Best part was (phew!) people laughed in the right places, including at “Maybe when she went back to New York the scandal junkies would have found someone new to stick on a Pinterest.”
Here’s what I read. I hope you enjoy and get a laugh or two as well.
Love by the Numbers – Excerpt
by Karin Kallmaker
She skirted the car easily, wishing the newcomer had decided to show up tomorrow morning at the college. Her bike tires had skidded on an unexpected puddle and she’d fallen. The mud smearing her left side was not the impression of competence she wanted to make, and it was beyond all reasonable expectation that her mother would let her quietly slip back to her bedroom to clean up.
Sure enough, within seconds of opening the mudroom door she heard, “Nicole, we’re in the sitting room. Please come and meet Lily Smith.”
In spite of being self-conscious about her appearance she was taken aback by the sitting room tableau.
Her mother, animated and all smiles, was perched on the edge of the sofa. The assistant sat next to her, sipping tea from the good china.
Tea, before dinner. Tea, in the good china.
The hands so adroitly balancing the cup and saucer were delicate, the shapely legs were crossed, and the high heels were the kind of stylish that Nicole had never ever wanted to wear but had always found…intriguing.
The woman was setting her saucer on the side table and rising to her feet. Brassy blonde, perfect make-up, manicured nails, shimmering crystal earrings, green eyes.
She couldn’t be any older than Kate and the top of her head scarcely reached the height of Nicole’s shoulder.
They shook hands and exchanged names.
“Lily has agreed to stay to dinner,” her mother said.
“Perfect.” Nicole hoped any oddness in her demeanor would be put down to the mud. “I really must go change. I had a tumble off my bike.”
“And yet you still got here on time.” Kate, coming in from the porch, was giving her a look like she was in really deep trouble about something.
Her mother waved her away. Their voices faded as Nicole reached her bedroom.
She jumped when Kate spoke from behind her.
“You are so screwed.”
She turned in her open doorway to give Kate a puzzled look.
“She wrapped mom around her little finger in five seconds flat. You don’t stand a chance.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I know, you don’t need anyone, ever. Did you see her shoes? If those aren’t real Bruno Magli’s, I’m not pregnant. Though I haven’t a clue what happened to her hair. Looks like a beauty school dropout soaked it with bleach and then cut it with a butter knife.”
“What do her shoes have to do with Mom?”
Kate laughed. “You’re so stuck with this one.”
Shaking her head, Nicole left Kate to her ravings. She stripped off her slacks in the bathroom and examined the damage. The road rash was minimal—just a light scrape. She was away longer than she meant to be but by the time she returned to the sitting room she felt more human. She hoped her simple black slacks and plain white blouse would be sufficient to balance whatever Kate had meant about the assistant’s shoes.
Her mother and Ms. Smith were getting along so well that Nicole bypassed the sitting room and went instead to the dining room. If the good china was out, they were eating at the big table.
It was curious that when she had tried to look at Lily Smith she couldn’t focus. The simple crystal teardrop necklace was eye-catching and the turned back cuffs her of dress sleeves encircled shapely arms. Her eyeliner was amethyst, which brought out the green irises, but the more Nicole thought about it, the more she knew she hadn’t a clue about the shape of her nose or mouth, or a sense of her entire face. It was—ridiculous thought—as if she were afraid to look at the woman.
Knowing they would be in close quarters on the road was the likely cause of her reluctance, she decided. Her mother’s concerns for propriety aside, traveling with a man had not been the least bit threatening. Well, traveling with a woman wouldn’t be either. There was nothing about Lily Smith that pinged her gaydar, and Nicole felt that hers was exceptionally accurate. She had made a study of the cues and signs of other lesbians to avoid giving out any of her own. It was a decision that had made sense when she had known she would not marry and settle down as her mother and her mother’s brothers desired, and she had seen little more ahead of herself than the grind toward tenure and the repetition of research, publish, teach.
The irony of the author of Love by the Numbers: How Your DNA Forms Receptive Relationships not being the least bit interested in a relationship of her own wasn’t lost on her. Irony, however, was an emotional construct that created a false need to find resolution.
She heard Lily Smith’s husky laugh followed by her mother’s unmistakable titter and tried to school bitterness from her expression. Instead of the ease of simply putting on her leather jacket and visiting a club as many nights as possible, she was saddled with the epically feminine Lily Smith.
“This is truly delicious,” Lily said, and it was the truth. If this was an example of a casual meal, then Indira Hathaway was an excellent cook. “Thank you so much for letting me share this meal with you.”
Indira beamed. “What lovely manners you have. You are a credit to your mother, I am sure.”
She shook her head at her hostess. “I wasn’t being polite. This is wonderful. I haven’t had a home-cooked meal in years. I mean, one that I didn’t make for myself.”
“A girl like you—”
“Here we go,” Kate said.
“A girl like you,” Indira repeated with an arch look at Kate, “cannot possibly be single.”
“I am. No prospects either.”
“You’re embarrassing her, Mother.”
Nicole’s expression was fixed in lines of too-polite interest. Lily was disconcerted that Nicole had yet to meet her gaze or attempt to draw her into conversation to break the ice between them. For the most part, the good professor—younger than expected—was simply listening.
“It’s quite all right,” Lily said automatically. It was as good a time as any to practice her vague responses to someone who asked about her private life. “I’ve been very busy since leaving college.”
“My mother is right that you have good manners,” Kate said. “You haven’t asked about the baby’s father. I can’t go anywhere without people asking when I’m due and what sex my husband and I want for the baby. And touching my stomach, which drives me nuts.”
“It’s not an unnatural question,” Nicole commented. “You’re going to have to get used to people saying the baby takes after the father, or somesuch.”
“It might not be an unnatural question, but you don’t have to satisfy their curiosity just because they ask.” Lily realized she sounded as if she was rebuking Nicole, so she added quickly to Kate, “Strangers actually touch you? In nine-tenths of the world, that’s rude.”
“Really?” Nicole sipped from her water glass.
“Here we go,” Kate said.
Nicole continued as if Kate hadn’t spoken. “Ninety percent of the world’s cultures frown upon unwanted touching of a pregnant woman’s belly? Or did you mean ninety percent of the world’s population? In India, it’s considered good luck for a woman to touch a pregnant woman’s belly, and that would be nearly a half-billion women—roughly—right there. So you probably didn’t mean population.”
Lily gave Nicole a faint smile. “I was estimating the number of societies—roughly—that frown upon unwanted touching.”
“Is this something you’ve made a study of?”
“A curious area of study.”
“When you travel it’s a good idea to know the cultural mores of your host country. I’ll brief you when we travel to each new destination. Everything from ordering food, if tipping is expected. Avoiding cultural condescension. That sort of thing.” Lily tacked on a bright smile and scolded herself for her attitude. This was a job, a good job. Uncle Damon had told her she couldn’t quit, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t get fired.
Nicole continued to meet her gaze. Like her mother, she had deep brown eyes and a definite ascetic hook to her nose. She was thin, much the way Lily would think someone who biked daily would be, and her thick, straight hair wasn’t more than an inch or two past her ear-lobes.
“How useful you will be. My own Passepartout. Perhaps I could simply have access to your guides to study them myself.”
Kate said, with a snarky smile, “It’ll be good for you to have someone with you who can read a map.”
“Kate, if your point is that I’m not well-traveled, then you could simply say so. Sarcasm is a waste of time.”
Indira said to Lily, “They’ve always been like this. Sisters.”
“I don’t have any siblings,” Lily shared. The byplay between Kate and Nicole was enlightening—Kate brought out a less guarded streak in her sister. She had no problem believing that Nicole could be scathing when she wished to be. She pitied her students.
“And your parents?” Indira glared at her daughters as they subsided into silence. “They are living?”
“No, sadly, I lost them both some time ago.” She forestalled the expression of sympathy by adding, “That’s why I’m so grateful to join you tonight. It’s been a while since I’ve spent time with a family.”
“And you two do nothing but bicker,” Indira said to her daughters.
“I hadn’t noticed,” Lily said.
“Now you’re being polite.” Nicole set down her fork. “There’s no need. We were, in fact, bickering.”
“I’m not saying that you weren’t.” Lily could arch an eyebrow too. “I refuse to acknowledge it, which is quite different.”
“Are you in the habit of denying that something exists?”
“Yes.” Lily gave her the sweetest smile she could manage.
Nicole smiled back, for the first time. It reminded Lily of the Cheshire Cat. But all Nicole said was, “I see.”
Later that evening, after Lily checked into one of the motels on the main highway, she reflected on the undertone of the evening’s conversation with the dear professor. Nicole had seemed always ready to spar, which Lily didn’t understand.
Over dessert, Lily had realized why her reaction to Nicole had been prickly. It wasn’t just that Nicole was arrogant and distant. Her cold brown eyes reminded Lily of one of the prosecutors who had grilled her for hours about her knowledge of her parents’ business dealings. So certain of facts, so quick to accuse. The prosecutor had brought out Lily’s sarcastic side, which had only gotten her into more trouble. Nicole Hathaway touched the same raw nerve.
Well, she couldn’t quit, and only Uncle Damon could fire her, so she would have to find the best frame of mind to get through it. She was living almost free for a few months and maybe when she went back to New York the scandal junkies would have found someone new to stick on a Pinterest.
Nevertheless, it was best the good professor learn right away that Lily was perfectly aware when someone was trying to make her feel inadequate. Picking at a casual comment like whether it was appropriate to touch a pregnant woman’s stomach—that had been condescending. The dear professor had no idea exactly how well trained Lily was in certain things.
Academic snobbery was nothing compared to the acid bites of wealthy people with nothing else to do but belittle each other. Professor Dr. Nicole Hathaway, Ph.D., P.I.T.A, might think her expertise in behavioral science made a formidable weapon in a battle of wits, but Lily had been schooled in bitchery by the best.
Smart people who lacked basic social graces made interesting detectives and might be useful to save the day when world crises threatened, but who wanted to spend three non-stop months in their company?
It was childish and not a good omen that she fell asleep thinking, Bring it on, bee-yatch.
Copyrighted material, uncorrected proof, 2017
Read the latest about this novel here.
ISBN 13: 978-1-59493-318-9
288 page / 95,000 words
Bella Books, Inc.
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