Favorite quote: “All I want, Commander McBride, is to be guided by your superior age and wisdom.” LOL I want to be Rose’s best friend.Patti
And if it hadn't been for my new best friend Ingrid, I wouldn't have thought to turn the essay into the steamy novel that launched my career as an indie romance author.
I'm grateful, really! There's just a couple of teeny-tiny things I would do differently if I had it to do over again. But thankfully you can update ebooks, so nobody ever has to know. Phew!
I've never expected Aiden to see me as anything but his best friend's daughter, and I'm okay with that. He mostly ignores me anyway. But graduation means I'm too old to hide behind a school-girl infatuation. It's time to move on.
If he'll let me, that is. Because somehow Aiden found out what I did. He's not happy. And now I seem to be falling deeper in love.
You can tell me the truth — am I totally screwed?
Busted is a full-length standalone romance with no cliffhanger and an HEA.
Release date: March 2, 2021
Print pages: 243
Content advisory: contains mature themes
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“It’s noon, Ing!” I shout to my best friend and roommate from the weathered front door of our house. She’s busy pushing an overstuffed tote bag into an already overstuffed and aging Honda.
“Almost done!” she calls back, flipping her long blonde braid to her back as she tries to shut the hatchback. It doesn’t want to close, so she pushes a few more things around, making the little car shake violently.
“We did it, babe. We’re officially college graduates. Leave that for a few minutes and come have a glass of champagne.” We are celebrating the shit out of this day. As long as we’re both safely on the road by five, that is. Which is why any alcohol needs to be consumed (in moderation) over lunch.
She laughs as she finally makes the door latch and locks the car before it can change its mind. She named her car Bob while mine is Kevin. It’s an inside joke between us for lots of different reasons. The primary one is that these are the main men in our lives and it makes sense that they do not have sexy names because, well… our love lives are yeah, not.
“Come on. Pizza’s getting cold.” I’m impatient to eat and celebrate, not to say goodbye to my BFF for what could be years. I mean, I hope not, but neither of us really knows where the next phase in life will take us. Our favorite pizza creation, honed over the last four years of school, is waiting on the coffee table. Thankfully, we rented this place furnished. It’s cheap college-style stuff, but we don’t have to dispose of it or move it.
Ingrid finally comes in and goes to wash her hands in the kitchen sink, before plopping down on the floor inches from the pizza. “Hey, Rose? Thanks for waiting for me.”
“Err, it’s just pizza, Ing. I can manage a few minutes, really.”
“No, I meant this whole year. You could have graduated last year and left me here by myself. I’d have understood, but I’m glad you stayed.”
“That was as much for me as you. Now let’s start the toasts. We have a lot to get through. I made a list.” I’m half teasing as I pour champagne into the disposable flutes I found at a party supply store. Once the last bag of trash goes out to the curb, we’re out of here. Everything is packed, including the dishes. “Let’s start with a toast to Darla Simone who got us through.”
“To Darla!” Ingrid raises her glass with a bright smile. She takes a sip and then raises the flute again, “To letting go of pointless crushes.”
We’re both grimacing a little at that one but dutifully drink. Part of what brought us together all those years ago in the worst creative writing class ever was our shared experience lusting after older men who barely acknowledged our existence. And we both agreed it was better that they didn’t, really. Knowing that doesn’t make it less painful though, or letting go any easier. We’ve decided that graduation means it’s time to put away childish things. Like crushes on men who don’t want us back and secrets. Well, all except one.
It’s also time I told my dad I’ve already got a serious income and that his mortgage is now paid off. I have to get that last part out before he gets the official letter in about a week. But nobody needs to know that it’s my words behind the wildly popular books of Darla Simone. Only Ing knows that little detail, and she’ll never breathe a word. I made a few mistakes early on. After all, I didn’t set out to be a smutty romance author, it sort of just happened. I learned fast though and got my act together. I’m pretty solidly established in that career now, I think. And the majority of my readers are raving fans that keep begging for more.
But there’s one critical part of Darla’s world I need to change. I’ve agreed with Ing that it’s time to stop using my long-standing crush as my primary inspiration. Readers are starting to complain that they’ve seen the characters before in previous books and that the sex scenes are getting a bit monotonous. I’m sorry, okay? There’s only so much I can imagine with no real experience. I do a lot of reading though, all in the name of research.
Ing has been acting as my assistant and media consultant ever since Darla’s sales took off. That’s another reason I went for the five-year graduation plan so we could keep working together in the same location. Yeah, I could have graduated and gotten an apartment nearby, but then I would have had to explain everything to Dad and well, this last year has been really good to me financially. And Ing too, of course. I’ve been able to pay her well, and she’s socked it all away for her independent life, which starts in just a few hours.
Ingrid is an heiress, an orphaned one with a trust fund she can’t access until she’s thirty-five. She also has a stern guardian (the object of her crush, of course). He’s ordered her back to New York to live in his fabulous penthouse and work in his law firm as some kind of general assistant (since she doesn’t have any kind of law degree). She has a degree in marketing as of today, which is why she was such a big part of Darla’s success.
There are so many problems with Justin’s plans for her. For starters, he yells. A lot. Ing doesn’t do well with people that shout. I’d have told him off years ago, but she just gets quieter and quieter until she can find a dark corner and cry for a week. Her guardian never seems to catch on or he doesn’t care. We can never decide which. The other big problem is that his lover stays over frequently. It’s almost guaranteed if Ingrid and Justin manage to have a civil conversation (once in a blue moon) Margot will saunter out of his bedroom the next morning. Now I’m not judging a grown man and what he does in privacy, but when a young woman living there is in love with you? Total salt in the wound. Nobody should be surprised she doesn’t want to go back to that.
And it’s not lost on either of us that this sounds like a modern version of a Regency romance novel. For five seconds, I considered writing it up and giving Ing a fictional happy ending to cheer her up about the whole thing. But I’m at least smart enough not to include a prominent attorney in my fictional world where he could easily be identified and sue my pants off.
Anyway, that’s why Ingrid has come with me on most vacations and holidays. Dad thinks of her as a second daughter by now, I swear. And it’s why we’re in a hurry to get out of here. Dad readily accepted my excuse for skipping graduation as all my other friends graduated last year, so what was the point? I told him we could do dinner when I came to visit, which is where I’m headed.
But Justin wouldn’t hear of it when Ingrid presented a similar argument. Of course he never really listens when Ing tries to stick up for herself. And to make it worse, he managed to get Margot in as one of the commencement speakers. She’s some kind of muckety-muck in finance, but really she’s the last straw.
So we both skipped the ceremony to pack and, well, run away. Ing is going to go on a slow road trip across the south before ending up on the North Carolina coast, where she’s rented a small cottage for six months. She’s going to make some stops at places she’s always wanted to see and then hole up to work on her jewelry designs. She’s got a new cell phone under my company name, Rosey Red Publishing. The one Justin pays for will be left on the kitchen counter for when he tries to trace her. Which will probably be about fifteen minutes after she doesn’t show up for the dinner he ordered her to attend. It’s all a highly dramatic plan to basically cut him off completely, but I’m guessing Ing will let him back in her life when she finally meets someone else.
I’d half like to stick around to see his face when he comes looking for her, but the one time I met him I could tell he wasn’t impressed with me so best to leave that one alone. Maybe someday I’ll make him an alpha-hole hero since he’s the real-life prototype. Right now I couldn’t do that to Ing, plus there’s the whole lawsuit thing.
She swears he has a softer side, but I think it’s her imagination. We’ve agreed to disagree and to leave all that emotional turmoil behind when we drive off independently into the sunset.
We’re grown-ups now. Or at least we should try to act like it.
And what silliness am I leaving behind? I’ve had a crush on my dad’s best friend Aiden McBride since, well… for as long as I can remember. When my mom got sick, I think I adopted him as a fun fantasy to disappear into when the real world kept getting suckier. It was a completely safe dream because I knew it was never, ever going to happen.
Aiden is a good guy. He’s a top surgeon in the Navy and has never once even glanced at me inappropriately. He’s stern and gorgeous. I swear all he does is sleep, cut people open, and workout because that’s the only thing that can explain those abs.
And no, he’s never paraded around in front of me half-naked, sadly. It’s just when he visits Dad and stays overnight, he usually bunks in the tiny guest house in the back garden. The guest house I can see into from my bedroom window.
I know, I know. Adult me says you shouldn’t invade someone’s privacy like that. Sixteen-year-old me had a slightly different moral code. And I hate to admit this, but she’s still not sorry she looked. He’s beautiful.
It’s time to come out of the cave I’ve stuffed myself into though, the one where I’m all alone. Aiden’s not for me. He’s never brought a girlfriend with him when he visits. Heck, he never brought his wife around when he was married. His divorce helped fuel my fantasies, of course. I was totally up for comforting him! Thank God I never actually offered that.
I usually disappear when he comes to visit. He’s there to see Dad, and I’d rather watch him from afar when I don’t have to worry about being caught doing it. I’m positive he has no idea I’ve been having dirty thoughts about him all these years. He’d be mortified. I’d be mortified. Dad would well, let’s not go there. Nobody needs to know.
I don’t imagine I’ll be seeing him anymore anyway, now that I’m out of school. I haven't quite decided where I’m going to live, but it won’t be in San Diego. If I were smart, I’d move out of California and go somewhere with a lower cost of living. But Dad’s my only family, and I’d at least like to be close enough to drive to see him in a day. I’m toying with some of the smaller towns between San Francisco and the Oregon border. Heck, maybe I’ll even look around in Oregon. There’s always Las Vegas, but I don’t really see myself and Sin City being that great a match. I’ll figure it out in a few months. I’ve got time.
Right now though, I’ve got a deadline for my next book. I have to get at least the first draft done in thirty days, and I haven’t even started. So I’m planning to spend a few days with my dad and grab the keys to our mountain cabin. I’m going to go up there since there won’t be any distractions, and I’ll write the damn thing.
It’s causing quite a bit of stress because for the first time I’m not self-publishing, so a lot of people are going to be mad if I don’t make my commitment. And Ing and I agreed this book wouldn’t star Aiden (again) as the hero. It has to be someone completely different. That’s part of my problem with getting started. I’m not actually sure I can do that. I still don't see myself as a real author, I’ve just been writing new fantasies that I dream up about Aiden.
That creative writing professor certainly never thought I was a real writer. She’d asked for an essay on our first broken heart. I’d never had one because I’d never been in love (we’re not really counting Aiden here, I seriously had zero expectations from him). But what college sophomore is going to admit to that? So I dove deep into my diary full of wild fantasies and was publically ridiculed in front of the class by the professor. It was humiliating.
But Ing was there, and it was how we became friends. She came up to me later, gave me a hug, and told me all about her yearning for her older guardian. She’s the one that eventually suggested turning it all into a full-length romance. It was mostly a fun way to spend Friday nights since neither of us were into parties. I just kept spinning the tale longer and longer (and crazier). When it was done, we figured out how to self publish it. It sold five thousand copies in the first week, and Darla Simone was born.
I dropped out of the creative writing class after the ‘incident’ and then I cut back on my class schedule the next semester to write more. I was tempted to reveal my success to that miserable professor, but having read her one and only attempt at popular fiction, I knew it would fall on deaf ears. I’m pretty sure she’s of the opinion that a happy-ever-after is the equivalent of selling out. I’m content watching the size of deposits grow in my account.
But a few months ago I agreed to the offer of a small publisher in part to see what they could do for me that I couldn’t do for myself but really to give Ing a break. Publishing is not her dream and while we’ve propped each other up, she deserves time to explore her own career. She knows I’ll be here with open arms if it doesn’t work out, or if she just needs a steady income while she figures things out. But for the next six months, she’s no longer Darla’s right hand.
Ing and I eat our fill of the mushroom, spinach, olive, and feta pizza and drink all the champagne. It was a small bottle, so that’s not saying too much. It’s not a huge celebration, but we had to do something to mark the occasion.
There’s still a few slices of pizza left and I wrap them up in foil for Ing. I’ll be at Dad’s tomorrow, but she’s going to be on the road for at least the next two weeks. We tidy up from lunch and then do one last check through the small house. We’ve lived here for the last two years. I could have afforded something fancier but fancy brings questions, so we’ve co-existed with other students renting nearby. Just where they had eight people in the same size house, ours held just the two of us.
I’m tearing up a little as we finish going through the empty rooms. Then Ing plops her Justin-provided phone on the kitchen counter along with a note, I’m fine, I’m an adult. I’ll be in touch when I think you won’t yell. Love, Ingrid
I raise an eyebrow at the ‘love’ part, but Ing shrugs and pulls out her new phone. She’s had it for about a month to make sure everything’s transferred and ready to go.
“You’ve got my dad’s number in there too, right? Just in case?”
“Yes. Right here, see Rose and then Rose’s Dad.”
“I guess this is it then?” I’m sniffing a bit. It’s been a good few years. Maybe not the normal college experience, but I have most definitely learned a lot.
“Cheer up, Rose. Darla has work to do. Go out and find some inspiration!”
“Yeah, guess I’d better hit the bars in Coronado. Find a nice Navy SEAL to inspire me.” I wiggle my eyebrows suggestively.
“You go, girl.”
We both know I’ll do no such thing, although if I don’t get this book started soon I may have to do something equally drastic. I’m still not sure Justin isn’t going to find Ingrid and drag her home within the week. The man has private investigators on his regular payroll. Why wouldn’t he use them? But Ing thinks he doesn’t really want her there, that he’s just going through the motions out of a sense of duty. She says he won’t waste time finding her if she’s not on his immediate to-do list.
There’s still a couple of hours before our self-imposed five o’clock deadline, but there’s also no point in lingering. Ing will feel better when she puts a few more miles between her and Justin, and I’d like to get closer to San Diego before I stop for the night. So we lock up and put the keys under the flowerpot as agreed with the landlord and head out. I follow Ing to the freeway and then honk and wave as she takes the eastbound on-ramp. I move over into the left lane to turn west.
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