Chapter 1: Gabby
The distant sound of my alarm causes me to jolt awake. Eyes wide with my heart nearly beating out of my chest. It’s the worst way to wake up.
Digging for my phone, I climb to my knees. Tossing blankets and pillows across the bed trying to find it. If I’d have plugged the damn thing in last night instead of scrolling through TikTok videos about ostriches charging their handlers, I wouldn’t be in this situation. But TikTok is addictive, and five minutes quickly turns into five hours.
When my hand finally brushes against the cool metal of my iPhone, I gasp when I realize what time it is.
Dammit. I overslept.
I have one of the biggest photo shoots of my life today. The series I’m working on was picked up by a publishing company that I’ve been dreaming of working with. I’ve only ever self published until this point, so this is huge for me.
Normally, I just purchase my covers with a stock image I found online and let my cover designer work her magic. But not this time, no. My publisher thought this book needed a live photo shoot. One that would set it aside from the other books on the market right now.
Plus, I’ll be able to use all the images we get today for promotion when I start marketing it more.
Rushing around, I find a pair of black leggings. Bringing them to my nose, they smell fresh enough. I haven’t done laundry for days, maybe even a week. Hell, I don’t know. I’ve been so busy trying to get this book finished before the deadline that everything else has fallen to the back burner.
My publisher hates when I request an extension, and it’s easier for me to just bury my head in the book and get it finished than listen to his constant bitching about how I need to do more of this or less of that.
You see, I never wanted to be an author.
No, heck no. I had other dreams.
When I was in high school, I had to do community service for a speeding ticket. Right? A speeding ticket. I was going seventy-five in a fifty.
The judge wanted to set an example out of me, so I was charged with attempted vehicular manslaughter for being more than twenty miles per hour over the posted limit. On top of that, I had to do two years of unsupervised probation and two hundred hours of community service.
I was assigned to the police department. Which was equally intriguing and daunting.
Turns out, I loved it and met a lot of good contacts, many that I’m still close with to this day. So, my dream after school was formed.
I was going to be a cop, but not just any cop, I wanted to be a state patrol. Then, I realized I probably wouldn’t make it through the academy. I’m kind of weak, and I’m not the biggest fan of exercise… so I decided something in Criminal Justice would be my ticket.
Probation and parole.
Boom. Love it. Gonna do it.
Except I didn’t.
After I graduated high school I did two years at the local community college because I never took my education seriously and therefore my GPA and ACT scores weren’t high enough. After that, I just fell off of my plan. Getting my degree as a teacher was the better option for me at the time, and my best friends were already on that path.
Reading had never really been my thing, but for some reason I bought a kindle.
Me. Buying a kindle, I know I laughed too. I stared at that device for the longest time, wondering how in the hell it was going to get me into reading.
But then an ad for a free book popped up on the screen, so I downloaded it.
It was a romance book, with one of those covers that would make just about any grandma cringe at the sight of it. But, you know, I like a good love story. I mean, I watch all of Nicholas Sparks’ movies, didn’t read his books, but I like the movies. I’m a sap for The Notebook.
So, I started reading. And reading. And reading. I couldn’t put it down. Then, one book turned into another, and then another. I avoided my friends because all I wanted to do was read. I consumed hundreds of books. Mostly all smutty books with that swoony happily ever after.
Then one day an idea popped into my head, and I was like I can do this. So, I started writing a story, fantasizing about the fairytale ending, and the perfect prince charming. Next thing I know, I was a self published author. Then I wrote another, and another. Then one day a publishing company reached out to me and I took the leap of faith and signed with them.
I miss the freedom of publishing my books when I want and not having a deadline, but the truth of the matter is I make a hell of a lot more money writing this way than what I was doing in the indie world. A few of my books are still self published, and the difference is insane. Plus my book is pushed out there more, and that’s something that I struggled with on my own.
Sliding my leggings on, I wiggle them up my body until they’re in place and I can breathe. I grab an oversized t-shirt that hangs off one shoulder and slide my feet into a pair of flip flops. Fall weather in Savannah is damn near perfect. I wish it could stay this way all year round.
This photographer is a friend of mine so my choice of outfit isn’t anything he’s never seen before. I moved to downtown Savannah a few months ago, to be closer to the publishing house and fell in love with the view of my apartment. I can watch people all day, and fantasize about what their lives are like. I even make up dialogues for their conversations with others. It keeps the creativity flowing, but sometimes, I struggle. Some days, I’ll sit here long enough and I’ll have a story formed about the mailman and the baker a few blocks over and how they have a secret relationship because her brother is best friends with the mailman, and of course it results in a surprise pregnancy, which results in their romance being blown up because the brother is pissed at the best friend. See… I have to stop myself.
I’ve lived in the same area for years. Just outside of the city, close to my best friends, Kelsi, Jen, and Chrissy. Leaving them to move downtown was hard, even though we aren’t that far away now. Before, we saw each other nearly every day. Always eating at the same little Mexican restaurant. I still see them, just not as often. They’re busy with their lives, jobs, and families of their own.
It helps that Kelsi and Jen are married to two NBA players who just so happen to play for the Hawks. Which is how we met Lydia when she began dating Chris Cole. So on game days they swing by. We meet up, have dinner. They go to the game, sometimes I tag along. It’s not often enough, but I’ll take what I can get.
Stepping out into the warm Savannah sun, I wish I could say it had a calming effect, but it doesn’t. Horns are blaring, trying to hurry the people in front of them along. A woman is whistling for a cab at the corner. Dogs are barking as their owners struggle to gain control while going for their daily walk. But regardless, I smile to myself because I love it here.
The hustle and bustle of everyday life is far different than how I was living before. I woke up at the same time everyday, drove five minutes to the local school, taught all day, then drove home. Now, I pass a new face every single time I step out my door.
I love it.
“Good Morning, Ms. Gabby,” my neighbor, Mr. Callaway, says as he passes by.
His dog, Jock, sniffs my leg. He’s a solid black miniature schnauzer that’s barely even twenty pounds and yes, he was named after Lady and the Tramp, because why not?
“Good Morning, Mr. Callaway.” I smile at the elderly man. He’s a widower, lost his wife a couple of years ago. Which is how he ended up with Jock. His kids don’t live in the area and he refuses to move out of Savannah, so they bought Jock for him. “You too, Jock.” I bend, scratching behind his ear.
Looking around, the traffic is insane this morning and I’ll never be able to catch a cab, so I pull up the Savannah bike share app on my phone and rent one of the electric bikes. The dock is just around the corner from my apartment, which is convenient for me.
I rush through the busy sidewalk, dodging people left and right like a crazy person because I’m starting to get more frazzled the later I am. Grabbing a bike, I slide my backpack, that doubles as my laptop bag and purse, to my back.
I pull the bike into the bicycle lane, weaving through traffic that is blocking my path. I don’t really know what the point of a bike lane is if they’re not going to treat it like it’s for cyclists only. Or why the city isn’t doing more to fix this issue.
Thankfully, the studio is only a few blocks up from my apartment so it doesn’t take me very long to get there. But it’s still exercise and I’m struggling to catch my breath and keep my legs moving by the time I see the building come into view.
Rolling to a stop outside the studio, I climb off the bike and look up at the building with a smile. Despite the shitty morning I’ve already had, I can’t believe this day has finally come. I pull the bike into a dock to return it and rush toward the entrance.
Walking through the studio doors, I’m greeted by the photographer himself. Christopher Lance is one of the most sought after photographers in the city. He often shoots model calls for clothing companies and is sometimes whisked away to do elegant photoshoots in New York.
Christopher and I met when I purchased a stock image of his for one of my book covers. I loved it so much, and followed him on social media. Once the cover image for the book was released, I tagged him in a post, giving him credit for the image. We chatted, hit it off, and the rest is history.
“You’re late,” Christopher sings to me as I walk further into his studio.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear my alarm.” I sigh, walking toward him.
“Ah, you’re lucky I love ya, doll.” He gestures to the set up behind him.
A large bed is centered against a side wall of exposed brick with a black metal headboard. The sheets are cream colored, just the style I had envisioned for this cover. Normally all I do is show a man with a sculpted six pack on my covers, nothing else. But my publisher thought it would be best to take a more home style look this time around.
Even though the model will still be shirtless… but I guess they know more than I do.
“What do you think?” Christopher turns his attention back to me, studying my face.
Pleased with my answer, he hugs me.
When I was told we would be doing a shoot, I knew I needed it to be him. Luckily for me, the publishing company was more than enthused to know that he could be the one shooting all the shots for the cover and promo.
“Good,” he huffs. “The only thing that isn’t perfect is the fact that we still don’t have our model.” He looks at me, tilting his head slightly in question. “Any ideas?”
“Cal isn’t here?” I furrow my brow.
He shakes his head.
What. The. Fuck.
Cal is married to one of my best friends, Jen. They met through Kelsi and Landon a couple years ago. Their relationship was rocky, and honestly it could have been made into a damn good book with the drama they experienced with their adopted son, Bobby. His parents tried to kidnap him, and then they had a friends with benefits relationship and she ended up pregnant.
I mean, it checks all my boxes for a good read. And she hasn’t exactly told me I couldn’t write it… so it’s still on the table.
Same for Kelsi and Landon’s story. I mean, he legit ran her over at a ball game. Who wouldn’t read that shit?
Slinging my bag to the side, I dig for my phone, all while cursing Cal in my head.
“I don’t know how you find anything in that monstrosity.” Christopher laughs, gesturing to my bag before he moves to the set to fluff a few pillows.
When I find my phone, I unlock it and pull up Jennifer’s contact information. Hitting the call button, I place the phone to my ear and listen as it rings continuously as I stare at Christopher. He’s staring at the set, almost as if he wants to rip it all apart and start over again.
The call goes to voicemail, and I groan in frustration.
Ugh. This cannot be happening to me. Not today. I start to text Jen, but she beats me to it.
Jennifer: Sorry, can’t answer. At work.
Me: Where the hell is Cal?
The text bubble appears and I chew my lip, pushing my nerves down and reminding myself to take a deep breath.
Jennifer: Did he not call you?
Call me? Call me for what? If he called me, Jennifer, would I be texting you asking where your husband is? I stare at my screen, my thumbs move furiously across the screen as I type out my response.
Me: Call me for what? He was supposed to be here already.
Jennifer: His agent called a last minute meeting to discuss the terms of his new contract with the Hawks. He said he took care of everything.
I don’t respond to her, instead I open a new chat window with Cal. I’m ready to give my best friend’s husband a piece of my mind.
This cannot be happening to me. Not today.
If this shoot doesn’t happen, it’ll wreck my timeline for everything. Not to mention it’ll stress me the fuck out. The publishing house is expecting these photos back soon, and I’ve had this shoot scheduled with Christopher for months.
Let’s not forget he’s one of the most sought after photographers. I had to book well in advance.
Me: What the hell, Cal?
He texts me back immediately. Almost as if he was expecting my message.
Cal: I know, I know. I couldn’t get out of this meeting. But, I’ve taken care of everything. Your new model should be arriving shortly.
Me: New model? This was all planned with you in mind.
He was perfect for my character. Not that I wrote my book with my best friend’s husband in mind.. That’d be weird and against girl code.
But he was perfect. A new model, not to mention one that I haven’t approved, won’t work.
Cal: It’ll be fine. I promise.
I blow out a deep breath, getting mad isn’t going to fix this situation. It’ll only make it worse.
Me: I hate you for this, you owe me.
Cal: That I do. That I do.
The fact that he gives in and acknowledges that he owes me makes me nervous.