The best thing about the holidays is giving, not getting. I feel very blessed this year. One way in which I plan to give back is to play Secret Santa for one lucky reader. The prize: a $50 gift card to the book store of your choice.
Here's how it works:
1. Read this excerpt of my latest novel, Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives. The set-up: a holiday potluck at the local country club of my heroine, Lyssa Harper. She's befriended Harry Wilder, a recently separated stay-at-home father, to the consternation–make that envy–of the women who were once her closest friends: Brooke, Tammy, Margot, and Colleen.
After you read the excerpt, below, everything you do, also listed here, gives you yet another chance to win this gift. For example, you can:
2. Comment below about one character, and how his/her actions made you, smile, laugh, cry, or shake your head in wonder. (earns you 1 chance)
3. Post about my Secret Santa Contest on your Facebook page, this way (1 chance per post, per day):
Want a chance to win a $50 giftcard to your favorite bookstore? Just enter @Josie Brown's Secret Santa Contest: http://bit.ly/fK1Uy3
4. Post about my Secret Santa Contest on your Twitter page, this way (1 chance per post, per day):
Want a chance to win a $50 giftcard to your favorite bookstore? Just enter @JosieBrownCA's Secret Santa Contest: http://bit.ly/fK1Uy3
5. Friend me on my Facebook Fan Page (1 chance)
6. Friend me on my Twitter Page (1 chance)
7. Blog about it! (2 chances)
I'll be keeping a running list of all entrants, here, and updated every evening by Midnight PT of Christmas Day, December 25, 2010, when the contest ends. The winning entry will be chosen out of a Santa hat, by one of my favorite booksellers, sometime on December 26th. That person's nickname will be posted here, and on the Entrants page.
Good luck, and have a happy merry holiday!
In bookstores June 1, 2010. Order it TODAY!
"Hollywood's got nothing on the cast of characters living in the bedroom community of Paradise Heights, who have the secrets, sex, money and scandal of an OK! Magazine cover story. Josie Brown is a skilled observer whose clever dialogue and feisty style make for truly entertaining reading." –Jackie Collins, Hollywood Wives
The clubhouse is buzzing with polite laughter and forced cheer. Everyone is there, even the Undesirables. What better way to elicit envy than to open the red velvet rope to the wannabes every now and then?
Crammed onto the tables lining the center of the room are a myriad of leftovers, which are more than the sum total of a few carefully chosen, specifically measured ingredients. While these dishes are served up with pride, they are also leavened with memories both fond and wince-worthy.
I speak for myself. Yesterday left a bittersweet taste in my mouth.
I’m only here to eat up time until Ted and I can talk things out later this evening. Does he have reason to be jealous? Not on Harry’s account. I appreciate Harry’s friendship, and I know this feeling is reciprocated. But let’s face facts: he has never come onto me.
Okay, yeah, I’ll admit it. That disappoints me. It’s not that I’m looking for an affair. I wouldn’t trade the friendship and respect Harry and I share now for that. . .
But hell, if Ted is going to accuse me of it anyway —
Not to mention Tammy and the others on the Heights Women’s League Board.
Just what the hell are they staring at, anyway? Seems they can’t keep their eyes off us.
But of course not. Because they want validation that what they suspect is true.
This is why they assess—make that obsess—over every move we make.
They take note of the way in which Harry hovers over me protectively. How his asides are addressed to me alone. How he scans my face appreciatively.
Then they wait for my reaction. I’m fully aware that, if I dare lean into him, eyebrows will be raised. If, involuntarily, I laugh out loud, they’ll poke each other knowingly. And heaven forefend I should allow my eyes to meet his! If that happened, rumors would race through the room almost as quickly as the children here, who are hopped up on soda, pie and ice cream.
“Hey, you haven’t heard a word I’ve said, have you?” Harry says this as if it were a joke, but the sadness in his eyes is proof he knows he’s right.
“Sure I have. You were—something about . . .Okay, sorry, I give up.” I force a smile onto my lips.
“If I’m boring you, feel free to play with your girlfriends. I won’t be jealous.” He flashes a knowing smile, but I reel in my tendency to punch him in the arm for it. Instead I shake my head. Anything more obvious will give them reason to presume they’re onto something:
That what we have is more than just wishful thinking on their parts.
And on mine.
“Go up to Margot and her court? Thanks, smart ass, but I’ll pass on the honor.” Oddly, that thought is liberating.
“Eventually you’ll have to say something. In a month’s time you’ll be their new queen. Won’t it help if you cozy up to Margot?”
“You know, I could say the same to you. Shouldn’t you two kiss and make up?”
He derisive guffaw has them all aflutter. “The price is too high.”
Yeah, well I feel the same way.
“Hey, wait here I’m going to see if I can take care of this stain.” I head off to the lavatory, but when I get there, I find the door locked. I hear a weird pounding on the other side, so I wait a few minutes before knocking again.
Finally it opens. Masha Shriver struts out. Her crass brass locks flares out from her head, like Medusa’s snakes gone wild. Her winter white dress defies gravity. It’s strapless and boasts a neckline that plunges below her navel. Considering the amount of rain we’ve been getting, her deep tan is unexpected, not to mention unusual in color. (For the record, I am of the opinion that bruised papaya is not a good look.)
Masha is not alone. Despite his guilty look, I recognize the man who is still zipping up his pants as he maneuvers past me as one of our friendly neighborhood bankers.
Apparently the Shrivers’ account is paying off with some unexpected dividends.
“Oh . . . I’m sorry. I just needed to . . . You’re Masha, right? I’m Lyssa. I’m a friend of Pete’s.” At a loss for what to do next, I stick out my hand.
Very awkward. Pete’s name does not elicit the response I’d expected. Instead she glares at me, as if I’ve just cursed her firstborn. (Despite the hickey Tanner received the night of the poker game compliments of her daughter Natassia, I don’t feel that would be necessary. It was bound to happen sooner or later.)
“Pete? Ah, LYZZA. Yez, I know of yooouuu!” I don’t know if it’s her Slavic accent that has her slurring her words, or her vodka intake, but I’m willing to guess the latter. The fumes from her breath have me reeling. As she grabs me by the shoulders with both hands and hugs me to her chest, she whispers in my ear: “Streep poker, yez? Not to worry. I not mad. You see, I have ’hobby,’ too! But, hey, not one verd to my Pete, dah?” She pushes me away.
I stumble into the bathroom, bruised from where she held my shoulders. I’m sure I have two contusions on my chest that match whatever nipple armor she’s bearing.
I’ve been marked in another way, too: Thanks to Masha’s spray-on tan, my brand new sweater has been tagged with her fingerprints and a faint V that matches her neckline.
“Damn it! Damn it!” The soup has already dried into a dark, impenetrable shadow, while dabbing at the new stains only spread them into a treacly Orangina.
My new outfit is ruined. Would it help if I bang my head against the wall? Nah. But if I’d die, they’d have an obvious clue for a murder suspect.
Then there’s the issue about Pete. He is a buddy after all. If he were a girlfriend, of course I’d speak up. But what is the mancode about such things?
Harry knows the code. And since I don’t need any more enigmas in my life, tag he’s it.
I find Harry chatting up Biker Mom. When he sees me, he waves me over. Instinctively I glance around to see if Brooke is anywhere around. Oh great, she’s glaring at him from across the room. Between this and my most recent introduction to a supposedly friendly face, I don’t need to a frantic call later from Brooke, calling me a traitor.
Seeing my concern, Harry excuses himself and casually meanders over. “What, you’re not into making new friends?” As he plucks a cookie off a dessert tray, he does a doubletake at the new stains on my sweater. “She promised me a ride in her Maseratti. I was going to ask if you could tag along, but now I don’t know. I mean, what if you stain her seats?”
“Forget the joy ride, Andretti. We have bigger fish to fry. I just caught Masha in the lady’s room with First National Bank of Paradise Heights.” I tilt my head in the direction of Masha’s boyfriend, who is scurrying after her into the clubhouse’s coatroom. Even from where I’m standing I can see a large orange streak on his sweater. He is a marked man. “What’s the protocol? Do we tell Pete?”
“Jesus.” Harry closes his eyes for a moment. And shakes his head. “Yeah, well, I’d want to know. Wouldn’t you?”
“Of course!” Harry was right. Yesterday’s tiff with Ted now seems silly. I can’t wait for him to come home.
Harry tosses the last crumb of cookie into his mouth and wipes his hands. “Well, when you tell him, be gentle—”
“Whoa, whoa, wait . . . who, me? Think again, slick. You’re his closest friend.”
Harry groans. “If I remember correctly, that was your doing.” It takes a while, but he nods. “Okay, but I don’t think this is the time or the place.”
“I leave it to your discretion.” I give him a thumbs-up. “Oh great, Brooke is coming over, I guess to call you a traitor.”
He laughs. “Is that better or worse than an Undesirable? I forget.”
“In your case, it’s one and the same.” I glance around the room for our salvation. It comes in the form of Cal, who is standing uncomfortably beside Bev. True to form, Bev is oblivious to this. She has trapped the Emersons in a corner. No doubt she’s giving them a pitch about a house she knows would be perfect for them, now that they’re pregnant again and will need the extra space.
“Why don’t we save Cal instead? The girls are downright afraid of him, so that should keep them away for while.”
Immediately I move in, tapping Bev lightly on the shoulder. “Hi, Bev! I just want to thank you for putting in that call to the Heights Market regarding the Food Drive. It’s what made the drive an over-the-top success.”
As Bev turns to me to say something, the Emersons see their opportunity and scurry away. I see by the look in her eyes that she’s is tempted to run after them, but realizes this is bad form, even for her. “Oh yeah, hi, Lyssa! Glad I could be of some help. Really, it was Calvin’s idea, but hey, all in the family, right?”
“You know Harry Wilder, right?” I move to the side so that Harry can shake her hand.
“Yes! I mean, of course I know of you—” She looks at him curiously. “—Well, about the . . . you know–”
"My poker games? I hope Cal attending doesn’t interfere –”
“Cal? Oh, yes! Not at all! So sweet of you to have him over! But what I meant is that, with the way the divorce is going and all, you’ll probably need this—”
She pulls out a refrigerator magnet. On it is her profile and name, with that patented Bev Bullworth slogan: Great Service, No Bull—
Harry stares down at it. “Thanks . . .I guess.”
“It’s so you’ll remember to call me! You know, when you’re ready to buy your condo.” She expresses just right amount of sympathy. “Cal tells me you’ll want to stay in the neighborhood and keep commuting in, so that you can be close to the kids. You know, one of those new units they’ve built off Main have come available. It isn’t so roomy, granted. But the HOA is very small—”
“Why would I want a condo? I already have a house.” He glares at Cal, who backs away from Bev, horrified. Whatever hole she’s digging for herself, he is not going to jump into it with her.
“Yes, but not for long. You know how these things usually go. DeeDee’s got the natural edge—”
“Is that what you think? That, just because she’s the woman, she’s a better mother than I am a father?”
“Well . . . I . . . No, of course not!” Bev’s backpedalling is insincere despite her cheeriness. “But it never hurts to be prepared, right? Eventually, when the court rules on the situation, you’ll have to give up the ghost—”
I put my hand on Harry’s arm so that he remembers where he is, but he shrugs it off. I’m too late anyway. Slackened jaws, including many stuffed with leftovers, hang open as everyone tunes in on our little drama. Margot smiles triumphantly. To her mind, Harry’s comeuppance–at the hand of Bev Bullworth, no less!—is just dessert.
“Thanks for your concern.” Harry’s words are brittle and empty. “But do me a favor and give it a break, at least until the court ruling. Better yet, here–” He hands her back her magnet. “Save it for the next time you see DeeDee.”
Before she can say anything else, Harry walks off in the direction of the front door. I follow him out, as does Cal.
“Wait, Harry! Look . . .I’m sorry Bev said all those stupid things.” Cal hangs his head. “Sometimes she speaks before she thinks.”
“She’s just parroting back the party line around here.” Harry shrugs. “Ah, shit, here comes Pete. I guess we should tell him about Tanner’s and Jake’s suspensions.” Harry shifts uneasily, but waves our friend over anyway. “Do you want to do the honors, or shall I?”
“By that long face, maybe he already knows.”
I’m poise to verify this, but Pete brushes me aside. “Anyone seen Masha?”
Harry gives me a warning nudge. He doesn’t have to worry. Since I’ll have to break the news about Tanner and Jake’s tomfoolery, the last thing I’m going to mention is Masha’s, too.
“Damn! She asked me to go home and get her sweater because she felt a chill. I guess she forgot her coat is right here, in the coatroom.” He rushes off down the hall.
Harry and I look at each other, then take off after him, with Cal trailing after us.
But we’re too late. We get there just in time to see him freeze over his wife, who is in a love tussle with the guy who doles out the cash from his trust fund.
In a flash he yanks Masha’s boyfriend up by his hair. What comes off in his hand has Pete turning white. Those who suspected BofPH sports a toupee can now collect on their bets.
Livid, the guy flails back at Pete. Unfortunately for him Pete’s daily workouts give him a leg up. Pete’s lip may be split, but it’s BofPH’s nose that’s pushed out of joint.
Cal and I brace for what Pete might have in store for Masha as he lifts her, naked, out of the coat nest she and her lover made on the floor. Seeing her that way only confirms what I suspected since our run-in: yep, she does indeed have an all-over tan.
At this point a good smack won’t make up for my stained sweater, but I have to admit it would give me some satisfaction. Instead, Pete cradles his wife in his arms. “Did he hurt you? I swear, if he did—”
She shrugs, but the look on her face reflects what we’re all thinking:
You poor, pathetic, fool.
Closing the door behind us, Harry shakes his head in disbelief. “Unbelievable! Now, that’s what I call ’denial.’ Doesn’t he see what’s happening?”
It’s on the tip of my tongue to say “No, because he doesn’t want to” but I keep quiet. What’s the point? I’m guessing we’ve all been there at one time or another.
Excerpted from Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives by Josie Brown.
Copyright © 2010 by Josie Brown. Published in June 2010 by Simon & Schuster/Downtown Press. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.