Excerpt: As You Wish
Book 1: Rock Stars in Love
VERMONT WAS A WASTELAND.
Trees were stripped of leaves, their branches curved upward to the sky, as if pleading for salvation. There was none to be found in the dark night. White, crystallized snow-covered pastures, meadows, and hills. The stark nakedness of the state showed all its flaws, none of its beauty.
Welcome to hell.
Aubry Riley tightened his hands around the steering wheel. The car wound through the roads in the direction of the highway. According to the GPS system, it was seconds away. The bad weather had forced his private plane to land at a smaller airport a couple hours away from Burlington. He was supposed to be at the lake house by dinner, but he’d be lucky if he got there by midnight.
Normally, he wouldn’t care how late he arrived, except he had promised his daughter he’d be there. At six years old, Roxie was too young to be disillusioned. With a father like him and a dead mother, the cards were already heavily stacked against her. It made him even more determined to make sure the next month went smoothly.
He turned right onto the highway, and the road smoothed out into a straighter path. Aubry grabbed a bottle of water. Taking a sip, he tasted the bitter tang of lemon. All he wanted to do was to crawl in a warm bed and fall asleep.
He opened the window a crack. The freezing wind whipped across his flesh. It was a welcome relief, and he inhaled clean air and fresh pine. There were fir trees of varying sizes lining the highway like an army waiting to open fire.
Shoot me and put me out of my misery.
As if someone upstairs, or rather, downstairs heard his thoughts, little pellets of hardened snow pinged against the windshield and through the open window. A couple of shards struck the side of his face. Closing the window, he brushed off the ice that had pelted his shoulder. Already, in the heated cavern of his car, the balls of hail melted on his fingertips.
It was as if he was in a snow globe, and someone had tipped it upside down and shook all the loose flakes around. Snow was falling everywhere, making it hard to see beyond all the white.
Then, he saw red. A bright spot of red off to the right some ways ahead of him. Slowing down as he drove closer, he could finally make out what it was—a car.
A very beaten up car with the backdoor on the driver’s side dented inwards, rusted with age. Smoke blew upward from the propped open hood.
He was late. Tired. And he didn’t want to stop.
A woman in a poppy-red coat slammed the hood down. Relief washed over her face, and she waved her gloved hands around, clearly hailing him down.
He pulled his car in front of hers and stopped. Pocketing the keys in his leather jacket, he braced himself for the cold, and got out. His eyes immediately stung from the numbing temperature, and his teeth clattered together. He walked over to where she stood.
The woman was bundled from head to toe. Poppy-red coat. White gloves, scarf, and hat. Tousled golden blonde hair dusted with snow and bright pink cheeks.
“Thank you so much for stopping.” There was no mistaking the relief in the young woman’s voice, either. “It feels like I’ve been here forever. I know that’s not the case, but it got darker and colder. And I thought I heard wolves, which is ridiculous. It’s probably only the wind, right? Then, I started thinking about The Donner Party—”
“The Donner Party?”
“Yes, the movie where people froze to death, and the ones who didn’t resorted to cannibalism. See, this is why I shouldn’t watch horror movies. I only remember all the bad parts and… Oh, God. I’m dreaming.” Her hazel eyes widened, and her right hand clapped over her slackened jaw. “I must be dreaming. You’re—you’re Aubry Riley!”
She touched his arm with one gloved finger, as if he were some damn Pillsbury Dough Boy. “You’re really Aubry Riley.”
He should have gone with his instincts and not pulled over. “Did you knock your head or something?”
“No. I’m sorry. It’s just that this is Vermont. Ver. Mont. Nothing ever happens here. I never expected my car to die or that I would meet you.” She unwrapped the scarf from around her neck, and exposed a pale, slim throat. “Here,” she said, handing the scarf to him. “You must be freezing. It’s the least I can do for you helping me out.”
Numbly, he took her scarf and draped it loosely around his neck. The gesture surprised the hell out of him.
“I still can’t—”
Aubry held up his hand. “If it’s anything along the lines of ‘you can’t believe it’s me,’ save it. Why don’t you move away from the hood, so I can check it out?”
She turned to the side, her brow furrowing as she studied the billowing exhaust. “I think it overheated. Or, perhaps underheated. Maybe it’s gone to Car Heaven.”
Car Heaven? This woman couldn’t be for real. “You’re odd.”
“You think so?” A wide, delighted smile appeared on her face.
“It wasn’t meant to be a compliment.”
“It’d be so much worse to be called ordinary or…nice.” Her small, slightly upturned nose scrunched up in distaste. “‘Nice,’” she said with a shudder, “is the kiss of death.”
“Really? All this time I considered ‘odd’ to be the kiss of death.” He popped open the hood of the car and studied it for a few minutes. “It looks like you blew a radiator hose.”
“That’s not good, is it?”
Despite himself, his lips twitched in amusement. “It’s not good.”
“Can I have your—”
“Autograph? Picture?” He straightened and closed the hood. “It’s a blizzard right now, and—”
“I don’t want your autograph. Or picture for that matter. Truth be told, I really don’t like your music. That’s not to say you aren’t talented. I just don’t get all that rock star stuff when you throw things around or wear those tight leather pants.”
This woman was a bad LSD trip. Kookiness didn’t even begin to describe her. She talked way too much and seemed a bit…ditzy. “You really do talk a lot.”
“I know. It’s one of my many faults.” She shivered. “I wanted to ask you for your cell phone so I can call a tow truck. Dead car. Snowstorm. You’re freezing. I’m freezing. Plus, I’m sure you want to get back on the road.”
He reached into the pocket of his jacket and handed over his cell. She soon started talking to someone on the other end of the line.
It gave him the opportunity to study her. She looked to be in her late twenties, possibly early thirties, and was petite; the top of her head barely reached his shoulders. She was bundled up in a huge, puffy jacket, her body hidden from his view. He was curious.
That didn’t mean he was interested.