.
Matt rubbed my shoulder, then moved his hand down and patted my arm. “Kelly’s a very capable woman, Adrianne. I doubt she’ll need the book.” He crouched down in front of me and took my hands. His warm smile was a beacon of hope. “Baby, would you like a glass of wine?”
Could I love this man any more than I did right at this moment?
Thirty minutes and two glasses of chardonnay later, I unwrapped my last present. The dining room had cleared out considerably in that time. Some of the women moved into the kitchen and several of the men were already helping Matt load the gifts in his truck.
Tired and more than just a bit tipsy, I said a final thanks to everyone in the general area, picked up my empty glass, and meandered my way to the patio for more wine. I opened the door and oppressive heat nearly knocked me over. The sun had set three hours earlier, putting an end to another sweltering Texas summer day, but the temperature outside still stood well into the nineties.
A warm breeze met me, brushing back my long hair and tugging at my thin print skirt. The smell of honeysuckle, sweet and thick, mixed with the humidity, creating an atmosphere I could almost taste.
I gulped as much fresh air as my lungs could hold, then slowly let my chest deflate. My exhale carried away the stress created by three hours of peer judgment and condemnation. Another glass of wine would hold over my nice buzz for at least hour. Just enough time for the party to wrap up. Then I would be on my way to Matt’s apartment for a well-deserved quickie before heading back to my parent’s place for a good night’s sleep.
I stepped from the house into the dark openness of the back lawn. Strands of tiny white lights strung in two trees provided a romantic glow in the darkened yard. The whisper of voices drifted into the heavy air from behind a small privacy screen overgrown with flowering vines.
As much as I wanted to avoid the chance of further embarrassing conversations with anyone, the galvanized tubs holding the iced down beer and wine stood next to the lattice partition. Was another glass of chardonnay worth the risk of meeting up with someone I didn’t know well and didn’t care to talk to?
I considered my options.
Option A: Forget about the wine and completely avoid any possible interaction with Matt’s co-workers.
Option B: Hold my breath, walk as quietly as a gecko, and sneak off with a bottle of wine without speaking to anyone.
The tubs sat on wire stands near the edge of the patio, no more than fifteen feet from where I stood. Surely I could amble my way there and back without being noticed.
Decision made, I slipped off my sandals and tiptoed across the warm concrete over to the much-needed wine. Once there, the real trick to my mission became clear. Pull out the bottle without allowing the ice to tumble into the resulting hole, making a huge racket.
I took a moment to study how the half-full bottles were positioned and overheard Adrianne’s nasal-toned voice from somewhere on the other side of the screen.
“I know what I’m talking about. Her father’s not only a judge, he’s a millionaire. I heard he made a ton of money when they found oil on his ranch. All her life she’s had cooks and housekeepers tend to her every need. Honestly, it’s no wonder she’s a complete incompetent.”
My eyes widened. Adrianne couldn’t be talking about me, could she?
“That’s not totally fair. I hear Kelly’s a very good elementary school teacher.”
The second speaker’s tone was soft, but clear. Though vaguely familiar, I didn’t recognize the voice’s owner.
Loud sigh. “Any idiot can do that. The only thing second graders do all day is play and learn their A,B,Cs. Not even a train wreck like Kelly can screw up that.”
I stood frozen, unable to move and prevent any more hateful words from reaching my ears. Adrianne’s comments provoked a deep, gut-wrenching hurt that spread like Novocain along every muscle and nerve-ending under my skin, making my arms and legs rubbery. My heart beat so loudly I was sure anyone within a hundred yards would hear.
Why she would say such awful things was beyond me. Other than chatting with her the few times I saw her at Matt’s company functions, the woman barely knew me. To make matters worse, she was badmouthing my profession. Teaching was something I loved with a passion and was actually good at.
One thing was for sure. That poisonous she-devil wouldn’t last a half a day in my classroom. My students would be playing whack-a-mole on her head before first recess.
“I must say, though,” Adrianne continued, “I can’t imagine any of those awful rug rats pawing me with their grubby little hands. Someone would have to tie me up and beat me with a stick before I’d ever consider having any.”
“I’m sure Kelly will make a great mother. Don’t you think?”
“Hardly. If she is, it’s because she has the intellect of a child.” Adrianne’s hate-filled laugh rang out across the backyard. “Plus, the girl has no idea how to be a decent wife. I mean really . . . can you imagine Matt putting up with her for very long? From what I understand, he’s a real farm boy with old-fashioned family values. Chet’s told me Matt’s mother never worked outside the house. Kelly’s a flighty, modern day flower child who doesn’t know how to cook and has probably never cleaned anything in her life.”
I pressed my now shaking body closer to the screen and attempted make out the other woman through the tiny diamond openings of the lattice. Who was listening to Adrianne’s horrible, backstabbing garbage?
“Well… Matt may have a rough transition with Kelly, I’ll give you that. She’s not anyone I can envision cooking a big, fancy dinner. After hearing the story about the exploding turkey, I think a Thanksgiving gathering with all the trimmings may be out of the question, too,” the woman chuckled. “But, she’s very nice, and Matt really seems to care about her.”
“I’m telling you there’s no way he’ll be happy going from a Betty Crocker mother to a Jessica Simpson wife. I guarantee their marriage won’t work. If they stay together more than four months, it will be a miracle.”
Adrianne’s words sliced through my heart to my very soul. Not stay married to Matt? He was my everything, the person who gave my life meaning. The thought of having children and growing old with anyone else was as unfathomable to me as going for a walk on the moon.
My body, already numbed by wine and shock, now shook uncontrollably from hurt and anger. My knees buckled, and I shifted my weight against the lattice screen to keep myself from falling over. The pressure of my body against the rotting divider caused the wood to moan. Then, a terrific crack! shot through the air. Screams rang out from behind the woodwork. Without further warning, the partition I leaned against collapsed like a house of cards.
I frantically waved my arms, grabbing for something to keep myself upright. I snatched at one of the metal tubs and teetered on the edge of the concrete slab, but my center of gravity was already beyond help.
I fell sideways and landed on the screen with a loud crash. Within two seconds, the tub of beer and half-full bottles of wine tipped over, spraying chunks of ice, glass, and alcohol everywhere, including on me.
Surely, if God was merciful, I would now loose consciousness and be blissfully unaware of the next thirty minutes, which were certainly going to be horrible.
“Oh my Lord! Kelly, are you all right?”
I wiped my face with my hand and cracked open my eyelids. The sight before my eyes stole my breath. Becky’s wonder twins were bearing down on me. “I can’t move,” I groaned.
“Are you hurt? Do you need an ambulance?”
Her voice was pure panic and was freaking me out worse than the fall. “I think I’m okay.” I tried to move, but a sharp pain like fire flared up from my right thigh. “No, wait,” I yelped, “My leg. It hurts.”
“Oh my God. You’re bleeding. You’re bleeding all over.” Becky’s breath was almost a pant. She turned and screamed. “Matt! Matt! Someone call 911. Kelly’s bleeding like a stuck pig!”