Read an Excerpt
HOME SWEET HOME
By SARAH TITLE
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Sarah Title
All rights reserved.
"What the June Cleaver do you think that means?"
Grace Williams rubbed her still-sore neck and smiled at her sister's creative cursing. Immediately after being shocked awake, she'd recounted her strange dream to Jane. In her dream, she was baking. With an apron. She might have been wearing heels while doing it. She was in a bright, sunny kitchen and birds were chirping outside. Jane asked if Cinderella came down the stairs looking for mice to help her put her shoes on. Grace ignored her and went on to describe the sound of the front door opening and Dream Grace turning with her apron and a plate of cupcakes (the cupcakes actually looked really good—go Dream Grace) and Real Grace was overwhelmed with this feeling of joy and happy expectation as she waited for whoever was walking through the front door. Then there were footsteps, and the kitchen door swung open and the whole space was filled with even more light, and Grace felt warm and happy, and then ...
"Maybe it's something all women go through when they buy their first house," she shrugged, then winced when her sore neck protested. She didn't regret agreeing to let her sister drive the U-Haul from northern California to Willow Springs, Kentucky, but regretted the awkward sleeping positions she kept falling into.
"You didn't have creepy Stepford dreams when you bought your condo," Jane said.
"True. But this wasn't creepy, exactly. It felt kind of nice."
Jane looked at her. "That's the creepy part."
"Don't worry. I'll always be your spinster older sister."
Jane snorted. "Hardly."
Grace sighed and watched the Midwest go past in a flat, corny blur. Domesticity had never been her idea of bliss. She wasn't quite as violently disgusted by heteronormativity as her sister was, but sometimes she felt that Jane just used that as an excuse to get out of folding laundry. In fact, Grace had folded Jane's laundry many times growing up. And now Jane's husband, Dev, had taken over laundry duties. Jane was a lucky woman.
The dream shook Grace up. Their mother had been a housewife. Not a normal housewife, but one of those super housewives with twelve arms, and eyes in the back of her head. She cooked, ironed, and managed play dates and crafty birthday parties. She was warm and creative, and a light, soft presence that her two daughters couldn't resist hovering around. Unless there were chores to do.
All that changed when their father was killed in a car accident on a twisty Ohio back road. The girls had been in college, but they'd rushed home to be with their mother. It didn't do much good, though, because she died of a heart attack just days after her husband did. People said it was so romantic, that she'd died of a broken heart. Grace thought it sucked.
So Grace never held much stock in dreams. Or in love, for that matter. But in this dream, it wasn't so much what she was doing that was appealing. And it was obviously a dream, because she'd never baked anything that looked remotely as appetizing as those cupcakes. It was the feeling she had—light, almost floating, and safe and happy down to her bones.
Grace had worked too hard to throw it all away for a batch of cupcakes and a dream guy. She had a mildly well-selling book under her belt, and was on her way to her first tenure-track position as an assistant professor of English at Pembroke College, a small but respected liberal arts school nestled in the hills of Kentucky. After years of grad school in California, she was finally back within driving distance of Jane, if she ever got a car. She'd be able to pop up to Columbus for the weekend to see her niece, Priya, and have dinner with Dev's family, who had embraced Grace as fully as they had Jane.
And she had her dream house. That was one dream she accepted without question. Grace pulled out her phone and started scrolling through the photo gallery. She'd found herself doing that a lot over the past several months, whenever she became overwhelmed by the stress of moving, of grading the last of her English 101 papers, of finding out that Lou was actually, in fact, still married.
Pictures of her dream house never failed to slow her heart rate to a normal, functioning level. It was, honestly, the cutest house she'd ever seen. The architecture was decidedly Victorian, but it was small and compact. A dollhouse was how the realtor described it, although the circular turret in the front reminded Grace more of a castle. A very groovy castle with stained-glass panels above the normal windows. The house itself was painted an odd shade of blue, somewhere between royal blue and turquoise. The trim was a soft white and needed touching up in places. Grace scrolled through the window shots—and there were plenty, because there were a lot of windows.
The interior photos showed small-ish, empty rooms—there hadn't been time to stage it, because Grace had snatched it up almost as soon as it went on the market. She swept her finger over the fireplace in the living room, the antique wall sconces, the built-in cabinets that she was imagining filled with books. She kept swiping. The realtor had told her the kitchen could use an upgrade—which was part of the reason it was such a bargain—but Grace loved the old gas range, the slightly wonky-with-age glass cabinets. She didn't plan on changing a thing. Maybe put up some fresh paint, find some interesting window treatments. But she loved the house as it was.
"Quit drooling over house pictures, Grace. You're going to wear out your battery."
"Keep your eyes on the road, Mario." Jane's legendary lead foot had gotten them halfway across the country in record time. The whole process of packing her small condo had been infinitely faster with Jane there, even if Jane insisted that it didn't matter what order the books went into the boxes, and did she really have to take all of them with her?
Jane was a pain and a joy, as only a little sister could be. But she was also a speed demon, and easily distracted. So Grace obeyed her and started to put her phone away as they entered Kentucky, where the roads got windier as the speed limit went up.
Grace checked the GPS, then put her phone on the dashboard. Jane followed the curve of the road, and Grace moved the phone to the center console. But her racing heart had nothing to do with Jane's driving. Just a few more hours and her new life would start. She had almost two months to get settled in before classes began. That was practically a whole summer to turn that cute little Victorian dollhouse into her dream home.
Jake Burdette looked over at his sister. Mary Beth was standing on the sidewalk, hands on her hips, the expression on her face making Jake feel as if he'd done something wrong.
"How did this even happen?" she asked the house.
For once in his life, Jake could say, unequivocally, that this was not his fault.
Mary Beth had called him in a panic about an hour ago. She'd interrupted a perfectly good pizza and Die Hard marathon to have him stand with her in front of that old house on Grant Street that looked like it was falling apart. He remembered her telling him that she'd sold it to a professor or something. Someone who'd never owned a house before, and so would probably need a little guidance in the fix-it department. Even though Jake didn't have much use for the professors at Pembroke College, Mary Beth was his sister and he couldn't say no to her. She'd probably break his thumb if he did.
"Listen, Mary Beth, I'm no landscaper. And I'm definitely not a miracle worker."
"What, so you couldn't mow the lawn? To welcome a new person into the town?"
"I did mow the lawn," he argued. "Three days ago, like you asked."
"Then why does it look like a jungle?"
Jake didn't know about a jungle. More like an idyllic meadow, complete with patches of wildflowers and mushrooms. Which hadn't been there when he'd left the freshly mown yard three days ago.
"She's going to be here soon." Mary Beth started pacing the sidewalk, pushing the gate to the short picket fence closed. "And the house is looking like this? Oh, she's going to regret moving here and then she'll leave and then ..."
"What do you care? You already sold her the house." The fence swung limply open. Jake was sure that latch had worked three days ago.
"Jake Hanson Burdette, that is not the point. It's important to make new people feel welcome in Willow Springs. Make her feel like this is a place she'll want to settle. There's enough separating Pembroke people from the town already. We don't want her to think we're trying to take advantage of her."
"Right. Because Pembroke People always have such a high opinion of townies."
"It doesn't matter what you do, MB. Give her a few days at Pembroke and she'll be looking down on us like the rest of them."
"Grace isn't like that," Mary Beth said. "She's sweet. Besides, she's young and I'm pretty sure she's single."
"I don't do professors."
"Don't be crude."
"You just like her because she wrote that book about what's-her-name."
"Jane Austen is her name, and don't you dare say a bad word about her or her books."
Jake raised his hands in surrender. He'd read Jane Austen in high school, and all he remembered about the novel was the girls in class mooning over Mr. What's-His-Name. And the long sentences. He remembered she wrote really long sentences.
"Professor Williams is a Jane Austen expert and we need her."
"You just want her to join your book group. Which she won't because it's at the public library and Pembroke People don't go to the public library." Jake pulled up a purple wildflower and twirled it between his fingers.
"Don't worry about what I want." She grabbed the flower out of his hand and threw it onto the sidewalk. "Just make this yard look nice. She said she wasn't far." When Mary Beth had earned her realtor's license, she'd made a point of taking a picture with every client in front of their new house. Her office was wallpapered with smiling families: longtime residents, people new to the town, a lot of guys with their dogs. All giving a goofball thumbs up, holding a "Sold" sign. It made Mary Beth happy to make her clients happy.
Even if that involved torturing her younger brother.
It wasn't his fault the housing market had tanked. Mary Beth was all right—the presence of the college ensured there were always people coming and going in Willow Springs. But Jake's business was flipping houses, updating them with the pseudo-authentic fixtures that yuppies wanted, and then making a lot of money off them. He'd started right out of high school and had his own successful business before his classmates were out of college. Even without college, though, Jake was smart about the market. He saw how the rest of the country was going, and knew Kentucky would eventually catch up. So he saved, did a few commercial projects, worked in his dad's garage for a bit, and saved some more so he had enough to live on until more opportunities presented themselves. And, slowly, they were. In the meantime, he lived in an apartment above his sister's garage, helped her and her husband, Todd, pay the mortgage and, apparently, answered her beck and call.
He supposed he could pull a few of the big weeds from around the "Sold" sign, clear more of a path to the front door. He was just about to start complaining about his lack of a living wage when one of those rented moving trucks came barreling down the street.
"Crap," said Mary Beth. Too late for him to do any work. Okay, he'd just stick around and see what this new professor was all about. She was probably frumpy and wore cat sweaters and big glasses, and had thick ankles. Not that he minded thick ankles. He had an appreciation for many different shapes of women's legs, so long as they weren't attached to someone who looked at him like he was dirt on her shoe. But his distaste for Pembroke faculty manifested itself in a sort of sick curiosity, and he found he didn't want to leave.
Mary Beth was waving at the truck, her business smile plastered on her face. She was business-smiling within an inch of her life. He saw a woman in the passenger seat—couldn't see much, except that she was a woman. The woman waved at Mary Beth, then he saw her face drop as she got a good look at the house.
He didn't think it was that bad. It wasn't as nice as it had looked last week, but it wasn't that bad.
But he'd seen enough. "See you, sis," he said, heading over to his truck.
"No," she said, grabbing his arm in the death grip he recognized from many childhood torture sessions. "Stay and take the picture."
"You sure she's going to want a picture?"
The U-Haul pulled into the driveway and lurched to a stop. He saw the Professor say something to the woman who was driving, who said something back with her hands, then one more thing with her finger, and the driver opened the door and spilled out.
The driver was tall and slender, with a mop of bleached-blonde hair piled on top of her head in a messy knot, and thick glasses perched on her nose. She stretched, leaned forward to touch her toes, then stood up to wait for the professor, who was climbing out of the passenger side.
"You are the worst driver ever," he heard from the other side of the truck.
"Love ya, sis!" the driver said.
Mary Beth started toward the two women, but Jake hung back, hoping to make his escape. The sister could take the picture. If there was going to be a picture.
But then the professor walked around the truck, and Jake's curiosity glued him in place. She was tall, too, taller than her sister. She had the same messy top-knot in her hair, but the professor's hair was darker, nearly brown. And she didn't have thick ankles, not that he would have minded. She was wearing cut-off denim shorts, and they were short enough to see that her legs were tanned and muscled—not the legs of a woman who spent all day reading.
Jake shook his head. He didn't do professors, not in any sense of the word. The Pembroke People had nothing to do with people like him, people who barely finished high school, who worked with their hands.
Besides, this professor was wearing a baggy, purple sweatshirt with a cat on it. The cat was wearing glittery sunglasses and striking a weird, sexy pose next to the words "Check Meowt." Also sparkly.
Still, she was the hottest crazy cat lady he had ever seen.CHAPTER 2
"I don't remember it looking this bad," said Jane in the loudest whisper known to man.
Grace didn't remember either. When she'd come for the job interview at Pembroke in early spring, her sister had driven down from Columbus to meet her and they'd gone house hunting together. Grace fell in love, signed the contract, and went back to California with a phone full of pictures.
Grace was glad she'd had a witness. Jane had fallen in love with the house almost as much as Grace had, although Jane had reservations about its age. Mary Beth had seemed reluctant to show them the place, said it might not be Grace's taste. It probably wasn't a lot of people's tastes. It was gaudy and weird and old. But there was a turret, complete with funky stained glass, and Grace could see herself creating a reading nook in there. And there were windows everywhere! She could just imagine how wonderful it would feel to sit in the sun, or to light a fire in the fireplace when it was overcast and cold. It was never overcast and cold in California. She would never find a house like this in California. This was a New Life house.
And the porch! The porch had made her sad to go back to her second floor balcony-free condo. She loved sitting outside, and this house not only had a front porch, but a gorgeous, winding garden in the back. Grace had always suspected she had a green thumb, but apartment living was never very conducive to keeping plants alive. If she bought the house, she would have flowers and tomatoes and cucumbers and more flowers and a gorgeous dreamy yard that required hardly any mowing but would be the perfect spot to have garden parties and to concoct brilliant ideas about literature.
Now she wasn't so sure that she hadn't bitten off more than she could chew. Mary Beth had sent her pictures a week ago, showing her the work her brother had done on the house. Everything was neatly trimmed and pruned and there was a potted plant on the front step. Now the plant seemed in danger of sliding off the crooked step, and it looked as if the yard was not as familiar with a weed whacker as she'd been led to believe.
Excerpted from HOME SWEET HOME by SARAH TITLE. Copyright © 2014 Sarah Title. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.