HITCHED Preview – Chapter 1

Hey all,

This is the first chapter of HITCHED. It’s from the advanced reader copy (ARC) which means it may change in the final book. I hope you enjoy it!

~dawn

Part One: THURSDAY

Chapter One

My car won’t start.

I turn the key again, and the car shimmies before sputtering out.

I hop out of the worn driver’s seat and pop the hood of the silver Ford. Not that I know anything about cars, but it seems like the right thing to do.

Nothing is smoking or making weird noises. It just looks like car guts, so I pull out the dipstick, stare at it for a minute and put it back in place. There seems to be oil.

What the hell is wrong with my car this time? Other than it’s really, really old and hates me.

Sweat drips down my neck, and I wipe it away before it hits the collar of my blouse. I spent an hour blowing out my hair, but the humidity is killing it, and I’m going to look like a stressed out, frizzy mess by the time I get to the airport.

That is, if I ever get to the airport.

In the dimming light, there is nothing I can do to make my poor little Ford go. At some point, before the AAA guy begins to think we’re dating, I’m going to have to buy a new car. But for now, this is all I have. It’s what I can afford.

I walk around to the passenger side and reach through the window to grab my cell phone off the seat. I have to leave in the next ten minutes, or I’m going to be late. AAA is not an option. So I do what I really can’t afford: call a cab.

“Northpoint Cab service. How can I help you?”

“I need a cab to Logan.”

“I’ll send one right over. What’s your address?”

I rattle it off before shoving the phone into the back pocket of my skinny jeans. I’ve had guys tell me I look like a model, but they’re usually the ones that want to sleep with me. At least that’s what I’ve learned from Brady: be wary of compliments. I squat down and check my reflection in the side view mirror. Despite the humidity, I don’t look too bad. Dewy even, if I want to put a positive spin on it.

“Ellie Jacobs?” a man’s gravely voice says.

Spider-like sensations crawl along my back, and I turn around slowly. Once, I was used to this, but it’s been awhile. “Yes?”

“Can I ask you a few questions? About Fletch Colson?”

Damn it. Like I needed anything else to go wrong today.

“Not now. I’m running late, if you haven’t noticed.” I gesture to my broken down car.

“Where you off to?”

I huff. These reporters. Always snooping around for information about Fletch. Always wanting to dig deeper into the mysterious world of his mind. And lucky me, I’m the collateral damage he left in his wake for the vultures to pick at.

“The Cape. For a friend’s wedding.”

“Will Fletch be there?”

“I don’t know,” I lie. Why I lie, I’m unsure, but it’s my first instinct. It always has been when it comes to protecting Fletch. “Why don’t you try calling his office? You’ll probably have better luck than me getting through.”

“So you don’t talk to him anymore?”

I glare at the reporter. “Fletch and I…”

“Fletch and you what?” the reporter says. He’s practically salivating all over himself. I could make his day and give him something salacious. Something no one has ever reported.

Then, as if floating back into my body, I snap my head up and shake it vigorously. No. I’m not going to do this right now. Or ever.

I’m over Fletch Colson, and the drama he brings with him.

“C’mon, Ellie. Give me something,” the reporter says. “I know you two were close. That he used to crash at your place. Maybe even that the two of you were dating?”

From the backseat of my car, I grab my suitcase and drop it next to my feet.

“Sorry,” I say with a carefree shrug. But inside, inside my heart hammers against my ribs. “I’ve got nothing for you.”

I lock the car doors and give the tire closest to me a firm kick. I’ll deal with this disaster later—after I get back from “The Wedding of the Century.”

The wedding. To say I’m not a fan is an understatement. Brady shouldn’t be marrying anyone. It feels wrong. Like something is up. And who is this Sophie girl, anyway? Sure, she’s one of Calista’s friends, but what do we really know about her besides the fact that she’s French and works in fashion?

Brady insists she’s a keeper, but I don’t know. In my opinion, Brady Pearson has no business marrying anyone. At least not for many, many, many years.

The yellow cab pulls up to the curb, and I rush over to it. The driver opens the trunk, and I throw my suitcase inside before hopping into the ratty backseat. Nasty vinyl sticks to my jeans, and the seatbelt is jammed, so I scoot over to the other side.

“Look, I have to go,” I say, hanging out the door. “Sorry I couldn’t be more help.” I give the reporter what I hope is a sad look. And maybe it is. Maybe there really is part of me that wants to assist in writing the tell-all story of Fletch Colson. It would be scandalous, that’s for sure. At least the parts I know.

“Can I give you my card?”

“Sure,” I answer, taking the piece of paper from the reporter’s outstretched hand. James Roberts it reads. “I’ll make sure to call you when I have something to say.”

It’s not that I’m protecting Fletch. I’m not. He has plenty of people who do that for him now. I’m just sick of reporters and gossip hounds bothering me. After a year or two, you’d think they’d forget about me – and most of them have – but the ones who still search me out make me seem distant and secretive. As if I’m the one who can unlock the mystery of Fletch Colson.

Who knows? Maybe I am.

I slam the door shut and say to the driver, “Logan. United Airlines. Baggage”

The driver nods and hits the meter. This ride is going to cost me a small fortune, but there is no other way. I slump back into my seat, nauseous and wanting to vomit.

I want to see Fletch, but I’m afraid. I’ve read so much about him over the past two years – the girls, the dates, his tenacity when it comes to business – that he doesn’t seem like the boy I knew. More like some random celebrity. His picture is everywhere. At least it seems that way. I can’t go into a grocery store without seeing his name or face.

And then there’s GroundFloor, the company he runs. Everyone, and I mean everyone, uses it. There’s simply no escaping GroundFloor.

I check my texts again. There are a few from Brady, reminding me to pick up Fletch – as if I could forget – and one from my boyfriend, Michael. Normally, he’d be coming to this great event with me, but as luck would have it, he’s on the road this week. He could have flown in for Saturday and Sunday, but it wasn’t worth it. By that point, the damage will be done.

I open Michael’s text. We’ve been dating for six months, which is a lifetime when you’re twenty-three. Or so I’ve been told. Fletch and I dated for three years. Three long, wonderful, heart-wrenching years.

There’s nothing much to the text – kind of like our relationship. Michael tells me to have fun this weekend. I swipe left and delete the message. Here’s the problem: Michael’s a nice enough guy, but I know our long-term prospects aren’t great. To start with, he’s five years older than me. I don’t get all his jokes. He doesn’t understand mine. It’s like we talk two different languages at times.

Still, he’s nice enough. Or as Dad likes to say, perfectly non-offensive and completely non-memorable.

Unlike Fletch.

Dad grew to like him, love him even, despite their rocky start.

The Fletch I knew had that effect on people. Everyone loved him, but the Fletch of magazines and gossip rags seems like a total ass.

I press my head against the cool window glass, enjoying the blast of air-conditioning. For late May, it’s unseasonably hot and my apartment doesn’t have air-conditioning, so I’m going to soak this up the best I can.

The city blurs past. While I was at Harker, I never thought I’d end up in Boston working as a consultant. I had dreams of working in New York, in finance. But as I quickly learned, that was an old boys club. A guy like Brady could make a killing, but someone like me? I’d need to work ten times as hard just to get them to see me as a person and not a pair of tits.

And once anyone found out I had a connection to Fletch Colson, that’s all they cared about. Could I get them an interview, or a meeting? Was he going to take the company public? What was it like being friends with someone like him?

I wanted my life to be more than Fletch.

I needed it to be.

So I got into consulting, and now I get to travel. A lot. More than I want, sometimes. When your bed begins to feel more foreign than hotel rooms, you’ve been on the road too long.

Busy, busy, busy…that’s been my life since I graduated from Brown two years ago. Who am I kidding? It’s been my life since Fletch disappeared out of it. It’s been a way to not think.

The cab comes to an abrupt stop. “Sorry,” the cabbie says. Traffic around Boston sucks. That’s why I thought I gave myself extra time, but then my car broke down and now I’m in a cab and … and I’m going to be late.

Panic consumes me as I check the time on my phone before staring at the taxi meter.

I can’t be late. And I can’t afford to be stuck in traffic either. I can barely cover the cost of this trip.

Traffic begins crawling forward. “How much longer?” I ask the driver.

“Ten. Fifteen minutes.”

I suck on my bottom lip. That should get me there just in time.

We weave in and out of traffic, but don’t seem to be making much progress until we pass a car pulled off to the side of the road. “All that for that?” the driver spats. “I swear, drivers around here.”

Up ahead the airport looms. Somewhere inside, Fletch waits for me. Why he couldn’t take his private jet to the Cape is a mystery. After all, if I had the means, I’d totally take a private jet.

I guess that’s the difference between Fletch and me. I’m struggling to pay off my crushing student loan debt and dream of a day when I don’t have to live paycheck-to-paycheck, and he’s trying to be normal by flying domestic.

Go figure.

The cabbie zooms through the mess of cars around us and pulls up to the United baggage claim area. I hand him my credit card and hold my breath.

Please, please, please go through.

The machine chirps and whirls before spitting out a piece of paper. I quickly scribble in a tip and hand the paper back to the cabbie. He glances at it, probably to see what I tipped, before jumping out of the cab and retrieving my suitcase. He drops my bag on the curb, and I stoop to pick it up.

The revolving doors keep going around and around. Kind of like me, debating whether this is a good idea or not.

I inhale deeply. All you have to do, Ellie Jacobs, is walk through the doors. That’s it.

Still, I hesitate. Something momentous waits for me on the other side, and I’m not sure I’m ready for it.

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