Most days, divorced mom Ava Olson is just trying to keep it all together. With three school-age children and only a part-time job at a local newspaper, she barely has time to juggle the small stuff, much less stand back and consider the big picture. Besides, dreaming about what-ifs is a dangerous habit, especially when her real concern should be the competition from a much younger new editor….That is, until she meets Ford, a café owner who wins her over with his warm smile and delicious po’ boy sandwiches—and makes her wonder if there could still be more to life than work and kids.
Then a new opportunity opens up, and suddenly Ava is making big changes. Like moving eighty miles away to New Orleans, working full-time—and discovering just how sweet a future in the sultry Louisiana city might be—even if she has to explore it on her own. When Ava begins investigating a story that promises huge headlines, she’s ready for the front page….But can she rewrite the story of her own life, complete with a love interest and a very happy ending?
Insightful, humorous, and down-to-earth, Emily Beck Cogburn’s new novel celebrates the possibilities of change, the courage it takes to make our most heartfelt dreams come true—and the joy of finding your place in the world.
Praise for Emily Beck Cogburn’s Louisiana Saves the Library
“Readers who enjoy rooting for the underdog will ardently cheer on Cogburn's plucky, courageous library heroines.” —Booklist
“For book and library lovers, this endearing tale will particularly appeal…A fast-paced, pleasant read.”–RT Book Reviews
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Emily Beck Cogburn
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Emily Beck Cogburn
All rights reserved.
For the fourth day in a row, the rumbling, exhaust-spewing pickup blocked the playground entrance.
Ava stopped her rattletrap van a few feet away, in an actual designated parking spot. She took a deep, calming breath and tried to channel some of the Zen mindset that seemed to come so naturally to her yoga instructor, Summer. She closed her eyes and pictured the young woman's cheerleader ponytail and soft black yoga pants. Breathe in, breathe out. Relax your toes, ankles, knees, face.
When Ava opened her eyes again, the truck was still there, expelling foul diesel fumes. Summer's smooth voice was gone, replaced by the booming bass of a rock song as the door to the pickup opened. A man in a baseball hat lifted a little girl from the extended cab and carried her to the playground.
Ava flipped down the van's visor and opened the mirror. She'd long ago given up trying to cover her freckles with makeup. Pancake foundation made her look like a creepy horror movie doll, so she just used mascara and eyeliner around her green eyes to draw attention away from her Little Orphan Annie cheeks and nose. She touched up her red-orange lipstick and snapped the mirror closed.
It wasn't only Truck Guy giving her stress. Getting three children ready for school was never easy, but that morning everything had gone wrong at once. Her oldest, James, spilled Lucky Charms on his only clean pair of uniform pants while he was desperately trying to finish his spelling homework. Middle child, Luke, had to have a peanut butter sandwich with the crusts cut off because he absolutely could not eat school lunch again. Meanwhile, Sadie, the youngest, had flung every item of clothing she owned onto the floor. Ava couldn't wait until Sadie was old enough to go to public school and wear the burgundy and navy uniform. Life would be simpler when the poor child didn't have to decide between pink shorts or pink striped shorts.
Ava had dropped the boys off at school seconds before they'd be marked tardy. Now only Sadie was left. Ava was already tired. She loved the parenting roller coaster and didn't want the ride to be over, but sometimes the ups and downs were too much. On the flip side, so much time was spent waiting for something to happen, just listening to the clicking of the chain as it carried the car slowly to the top of the hill.
"Don't want to go to Sadie's class!"
Ava turned and looked at her three-year-old daughter. Sadie hugged Fluffy the cat and Sparkle the teddy bear, her constant companions. "Come on, you're going to have fun."
Ava cursed, but only inside her overworked mind. Sadie's favorite teacher had a second job as a public school bus driver and, as a result, arrived at the day care at nine thirty. "Ms. Bee will come in later. I told you that. You only have to go to the other class for an hour." She slung her purse over her shoulder, got out of the van, and slid the back door open.
Sadie wore a pink dress decorated with hearts, pink striped bike shorts, and pink sneakers. She moved in little kid slow motion, carefully placing Sparkle and Fluffy in the empty seat across from hers, picking up a stray M&M from the floor and examining it before popping it into her mouth, and then hanging one foot out of the van as if testing water in a pool. Ava reached past her and grabbed the bag with the nap sheet and blanket.
The moment Sadie's sneaker hit the asphalt, Ava closed the van door and took her hand. Sadie wasn't capable of walking quickly to the playground. She pulled Ava in different directions as she bounced, skipped, and then stopped to examine the flowers when they got to the patch of grass along the fence. Thanks to Truck Guy, they had to stay close to the chain link to get to the gate. AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" blared from the stereo, and the truck released an especially noxious cloud of exhaust as they passed by.
Ava's stilettos sank into the grass as she unlatched the gate. She yanked the shoes free and led Sadie onto the playground. They walked under a live oak with thick, moss-covered branches like something out of a creepy fairy tale. Directly ahead, a hole in the ground served as a sandbox. Twin boys shoved toy trucks through the sand while a stout-legged girl tried to drape herself upside down on a plastic climbing dinosaur. The rest of the kids chased each other or ran with no discernible destination. It was still early August, so the children would have most of their outdoor time in the morning, when it was relatively cool.
Truck Guy stood near the sign-in sheets with his daughter by his side. Ava deliberately looked away, focusing instead on a crying boy sitting in time-out against the storage shed. Sure, the man looked like he belonged on the cover of a romance novel, but that wasn't why she'd checked her makeup before getting out of the van.
Sadie gripped Ava's hand tighter, and her pigtails bobbed as she searched the playground. "Where Ms. Bee?"
"She'll be here later, just like I told you," Ava said.
"No!" Sadie let go of Ava's hand and flung herself down full-length onto the kid-trampled grass. Her whole body writhed as she sobbed with a level of anguish appropriate to the imminent destruction of the world.
Ava squatted beside her daughter, teetering a little in her high heels. Sadie's distress made her feel like her own world was ending. She was also desperate to calm her before the entire playground became convinced that she was torturing her daughter. "Sadie, it's going to be okay. Ms. Bee will be here in one hour. I promise. You will survive until then. The other teachers are nice. No one's going to make you eat liver and onions or dig ditches."
Sadie ramped up her fire engine noise. Ava put her hand gently on her daughter's head, only to have Sadie slap it off. "Go away, Mommy!"
"Sweetheart, go have fun with your friends."
Feeling the eyes of all the parents and teachers on her, Ava went to the table with the sign-in sheets. She did the best she could as a parent, but there always seemed to be someone giving her nasty looks when her children cried in public, talked too loud, knocked over a glass in a restaurant, or transgressed in some other inexcusable manner. Sometimes she just wanted to disappear.
Truck Guy had finished signing in. He and his daughter stood on the edge of the pebble-filled area with the swings, slide, and teeter-totter. He released her hand and she trotted toward the slide. As he turned to leave, he glanced in Sadie's direction. Ava imagined that his gaze was disapproving. She glared back at him. He didn't know that when Sadie was in one of her fits, nothing worked. Santa Claus could show up and she'd keep screaming. Besides, he had no right to judge. His own daughter's crooked pigtails were already coming undone, and she wore sandals that would be full of playground pebbles within ten minutes. Not to mention that his truck was still running and she could smell the exhaust all the way on the other side of the playground.
Ava scrawled her signature next to Sadie's name. She squatted down beside the sobbing girl again. "Ms. Bee will be here soon, I promise. I love you, but I have to go to work now."
Sadie wailed louder, and Ava nominated herself for the worst mother in the world. After three children, tantrums still left her helpless and flustered. Perhaps it was her fault that Sadie threw fits in the first place. Certainly her mother thought so. On one of her infrequent visits, she'd hinted that Sadie's moodiness was a direct result of Ava's permissiveness. If she was stricter with the children, all her problems would be solved, according to her mother. But Ava had long ago resolved not to emulate her parents, who were cold and distant, taking the attitude that children were to obey, not question. Besides, as a single parent, Ava hardly had the energy or time to fight every battle.
A tall, African American woman left her post by the swings and walked over. Ms. Shondra never acted frustrated, no matter what the children did. Ava wished she knew what her secret was. Meditation? Low blood pressure? Prescription medication? Bungee jumping on weekends?
Ms. Shondra bent down and took Sadie's hand. "Come see, baby." The teacher tilted her head toward the gate, indicating that Ava should get away while she could.
Ava walked quickly back across the playground. Truck Guy with his muscular back and pumped-up biceps was right ahead of her.
* * *
Jared had seemed like the perfect boyfriend when they'd met in graduate school at Columbia. He'd asked her out by passing her a note during their Mass Communication 750 class. It read: How about some individual communication after this mass communication? At the coffee shop?
In retrospect, the note wasn't actually very clever, but it had made her smile. She had nodded yes and spent the rest of the class period sneaking glances at his profile — straight nose, half-smiling lips, stubble where he'd missed a spot shaving his chin. Instead of the coffee shop, they ended up at the campus pizza parlor, drinking beer, and eating thick slices of pizza. She listened to his stories about growing up in a small town in Ohio, reading the New York Times in the library, and dreaming of the big city. He'd known since elementary school that he wanted to be a journalist, the kind who ferrets out corruption and wins Pulitzer prizes. Ava had been less sure. She liked writing, and her professors told her she was good at it, but she'd never been a newshound. Jared's enthusiasm was infectious, though.
They'd spent graduate school passing notes during their classes and celebrating turning in their term papers with drinks at their favorite bars. They had an easy, jokey rapport that made their friends envious. In private, they had surprisingly little to say to each other. It didn't matter, though, because Jared was always working. He wrote for the campus newspaper and interned at one of the local weeklies. Ava studied a lot, but she found herself with more time than Jared. As soon as they graduated and got married, she became pregnant. He took a job at the Saint Jude Gazette, and they made the trip south in a rented truck, stopping often for snacks of boudin and cracklins, neither of which Ava had ever had before. The midsize Louisiana paper hired her as a stringer, paying her by the story, until she had James.
After the baby was born, the household took a Leave It to Beaver turn. Since she wasn't working, Jared expected Ava to cook, clean, iron his shirts, and take care of the baby by herself. The arrangement seemed fair, and Ava was happy to have time to spend with James. He was an easygoing baby. By the time Luke was born, she began to feel restless and wonder why Jared spent so much time at the office. Did he really need to go out for drinks after work so many nights? Couldn't he do a load of laundry once in a while or cook dinner one night, just to give her a break? She was at least able to talk him into watching the kids occasionally so that she could write stories for the Gazette, and she relished the time to be an adult.
Then, he got a job at the Chicago Tribune. He hadn't even told Ava he was looking. That bothered her more than anything. He'd been telling her less and less about work. They exchanged necessary information about the children and not much else. Worse was the way he broke the news. Ava was already pregnant with Sadie and lying on the couch feeling tired and just nauseated enough to make moving seem like a bad idea. The boys were in bed. Jared came in and looked down at her. She could read his expression. He thought she was lazy, pathetic, and fat. For once, she didn't care.
"I'm moving to Chicago," he said.
Ava's mouth went dry. He was moving? By himself? It didn't make sense. "What are you talking about?"
"I got a job at the Chicago Tribune. I start in two weeks."
"You're going by yourself?"
"I want to get an apartment downtown, by the office. I don't want to commute. I think you'd be happier staying here." He crossed his arms across his chest.
Ava sat up, fighting the nausea and fatigue. "If you leave without us, we're done. You can get a lawyer or I will."
"I'll do it." With that, Jared went into the bedroom and shut the door.
* * *
Truck Guy got into his vehicle. At first, Ava thought he was leaving, but no, he was actually driving the pickup to the entrance of the combined church and day care. Apparently, he couldn't walk like everyone else. He'd probably leave the stupid truck running while he went inside, too.
As she trotted toward the day-care part of the building to drop off Sadie's nap sheet and blanket, Ava watched him get out of the truck — sure enough, leaving the engine on — and go inside. She silently cursed her stiletto heels as they sank into the grass again. Cute, impractical shoes were one of the few indulgences she still allowed herself. She spent the rest of her money on fruit snacks, school uniforms, plastic toys, and school lunches.
When she stepped onto the blessedly hard pavement, she sped up as much as she could. She was sure she looked ridiculous trying to run in the three-inch heels without falling flat on her face.
She was concentrating so hard on not tripping over her own feet that she didn't notice Truck Guy standing in front of the door, holding it open for her. She stopped on the sidewalk and tried to catch her breath. He didn't need to see her gasping like a fish.
He smiled and in that brief moment, some of her anger faded. His blue eyes were soft and his expression sympathetic, as though he understood exactly how difficult her morning had been. Ava ducked her head, ashamed. Maybe she had misjudged him. She mumbled a thank-you, raced up the stairs, and shoved Sadie's blanket and sheet into her cubby. By the time she made it back to the parking lot, the wheezing truck was gone. She laughed at her own disappointment. After all, cute guys were trouble and she didn't need any more of that.CHAPTER 2
Ford eased up on the clutch as he pulled his temperamental truck out of the daycare parking lot. He didn't understand why the tall redhead had been giving him nasty looks. He thought her daughter was in Nelly's class, but he had trouble keeping track of the little girls sometimes. There were at least four blondes with pigtails, including his own daughter.
He turned off the loud rock music that Nelly liked and drove toward the Louisiana A&M campus. He had no time to worry about Redhead Mom, even if she was stunning with her long legs and smooth-looking skin. Breakfast was the busiest time at the café and he hated that he couldn't get there any earlier. Ever since Marion divorced him and moved to New Orleans, he hadn't been able to work as much as he should. He practically lived at the café on weekends, while Nelly stayed with Marion, but during the week, the best he could do was nine a.m. to three p.m. Bobby Joe didn't seem to get it. Childless, his brother had the attitude that anything domestic was woman's work. Ford snorted to himself and rested his arm on the open window. Marion was an emergency room doctor and she worked long hours. It didn't make sense for her to have primary custody. Ford loved his job, but he made less than one-third the money she did. Sacrifices had to be made and, truth be told, he'd much rather spend time with his daughter.
Ford parked his truck behind the café and killed the engine. He patted the dashboard. He hoped it would start again when he finished his shift. Two hundred thousand miles was a lot. He'd ask Bobby Joe to look at it over the weekend, but he knew what his brother would say: "You can't polish a turd." The truck was dying, which made him think, as he often did, that time was going by too fast.
Bobby Joe's pickup was parked next to the Dumpster. It wasn't in much better shape than Ford's, but Bobby Joe was a decent mechanic and he kept the twenty-year-old engine running with spare parts and elbow grease. His brother also didn't have to drive to New Orleans every weekend so his kid could have some kind of relationship with her mother.
Ford got out of the truck and pushed a pile of empty bun pallets away from the back door of the café. The orange plastic trays went farther than he intended, and the top one slid off onto the asphalt. He straightened the stack and shoved it against the café wall. He'd come out and move them later, if the bread man didn't pick them up. The back driveway was so small that delivery trucks had to unload in front. Real estate was precious in the campus area. The location was great for business, though.
Excerpted from Ava's Place by Emily Beck Cogburn. Copyright © 2017 Emily Beck Cogburn. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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