Welcome to Temptation
By Jennifer Crusie
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2000 Jennifer Crusie Smith
All rights reserved.
Sophie Dempsey didn't like Temptation even before the Garveys smashed into her '86 Civic, broke her sister's sunglasses, and confirmed all her worst suspicions about people from small towns who drove beige Cadillacs.
Half an hour earlier, Sophie's sister Amy had been happily driving too fast down Highway 32, her bright hair ruffling in the wind as she sang "In the Middle of Nowhere" with Dusty Springfield on the tape deck. Maple trees had waved cheerfully in the warm breeze, cotton clouds had bounced across the blue, blue sky, and the late-August sun had blasted everything in sight.
And Sophie had felt a chill, courtesy, she was sure, of the sixth sense that had kept generations of Dempseys out of jail most of the time.
"Slow down," she told Amy. "There's no need to rush." She stared out the window as she twisted the rings on her middle fingers. More riotously happy, southern Ohio landscape. That couldn't be good.
"Oh, relax." Amy peered at Sophie over the top of her cat's-eye sunglasses. "It's a video shoot, not a bank heist. What could go wrong?"
"Don't say that." Sophie sank lower in her seat. "Anytime anybody in a movie says, 'What could go wrong?' something goes wrong."
A green sign that read Temptation ¼ Mile loomed ahead, and Sophie reviewed her situation for the eleventh time that hour. She was going to a small town to make an unscripted video for a washed-up actress she didn't trust. There were going to be problems. They'd show up at any minute, like bats, dive-bombing them from out of nowhere. A strand of her dark curly hair blew across her eyes, and she jammed it back into the knot on top of her head with one finger. "Bats," she said out loud, and Amy said, "What?"
Sophie let her head fall back against the seat. " 'We can't stop here. This is bat country.' "
"Johnny Depp," Amy said. "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Stop quoting. There's nothing to be nervous about, you're just overreacting." She turned off the highway and onto the old road that led into Temptation. The exit was marked by a shiny new gas station and a less shiny but still-plastic Larry's Motel.
"Colorful," Amy said.
"Trouble," Sophie said.
"Oh, for heaven's sake," Amy said. "It's not the Bates Motel."
"You have no idea how dangerous small towns are." Sophie scowled out the window. "You were only ten when we moved to the city. You can't remember what hell all those little places we lived in were."
"And it's not as if we have a plan." Sophie stared with deep suspicion as they passed a blackened, log-built bar that sported a rusting neon sign: Temptation Tavern. Beer. Music. "It's all very well for Clea to say, 'We'll improvise,' but even if this is just an audition video, I need more of a script than 'Clea goes back to her creepy hometown and meets her long-lost love, Fred.' "
"Frank." Amy shook her head. "I don't believe you. We're finally filming something besides a wedding, and all you can say is, 'Trouble ahead,' and, 'Why can't we stay in Cincinnati?' and, 'I don't trust Clea.' Face it, the only reason you don't like Clea is because she dumped Davy to marry a TV anchorman. That's very sisterly of you, but it's time to get over it."
"That's not it," Sophie said. "I don't know what it is, it's just —"
"Come on, Sophie. This is good for you. It gets you away from Brandon."
Oh, yeah, sure this is good for me, Sophie thought, but Amy couldn't help it. It was in her blood to turn everything into a con.
"Why you're dating your therapist is beyond me," Amy was saying. "Your health insurance covered his fees."
"My ex-therapist." Sophie squinted at the deserted tree-lined road before them. Ominous. "It saved a lot of time. You don't know what a relief it was not to have to explain the family to him."
"You know, sometimes I think it's just our destiny to be bad." Amy took her eyes off the road to smile at Sophie. "What do you say we quit making wedding videos and fall like the rest of the Dempseys?"
"No," Sophie said. "The fall will kill us."
She waited for an argument, but Amy was already distracted. "Oh, wow." She leaned forward and slowed the car. "Gotta love these road signs."
Sophie read the battered white-and-black signs: Temptation Rotary Club, First Lutheran Church of Temptation, Temptation Ladies' Club, Temptation Nighttime Theater. The last one was a corroded green-and-cream metal sign that said, Welcome to Temptation. Under it a smaller sign in the same rusted antique green said, Phineas T. Tucker, Mayor. And under that, a newer but still battered sign said, We Believe in Family Values.
"Get me out of here," Sophie said.
"Can you imagine how old Phineas T. must be if the sign is that rusted?" Amy said. "Older than God. Hasn't had sex since the Bicentennial. Do you think the Church of Temptation is like the Church of Baseball?"
"Not if it's Lutheran," Sophie said.
Then they crested the hill and there was Temptation.
"Pleasantville," Amy said, taking off her sunglasses.
"Amityville," Sophie said.
The town proper was on the other side of a muddy river that streamed sullenly under a gunmetal bridge at the bottom of the hill. Beyond the bridge, the land rose up green and lush behind smug little brick-and-frame houses, and as the hills rose, the houses got bigger, much bigger. Sophie knew the kind of people who lived in houses like that. Not Her Kind. "'It's quiet,'" she told Amy as they started down the hill. "'Too quiet.'" But Amy was gaping at something in the distance.
"Oh my God!" Amy pulled off the road. "Look at that water tower!"
"What?" Sophie leaned forward to look.
The flesh-colored, bullet-shaped tower thrust through the trees at the top of the hill, so aggressively phallic that Sophie forgot to fidget with her rings as she stared at it. "Hello. Do you suppose they did that on purpose? I mean, you couldn't accidentally paint it to look like that, could you?"
"Maybe Phineas T. is compensating. I don't care. I love this town." Amy handed Sophie her sunglasses, yanked her orange tube top into place, and reached between the seats for her camera. "My God, the visual opportunities. Change places with me."
"Why?" Sophie said, but she climbed over the stick shift and into the driver's seat as Amy got out of the car. "Okay, the water tower is cute, but 'I bet the Chinese food here is terrible.'" When Amy gave her a dirty look, she said, "I'm not whining, it's a line. My Cousin Vinny." Sophie squinted out at the road. "I will bet they don't have a decent pool table. Probably outlawed them. Where are we going now?"
"Back to the beginning." Amy got in the passenger-side door. "I have to get all of this. The Church of Temptation, Phineas T. Tucker, and that big hard-on of a water tower. This is our opening-credits crawl."
"Can we film in public without a permit?" Sophie put on Amy's sunglasses with only a brief thought as to how pink plastic and rhinestones would look with her plain white blouse and khaki shorts. She double-checked the road and then pulled out and made a U-turn. "Because breaking the law is out."
"They'll never know," Amy said, sounding way too much like their father. She braced the camera on the window and added, "I'll keep watch this way and you keep an eye on the rearview in case somebody comes up behind us. Go about five miles an hour. I want to get all of this."
Sophie drove back to where the signs began and turned around, keeping an eye on the rearview mirror as Amy filmed. All they needed was to get rear-ended by some irate Citizen of Temptation —
Then, as they reached the crest of the hill, the beige Caddy zoomed out of a side road that Sophie hadn't even seen and smashed into their front fender.
Sophie hit the brakes as she felt the impact, and the sound of crunching metal tore through her head at the same time Amy's sunglasses flew off her nose and hit the dashboard. She tasted blood as she bit her lip, gagged once as the seatbelt cut into her stomach, and then it was over, and they were sitting in the wrong lane with Dusty singing "I'll Try Anything" as if nothing had happened. There was no one coming the other way, so Sophie breathed deep, licked her bleeding lip, let go of the steering wheel, and turned to deal with the situation.
Amy was bent over, her head at a funny angle under the dashboard.
Amy straightened, holding the video camera. "It's okay. I dropped it but it's fine." She scowled at the dash and picked up her glasses, and the broken lenses fell out. "But my sunglasses are history, damn it."
Sophie swallowed her panic and tried to stop shaking. "Oh. Good. Good. The camera's okay. Good. Sorry about the glasses." She turned Dusty off in the middle of "Playing it safe is just for fools," and said, "How are you?"
"Me?" Amy scowled out the window. "I'm pissed as hell at the asshole who hit us."
Sophie peered through the window at the asshole. A bulky, white-haired, fifty-something Pillar of the Community stalked around their right front fender, thick with righteousness. "Oh, no, I hate these guys. He's going to try to make this our fault." She fumbled in her purse for her insurance card, thanking God it wasn't their fault since Amy's previous disregard for the laws of the road had already hiked their premium. "You keep quiet. I'll get us out of here, and the insurance people can handle everyth —"
"Well, actually, it is our fault." Amy dropped her sunglasses back on the dash. "We sort of ran a stop sign."
Sophie froze, clutching her insurance card. "We did what?"
"If I'd told you, you would have stopped," Amy said reasonably. "I was panning."
"Terrific." Sophie took a deep breath as the Pillar showed up at her window. She got out, making him step back as she did so.
"That was extremely reckless driving, young lady." The Pillar drew himself up to his full, blue-suited, stern-jawed height, which, since Sophie met him eye-to- eye, was about five-seven. "You were speeding. Do you have insurance?" His hands were shaking, Sophie noticed, but before she could ask if he was all right, Amy stuck her head out Sophie's window.
"No way in hell were we speeding. We weren't going any faster than five miles an hour, tops. This is your fault, Grandpa."
"Shut up, Amy," Sophie said, thrusting the insurance card at her. "Copy that information down and do not say anything else." Then she turned back to the Pillar, determined to escape without giving him anything. "I'm so sorry," she said to him, flashing her family's stock-in-trade gotta-love-me-give-me- what-I-want smile.
The Pillar stopped glaring at Amy and turned back to Sophie. Amy said, "Hey —" but shut up when Sophie held up one finger behind her back. One: Make the mark smile.
"Someday my sister's brain will catch up with her mouth," Sophie said, "but until then I apologize for her." She deepened her smile and looked at the Pillar through her lashes.
"Well, I don't know," the Pillar said, and his scowl faded a little.
Sophie held up two fingers behind her back. Two: Get the mark to agree with you. "We're new here so we don't know the roads," Sophie went on. "You know how confusing it can be driving in a new place."
"Well, yes," the Pillar said. "But that doesn't —"
Three: Make the mark feel superior. "Of course, you're probably never confused." Sophie smiled up at him, no mean trick since they were the same height. She widened her eyes. "I bet you always know where you're going."
"Well, of course," the Pillar said, relaxing now. "However —"
"And now we've stopped you in the middle of all this heat," Sophie went on, apology thick in her voice. She nodded to the Pillar's trembling hands. "And we've upset you." Four: Give the mark something. "We really should let you go on. Standing here waiting for the police isn't going to do any of us any good." She smiled again at the Pillar, who began to smile back, looking a little confused.
"Well, that's true," he said. "It could be hours before Wes or Duane comes by."
Great. He knew the cops by their first names. Sophie kept her smile in place. Five: Get what you want and get out. "Amy, do you have the insurance information?"
The Pillar looked past her to Amy, and his face darkened. "What is that?"
Sophie turned around to see Amy checking the camera.
"That's a video camera," the Pillar said, sputtering. "What are you doing?"
"Making a movie, obviously." Amy looked at him with patent scorn. "And I'm telling you, you better have insurance because this is a classic car and it's not gonna be cheap to restore."
The Pillar flushed in fury, and Sophie thought, Oh, thanks, Ame. She moved to block Amy and sidetrack any debate over the classic status of an '86 Civic. "So we'll just —"
"This is outrageous." The Pillar expanded as he blustered. "You ran a stop sign. My wife is very upset. What kind of movie are you making? You can't do that here."
"Your wife?" Sophie abandoned the con for the time being and looked past him to see a faded-blonde woman leaning against the back fender of the other car, her chubby face a pasty white. "What are you doing over here if she looks like that?" Sophie turned her back on him and pointed her finger at Amy. "Do not talk to this man. Hand him the information, roll up that window, get the car off the road, and wait for me."
"Your lip's bleeding," Amy said, and handed her a Kleenex.
Sophie took it and blotted her lip as she walked around the still-protesting Pillar and crossed the road. The poor woman had made her way to the Caddy's passenger door, and Sophie bent to look in her eyes. "Are you hurt?"
"Oh." The woman seemed dazed, her pale blue eyes blinking up at Sophie in the sun as she plucked at the collar of her Pepto-Bismol pink suit, but her pupils looked all right. And there wasn't a hair on her head out of place, although that might have been the hairspray.
Sophie took her arm anyway. "You'd better sit down." She opened the passenger door, and the woman got in obediently. "Put your head between your knees." Sophie blotted her lip again. "Take some deep breaths."
The woman put her forehead on her plump knees, which she kept clamped together, and began to gasp.
"Not that deep," Sophie said, before she hyperventilated. "If you spread your knees apart, you can get your head lower."
"Virginia, what are you doing?"
Virginia straightened with a jerk, and Sophie turned on the Pillar in exasperation. "She's trying to get some blood back to her head." If I was married to you, I'd keep my knees together, too. "Did my sister give you the insurance information?" she asked, and then saw the paper trembling in his hand. "Fine. I understand that you want to get your wife home, and that's no problem for us." He started to protest, and she added, "We'll be at the Whipple farm until Sunday. After that we'll be back in Cincinnati."
"Your insurance agent —" the Pillar began, but this time his wife interrupted him.
"Are you friends of Clea Whipple's?" Virginia said from the front seat, her color returning. "Is she home again? Oh, Stephen, did you hear that? We haven't seen Clea for over twenty years. Except in the movies, of course."
Movie, Sophie wanted to say, since Clea had only made one, but the last thing she wanted was more conversation with the Pillars. She began to back away. "She's home, but only until Sunday. Now, please, don't let me keep you."
"Well, that's so exciting." Virginia trilled. "Is she still married to that handsome Zane Black? We watch him every night on the news." Sophie turned to make her escape, and Virginia raised her voice to compensate. "You tell her Virginia Garvey said hi!"
"They've got movie equipment," Stephen bellowed. "And they're filming on public land which is clearly illegal."
"A movie?" Virginia's face lit up and her voice rose to a shout. "Oh, wait, tell me —"
Sophie reached the other side of the road, pretending not to hear. Ahead of her, a torn and faded campaign poster fluttered on a tree: Tucker for Mayor: More of the Same.
"Dear God, I hope not," she said under her breath. She got in the car and maneuvered it back on the road while Stephen Garvey glared at her and Virginia fluttered her hand. The front fender scraped against the tire as she searched for the lane to the farm, touching her lip with the Kleenex to see if the bleeding had stopped.
"What a butthead that guy was," Amy said. "Are you all right?" (Continues...)
Excerpted from Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie. Copyright © 2000 Jennifer Crusie Smith. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.