The Closer You Come

By: Gena Showalter

CHAPTER ONE

Strawberry Valley, Oklahoma

Population 7,413 7,416

Drive Slow and See Our City,

Drive Fast and See Our Jail

BROOK LYNN DILLON was not a fan of mornings. Or afternoons. Or evenings. When a girl reached a certain level of exhaustion, every time of day sucked.

She’d bypassed that certain level, oh, about seven years ago when, at the tender age of eighteen, she’d begun working at Rhinestone Cowgirl. Despite what every tourist passing through town assumed, the RC wasn’t a strip club, thank you very much, but an up-and-coming jewelry store.

Her five-hour shift always kicked off at the butt crack of dawn, or as her mom used to say, before the rooster crows. Afterward she had sixty short minutes for a little R and R—the Reading and Reviewing of any new past-due notices—before working a ten-hour shift at Two Farms, the only “fine dining experience” within a fifty-mile radius. The description came directly from the owner, never mind that his idea of fine dining was using shiitake mushrooms in the beef Stroganoff instead of regular ones.

Today wouldn’t have been so bad if her sister had completed her own shift at Two Farms, but halfway to the finish line, Jessie Kay had taken off without saying goodbye, and Brook Lynn was forced to take over her tables to save both their jobs. At least her sister left a note in her locker.

Don’t stay in tonight. Go out and get drunk. Or, you know, at least pretend to be drunk. Your prudish ways are ruining our good name! XO JK

Brook Lynn had never hustled so hard for less reward. Her back and feet ached, and she wanted to go home and fall into some sort of coma even more than she wanted to win this week’s lottery. Fifteen million and counting!

But here she was. Her best friend, Kenna, had called to tell her Jessie Kay had taken her own advice and gotten trashed, partying hard at the Glass house, acting as if the male attendees were going to die if she didn’t give them a little mouth to mouth.

When Jessie Kay had a few too many “party favors,” she became very...popular. A good-time girl. Brook Lynn, Miss Responsible, had never been a good-time anything. Too many worries balanced on her shoulders.

Tonight’s worry? Tomorrow’s possible front-page headline of the Strawberry Daily: Former Beauty Queen Turned Slacker Fails to Control Her Whoremones—Again.

Not on my watch!

Brook Lynn stepped out of her car, a one-wheel-in-the-grave beater she’d named Rusty. Like a vacuum, her pores opened up and sucked the stiflingly hot air straight into her body, and not even the sweet, addictive scent of wild strawberries and magnolias made it better. She wiped a sudden sheen of sweat from her brow and marched up the dilapidated porch steps, her gaze sweeping over one of the largest homes in the parish. A hundred-year-old farmhouse in need of brand-new everything. White paint had chipped away, revealing rotten siding. Multiple wood slats had come loose, and the seal on several of the windows had broken, allowing moisture to pool between the panels.

Not altogether beautiful, but the fifty-two-acre spread had come with a greenhouse, a small dairy, two barns, a work shed, vegetable gardens and wild strawberry patches, all surrounded by hand-set stone walls.

Harlow Glass recently lost her family’s sprawling estate, and Lincoln West, a newcomer in town, had snapped it up. He was obviously more tech savvy than manual laborish, considering he’d done no actual work that Brook Lynn could see. Which made sense, she supposed. He’d just moved from Oklahoma City to enjoy good ole country living in Strawberry Valley, and it was common knowledge that big, bad city boys spent the bulk of their time sleeping around, coiffing their hair and posting pictures of food on the internet.

Brook Lynn had interacted with the guy on more than one occasion, and shockingly enough, she’d come to admire his dry wit and puffed-up ego. He loved to brag about his own magnificence, but the hint of humor in his tone always saved him from falling over the edge into obnoxious.