NEXT SONG I SING is Book One of the Next Time Around series. This series starts with a set of three former college roommates. All three are 40 and have divorced. The heroine of the first book (Chloe Zanders) has been living a whole coast away from the other two (Taylor Baird and Emma Wallace), but since her divorce has now returned to sunny California where she and her friends attended school. Together again after years of living apart, the trio decides to help each other find true love and romance.
Chloe sighed heavily as she saw a magazine with ear-marked pages being pulled from the bright red overnight case tossed on the roll-a-way cot next to the window. She hung her head and groaned like a woman dying.
“Emma, I can’t believe you still do those silly quizzes. I will not be answering any questions about my favorite position during sex, so don’t even ask.”
Emma Wallace studied her friend Chloe and then pointed the magazine at her.
“I’m not going to ask you difficult questions. I’ll take it easy on you because your divorce is still fresh, but you need soul-searching more than any of us, Chloe. You stayed with a man who cheated on you for years. This is not just a quiz. It’s part of your journey to self-discovery,” Emma said kindly.
“You’re starting to sound more and more like those greeting cards you write,” Taylor Baird said walking into the room, dragging an expensive, black leather overnight case on wheels.
Emma and Chloe smiled at the svelte blond who looked all business in her suit.
“Thank God you’re here, Taylor. Emma brought a quiz,” Chloe complained, saying it as if it were a dirty word. “Command some authority here and tell her no. I moved to the West Coast to get away from being emotionally tortured.”
Taylor laughed, her voice husky. “Remember in college when Emma got the idea that we needed to get our belly buttons pierced to be sexy?”
“Unfortunately,” Chloe said, remembering the trauma all too well.
She had screamed in pain while Emma had laughed and Taylor had winced. But ironically she had kept the hole over the years. Mostly because it had cost her so dearly to get it, but also because it made her feel sexy even if her husband Aaron hadn’t liked it. Wearing jewelry in the hole had been her way of rebelling against him when they fought, which was often during the five years they had been married.
“Earth to Chloe? Where are you?” Emma said, waving a hand in front of Chloe’s face.
“That piercing hurt like hell, Emma,” Chloe said, glaring hard as she remembered the pain.
“Everything worth doing hurts a little. And who was it that ran around in navel revealing shirts all that year? I’ll give you a hint. It wasn’t me or Taylor,” Emma reminded her, not a bit embarrassed to gloat.
“What else could I do but show it off? I figured I might as well enjoy it after going through hell to get it,” Chloe insisted, glaring at Emma who stuck out her tongue.
“I bet you still have it,” Emma said with a knowing grin. “I don’t. Taylor doesn’t. Tell us the truth, Chloe.”
“A woman has a right to some keep some secrets, especially from nosy friends,” Chloe said, turning her back.
When both Emma and Taylor laughed, Chloe rolled her eyes because she had kept her pierced navel. And it had felt very brave to take a healthy chunk of her savings and buy a tiny real diamond studded ring to wear there. It made her feel a lot younger than forty. It had helped Chloe feel a bit better even if her thirty-five year old husband had ultimately replaced her with a twenty-three year old.
Taylor laughed at Chloe’s and Emma’s bickering, thinking five years living on opposite coasts hadn’t changed the dynamic between any of them much. Back in college though, Chloe’s programming to please people she cared about had practically guaranteed she would never outsmart a determined Emma hell-bent on a make-over.
“We were twenty-one not sixteen when we got those, Chloe. You could have said no to Emma about the belly button ring. You can say no to the quiz now. That was my point for bringing it up. It’s time to learn to command your own authority,” Taylor said on a laugh.
“Trust me—I command authority when I need to nowadays, but you’re not fooling me, Taylor Baird. If I don’t play along, you and Emma will think I’m as boring as my ex did,” Chloe said, turning back to shake out her clothes from the exercise duffle she had brought.
All her luggage had been too large for a simple three-night stay in a resort, so Chloe hadn’t bothered. Everything that worked for California fit in the one small bag she’d carried on the plane.
“You are so not boring. Your ex is just a selfish jerk like my mine was,” Taylor said flatly, snorting in derision. “Trust me, you didn’t lose anything divorcing a man who didn’t appreciate you. One day soon, you’re going to be nothing but relieved Aaron’s out of your life. It just takes a while to feel the relief.”
Taylor unzipped her case and starting looking through her clothes. “Now come on. I’m going to treat us all to sexy new dresses to kick off our the weekend. For once, I’m looking forward to letting Emma try to fix me with her quizzes and questions. I haven’t had a decent date in three months. I obviously need an attitude adjustment or something.”
“It’s been two weeks since my last date,” Emma recounted, “but I’ve been sexually abstaining for several months. I’m balancing my chi and preparing for a better relationship. I want to be in a open and receptive state of being when I let the next man into my life.”
Chloe snorted. “Balancing your chi? Wallace, you crack me up.” she shook her head and sighed heavily again. “Well, don’t try to balance mine, Em. I like my chi like it is. I’m still too mad at my ex to even think about sleeping with another man right now. I just want to enjoy my freedom from worrying about what some guy thinks of me.”
Taylor laughed, rich and full. “Well, speak for yourself, Chloe. Honestly, I don’t even remember the last time I had sex. I think I would like someone to unbalance my chi and soon. What I need right now though is some minor lubrication, a late lunch, and some good old fashioned girl fun.”
“Taylor, I booked us appointments in the spa like you asked,” Emma said, speaking to her very savvy business friend who had placed her order for the weekend with specific instructions that she would be picking up the tab. “Full works on all three of us tomorrow at ten, including massages. We’re going to be buffed, fluffed, and stuffed. I hope that’s what you had in mind.”
“Stuffed? What do you mean stuffed?” Chloe asked, gripping a black dress in her hands. “Just what kind of massages did you arrange for us, Emma? I told you I’m not ready for anything yet.”
Taylor fell back on the bed laughing. “Listen to her. The loose goose who used to date three guys at once has now been replaced by an uptight woman afraid of getting laid. I assure you that’s not on the spa menu at this five star hotel. I swear I am never going to visit the east coast if that is what happens to you out there.”
Emma put her chin on her chest and sighed heavily. “I can see unwinding you is going to take some time, Chloe.”
“Yeah? Well, I’m about to show you two skinny blondes how much authority big women like me command. I’m going to sit on Emma’s tiny butt until she tells me what she means by stuffed,” Chloe said firmly, shaking out the five year old black capris that she hoped might still tame her curves.
At a healthy size fourteen, Chloe was not all that big by east coast standards, but in southern California where tanned and toned bodies were the norm, she was twice the size of her two skinny friends.
“Stuffed as in lunch, Chloe. Lunch is included in our treatment. When was the last time you had any fun?” Emma demanded, shaking her head sadly.
Chloe stopped sorting her clothes. When was the last time she had fun? Good grief, she couldn’t even remember. How pathetic was that?
“The last time I had fun was in college,” she answered finally. “Despite Aaron’s time out here, he and his family had very different ideas about fun than I did. Honestly, I don’t know now why I married him now. We didn’t have much in common.”
“You were thirty-five and thought the world was ending because you were way over thirty and still not married. It was easy for you to relate to the sexy, semi-retired football player who spent all his time trying to get you into bed,” Taylor said wisely.
“That’s a truth and Aaron is still sexy,” Chloe said, sighing again. “I didn’t leave him because the sex was bad.”
“Oh—please. Stop mooning over a repeat adulterer,” Emma ordered, her tone fierce. “Trust me, it’s a total waste of time.”
Chloe opened her mouth to tell Emma that Aaron wasn’t as bad as her ex, but Taylor chimed in first.
“You married Aaron for the same reason I married Lewis and in the same year. Being still single at thirty-five sent you right into the arms of the first sexy man who popped the question. Luckily, my opportunistic ex-husband moved on to his next victim when the business failed. I don’t even think I was a woman to him. I was just an investment plan. God—the business failing put me on the right track in a lot of ways.”
Taylor looked over at Emma who hadn’t said anything. She was sitting cross-legged on the bed in a meditative pose, listening and looking serene. Unfortunately, Emma was always serene, Taylor thought, and it wasn’t healthy to hold the hurt in that tightly.
“I guess when it comes down to it, Emma is the only one of us who even came close to finding real love,” Taylor said, wistfully
“Real love? What are you talking about? Brad got another woman pregnant before I even found out for sure that I couldn’t have children. A bad marriage doesn’t get much more pathetic than that,” Emma said lightly, not breaking her pose. “But I’ve separated myself from his energy now. He’s already working on baby number two with his new wife, who is also a twenty-something. I know how you feel, Chloe.”
Chloe looked at Emma and blinked. Truthfully, Aaron’s departure had nicked her pride because she hadn’t wanted to fail in her marriage, but it hadn’t affected her heart much. Emma hadn’t been so lucky. Emma had loved her husband and there had been no other man in her life since.
“Fine. I concede we all need help with our love lives, but if I’m going to have to answer Emma’s dumb quiz questions, it’s going to require more than mild lubrication. I think I’m going to start at lunch and do a follow-up every hour to make sure I maintain a buzz all day,” Chloe said, gracing Emma with as sincere a smile as she could manage. “I deserve it anyway. I haven’t had a good buzz in years.”
Shaking off her mood, Emma stood to wiggle her hips and her eyebrows as she looked at Chloe. “Does alcohol still make you want to get extra friendly?”
“Yes. So don’t let me run off with some strange man tonight. That’s a bit more self-exploration than I’m ready for right now,” Chloe said, letting herself find the humor in it at last.
Listening to both her friends laughing at her pleas, something inside Chloe eased.
She hated being defensive, hated that she’d brought that attitude to these two women who had been true friends to her through thick and thin. They didn’t need her angst on top of their own. She was the fixer, not the fix-ee in their group.
Taylor laughed at Chloe’s confession and sighed at the kindness and caring on her face as well as the return of ease to Emma’s expression. “I have missed you something fierce, Chloe Zanders. The California sunshine is going to melt all that New England angst away soon. By the time you get your tan back, you’ll be a new woman.”
“Wow. Aren’t you the optimist for once? Saving a business agrees with you,” Chloe teased. Then she sighed. “I’m glad to be back. It was way past time to make a change.”
Taylor sprung up from the bed, lithe and confident in her dress clothes, which she intended to shed right now for crops and the tightest T-shirt she owned. “Wear something easy to get out of girls and bring slut shoes if you have them. We’re going shopping.”
Anticipated Release Date: MAY 2012