Cover, Excerpt & Trailer
The It Girls Book One
Haven't you ever told a little lie in the name of love?
Vivia Grant couldn’t be happier. She has her dream job and is about to marry her dream man. Does it really matter that she’s led him to believe she’s a virgin? After all, being in love makes every experience feel like the first time anyway! But an unexpected encounter with an ex-lover is about to expose her embarrassing lie…
When Vivia’s fiancé discovers the truth, he ends their engagement—via text—and uses his connections to get her fired. Unemployed and heartbroken, Vivia begins planning her new future—as a homeless spinster. But her best friend has a better idea. They’ll skip the Ben & Jerry’s binge and go on Vivia’s honeymoon instead. Two weeks cycling through Provence and Tuscany, with Luc de Caumont, a sexy French bike guide. Too bad Vivia’s not a big fan of biking. And she’s abysmal at languages. Will she fib her way through the adventure, or finally learn to love herself—and Luc—flaws and all?
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Content/Theme(s): Humor, Jilted Bride
Release Date: May 12, 2015
Publisher: Kensington Lyrical
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Welcome, Nathaniel and Vivia Edwards!
The first thing I see when I step off the high-speed train and onto the TGV platform is a willowy French woman holding a large sign with what would have been my married name printed on it. Welcome, Nathaniel and Vivia Edwards. It’s like the universe is mocking me, saying, “Go ahead and try to forget Nathan.”
The chic French woman notices me staring at the sign and walks over.
“Bonjour, Madame Edwards! Welcome to Montpellier.” She looks over my shoulder at the passengers disembarking. “But where is Monsieur Edwards?”
Fanny is still retrieving her large rolling suitcase and has not yet joined me on the platform. I, however, am sans bags. According to the Air France Spécialiste des Bagages at Charles de Gaulle, my luggage has “pris un détournement.” Translation: taken a diversion. Actual meaning: is sitting on a carousel in Zurich, Copenhagen, or Madrid because we employ people who are either too stupid or too inconsiderate to care what happens to your flatiron and La Perla panties.
I stare at the sign in mute misery while struggling to construct a plausible explanation for my fiancé’s conspicuous absence.
“You are Vivia Edwards, aren’t you?”
“Fabulous,” she says, though with her accent the word comes out more like fob-oo-liss. She leans in and kisses both my cheeks. “I am Chantal de Caumont, one of the owners of Aventures Caumont. As you know, Aventures Caumont offers guided luxury bike and cultural tours of Southern France and Tuscany. It is our greatest wish to cater to your whims while broadening your horizons. If you need anything to make your adventure more enjoyable, anything at all, please do not hesitate to ask.”
Having wrangled her massive suitcase off the train, Fanny joins me in time to hear Chantal’s welcome. Chantal looks at Fanny and her smooth brow wrinkles.
“Now then, where is Monsieur Edwards? Is he still on the train?”
Fanny deposits her Louis Vuitton carry-on atop her suitcase and fixes Chantal with a bright smile.
“Bonjour, Madame,” Fanny says in her sing-song French. “Je suis Stéphanie Girard Moreau, ami de Vivia. Monsieur Edwards ne vient pas…”
My linguistic deficits prevent me from keeping up with Fanny’s rapid French. I translate a few words. Friend. Sad. Affair. Marriage. Small chicken. I thought I heard Fanny say petit poulet, but I can’t imagine what a small chicken has to do with my breakup.
When Fanny finally stops speaking, Chantal clucks her tongue and looks at me as if I am a crippled orphan scooting around on an old skateboard, panhandling for coins so I can buy food for my faithful flea-bitten cocker spaniel.
I wonder what this pretty French woman must think of me, the poor, jilted Américaine and her histoire d’amour tragique.
My smile wobbles, and tears prick my eyes. What a pathetic mess I must look to this chic little French woman. I can almost hear her thoughts.
La! Look at this tragic woman, discarded by her lover, and now destined to a loveless life, with only a herd of cats to keep her company.
If I do not excuse myself, I will burst into tears in the middle of the TGV station.
“Pardon moi, Où se trouvent les toilettes?” I ask, phonetically sounding out one of the few French phrases I have managed to master.
I have tried to learn French, but despite my best efforts I can do little more than utter basic messages like: Je voudrais commander un café au lait, which means I would like a coffee with milk. Useless, since I don’t even drink coffee.
Fanny points me in the direction of the women’s bathroom, and I sprint down the corridor.
I stare in the mirror. I am a shadow of my former self. I wonder if this is what it’s like to have Alzheimer’s. Strands of hair have slipped from my ponytail and hang limply over my shoulders. My mascara has formed circles around my eyes, giving me that rabid raccoon look. A button is missing from my J. Crew cardigan and a quarter sized stain mars my blouse. I am one tramp-stamp away from joining the People of Walmart.
You’ve seen those awful pictures that circulate on the Internet of people caught on camera at Walmart wearing daisy dukes and wife beaters? Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. It would give me somewhere to go on Saturday nights. I wouldn’t even have to dress up. I picture myself standing in the ice cream aisle, wearing poodle print fleece pajamas, and holding a tub of Ben and Jerry’s. Groaning, I lick my finger and try to rub the mascara from my face.
“What happened to you?”
An elderly woman comes in and stares at me through the mirror.
“Are you okay?” she asks in a heavy French accent.
Am I okay? Three days ago, I was picturing myself wearing a Vera Wang wedding gown while exchanging “I do’s” with the man of my dreams, and now I’m planning hook-ups in Walmart’s frozen food aisle.
No, Madame, I am not well!
Hysterical laughter burbles up my throat.
When I don’t answer, the helpful bystander clutches her bag to her chest and hurries out of the bathroom.
I fish my iPhone out of my purse and jab the power button.
Once it has powered up, I perform my routine check of texts/e-mails/voicemails/Facebook updates to see if any of the messages are from Nathan.
Nope. Not a one.
There is, however, a private Facebook message from Travis Trunnell.
Hang on! I never accepted Travis Trunnell’s friend request and my privacy settings prevent strangers from sending me direct messages, so how… Fanny! My well-meaning meddlesome best friend must have accepted the request when she loaded the first ring photo.
Vivia: I am sorry about what happened the other night at Snob. Drew can be a real ass when he’s had too much to drink. Actually, he can be an ass when he’s sober, too. Anyway, I never meant to embarrass you or make you uncomfortable. I hope your fiancé wasn’t too angry. TT
I type out a response.
As a matter of fact, my fiancé was livid. He broke off the engagement.
I hit reply and stand in the middle of the empty bathroom staring at the inbox icon. A second later, a red number one appears on the screen, alerting me of a new message. I push the icon and read Travis Trunnell’s response.
That might not be such a bad thing. He seemed uptight. Obviously, he’s not the man for you
WTF? What makes Travis Trunnell think he can just swirl into my life like an F5 tornado and rearrange things? Does he even realize the destruction his reappearance caused? I type my angry response, my fingers jabbing the small keys.
Really? You haven’t seen me in years. You don’t know me.
I hit reply and hold my breath. Travis’s response is immediate.
LOL. I know you, Vivia.
I am standing in a bathroom stall in France, arguing with stupid old Travis Trunnell. I glance over my shoulder to make sure I am still alone and then type my reply.
Oh really? If Nathan, my fiancé, is not the right man for me, who is?
Sweat trickles down my sides and between my breasts. Talking to Travis makes my pulse race, not in a medically worrisome “grab the defibulator STAT” kinda way either.
My phone blings as Travis Trunnell’s response hits my mailbox
My heart flips. I hurriedly exit Facebook and turn off my iPhone. I’ll say one thing for the cowboy; he has balls bigger than a Texas sky at night. I make one last swipe at the dried mascara ringing my eyes and rejoin my shamelessly sneaky best friend and our chic guide.
Chantal leads us out of the train station to a sleek Mercedes S600 idling in the parking lot.
“Fanny has told me about your lost bags,” Chantal says, opening the back door and gesturing for me to get into the air conditioned luxury vehicle.
I feel like a rock star.
“Do not worry. I will call a contact I have at Air France. Your bags will be located. I promise.”
“Pfff,” Chantal says. “It is nothing. And please, call me Chantal.”
Fanny climbs into the Mercedes, and for a moment we are alone in the posh car. She runs her hands over the expensive leather seat and smiles.
“Nathan might be a sanctimonious douchebag, but he’s a douchebag who knows how to roll in style. This car is amazing.”
The driver’s door opens and Chantal slides behind the wheel.
“Our journey to the château will take approximately seventy minutes. You will find bottles of chilled water and champagne in the compartment between your seats. Please help yourselves. I will, of course, point out any interesting landmarks, but first, we have prepared a short cinematic preview of your impending adventure.”
Chantal pushes a button and the television screens attached to the backs of the front seats flicker.
Fanny looks at me and mouths, “Can you believe this?”
Chantal maneuvers the Mercedes out of the parking lot and through Montpellier’s narrow, congested streets while Fanny and I watch scenes of bikers riding past vibrant lavender fields, charming hilltop villages, and sun splashed olive groves reminiscent of Van Gogh paintings. As the camera focuses on a field of gently swaying sunflowers, I turn to look at Fanny.
“This is going to be so much fun! Relaxing bike rides, picnics in the country. It’s probably just what I need. Thanks.”
Fanny smiles and squeezes my hand.
We look back at the glowing screen just as the sunflower scene fades away and a new scene comes into sharp focus. A line of bikers are pedaling with determination up a wicked steep road, their heads down, shoulders hunched, and calf muscles bulging. In the distance—the far, far distance—a monastery is perched on the edge of a cliff.
I am sick. Greasy burrito and two bottles of wine sick. Credit card statement after binge buying at Saks Fifth Avenue sick.
“Now, Vivian,” Fanny interjects, “don’t overreact.”
“Deep breath, Vivian.”
“God!” The word erupts from me with Vesuvian force. “What in the hell was Nathan thinking? I could barely shift gears on that beach cruiser I rented when we went to Miami. How did he expect me to maneuver a racing bike up a mountain? A mountain! Not a gently rolling foothill. A freaking mountain, Fanny!”
“Pfft…” Fanny waves her hand. “It is nothing.”
“Nothing?” Panic over my impending humiliating and painful plunge off the side of a French mountain sharpens my tone. “Crossing the Atlantic in a canoe is nothing. This”—I gesture at the exhausted bikers still pumping away on the television screen—“is something, Fanny.”
Chantal glances at me in the rearview mirror, jabs a button on the dashboard, and the video freezes.
“Is something wrong?”
I imagine myself careening wildly down a mountain road, crashing into a rock wall, lying broken and bloodied with a group of disapproving French cyclists gathered around me, clucking their tongues disapprovingly and saying, “American. What do you expect? What do they know about cycling?”
Tears fill my eyes. I am so embarrassed.
Fanny squeezes my hand.
“Vivia is nervous about riding a bike.”
“Je ne comprends pas.” Chantal’s gaze darts from me to Fanny. “Monsieur Edwards said you were a rider extraordinaire.”
I can’t contain the snort of disbelief.
“Rider extraordinaire? Ha!”
Chantal fixes me with a kind smile before returning her gaze to the road. “Do not worry, Mademoiselle Vivia. The tour will take you across a landscape of colors and light so fob-oo-liss it captured the imaginations of Picasso, Van Gogh, and Matisse. Besides, Jean-Luc will be with you every kilometer.”
“Your guide. He has been riding for many years. He competed in the Tour de France three times.”
I imagine the intense drill instructor in the opening scene of Jarhead riding behind me, yelling, “Let’s go, maggot! Get up this hill. Jesus, Joseph, and doggy-style Mary, what is wrong with you flabby Americans? Ride. Ride. Ride.”
Chantal regales us with tales of Drill Instructor Jean-Luc’s otherworldly biking abilities until I can no longer hold back my groan of fear. I am going to die trying to take a hill in the south of France. It will be my own Vietnam.
Chantal looks at me through the mirror again, smiling.
“Do not worry, Vivia. Jean-Luc is very good at what he does. He will know how to ride you.”
“Fob-oo-liss,” I mutter. “I’ve always wanted to be ridden by a French man.”
The movie ends. I rest my head on the leather seatback, close my eyes, and listen to the engine’s soft purr. I am just about to doze off when Chantal begins a commentary, pointing out historical landmarks and areas of interest. Her enthusiasm rouses me. I sit up and stare out the tinted windows.
Thirty minutes later, Chantal turns off the A9 and heads east toward Avignon. The luxury car whizzes by small villages with unpronounceable names, like Estézargues and Valliguière.
Chantal takes a sharp turn onto a narrow drive lined with towering plane trees.
“If you look ahead, you will soon catch your first glimpse of Château de Caumont.” Chantal waves to an elderly man carrying a basket laden with blackish-purple olives. “That is Monsieur Levant. He manages the olive harvest and the production of the Huile d’Olive de Caumont.”
“The château produces olive oil?”
“Oui,” Chantal proudly says. “We must produce olive oil to help offset the tremendous expense of maintaining such a grand historic estate.”
“What a clever idea.”
“It was my brother-in-law’s idea. He is a—” Chantal looks in the mirror at Fanny and says, “Comment pouvez-vous dire magicien?”
Chantal snaps her fingers.
“La! But of course!” Chantal smiles. “Weezard. My brother-in-law, he is a weezard with finances.”
I thought about my meager savings account and wonder if Chantal’s brother-in-law could use his wizardry to pad my coffers. I seriously doubt my unemployment checks will cover the cost of rent and my rampant chocolate addiction.
“Did you grow up in the château?”
“Non. The château has been in my husband’s family for over three hundred years. It was constructed in the thirteenth century but awarded to Francois de Caumont for his loyalty to Louis the fourteenth, the Sun King. It sits on the banks of the river Durance and is the loveliest estate in the south of France.”
The Mercedes emerges from the shade of the tree-lined road and onto a sunlit circular drive, rumbling over uneven stones. Château de Caumont is breathtaking. Breathtaking has got to be one of the most overused words in the English language, but in this case, it truly fits.
Chantal pulls to a stop and turns to look at us. “C’est magnifique, n’est-ce pas?”
Fanny and I nod. The medieval castle is truly magnificent. In the bright afternoon sunshine, the stone walls glow amber and the terracotta tile roof looks aflame.
“Although it was conceived as a fortified structure with thick stone walls, battlements, six towers, and a gatehouse, over the centuries Château de Caumont has been modified to function more as a baronial home.” Chantal’s cheeks flush. “Forgive me. I was an associate professor of architectural studies at Université Montpellier. Medieval structures are my passion.”
“Don’t apologize.” I like passionate people like Chantal. I dig their energy. “I would love to hear more about the château.”
“Perhaps after you have settled into your room, you would like a tour of the château?”
Chantal opens the driver’s door and Fanny nudges me with her elbow.
“Look at you,” she whispers. “In France less than twenty four hours and already you’re speaking like a native.”
“Hardly,” I laugh. “However, if you’d like a coffee with milk, I’m your girl.”
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Be on the lookout for Leah Marie Brown's future release(s): Finding It coming late September 2015 and Working It coming January 2016
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