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Wes Granger rolled over and groaned. His sides ached and his mouth was dry. The pain meds got him to sleep, but he paid the price every day when he woke up stiff with a foggy mind. But that morning, he didn’t wake up in the hotel room he remembered checking in to the day before. He thought his hotel room was all dark wood and modern art. This one was white, fluffy, and featured a pair of blue high-heeled shoes beside the dresser.
He swung his legs to the floor and gingerly stretched his arms over his head. His head still felt like a bull had stepped on it, but he was slowly remembering his night. One tequila shot as soon as he’d arrived at the bar, then another, and then he’d opened a tab. Then things got a little blurry when a cocktail waitress in a pair of low-slung daisy dukes asked if he was the Wes Granger.
Nothing got buckle bunnies riled up faster than someone who got horned by a bull and lived. He spent the evening drinking, telling them about his broken ribs and collarbone, then showing off his scars, both surgical and not. Yep, nothing got to buckle bunnies like a guy with a scar and a story, and nothing got to Wes Granger like a pair of daisy dukes and a bottle of top-shelf tequila.
He could hear the shower running as he picked through the room, looking for his clothes. He found one boot under the bed and another beside the door. His shirt was on a chair and his pants and briefs were under the comforter. By the time he found everything and buckled his pants, the water had turned off.
Wes didn’t know who was about to step out of that bathroom, but he wasn’t about to stick around and make small talk with someone he didn’t even remember. He didn’t know why he kept doing that to himself—falling into bed with some girl, only to never think about her again. He reckoned it was because it was a lonely life on the rodeo circuit, and sometimes he was just bone tired of being alone. Luckily Wes was only a few hours’ drive from home.
Marietta, Montana, was calling his name.
Publishing’s Party Princess Hits the Town
Molly Hollingsworth, one of the three heiresses to the Hollingsworth Publishing conglomerate, was spotted last night in New York City coming out of The City Center Club. Dressed to the nines, and with a date who looked like a total zero, she posed for a picture after reportedly paying thousands of dollars to make one bride to be’s bachelorette dreams come true.
One witness claimed our favorite Party Princess ignored the latest man on her arm in favor of a bachelorette party from Idaho. When the group couldn’t get into the most exclusive hot spot in town, she pushed them to the front of the line. “She dropped, like, ten grand on their bottle service,” says our insider. “Like, told them to put whatever they wanted on her tab and promised to get them a dress fitting with Vera Wang. Like the actual Vera Wang.”
Talk about a fairy godmother for the ages! After following the bride to be on Twitter, Hollingsworth left on the arm of her brand-new boytoy . . . then gave him to her personal driver to take him home, opting for a cab for herself.
Molly scrutinized the picture that accompanied the article, zooming in on her iPad to get a better look. It wasn’t a bad photo. She had been wearing a Jonathan Simkhai sequin wrap dress in the most beautiful shade of champagne. It had a draped skirt that showed off her legs that ended in a pair of matching Louboutin pumps. Her hair was piled atop her head and she was smiling over her shoulder at the camera while her date, a Las Vegas DJ who swore he was the next Steve Aoki, was bent over behind her, getting sick behind a bush.
Maybe she could airbrush him out of the picture. He’d only gotten so shitfaced because when she’d told him to stop flirting with the uninterested bartender who was just trying to do her job, he began downing shots in protest. Even when she’d tried to slow him down with some water or convince him to go home, he’d kept drinking in defiance. If he got sloppy, that was on him. And she knew he’d gotten home all right, so what was the harm in bailing to make a bride happy?
Scrolling through the comments beneath the article, which ranged from singing her praises to calling her a vapid brat, she reached for the hotel phone on the nightstand. She dialed the number for room service and placed her usual Plaza Hotel breakfast order of eggs Benedict, fresh-pressed coffee, and extra bacon. It was almost eleven in the morning and she needed to actually get her day started.
Molly showered and donned her vintage silk dressing robe and slippers, leaving the white terry-cloth one the hotel had provided in the closet. Then she went downstairs to the living room of the suite just as a crisp knock sounded at the door. She grabbed a fifty-dollar bill from the entryway table for the room service delivery person.
To her surprise, it was Stan, the head of the room service staff. He rolled Molly’s tray in and grinned. “Morning, Molly. I heard you’re checking out today?”
“Sure am.” She followed Stan onto the terrace overlooking 58th Street. “Are you and Dana still taking the kids to Disney Land before school starts?”
“Yeah, it should be a treat with all three of them.” He laughed and shook his head. “We’ve never taken them on a trip together though; it’ll be a learning curve.”
“It’s great you guys are taking a family vacation though. Let me set you up with a little surprise when you’re there.”
“No, you don’t have to—”
“I insist.” Her mind swam with images of princess makeovers for his three little girls, special fast passes to take them to the front of every ride, breakfasts in bed, a special dinner for Stan and Dana while their kids played with characters in one of the themed specialty suites. “Please, call it a . . . call it a ‘back to school present.’ I insist.”
Stan smiled. “Well, if you insist.”
“I’ll email you everything when I get it set up.” She slipped the fifty into the front pocket of his jacket, knowing he wouldn’t accept it otherwise. “Thank you, Stan. You’re one of the people that makes my stays at this place so fantastic.”
“Always a pleasure. Safe travels.”
When Stan had gone, Molly took her tray to the wrought iron table and sat down. The sounds of traffic filled the air, making her feel a little less alone. She hated the quiet when she was alone with her thoughts without the hustle and bustle of life going on around her. Maybe she didn’t know how to be alone, not fully.
After she finished eating, she took her time packing up, trying to get her things as neat and orderly as her older sisters, Olivia and Claire, would have. Then she dressed in a pair of black flats and a green jersey T-shirt dress, and after applying her makeup, she let her freshly touched-up platinum locks air-dry on the walk to her final destination.
Molly left her luggage and collection of garment bags downstairs with the concierge and set off on West 59th Avenue by foot. She edged Central Park until she hit Center Drive, one of the main paths through the park. It was crowded for a Thursday afternoon, with people snapping photos and tour groups following guides holding flags. But it was also the beginning of September, so she wasn’t too surprised.
The day was overcast, cutting through some of the summer heat, although she still donned the large, aviator sunglasses she had bought from a street vendor the day before. Overall, it was a fabulous way to begin her day, strolling through the park and winding around the clumps of people, pop-up portrait artists, and hotdog stands.
Pawsitively Rescue was one of her favorite animal rescue organizations. They had started small in a little town somewhere in Pennsylvania but now had branches up and down the East Coast. The newest office was based in Hell’s Kitchen and was run by Leo, an ex-biker Molly had met on a shoot a few months back. Leo’s husband, Don, had been the photographer.
She left the path after a little bit on the smaller West Drive and started up the grassy knoll that had taken up residence at the Wollman Rink. Despite the name, Victorian Garden’s was a miniature amusement park that featured a carousal, a teacup ride, and random other games that kept the place full of activity and made it the perfect neighbor for the adoption event.
White wire pens were set up beneath the tents, and dogs of every shape, color, and size hopped about as people watched them. She spied Leo standing beside a table piled with papers. He was talking to a family with a little girl who was letting a large shaggy dog lick her face. When the family left with their new pet, Leo waved her over.
“Molly, good of you to make it.” He pulled her in for a hug and his gray beard scratched her face. While he had a heart of gold and never got so much as a parking ticket, in his dark jeans, boots, and leather vest Leo looked more like someone you would see in a police lineup than joining the line for vegan cronuts. But there was no use in judging someone by their appearance, especially in New York.
“Anyway, could I convince you to take one?”
“I wish I could,” she said, looking at a particularly fluffy dog who was sleeping on its back on a polka-dot bed. “Glenn has me scheduled for all sorts of stuff in the next few months. I hate when he makes deals behind my back. One day maybe I’ll settle down and get one . . . or three.”
“Can’t have them getting lonely.”
“Oh, before I go playing with all the dogs and totally forget, take this.” Molly reached into her black suede Isabel Marant cross-body bag and pulled out the check she had written the day before.
She pressed it into his hands, but as soon as he read it, he held it out. “This is too much, Molly.”
“Trust me, it’s not. No give backs.”
He gave her a dramatic, pained expression, then tucked the check into the inner pocket of his vest. “Well, you twisted my arm.”
“Sorry, must mingle,” she said, waggling her fingers at him.
Molly spent the two hours with the dogs, rubbing their bellies and filling their water dishes while Leo and another volunteer made matches. They started out with fifteen dogs, and by the late afternoon they were down to five. As usual, the puppies were first to be snapped up since nobody could say no to a tiny ball of adorable. Then the bigger, more playful dogs found homes too. That left the older ones with a bit of gray around their muzzles, the dogs who were happier to sleep the day away than play fetch.
She climbed into one of the pens and sat down next to the sleeping, fluffy dog she had been watching earlier. A spindly greyhound came and sat by her other side. Both were adorable and loving, but both were overlooked because of their age. It didn’t seem fair for them to be left behind.
She took her phone from her purse and went to her Instagram account to start a live video. Maybe some of her followers were locals who would love to give a senior dog a good home. After all, what was the point of having a million people read her daily posts if she couldn’t capitalize on it a bit?
“Hey there, Moll’s Dolls,” she said in the sultry, slightly singsong voice she used when addressing the online crowd. “I’m here in Central Park beside the Victorian Gardens with Pawsitively Rescue for today’s adoption event.” She panned to the remaining dogs, and an old Lab sneezed. “There are just a few more furry friends here looking for a forever home. So, if you’re a local who needs some more love in your life, bring the family and stop by to see us. Tata for now!” She blew a kiss to the camera and ended the video, then posted it to Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
“Wow, that was something.” Leo was standing beside the pen and looked like he was trying very hard not to laugh.
“Juvenile? Yes. But does it normally get results? Also, yes.”
“Think it’ll work?”
“I hope so. I tried a similar thing when a local cancer support charity was having a craft sale for the holidays, and I think things went really well there.”
“Here’s hoping it wasn’t a one-off.”
It wasn’t. Ten minutes later, a young couple came striding across the grass. The woman had her phone out and made a beeline for the pen Molly was in. Molly raised her brows at Leo, who returned her look with a satisfied nod.
“Hi,” Molly said cheerily when they stopped before her.
“I just saw your video, so we’re here to see about the dogs.” The woman’s gaze flitted from pen to pen, looking over the remaining pets.
“Well, what kind of friend are you looking for?”
“I work from home,” the man added. “I wasn’t too keen on adopting a younger dog, since they always have so much energy, but a senior dog sounds like it’d work out for us.”
The woman grinned, crouching down to look at the fluffy dog beside Molly. “Totally. A sleepy little guy sounds amazing.”
“Well, this is Puff,” Molly said, scratching the fluffy dog behind the ear. He stretched and yawned, then blinked up at her with large brown eyes. He seemed to realize he was being watched and hopped up and shook his fur out as if he wanted to make sure to show off his mane.
“How old is he?” the man asked. “He’s pretty cute.”
“Leo, the man over there with the beard, would know. He’s in charge of today’s event.”
“Great, thanks so much,” the man said, putting his hand on the woman’s back and turning to her. “Come on. Let’s go see what he has to say.”
Molly checked her phone. She had to get moving or she’d miss her flight. She waited for Leo to have a free moment and stepped up to his table. “Hey, I have to head out. I have a flight to catch.”
“Where to now?”
“Eventually I’m going to Los Angeles to be there for the final days of their fashion week. But first I’m going to visit my sister in Montana for a while.”
“Going to do some hiking?” he asked with a raised brow.
She laughed. “Yeah, right. Olivia moved there last spring, and even though I promised to visit her for Christmas, that snowstorm hit and I couldn’t fly in. Then my other sister, Claire, had to do something with her fiancé’s family, and then I had a shoot scheduled . . . it was just a mess. So I bought a few wedding gowns to surprise her with. She’s planning her wedding, and I thought there was no better way to put my connections to use for her than snagging a couple of dresses straight from the designers.”
“Your sister is cool with you just dropping in?”
“She’s going to have to be, I guess. Also, the house is a third mine. So really it shouldn’t be a problem. Besides, I’ll come bearing gifts!”
He shook his head and rose from his seat. “Well, have fun, and thanks again for everything.”
Molly gave him a hug and he squeezed her tightly. “You’re welcome. And please let me know if you guys need anything else. I mean it.”
She waved and began heading back up the path toward the Plaza, taking her phone out to tell her driver to meet her there. Molly had things to do and places to be, like she often did, but she was suddenly very lonely. The sensation brushed over her as she walked back to the hotel, heightened by passing couples and families and friends giggling over a caricature a street artist had drawn.
Molly had plenty of friends all over the world, but no one to meet with for a cup of coffee on the fly. Her sisters were busy, Olivia with her new life in Marietta and Claire with her fiancé. Both of them were planning weddings and building their careers. She wasn’t jealous of the way their lives had turned out, but there was still the feeling of aloneness, especially when traveling solo and sleeping in a bed with no one beside her—except the fleeting boyfriends she would inevitably kick to the curb after a few weeks.
The driver was already loading her luggage into the black Escalade when Molly returned to the Plaza. She didn’t know the driver; he was just one of the constantly rotating people her agent, Glenn, hired. While she didn’t think something like a driver was necessary in a city like New York, Glenn said it was just part of the job. Look unobtainable, act unobtainable, be unobtainable.
But Molly thought he was ridiculous. She adored traveling and modeling, but she wasn’t Julia Roberts or Cara Delevingne, so she thought her chances of being chased down by a mob of fans was pretty slim. The most that would happen would be someone asking for a selfie, or, in the case of more than one man, trying to get handsy and ending up being hit upside the head with her Gucci clutch.
The drive to the airport was tedious, since she was a genius and had Glenn book her flight for eight at night, meaning they had to drive through rush-hour traffic. But once she was in, it was smooth sailing through security. After she collected a paperback from one of the little stores that lined the main hall, she boarded the plane, ordered a vodka cranberry, and flipped to page one.
End of Excerpt