Shy Girl Sneak Peek
Dagny: Hernandez brought another date into the coffee shop tonight!
The text flew out of my fingers the very moment I could realistically send it without looking like a crazy stalker woman. Some magic in my phone sent it across space and over to my best friend, Serafina.
Her reply came seconds later.
A smile slipped across my face, but I stifled it. A quick glance to the other side of the Frolicking Moose Coffee Shop confirmed that Jayson Hernandez still sat at the same table where he always sat. This week, he spoke to a lovely woman with dark eyes and delicate hands that belonged on a diamond commercial.
Dagny: Third date, three weeks in a row. Comes every Friday night. Like clockwork, this one.
Dots appeared on the screen to indicate her reply. So I didn’t look like too much of a slacker, I reached for a rag to wipe down the counter for the third time and prayed no one came through the drive-through.
Serafina: With a new girl each time?
Dagny: So far. I’ve only been working at the coffee shop for three weeks, so maybe she’s come before?
Serafina: And the Diner still misses you but it was the right move for you to leave. Back to Hernandez—is he a player or something, you think?
Her question swirled around my mind as I stole another glance at Hernandez. Truly, neither of us knew Jayson Hernandez well—despite the fact I went to high school with him. Was he a player? No. He could be, with those thick shoulders, razor-sharp instincts, and a confidence that carried him places. The way-too-long eyelashes and quick smile certainly didn’t help matters.
But he wasn’t a player.
Dagny: Doubt it.
Serafina: I feel like we’d know if he was trying to date, so what is going on and why hasn’t he asked you out?
A laugh almost bubbled out of me. I shook my head as I replied.
Dagny: How would you *know* if he was trying to date?! That makes NO sense.
Serafina: Mountain life rarely does, I’ve found. Maybe the girls he brings are friends?
But I doubted it. There was a sense of warmth and friendliness in all the women he visited with, but they didn’t strike me as friends. Generally, I had a good read on people, but in this situation, I felt turned upside down because nothing was clear.
Particularly not the ritualistic aspect of the mystery. The way the girls changed every week, arrived in separate cars, departed with a kiss on the cheek, and nothing else. The same routine repeated for the last three weeks.
A definitive mystery.
Serafina: Is he in his deputy uniform?
Dagny: Not tonight.
Serafina: That’s better. You’ll drool over him less. He’s suuuuuper hawt in the uniform.
In that, she certainly wasn’t wrong.
Dagny: Are you still madly in love with Benjamin?
Serafina: SO madly.
Dagny: Your life is a fairytale.
Serafina: So is yours. You’re still just in the scrubbing floors phase of your Cinderella story. Will you send me a pic of Hernandez and this girl? I need to sum her up.
Dagny: That is SO creepy. No.
Serafina: Fiiiiiine. Next Friday, I’ll just drop in and we can text each other the way she rates. You know, like he always rates everything? It will be hysterical.
The unexpected voice startled me out of the text message, and I fumbled to avoid dropping my phone. With my luck, the whole screen would shatter.
When I looked up, a familiar pair of dark eyes, like melted chocolate, stared at me. Jayson Hernandez stood before me in a button-up white shirt and a pair of jeans. Such a casual outfit belied his natural intensity. I’d die of mortification if he saw an entire text message thread about him on my phone. My stutter horrified me enough.
With a gulp, I clicked my phone off and shoved it in my back pocket. “N-no.” I forced a smile. “N-n-not exactly.”
He grinned and set the empty coffee mug on the counter between us. Of the hundreds of mugs, he’d chosen the one with the Mexican flag. His date had chosen a water bottle, and she tucked it into her purse now while surreptitiously fixing her hair in the window reflection.
So what did they talk about over water and coffee?
“Thanks again, Dagny.” He held up a thumb. “Five stars. Perfect coffee as always. Just the right amount of creamer.”
I nodded instead of speaking, less out of shock at his proximity—which sometimes happened when I could smell him—and more out of a trained habit not to speak unless I absolutely had to.
He turned to leave with another quick wave and the girl followed him out.
Once they faded into the darkening parking lot, I let out a gut-deep breath, bent in half, and pressed my forehead to the cool metal of the counter. The chilly feeling against my skin had an oddly grounding response, like a ripple through my body.
No was the only response I could come up with?
A thousand other words ran through my mind now that he wasn’t melting me with his deep eyes, but I dismissed them. No was innocuous, acknowledging, and friendly. He’d clearly asked the girl here on a date. The last thing I needed to do was step in and try to flirt. That always led to a disaster.
How did people flirt anyway?
Besides, my crush on Jayson Hernandez had lasted long enough. Years, in fact. Right back to high school, when I existed in the shadows and he lived in the limelight. Hernandez had been a senior my sophomore year. He lettered in baseball, had a reputation as a kind but disinterested jock, and held a place high on the Honor roll.
He and a group of three other friends had been known for living life on the edge with stupid stunts, and they chronicled all of it through the legendary C-tape. In fact, the ancient C-tape had once circulated past my eyes, and I’d gaped in shock that it had been real. The only way I’d been able to watch it was an ancient VCR in the library. I’d walked by the back storage room while Jayson and a few other baseball team players laughed over one of them skateboarding while holding a rope and getting pulled by a truck.
The C-tape was the only physical proof of some of their idiotic ideas. Skiing down a church with a steep slope. Cliff jumping off 100-foot cliffs. Skateboarding down steep, paved roads on longboards. They even put a ramp on the roof of the local bank and tried to snowboard off of it into a jump at the end.
Meanwhile, I’d been known for . . .
. . . nothing.
Certainly not my stutter, nor my mom’s reputation for crazy, both things for which I’d worked very hard to avoid repute. Anonymity was just what I’d wanted.
When the bell on the Frolicking Moose tinkled, I tucked those thoughts into the back of my mind, straightened up too fast, and my head whirled for a second. Once the dizzy feeling cleared, my gaze focused on a middle-aged woman as she advanced into the coffee shop.
Her trembling hand wrapped around a small, black gun.
A mixture of uncertainty, confusion, and terror filled me like a flood of cold water. Was she carrying . . . was that . . . no. While my thoughts attempted to recover themselves, she’d crossed the room and stood a few steps away from the counter.
Definitely a real gun.
A designer purse that gleamed with red sequins and gold trim hung from her other arm. Stilettos had cracked as they walked across the floor, as shiny and red as her purse. Her hair was tied away from her face in a once-elegant chignon that lost itself to tendrils falling around her face. My gaze darted up to cold, bloodshot eyes, and my whirling thoughts fell utterly silent.
“Let’s make this easy,” she said breathlessly. “All I want is whatever cash you have in the register and a quiet exchange. Then I’ll leave you alone.”
For a split second, I thought of saying no. What would my boss, Maverick, say? Shouldn’t I put up some kind of fight? But the urge passed out of me in a moment. No, I wasn’t about to go down for a coffee shop. Instead, I stared at the empty, round barrel that faced my direction and swallowed.
Her nostrils flared. The skin around her knuckles was white when she dropped the sequined purse on the counter with her other arm.
“Put it in there.”
I reached for the cash register no sale button and pressed it. The drawer chugged out with a high-pitched ching and I wondered if I could buy time. To do what? Fight her? Not happening. I hesitated as I looked at the empty slots in the drawer.
She straightened to peer inside the register, then frowned.
“That’s it?” she hissed.
My hands began to shake as I calmly reached for what few bills lay inside. A few $1 bills, two $10, and three $20 came out. I piled them together.
“Q-q-q-qu-i-i-iet n-n-night,” I managed to say. Under duress, my stutter became worse than ever. I didn’t have the ability to tell her Maverick cleared the till and took the money to the bank earlier today before the bank closed.
Her upper lip curled in disgust.
“Oh r-r-really?” she muttered in a grating, high-pitched voice meant to mock me. “Well that’s not enough!”
Her rising shout brought the rest of her hair tumbling around her shoulders. She lifted the gun a little higher, so it felt like it pointed right between my eyes. I gulped, able to see the gaunt lines of her face now. At first glance, she’d appeared to be a striking woman. Now, the truth was so obvious. Too thin. Cracked lips. As if she tried to hold onto a former, healthy, more vibrant version of herself.
A drug addict, maybe?
“Where’s the rest?” she demanded.
“C-c-credit,” I said. “M-m-most people p-p-pay with cards.”
She scowled, then nodded to the purse with a quick jerk of her head. “Put it in.” I obeyed, then she motioned to the drawer again. “The coins too.”
I scrambled to get the coins out. They felt slippery, as if coated in butter. The promise of the gun sent my mind into a tailspin as I tried to collect the change. I just wanted her to leave. Didn’t want this to be real, or my final end. Getting shot in a coffee shop? How could that be my life? No, I wasn’t this kind of person. I lived a quiet, gentle life. I would not be some druggie’s desperate attempt for money.
Certainly not, as I just about cracked one of my life’s greatest mysteries.
Just as I gathered the last of the quarters, the door cracked open behind her. The woman’s head whipped around just in time to see Jayson re-enter. My heart lurched into my throat during the second that it took him to process the scene. Just as the woman canted her hips to swing the gun around to him, my hand shot out. The edge of my palm smacked her wrist and she let out a little cry.
Then she disappeared beneath a hulking blur of white and brown.
The clatter of a gun falling to the floor and a shout of pain followed. Two seconds of silence passed before I managed to ask,“J-j-jayson?”
“Fine,” he called. “Call 9-1-1. Tell them what’s happening.”
I reached for the phone in my back pocket and, after three attempts to type in my passcode, I finally got it right. My fingers trembled as I dialed 9-1-1, then waited while the phone rang dully. Another voice came on the line.
“9-1-1. What’s your emergency?”
For a moment, it felt as if my tongue was glued to the top of my mouth. My lips would no sooner form the words need help than my body could fly. The operator spoke again, her voice pressured.
Panic and frustration made my mind fuzzy until I forced myself to calm.
There is no pressure for me to speak.
Finally, like a dam giving way, the words exited my throat. “N-n-need he-e-elp,” I cried. “F-frolicking M-m-moose. G-gun!”
The operator chattered a response, but I ignored her to scramble around the counter. Jayson lay on top of the woman, the gun barely out of reach. I hurried over and kicked it out of the way as he struggled to get a flailing arm under his control. Once she was fully subdued, and screaming like a wild thing into the tile, he glanced up at me.
“Help coming?” he asked, his face a mask of concentration as he held her pinned to the floor.
“Good work, Dag.”
His praise came seconds after the first siren screamed down the street toward us. Red and blue lights whirled outside, seconds away as they barreled down the Main Street in the quiet mountain town of Pineville.
“Wh-what can I d-do?”
“Nothing.” He sent me a quick grin, one that I’d seen on a crappy video years ago when I stole a sneak at the C-tape. “I got this.”
I am so thrilled to bring Stella Marie and Mark to life here in Runaway. This book came together like it was meant to be.
Srsly tho, I adore them! I just know you will, too.
Click here to preorder your copy!