Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat

We had an impromptu Thanksgiving break last week. Thanks for coming back this week!

The Bandbox Hat

Previously: During a group bowling date, Austin and SarahJane interrupt SarahJane’s brother and Amanda in a kiss. Austin and SarahJane return to their lunch. He tells her that his mother was a child actress with a hit show twenty-five years ago. No one else on the show has recognized her.
Chapter Forty-Two
Linda strode toward us. I searched her features, looking for the young Madeleine I remembered from when I was April’s age and watching Nickelodeon reruns while waiting for Mom to look over my homework.
“It’s confessional time.” She pointed to the side of the bowling alley. A camera and lighting umbrellas were clustered around a chair. “You’re up first. I’ll chat with SarahJane while you talk.”
She tucked her arm through mine and led me toward the soda fountain again. “How are you, SarahJane?”
I smothered a smile. She sounded so sincere, but according to Austin it was all an act. Or mostly anyway. How could I draw the truth from her? I’d always been fairly intuitive, able to guess if a student was cheating by looking at their neighbor’s paper or when April was intent on eating two desserts. “We had a lovely lunch,” I finally said. “Except for – well, never mind.”
“I heard Amanda has switched her attentions from Austin to Nathan. How do you feel about that?”
“News travels fast around here.” I sighed. “I’m not sure how I feel. I don’t like her, but who knows if it’s because of the falseness of this whole thing? If we taught at the same school or worked at the same Gap store or had something else in common besides this stupid show, who knows, maybe we’d be BFFs.”
Linda smiled. “Somehow I doubt it. But it’s a nice thought.”
“You know about all of us, Linda, but I really don’t know you at all,” I said. Maybe I could get a few questions in before it was her turn in the confessional.
The sounds of bowling balls rolling down smooth wood alleys and sending pins flying reached us. I closed the soda fountain doors.
“You know the thing I’m most proud of in all the world,” she said. “My son.”
I had to smile. “He’s special, all right. Where did you guys live when he was growing up?”
“Rancho Cucamonga, which is as much fun to live in as it is to say.” She perched on one of the stools at the counter. “Is there soda in here?”
I pulled a Coke out of the old-fashioned cooler and twisted off the cap before handing it to her. “Did you work?”
She shook her head. “I enjoyed being home and I was blessed to be able to.”
“You never got the urge to do anything different? Go on Real Housewives of Orange County?”
“Reality television is a pretty new thing, comparatively speaking. When I was raising Austin, the only real things on were the news and game shows.”
“My mother went on The Price is Right once. Did you ever do anything like that?” I asked it as casually as I could but kept an eagle eye on her expression.
She grinned. “I tried out for Jeopardy! once but didn’t make the final cut.”
“Oh, that’s too bad. Do you remember any of the questions?” I did a mental eye roll at my inane questions. This was ridiculous. So what if Linda was a former child actress. She was here to help her son find love.
“No, it’s been too long.” She sipped her Coke and looked through the glass doors to the games going on outside. And not just in the alleys. If I stood on my tiptoes and craned my head, I caught a glimpse of Amanda’s backside waving in Nathan’s face as she helped another girl sitting in front of the scoring monitor.
Linda followed my gaze and smiled. “Tonight’s another charm ceremony. We’re whittling you all down.”
I nodded. That’s right. Besides getting to know Austin and Linda and keeping an eye on Nathan and Amanda, I should be worrying about getting a new charm to add to my bracelet. I ran a finger over the smooth trinkets already attached. A volleyball. A horse. A champagne flute. Presumably each one meant something pertinent to that week’s episode, but since I wasn’t invited on all the dates, I had no way of knowing for sure. I could guess that Austin and Cassie and Amanda and a few other girls had gone horseback riding on their group date last week. Actually, I knew they had. Cassie told me all about it. But still, if I were a viewer at home, I’d be able to infer quite a bit from these bracelets.
“Okay, Mom, your turn.” Austin pushed through the doors. “And SarahJane, we’ve been told to get back to bowling. We’ve frittered away enough time talking, now it’s time for some action shots.”
I smiled at his enthusiasm. “We’re coming.”
Linda drained her soda bottle and tossed it into the blue recycling barrel behind the faux soda counter. “Indeed we are.”


Wednesday! The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

I’m thrilled to be a part of The Next Big Thing Blog Hop. It’s kind of like a chain letter for writers and bloggers. I was nominated by Victoria Pitts-Caine who talked about her new books coming out from PRISM Book Group.

Read on for details about my current project. At the bottom, I’ve nominated five other writers who will post their own answers to these questions next Wednesday, December 5th.

What is the working title of your book?                                 
Against The Peace
Where did the idea come from for the book?
That’s a long story. I was watching a Lifetime movie about a young actress who goes to live with a “normal” family, though I don’t remember why. She looks around and mutters something about being in the Witness Security program. I couldn’t hear her enunciate and had to back it up several times to try and hear if she was saying “Witness Protection” or “Witless Protection.” I never did decide for sure which it was. Later, while I was walking in the neighborhood, it occurred to me that Witless Protection would be a great name for a humorous suspense story about the Witness Security Program. I finished the story but found there wasn’t much of a market for humorous suspense. The story has evolved from a love triangle between a young woman, her boyfriend and the marshal protecting him to a straight romance between the woman and the marshal. Instead of her boyfriend being in peril, the bad guys are after her because she witnessed them murder one of her janitorial company’s clients. Along with the boyfriend, I had to lose the too humorous Witless Protection name.
What genre does your book fall under?                            
Romantic Suspense
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?                                                                             Cricket Spencer is Amy Adams.
U.S. Marshal Lucas Holden is Jeffrey Dean Morgan.                                                   

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 
What if a woman who hated violence and guns is threatened and her only hope lies in a man who carries a gun every day and makes his living on the edge of violence?
          Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

           I’m still hopeful that it will find a home with a traditional publisher, but if not, I’m happy to             self-publish it.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?   
The original Witless Protection took about 3 months, including 50,000 words during NaNoWriMo a few years ago. The new version is still being written, another NaNoWriMo project.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?   
I love Dee Henderson and Irene Hannon’s romantic suspense. I would never presume to compare myself to them, but I wouldn’t be hurt if someone else did. Winking smile 
Who or What inspired you to write this book? 
See above for the whole story, but it started with the original name, Witless Protection. As the story changed and progressed, it became obvious the name no longer fit. My local Sisters in Crime chapter once had a speaker who was a former London police officer and he said many of the phrases and words in the British penal code would make great book titles. Like “Against the Peace.” That stuck with me and given that a marshal’s job is to protect people from violence, it seemed fitting.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? 
Cricket Spencer is a “green” cleaning lady. She owns a janitorial company that uses only eco-friendly products. Her parents are aging hippies who live out their convictions. They escaped a cult-like leader’s compound when Cricket was a child. The ensuing gunfight left her with a deep and abiding fear of guns.

Now, I nominate five other writers. Check their blogs next Wednesday, December 5th to read about their projects. I’m so thankful to each for participating with me. I can’t wait to read what they’re working on.

My friend and critique partner: Beth Shriver
My friend and once upon a time critique partner: Lisa Lickel
My ACFW associate: Kathy Harris
My friend and trusted advisor: Julie Carobini


Book Talk Tuesday: The Next Best Thing

I was a little surprised to get a call last week from the library saying the book I had requested was ready to be picked up. I couldn’t remember requesting anything, but figured maybe I’d been sleep browsing.

I was still more surprised when I saw Jennifer Weiner’s The Next Best Thing waiting with my name on it.

I’ve heard of Weiner but hadn’t read anything by her yet. So she’s been on my “Get-around-to-her-one-of-these-days” list for a long time. I know I saw her on the Today show a few months ago talking about her latest book with Harlan Coben, whom I love. I presume that combined with reading a few reviews convinced me to request this.

I’m glad I did.

It’s not inspirational fiction. But it’s not as gratuitous as it could have been. Upfront warning: There were two parts I skimmed over.

The voice is lively and likeable. The characters are not the usual Hollywood archetypes even though they work there.

Ruthie Saunders lost her parents in a car accident that also left her scarred and needing years of plastic surgery. Now all grown up, she and her grandma move to LA to tackle the world of television writing.

The book takes Ruthie and her new show through pilot season on to the network’s fall schedule.

Weiner has worked in Hollywood and her insider knowledge makes Ruthie particularly sharp in her observations. She acknowledges her own failings in standing up to the network for her vision and her show, and debates what constitutes the greater good.

Ruthie’s scars are visible but Weiner shows us that others have wounds just as deep and painful, though hidden.

My criticism is extremely picky. As a native Californian, I know you don’t drive from Massachusetts to California and see Yosemite on the way. Particularly if your last night before arriving in LA is spent in Las Vegas. Maybe Weiner meant Yellowstone.

And Ruthie references an online journal that published her short story and she says she was paid in contributor copies. Now I’ve been published online and in magazines. I’ve been paid in contributor copies. But only for print magazines. I don’t see how an online journal can send contributor copies.

Both of those are teeny tiny points that prove what a petty person I really am, so there you go.

Over all, I enjoyed The Next Best Thing a lot and will move Weiner higher up on my “When-I-get-around-to-it” list.


Thankful Thursday


Oops. Catherine’s web site is experiencing technical difficulties. My post will appear in December. I’ll let you know when it’s up.

In the meantime, here’s a hint:

Do you ever see a blessing in the midst of the hard stuff?


Woe! It’s Wednesday: Being Thankful

This is going to be short. I’m guest blogging tomorrow on Catherine Leggitt’s blog about blessings.

So please click through to Catherine’s website tomorrow to see my post about blessings and thanksgiving.


Book Talk Tuesday: The Red Suit Diaries: A Real Life Santa on Hopes, Dreams, and Childlike Faith


The Red Suit Diaries: A Real-Life Santa on Hopes, Dreams, and Childlike FaithI’ve had this one on my Kindle for nearly a year. I read the first half shortly after Christmas. Then it slipped to the back of the list and I forgot about it. With the season quickly approaching again, I dipped back in and read to the end.

Ed Butchart is a part-time Santa and full time spreader of good cheer. Besides his Santa gig, Butchart founded a charity that repairs and distributes wheelchairs and other medical equipment.

Butchart tells how he began his Santa career as well as anecdotes about the children whose lives he’s touched and who have touched his. He takes his Santa seriously and is always mindful about what Santa says and does to the innocent.

The writing style is downhome and easy to read, but not simplistic. His love for what he does shines through. The book can be read straight through or a daily reader. The selections are fairly short and can be read in a single sitting.

Christians who disapprove of Santa as stealing Jesus’ spotlight during the Christmas season would get a different perspective. Butchart is an unapologetic evangelical Christian who melds his faith with Santa Claus.

I recommend this to start your Christmas season off right. Especially if you’re having a Bah! Humbug sort of year.


Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat


The Bandbox Hat

Previously: During a group bowling date, Austin accidentally lets go of a ball too soon and it almost hits SarahJane. He apologizes by taking her on a private date in the alley’s 1950’s style diner. While they’re eating, they hear noises coming from the kitchen. When they investigate, they find Nathan and Amanda kissing.

Chapter Forty-One

At least Nathan had to good grace to look sheepish as he ran a hand through his hair. “Hi, SarahJane. Austin.”

I felt a nudge at my side and turned.

“Let’s go,” Austin said. “We’ve got our own date.” He leaned close to whisper in my ear. “There are still cameras here, even if they’re not in our faces.

I gave Nathan a glare but managed a wobbly smile for Austin. “Yes, we do.” Showing Nathan my back gave me a moment’s satisfaction.

Austin and I sat again but I’d lost my appetite.

He covered my hand with his. “Let’s pretend it never happened. Maybe it won’t be in the show.”

“I wish, but even I’m not that naïve. I know we’re going to be the teaser for this episode.”

He let go of my hand and picked up his burger. “Maybe. Or maybe something even more exciting will happen. Maybe … maybe we’ll catch my mom behind the lanes.”

I laughed. “Your mom has sense enough to avoid dark places.”

“Then we’ll have to improvise. Do something shocking ourselves.”

“I want to avoid being the teaser, not ensure it.” His easy manner did help unknot my stomach muscles and I sighed.

“Oh, right. Well, we can lock Amanda and a few other girls in the restroom. They might turn on each other.”

“Is this place really wired for sound and pictures all through the building?” I hadn’t taken the time earlier, but now I looked at the ceiling and wasn’t surprised to see the opaque half-globes that meant a camera was watching.

“I think so.” He put down his burger and leaned back in his chair. A bit of ketchup clung to his lower lip.

“You’ve got a little something—” I pointed.

He gave me a wicked grin. “I know.”

Heat flashed up my cheeks.

“I lost my napkin in the excitement of catching your brother and Amanda.”

I handed him mine. “Here.”

He laughed out loud, a carefree sound that unleashed my own pent up giggles. With a swipe of white paper across his mouth, he removed the red splotch.

I felt oddly deflated, like that ketchup had been an invitation or a test. I didn’t get the feeling that I’d failed, but I definitely didn’t do as well as I should have, given that I was a teacher.

“Shall we bowl some more?” He stood and extended his hand.

I took it and we walked back into the main area. “Thank you for lunch. It was delicious.”

“My pleasure.” He stopped in front of me and took my hands. “I mean that. I know this is crazy, trying to meet people and start relationships surrounded by other women, cameras, and production people all telling us where to look and turn. When all I want to do is spend some time talking like normal people do on dates. But since that’s not going to happen for at least a few more weeks, I want to tell you that I’ve enjoyed every conversation we’ve had, SarahJane.”

I couldn’t help the smile his words brought to my lips. “Me too. And that goes for your mom as well.”

His eyes crinkled. “She’s something else, isn’t she?”

“She sure is.” Strangely enough, as sweet as Austin’s speech was, it was still a speech and felt rehearsed. But when I thought about Linda, the opposite feeling came. She was completely relaxed and casual. “How does she do it?” I asked. “She seems like she’s the same person whether cameras are around or not.”

He leaned in close. “Can you keep a secret?”

I mimicked locking my lips and tossing the key over my shoulder.

His breath tickled my neck under my ear and my shoulder reflexed into a shrug. “She’s a former actress. No one knows. I mean, of course the production company does, but none of the other women here have recognized her.”

I pulled back to look him in the eyes. “Really? Should I know her?”

He shrugged. “Ever heard of a show called The Samantha Scheme?”

I pulled away to stare at him. “Are you kidding me? Your mom was Samantha?”

He shook his head. “No, she was Samantha’s best friend, Madeleine.”

“I watched that show in reruns when I was in fourth grade.”

He nodded. “She did a few other things after that, but decided not to act anymore. But never forget, she’s an actress. A very capable actress.”

“Austin! SarahJane!”

Austin leaned close. “Speak of the devil.” He turned and waved. “Hi, Mom.”


Woe! It’s Wednesday

Things are calming down. A little.

One daughter is moved and adjusting to her new job. The other is working and taking care of an injured husband and a fussy toddler. Stud muffin is counting down his days to retirement while measuring how long his hair is.

Yep, he’s letting it grow. After 29 and a half years of having to be clean shaven with short hair and adhering to grooming standards, he’s already starting to let his hair grow. He’s (sort of) keeping it off his collar, but he hasn’t cut the rest of it for a couple of months now. He’s looking pretty scraggly. Almost unkempt. In a way that’s new for him.

He’s gotten a few comments at work, but his attitude is, What are they gonna do? Fire me? He’s gotten some double takes and askance looks at church and out shopping. His daughters hate it and never fail to let him know their feelings.

Several friends and family members think he’s crazy. And they think I’m even crazier for “letting” him do it.

I have mixed emotions. I’m not crazy about the longer locks. But I do recognize his need to rebel a little now. He’s worked hard for 35 years to provide for me and his family. If he wants to quit getting haircuts, I think it’s his business. I don’t want him telling me how to color or cut my hair. I’m not about to dictate his choices in the same matters.

Now, when we get to what he wears, that’s a whole different matter. He tells people that I dress him, so my reputation is on the line when he goes out in scruffy sweats. I scolded him recently for wearing a shirt out to lunch and shopping that had been relegated to the Not in Public section of his closet. It’s stained. The collar is fraying.

He crossed a line and must be stopped. If the shirt makes one more public appearance, it’ll be placed in the dumpster.

He can wear his hair how he likes but I do have some standards.


Book Talk Tuesday: On My Nightstand

I’ve been busy writing and helping my daughter move and reading a test copy of a friend’s newest novel. I haven’t finished anything longer than a magazine article in a week or more, so instead of a review, here’s a taste of what’s on my nightstand, Mt. TBR, and my Kindle.

In no particular order, this is what I’m looking forward to:

 Against All OddsIrene Hannon

Against All Odds.  I mentioned this one before. I’m still about 15 pages in and I can’t wait to get back to it.



Lisa Samson  Lisa Samson: Quaker Summer   Quaker Summer. Every Lisa Samson book I’ve read is completely different from the others. Except for the distinct and believable characters, original plots, and life-changing themes.

Dee Henderson, Full Disclosure    I’ve been a Dee Henderson fan for years. Her O’Malley series was really my introduction to Christian romantic suspense and she set the bar really high.

Liz Curtis Higgs, A Wreath of Snow is (I expect) Lizzie at her finest. A Wreath of Snow by Liz Curtis Higgs

Historical. Scottish. Christmas. Need I say more?

TWHN final w/ endorse   To Whisper Her Name by Tamera Alexander, simply one of the best historical writers out there. It’s on my Kindle and it’s killing me to leave it in the To Be Read file.

Just writing these snippets has me ready to go curl up with one of these!


Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat


The Bandbox Hat

Previously: SarahJane and Cassie arrive at a bowling date with Austin and his mom. SarahJane notices there are no cameras around and no Nathan, even though he’s supposed to be on the show now too.

Chapter Forty

A half hour later we were finishing up the first game. I’d thrown a couple gutter balls, a strike and a few spares. Cassie and Linda did about the same. Austin though was a natural.

“Strike!” Cassie hollered as Austin turned and bowed toward us. “Well done.”

“Thank you, fair lady.” Austin strolled back to the ball return. “Last frame. Let’s see if I can do it again.”

The machine clunked and shuddered and spit the shiny green ball along the track. He resumed his place at the approach. Stepped. Swung the ball back. And let go.

I gasped and ducked as it sailed past my head and thunked on the floor behind me.

Austin whirled. “SarahJane!”

“Are you all right?” Cassie and Linda hurried to me.

“I’m okay,” I said, waving them off. “But what are you doing, Austin? Downsizing the dating pool by taking us out one by one instead of withholding bracelet charms?”

“I’m so sorry.” He skidded to a stop and dropped to his knees in front of me. “I don’t know what happened.”

“No harm. At least to me.” In truth, I shook from the close call. The ball hadn’t touched me, but I felt the tailwind as it sailed by.

“Let me make it up to you.” He stood and reached out a hand. “Mom, Cassie, we’re taking a break. Be back in a few. You go on and play.”

Linda and Cassie waved and moved back to the electronic scoreboard.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

He took my hand and led me up the stairs to the upper level of the bowling alley. We headed toward the neon sign announcing the Strike Zone diner.

“Right here.” He pushed the door open and held it for me.

Instead of the dingy greasy spoon I expected, the Strike Zone was a darling café, decorated like a 1950s soda fountain. One white wrought iron table sat in the middle with two chairs. Burgers and fries in red plastic baskets and two chocolate shakes in glass mug waited.

“This is for me?” My voice faltered and I cleared my throat. “I mean, you didn’t have to invite me to a private date just because you nearly killed me. You already apologized.”

His dimple grew as he grinned. “I already planned to ask you to lunch. The thrown ball just a nice excuse to get you away from the others.”

Oh. My cheeks felt warm as we took our seats.

“To you.” Austin lifted his shake and toasted me.

I clinked my mug to his and took a sip. “Hmmm. Malt. I haven’t had a real malt since I left Rosedale.” To my horror, tears filled my eyes.

“SarahJane.” Austin gave me a stricken look. “I’m so sorry. I swear it was an accident.”

“I know that, silly.” I sniffed and managed to keep talking. “When I thought of Rosedale, I guess I got a sudden jolt of homesickness. I’m fine. Really.” I shook salt over my fries. “How did they get the food ready at the perfect moment?”

“Well, they are professionals.” He waggled his eyebrows as he took a bite out of his cheeseburger. “Now, I think today’s date agenda is sharing something from our childhood. Since we already know that you’re homesick, you want to go first and tell me all about Rosedale?”

I swallowed before answering. “Not much to tell. It’s a small town in Central California. I love it there.”

“What brought you to L.A.?”

A clatter sounded. “That came from the kitchen.” I nodded toward the double doors with the round windows behind Austin.

“Liam?” Austin called. “Is that part of the date? What do we do?”

Silence. Then another sound, like something metal dropping onto a hard floor. Followed by a giggle and a hushing sound.

Austin and I exchanged a glance. He put a finger over his lips. I pointed at the doors and raised my brows. He nodded.

We tiptoed to the door and together poked our heads up to look through the portholes.

I gasped and pushed the door open. It clanged against an aluminum table.

“Nathan! What’s going on?”

My brother pushed away the girl he’d been kissing. She tucked a loose strand of hair behind one ear and flashed me a look of triumph. Amanda.


Woe! It’s Wednesday

We’re in the midst of a tough season. Literally and figuratively.

It’s November and still in the upper 70s to low 80s during the day. I don’t know what to wear.

One of our daughters is overwhelmed with stress. Things completely out of her hands keep throwing her hard balls. She’s ducking and catching but some of them are hitting her right in the head.

Stud muffin is counting down the days until his retirement. This will mean a change in lifestyle for us. He’ll be around even more than he is now. I’ve always made it a habit to stop what I’m doing and respond when he needs something, whether it’s pointing out the milk in the front of the refrigerator or holding the log while he runs a chain saw through it. That’s worked well for us. But when he’s here 24/7, I don’t think I do that and continue to do the things I need to do to write and run a home.

Our son-in-law is facing his second back surgery in a year and a half. Our daughter will be taking care of him as well as her toddler and second grader, while still working.

Good friends are experiencing health and family struggles and great loss.

The only constant right now is stress and change.

I’m trying to focus on the unchangeable.

God is in charge.

He knows what He’s doing.

And when I stress or worry I go back to those two things.

God is in charge and He knows what He’s doing.

Repeat after me:

God is in charge and He knows what He’s doing.


Book Talk Tuesday: A Few of My Favorites

No single title review today. I’m going to be on Central Valley Today at 11 am on Channel 24, KSEE. One of the questions I’m expecting is “Who are your favorite authors?” I know in the moment that I’ll forget someone I love and will feel bad that I missed the opportunity to give them a shout out. So, just in case, here’s a short list of who moves to the top of my To Be Read mountain. I’m going to make some sub-categories. ABA=American Booksellers Association (the general market). CBA=Christian Booksellers Association (the Christian/faith/inspirational market).

In no particular order:




  • Harlan Coben
  • Dean Koontz (this is a sort of a lie. Most of his stuff is too spooky for me. Although The Husband is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Really. I sent him one of my “charming notes” and received a personal reply. He’s now one of my most favorite people whom I’ve never met and whose books I mostly don’t read. But I love him.)
  • J.D. Robb
  • Margaret Maron
  • Julia Spencer-Fleming
  • Alexander McCall Smith
  • Lisa Gardener
  • Elizabeth Peters
  • James Scott Bell

Women’s Fiction/Romance:

  • Kristan Higgins
  • Claire Cook
  • LuAnne Rice
  • Jodi Picoult
  • Susan Wiggs


  • Malcolm Gladwell



  • Dee Henderson
  • Sean Grady
  • Michael Berrier
  • Alton Gansky
  • Irene Hannon  (This one is another sort of lie. She’s been highly recommended to me by someone I trust so I have one of her books on my nightstand now. I’ve barely started it, but I can tell she’s a keeper and belongs on this list.)
  • Victoria Pitts-Caine

Women’s Fiction/Romance:

  • Deborah Raney
  • Liz Curtis Higgs
  • Kathryn Cushman
  • Susan May Warren
  • Julie Carobini
  • Anne Mateer
  • Tamera Alexander
  • Gayle Roper
  • Beth Shriver
  • Michelle Ule


  • Patsy Clairmont
  • Anne Lamott
  • Liz Higgs
  • Madeleine L’Engle

Young Adult:

  • L.T. Kodzo
  • Lisa Bergeron

I’ve probably forgotten a few, but I have to stop somewhere.

How about you? Who are your favorites?



Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat


The Bandbox Hat

Previously: SarahJane has a restless night. The next morning she and Cassie are chosen for a bowling date with Austin and his mom. In the car on the way to the bowling alley, Cassie confesses that she have met someone while on the show—someone on the crew.

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Cassie and I shuffled along behind the other girls and followed Austin into the dark bowling alley. Ooohs and Aaahs echoed around us. The place looked like we’d taken three giant steps back in time.

“Did they film That Thing You Do here?” I whispered to Cassie who responded with a low chuckle. “I swear Tom Everett Scott was drumming against that dark-paneled wall.”

Dim lights illuminated a dozen alleys. Gears meshed and ground as balls emerged from the automatic return tubes then rolled to a stop.

“Get your bowling shoes over here,” Liam called, waving his iPad from a nearby counter.

After shoving my feet into a pair of new sock and then into previously worn shoes, I looked around for a ball.

“Over here.” Linda waved to me from the next alley. “Try this one.” She thrust a ball into my arms and I staggered under the weight.

“I’ve been playing so much Wii bowling, I forgot how heavy these suckers are.” I tried to place it in the sorter gently but it slipped and thudded, making the whole contraption shudder.

Linda laughed. “It’ll be fun.”

Before I could agree, Cassie skipped up to us. “Are we assigned to certain alleys?”

“We’re using both sides of this one.” Linda waved a hand at the semi-circle of plastic chairs molded to someone’s backside. “As soon as we’re all here, we’ll get started. Cassie, we figured this was safer than beach volleyball. These balls are too heavy to spike into anyone’s face.”

Cassie laughed but a shadow crossed her face.

A prickle ran over the nape of my neck. Something was missing … I glanced around the dim building. Girls still chattered at the shoe counter. Liam and Austin spoke in low tones by the snack bar. They both had intense expressions on their faces but I couldn’t make out any words.

Wait … cameras. Where were the ever-present cameras? They’d been spying on Amanda and me in the middle of the night, but they weren’t here capturing a bona fide group date. That made no sense. Also, where was Nathan? If he was being added to the show, shouldn’t he be here? Something was going on.

I strolled by the snack bar, striving to hear Austin and Liam’s conversation. But when I got close, all I heard was, “… that’s final.”

They broke apart and looked at me. “Where’s the cameras?” I asked. May as well let them know I knew they were up to something.

Liam shrugged. “They’re around. We thought it would be more natural to keep them at a distance.”

Right. And my great-aunt Martha was born yesterday.