One of the advantages of an ongoing novel series is getting to do a deep-dive into the lives of your characters. In the Totlandia series, where four moms meet and become friends in moms-and-tots group—despite the group leader's tendency to run it like The Hunger Games—we see these women's friendships and love lives go through many ups and downs.
I’ve made the men in their lives are varied. And the good ones are also nurturing as parents.
In this excerpt from Book 7, one of the characters—Ally, a single working mom pretending to be married in order to live up to the club’s rules in which she’d be out on both these counts—has an opportunity to connect to the father she never knew, thanks to some detective work by the love of her life, who knows of her paternity quest. What he doesn’t know is that helping her may break them apart, since her biological father is someone he despises.
It was fun keeping the plot threads for these moms and their nemesis tangled with some interesting results. I always hope the series' readers find it sometimes funny, sometimes maddening, and that a few tears are shed along the way.
Enjoy this excerpt! And, if you feel like it, enter the contest to win a 4-eBook Bundle (the first four novels in the series).
Brady, up early for his run, had left the envelope on Ally’s bedside table.
Handwritten in small block letters were the words:
Paternal Suspect’s Identity
It wasn’t in Brady’s handwriting. Ally realized that it must have belonged to Francesca Upton, the private investigator Brady had hired to find Ally’s biological father.
The envelope was still sealed.
Brady never opened it.
With trembling hands, Ally nudged the flap open.
The only thing inside was a folded sheet of paper. A name and phone number were typed on it.
She stared down at the name:
Garrett Mitchell Hartley
All these years she’d wondered what he called himself. Seeing it in black and white gave her a chill.
Now I know.
When her shock subsided, questions flooded her thoughts. What did he do? Was he still married? Do I have siblings?
She stuck it in her pocket.
She waited until eight-thirty—when Brady was busy making breakfast with Oliver and Zoe—before calling.
The line rang six times before a man’s voice barked, “Yeah?”
“I’m…Ally Thornton,” she declared.
Except for the slight breeze tickling the ivy outside her window, time seemed to stand still. Finally, she said, “Do you know who I am?”
The man murmured, “Yes.”
Ally took a deep breath. “Are you…my father?”
The man sighed, but said nothing.
Impatiently, Ally added, “Am I supposed to take that as a yes?”
Then, from him: “I guess you’d like to meet me?”
It was her turn to let that one sit for a while. Finally: “Only if you make it worth my while.”
His chuckle was more like a cackle. As it flowed over her, so did memories of bear hugs, Old Spice, being tossed high in the air, scratchy kisses—
And her mother’s endless crying jags.
She was about to hang up when he said. “Let me buy you lunch today.”
“I…have a previous engagement.” Had she said it was a mommy meet-up, would he have been disappointed?
Probably, but for the wrong reason: not because she’d have chosen to be with her child instead of him, but because he’d have viewed her choice as mundane.
In his eyes, her mother had been mundane. It was why he’d left her.
He’d thrown down the gauntlet.
She’d made a promise to herself—and to Brady—to pick it up.
“I’ll make it worth your while.” Realizing that he was now using her taunt to him against her, she smiled grudgingly.
“I’ll re-arrange my meeting then. Where should we meet?”
“My home. Saratoga.” He paused. “Twelve-thirty. If need be, I’ll send a helicopter for you.”
Her laugh was mirthless. “How generous. But, no need to go to extremes. I’m in San Francisco, and the traffic isn’t that bad—yet.”
“Yes, I know where you are. I’ve always known.”
Hearing that, she murmured, “What does that say about you?”
He didn’t respond at first. Finally: “Don’t pass judgment yet.”
He was right. She did not know his side of the story. For that matter, she didn’t know her mother’s either. All she had were her scattershot childhood memories.
“Text me the address. I’ll see you at twelve-thirty.”
She hung up before she could change her mind.
A small piece of her was afraid he might change his mind as well.
Now, to break the news to Brady.
No, maybe that wasn’t a great idea after all.
Oliver’s squeal in response to Zoe’s giggle reminded her that she needed coverage for today’s meet-up.
She needed to call Jade.
Suddenly, she was frightened.
* * *
Each time she tried Jade’s number, it rolled over to voicemail.
Frustrated, Ally turned to Brady. “Why won’t Jade pick up her phone?”
“She’s not in town, silly. She and Reggie are skiing. His aide, Sam, has a cabin in Tahoe. Remember?”
“What?” Ally stared down at her cell phone. “But I thought they were gone just through the weekend!
I mean…doesn’t Reggie have school today?”
Brady snorted. “It’s the U.C. system. Because of budget cuts, classes don’t start for another four days.
Besides, he and Jade are taking advantage of the few days he has off before he leaves for London.”
“Oh.” Ally shrugged. “I was going to…you know—meet with…him.”
Brady’s eyes opened wide. “You talked to your dad?”
She nodded. “Just now.”
“Well, that’s a step in the right direction,” he murmured, awed.
“If you say so.” Her tone said it all: she felt she’d made a mistake. “If Jade can’t take them to the meet-up, can I leave them with you?”
Brady winced. “I have two VC meetings lined up today.”
At least that put a smile on Ally’s face. “Your stealth secret project?”
“Yep.” He put his arms around her. “Sorry, hon.” He snapped his fingers. “Hey, since Barry and
Christian’s honeymoon flight got canceled because of snow, maybe one of them can take the kids for the day.”
She nodded and dialed Barry’s number.
He picked up on the third ring. “Talk fast. I’m on my way into the office.”
Ally groaned. “But—you’re supposed to be on your honeymoon.”
“I might as well go in. It sure beats hanging around here listening to my beloved moan over the fact that he won’t be getting a Caribbean sunburn because every airport is snowed in between Denver and Charlotte.”
Brady grabbed the phone and yelled, “I warned you to choose Cancun.”
Ally pulled the phone away from him.
“Tell him he doesn’t need to rub it in,” Barry muttered.
“Instead of going into the office, why don’t you cover Zoe and Oliver for me so that I can meet my father?”
“For real?” For once, the tease went out of Barry’s voice.
“Yeah, for real.” Ally sighed. “I know you aren’t even supposed to be here. But since you are—”
“Baby, you know I’d do it, but I can’t today. Somehow Jillian’s ex-mother-in-law from hell got the court date for little Scotty’s hearing moved up to today.”
“You’re kidding!” Ally exclaimed. “I guess it’s a good thing, then, that your flight was canceled.”
Jillian Frederick, who was Ally’s business partner in their retail bakery shop, Life of Pie, was fighting her deceased ex-husband’s mother for the right to raise his infant son along with their twin toddler daughters, Addison and Amelia.
“Hey, Christian isn’t going into the salon today. Maybe he can watch Zoe.” Barry must have muffled the phone with his hand. Two minutes later, he was back on the line: “Christian said he’d love to look after our little princess.”
Ally winced. “Jade and Reggie are off skiing. That being said, Prince Oliver is also part of the deal.”
Again, the hand went over the phone, but not for long. When Barry came back on the line, he was laughing. “Sure, Christian says bring them both over.”
“Yes! Thank you—I mean, him!” she exclaimed. “Hey, what were you laughing about?”
“Christian bought a couple of princess gowns for Zoe. If Oliver wants to wear one, he was wondering if Brady would mind. The kid’s hair is long enough that he could certainly pass for a little girl—”
“I think we all know the answer to that,” she hissed. “Don’t even go there. Tell Christian that if they’re playing dress-up, a towel held up by a safety pin makes a wonderful Prince Charming cape.”
Barry chuckled. “Duly noted.”
“I’ll drop them off in an hour.” She blew a kiss into the phone before hanging up.
A part of her wished Christian had said no. She had no excuse to back out now.
She wondered, What do you wear when you’re seeing your father for the first time in thirty years?
Her father used to call her his “little princess.”
She had no desire to dress up. In fact, she knew she’d wear black.
(c) Josie Brown. All rights reserved.
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