Hey! It's Teaser....Wednesday! You know how I love my Teaser Tuesdays on a Wednesday!
And instead of a little snippet, I'm gonna give you guys a whole chapter since it's been forever since I posted a teaser. I hope you enjoy a little taste of Trouble and Ember! <3
“Ember Jacobson,” my mother hissed when I scooted into the seat beside her, after the program had started. “I thought we said you’d be on time.”
“You said,” I hissed back. “It’s not my fault you can’t accept me for who I am.”
She smiled with an eyeroll. “Wow, Ember. Reaching.”
I grinned and shhhed her as I faced forward to listen some guy drone on about how community was family and family was community and family was the cornerstone for every community. I tried not to blank out. You know how these things go.
I peeked around the large hairdo in front of me and saw Seth standing on stage with the other award recipients. I giggled to myself at his discomfort and obvious hatred of all things spotlight.
He was surrounded by five other guys from station twenty-two, all of them in their uniforms. All of them so nice looking and perfectly coiffed, on this hot Tennessee day, sweaty brows and uniforms and grins from all the attention and…uniforms.
I checked to make sure actual drool hadn’t slipped from the side of my mouth and tried to focus on the dude saying all the important stuff. I glanced back at Seth. The guy next to him was whispering something in his ear that made Seth smile and shake his head. Said guy leaned back to his spot and looked up, meeting my eyes. His face didn’t change, but he didn’t back down. I found myself annoyed—with myself—when I was the one to break and couldn’t stop the smile that broke free.
I waited the obligatory seven seconds when caught staring before glancing back. He was still looking at me, but this time he had a little tilted smile that said, Gotcha. And also, hi. And you’re gorgeous. You like a guy in uniform, huh? Let’s skip dinner and get dessert.
Well, I can only assume that’s what he was thinking.
The important speech guy wrapped it up at that moment and moved over to give someone else the floor, blocking my view. Probably for the best. They called all their names and people clapped, sure, but then they called Seth’s name.
“Seth Jacobson, who's now the official county fire inspector, is also receiving the Exemplary Service Award. ”
We all stood and made a spectacle. And honestly, I was going overboard because I knew Seth hated the attention so much. His face was red and he was fighting this look that seemed to say I’m not sure I like you in this moment, but I’m stuck with you.
Mom bumped my arm with hers when I started to catcall. Ava looked back at me from the front row with the other wives and shook her head. Then they called the last name.
“Landon Callahan, the Medal of Valor.”
When he walked across the stage and shook the guy’s hand, I got this feeling of unexplained pride sweep over me. I didn’t know this guy, but I was happy for him.
He smiled at the crowd and gave a little half-salute before making his way back to his spot. The stage was clear, and his eyes found mine again just as the guy announced the ceremony was over.
Everyone stood. I lost him in the crowd and chaos of people finding their belongings and piling out of the folding chairs.
I sighed, trying to feel relief. Oh, well.
By the time we made it up front to Seth and Ava, he was gone. And, so needed to be my six-second crush.
After everyone piled into our cars and made it back to Ava and Seth’s I tried to be myself. Every time someone talked to me, I felt like I was caught off guard, jumpy and startled because I couldn’t focus.
Like I was forgetting something.
When the food came, that helped some, and when my family started playing horseshoes and betting each other on who would win, cheat or no cheat, I felt even better.
When I looked over while everyone was laughing at Nana and Gramps definitely cheating, I saw something make my chest zing with pain and goodness.
Aunt Maggie was sitting with Uncle Kyle, they were talking about something I couldn’t hear. Uncle Caleb was watching her from across the yard, without her knowledge, and had been for a while by the looks of it. Every time Aunt mags would swipe her hair behind her ear or laugh he would smile this smile that told you everything about how he felt about that woman. Still. When she started going around and asking if anyone needed anything, if they got enough to eat, if everything was good, he still watched.
When she finally looked his way, she stopped and smiled at him, catching his stare. He mouthed ‘I love you, woman,’ to her and she went over to sit in his lap. They could look at each other for minutes without looking away. I finally turned my gaze when he took her cheek in his hand—I knew what was next—and then saw mister stage smiles talking to Seth by the back gate.
My heart started to rage. I tried to rein myself in. I stood, fully intent on finding out his name, for my fantasies if nothing else, but it looked like he was giving apologies and trying to leave. He held his phone in his hand and waved at Ava before shooting out the gate.
I grumbled to myself and took short, fast strides to Seth. “Who was that?”
“What?” he asked louder over the music.
“Who was that!”
“That’s Landon. I thought you’d met before?”
I shook my head. I’d definitely remember that. “I said, who is he.”
“He’s around here sometimes. Ever hear Ava talk about someone named Trouble?”
He was one that she had saved that night at the fire. He knew about us—well, he knew about Ava. Intriguing.
“Oh?” he questioned with a chuckle. “Oh?”
“What? Oh is a word.”
“Oh is a word. The whole time I’ve known Ava, I’ve never known you to use a one-word sentence, however. Especially one with so much…assumption.”
He grinned. “Ember’s got a crush.”
I slapped his arm right as Ava came to stand next to him. “Shut up!”
“What?” Ava asked.
“Ember’s got a little thing for Landon.”
She looked at me and I saw it coming.
“Oh, stop,” I said. “Can’t a girl just want to know someone’s name and serial number? I’ll never meet Idris Elba but I know the name to the face for my own enjoyment. What if I saw mister hot in his uniform at the Piggly Wiggly and he expected me to know who he was?”
Ava giggled into Seth’s neck. Loudly.
“I’m glad that my life provides this much entertainment,” I told them wryly over their laughter. “I’m going to start charging a fee. Tickets sold at Ticketmaster.”
She shook her head and took my arm in hers. “Come help me with dessert. Poor Seth is nowhere near done being humiliated. Mom made this monstrous cake and everything.”
I looked back at Seth as he grimaced. “Ha! Suffer, cretin.”
He ran to catch up to us and pulled the end of my ponytail as he shuffled in a backwards run around us. “I’ll tell Trouble,” he chanted.
“Tell Trouble what? That he looks like Ian Somerhalder and a Hemsworth brother had a beautiful baby boy together? Go ‘head. I’m sure he’s aware.”
I pulled Ava along as Seth laughed behind us.
We sat by the fire, just my cousins and I. They had the yard decorated in those little white lights, like at the beach house. Seth kept burning marshmallows, the way Ava liked them. Jordan kept poking the fire every two seconds with his stick as he and Dawson talked about some new movie. It was such an utterly normal good night. And yet, I was over it tonight.
I got this way when we’d been with our family for long bouts of time. There was only so much loviness I could take without it starting to affect my mood. And I hated being that way. So I did what I always did when it got to be too much—started to make my exit.
But Jordan beat me to it and then everyone else started their goodbyes. So I sat and waited, leaning my head back and looking up at the full moon.
I stayed like that for a while. I could hear them as they left, I could hear Ava as she bustled around, I could hear Seth as he asked if I wanted some more tea. I shook my head. And then I heard nothing. It was a magic all its own.
A few minutes later, someone’s footfalls in the grass made me call out, “You know what? Yes. You can bring me some sweet tea and some cake, since I was forced to endure all the Jacobsons today. Cake is the only thing that can help my sullen mood at this point.”
“Cake, huh?” a deep, amazing voice said from behind me. “So, what are you into? Vanilla, chocolate, devil’s food?” I looked back at Landon over the chair. “And don’t say carrot cake. That’s a cop out.”
I scoffed a little, unable to contain what was bubbling inside me all of a sudden. “And why is that?”
“Vegetables cannot be dessert.”
I felt my lips smile. “And the Vols are losing more than they’re winning but you don’t see me saying they aren’t a real football team.”
He laughed and came to sit on the edge of the lounger Seth and Ava had vacated next to me. “The next thing you’ll be telling me is that football is called soccer or something and wasn’t even invented in America.”
“It actually wasn’t.”
“Sacrilege!” he laughed his words and leaned on his elbows.
“And that Tennessee orange—come on. Nobody can pull that off. Not one single person.” I looked him up and down objectively. “Not even you.”
“I have you know—”
“Nope. Not even you can wear urrnnge and come out on the other side cool.”
“You’re talking about the Vols, woman! What kind of monster are you?” he laughed.
I grinned. “The kind that knows that I’ll be wearing that hideous orange on Saturday, when the Vols beat the hide off the Gators.”
He sat up straighter. “Marry me—right now. I’ll drive.”
I bit my lip to keep from smiling again but failed. Ava and Seth came back out the door to find us and stopped. “I thought you left?”
I didn’t know who she was talking to, so I answered.
“I was about to. This jerk who has something against carrot cake prevented me from leaving.”
Landon laughed loudly as Seth and Ava just smiled in confusion.
“You came back,” Ava told him and pointed to the cooler of drinks by the porch. “Everybody’s gone but you are welcome to hang out with us.”
“Yeah,” he said and scratched his head, “you know when we get that call, we gotta go. Sorry to miss the shindig.”
“Really, it was fine,” Seth said quickly. “You didn’t miss anything.”
“Nothing but Seth’s pretty blush.” I batted my eyelashes at him.
His eyebrow lifted. “You know, I remember a time when you were this sweet girl who—”
“Oh,” I said and tossed my hand at him, “that was before you really knew me. Now I can be myself.”
Landon laughed again and, I’ll admit to you and no one else, it fed my ego a lot more than was probably healthy.
“And?” Seth asked Landon, his voice changing to a low vibrato that reminded me of people at funerals. “The fire? Everybody okay? What am I gonna to be looking into later?”
Landon paused, seeming to hold his breath for a second. “One casualty. But it was out of seven. So.”
“Yeah,” Seth answered in a whisper and nodded.
“I’m sorry,” I heard myself whisper. Landon looked over at me as if he didn’t understand, his small frown illuminated in the firelight. “That you…lost someone on your shift.”
“Oh.” He seemed surprised by my words. “Thanks.”
“So,” there needed to be a subject change, “what did Landon whisper to you on stage before your name was called?” I taunted at Seth.
Seth smiled and looked at Ava. “He said not to look at Ava when my name was called or I’d cry like a baby, because I was nothing but an old sappy married man now.”
“True.” I crossed my arms. “And did you? Cry?”
He pffted and shook his head as Ava snickered. “Not where anyone could see.”
I shook my head, finding myself looking Landon over. Trouble. I tried to be impartial, but it was too late. I’d already seen him in that uniform.
He’d just have to be my stand-in fantasy until my significant decided to get it together and find me already. I realized I’d been caught staring again when Landon did that half salute thing again, in front of my face.
“Excuse me—I don’t know your name. I can just keep calling you Seth’s hot cousin if you want me to.”
I tried to keep a straight face. “I don’t remember you calling me that. I don’t think we’ve ever spoken before, actually.”
He leaned forward on his knees with his elbows. He grinned, cocking his head to the side a little. “That must have just been in my head then.”
It had been a long time, if I was being completely honest, since someone had made me feel much of anything, let alone make my cheeks crimson. I didn’t want the uselessness of it. I covered my mouth with my fingers in an attempt to cover it, but I could tell he knew because he let his head drop. But he couldn’t hide that smile. It was like he had mercy on me, since he knew his teasing was working so well.
He beat me to the punch.
“I’m Landon.” He looked back up. “But my friends call me Trouble.”
“Trouble, huh.” I tried for a “pfft”. But then nothing else would come. I could think of no joke to say because…I believed him when he said he was trouble. “I’m Ember,” I heard myself almost whisper.
“Ember,” he repeated slowly. “Well that’s beautiful.”
The pause was too long as I tried to tell my lungs how to breathe again. Way too long. Speak, idiot.
“Thank you.” The fire popped loudly, making me jump and look over. Ava and Seth’s eyes were locked on the scene we’d been making. Her face held a sympathetic look.
And that made me slap awake better than anything could have.
I let my eyes drift back to Landon. He was leaned over, like he’d been trying to catch my eyes. He looked a little confused at the obvious one-eighty in me.
I stood abruptly. “I have to go.”
“Ember,” Ava soothed, “just wait. Come inside the house with me.”
“No,” I breathed and looked back at Landon’s face. He was standing now, too. “I just need to get out of here.”
“Did I say something wrong?” he asked, his eyes never leaving my face.
“Yes,” I said back, “you said all the right things. And that’s a problem, sparky.” I walked backward a step. “I don’t do the dating thing. Sorry.”
He laughed but it was strained, forced. He still looked confused. “A bit presumptuous there, Ember, don’t you think? I didn’t even get to ask you out yet and you’re already dumping me?”
“I…” Wish things were different. Wish I didn’t have to leave. “Have to go. Maybe I’ll see you around.”
He sighed as I turned to go. “It’s not really sounding like it, sweetheart, but thanks for the bone.”
I took that sting, walking all the way past the hedges to my new replacement Tesla Dad insisted on me having. The highest safety rating, yada, yada.
And then the instant road rage blaring through my veins assaulted me as I tried not to scream with injustice as I looked at my very flat tire with disdain.
And, yeah, I was one of those girls who knew how to change a tire, but only because I was forced under duress.
The ‘I told you so’ that would be coming wasn’t worth calling him for help of any kind. So, I had to either go ask Seth, and endure that awkwardness with Landon, or brass off my lady balls and change my own tire.
Lady balls win.
I lifted my trunk hatch and dug out all the things necessary. Fast forward thirty-nine minutes and the bottom of my dress had about seven black sooty handprints across it. My hair had rebelled from its bun and I had given up long ago that I could keep it from obstructing my view. The lug nuts were off, all but one that refused to cooperate.
I beat the flat of my palm on the bar of the tire iron. I wrenched it with both hands as hard as I could. I beat it with my shoe until the sole broke. I took them off and kicked them to the side. I stood and slammed my foot against the bar of the tire iron. It didn’t budge. Not an inch. I stomped my foot and growled, wincing a little at realizing my bad leg was paying the price for my tantrum.
“What have we here?”
I spun around, absolutely aware of the mess I was presenting, and tried to look him in the eye. Though my shame had to be obvious. “I got a flat tire.”
He chuckled to himself, shaking his head. He looked a little angry actually. “Of course you got a flat tire. Tonight.”
“What does that mean?"
“That the big guy must be pissed at me because today has been something else.” He had his hands on his hips as he looked at the ground. “Alright,” he stood straighter and moved toward my car, “I’ll change your tire for you.”
“I didn’t ask you to,” I heard myself say. I stammered on, “I mean, I know how to change a tire, I just can’t get this one lug nut.”
He stared at me with a blank expression. “Of course you know how to change a tire,” he said to himself as he bent down to inspect it. “Beautiful as a daggum viper. And they call me trouble.”
I could only watch his back as he worked, unable to speak. He was upset with me for being so abrupt. I got it. I deserved it. But that didn’t mean because I understood it that I had to like it.
His back flexed under his uniform and I found myself looking away from the torture. When I checked on him a couple minutes later, he was still working that same lug nut.
“Thanks for helping me,” I muttered, “I know it’s been a long day for you.”
“Helping people is what I do,” he said, begrudged it seemed. “It’s all people want from me these days—my help.”
My eyebrow bunched. “I’m sorry.” I sighed loudly. “I’m sorry for now and for before.”
“What’s to be sorry about?” He grunted with every wrench as he fought to turn the tire iron. It cracked loose and he spun it off before standing. “You’re not feeling it. Glad you told me so I don’t waste my time.”
I hoped he didn’t see my cringe but I was afraid he did. He moved slowly, finishing the tire change in full. I didn’t say for him to stop. I was afraid to speak. I was speechless. I just watched as he went into my trunk and got the full-size spare. Once he was done and put the old tire in the trunk, he closed it up and dusted his hands off, but that was useless. They were filthy.
“See ya, Ember. Be safe gettin’ home,” he said as he gave me that two-finger salute.
He moved toward his truck, and I could not explain it if I had to, but I just couldn’t let him go that way.
“Landon,” I called. He stopped and turned slowly, his dirty hands at his sides. He didn’t speak, giving me the chance to instead. “’It’s complicated’ doesn’t even begin to explain my life. I just can’t…get involved with anyone right now, in any way. And your flirting skills are on point, mister hot in my uniform. It is really hard to fight your—” I stopped that sentence before it finished, blessedly. “I had to get out of there.”
His smile was slow coming, a little surprised, bashful even. A hint of smugness beat its way inside my chest with my ability to shock him. In a good way. “Well, what can I say to that.”
“Thank you for…assisting me,” I said in an attempt to not use the word “help”.
“It looks like you would have had it just fine if it weren’t for that one stubborn bastard. Sometimes our will is stronger than our might.”
A pleasantly surprised laugh fell from my lips. “I love that. Like really love that. That should my life motto.”
He laughed. “My Uncle Herschel is always saying these wacky things like that. I’m sure more than a few of them bleed through into my vocabulary.”
I liked that, too.
“Thank you. Even if you hadn’t assisted me with my tire, I would still be glad I met you.” His eyebrows rose at my candor. I remembered what he said about people only wanting him for his help. “Your help isn’t all I want from you, but it’s all I can take right now.”
He whistled through his lips with a breath. “Dang, woman. You just lay it out there, don’t you.”
There was no question that he liked that about me as he smiled.
“Life is too short,” I told him and choked down that familiar tingle of angst that demanded attention on the daily when I thought about my accident. “Inch by inch, day by day, we drift to our end.” His stunned expression was quickly becoming adorable. I raised my hand. “Lit major, with a splash of civil architectural engineering on the side.”
A crooked smile graced that beautiful face as he looked into my eyes. “Well that explains everything.” He stepped toward me and looked me over, head to toe. I fought not to bloom crimson when I remembered the mess on my dress and face. He laughed softly at me, reaching his hand for my face, under his breath. “You’ve got some right here.”
COMING SOON, ACES!
I don't have a release date, just still working on it when I'm able.
I hope to have you more of the Jacobsons for you soon!
Thanks for sticking with me, guys! <3