TEASER: Alone on Earth, Book Four of the Signal Bend Series

Since Into the Storm (Book Three) is now available at Amazon, here’s a little taste of Book Four.

As always, spoilers for the previous books in the series, so proceed with that in mind (these spoilers are on the light side, I’d say, but better safe than sorry.)

Okay, here you go–Chapter One of Alone on Earth. In this chapter, Riley Chase is preparing to travel to Signal Bend to learn about Lilli and the Night Horde.

The first biker she’ll meet is Bart (shortly after this chapter), and he will make an impression.

Tentative release date: 1 March 2014

Cheers!

Susan

CHAPTER ONE

 

Blinding bright light tore Riley out of deep sleep, like someone had ripped the roof off her dream. She groaned and rolled over, tucking deeper into her comforter and grabbing for the shelter of one of her big, square pillows.

The pillow was yanked away. She clapped her empty hands to her face instead.

“Nope! Nope, nope, nope! Time to bounce that tiny hiney right out of bed!”

Trevor? What the fuck was Trevor doing in her bedroom? And why the fuck had he turned on all the lights?

Riley peered between her fingers and saw, fuzzy from the obscured view and her sleep-thick eyes, Trevor Ramirez, her personal trainer and occasional DVD-and-junk-food heartbreak buddy, standing at the side of her bed, wearing black lycra running pants and a bright yellow Under Armour baselayer top. Pretty much every muscle on his lean, cut frame showed—among other things. Which was, she was sure, the point.

He was standing there with his hand on his popped hip, looking sassy.

Riley wasn’t feeling sassy. Riley was feeling stabby. “What the fuck are you doing here? In my bedroom? Before fucking dawn?”

“Girl, you get the salty talk going when you’re cranky! What would the tabloids say if they heard you now? ‘Riley Chase, America’s Sweetheart, Abuses the Help.’ We got to get your workout in early today—you’re flying out to Petticoat Junction at noon, remember? And who knows how you’ll get a workout in out there. Unless cow-tipping is cardio.” He popped the other hip. “I should look that up!”

Riley rolled to her stomach and pulled another pillow over her head. Trevor smacked her ass. “Up, up, up, Thumbelina! Wasting daylight!”

She lifted the pillow and scowled at him. “Daylight hasn’t even started yet, moron. Fuck off.”

“Oh, snap! Better be nice to the Trevor, darling. Or he’ll take all the good stuff off your travel menu!”

He sashayed out of her room, grabbing a bottom corner of her comforter on his way past and pulling it off the bed, leaving her lying there in nothing but her underwear and an old, tight, belly-baring t-shirt.

“Cute panties! Very Strawberry Shortcake! Kitchen in five, gorgeous!”

~oOo~

When Riley came to the kitchen about fifteen minutes later, she found Trevor sitting at the island and Marisol, her housekeeper, emptying the dishwasher. Everybody was up and at ‘em crazy early this morning, it seemed. She greeted Marisol with a kiss on the cheek, and then sat down next to Trevor. He handed her a banana.

“Here, darling. Potassium first. Good for the muscles.”

Like she hadn’t heard that and all of his other platitudes about food and fitness five days a week for the past four years. Sometimes seven days a week, when she had to bare some skin for a scene, or if an episode was especially athletic.

She snatched the banana out of his hand and pulled the peel back. “I remember when I ate food for breakfast that required teeth. I vaguely remember that.”

“Oh, cry me a river, cupcake. You want bacon for breakfast, go right ahead. And you can give up this house on the hill, and your tiny blue Ferrari, and your Hermes bags, and your Louboutins. And you can put Marisol out of work, and me, and all the other minions who trot around making your life sunny and bright.”

Trevor always spoke his mind, but still, Riley was a little shocked. She didn’t think she deserved that. She wasn’t a diva. She was grateful for what she had. Most of the time. But it wasn’t even five in the morning, and she wasn’t allowed to moan a little over the billionth banana she’d eaten in her life?

And who was he to talk, anyway? Like he toiled in a salt mine all day.

She sat and sulked, sucking on her banana. Wow, she was in a bad mood. She didn’t quite know why. Sure, she wasn’t thrilled to be going to a town in the absolute middle of absolutely nowhere—a town so small that she was bringing only Prudence, her cousin and personal assistant, with her, because there weren’t enough hotel rooms for any of the actors to bring more than one companion—but there were worse fates. And she was thrilled to have this part. A part with meat. Something she could get her teeth into.

Not that playing Desdemona, girl demon and demon fighter at Hades High, was all that fluffy. She liked that part, too. But the demographic skewed young, and she wanted to break free of the teen typecasting. She was twenty-six years old, dammit. People kept telling her to be glad she could play young, that she would miss these days when they were gone. She believed it, but she was still tired of playing teen angst. The more grown-up her life got, the thinner pretending to be a teenager wore.

And her life had been very grown-up this past year.

Playing the part of Lilli Carson, a real woman, an actual, real-life warrior who’d fought in an actual, real-life war and then had played a pivotal role in the events on which this movie was based—that was meat. That was grown-up. Considering the director and the rest of the cast, there was maybe award season possibility here. Riley could show people that she was, in fact, an actual, real-life actor.

So she should be excited to be traveling to Signal Bend to meet Lilli and spend time with her and the motorcycle club that was the focus of the film.

The truth was, she was scared. She hadn’t been on her own for so long, she wasn’t sure how she’d handle it. Pru would be there, but Pru was not someone who went out into the world. Pru was happy managing Riley’s calendars and email and social media accounts. She expected Pru to spend most of the week or so in Signal Bend in the hotel—no, not a hotel. A bed and breakfast. Oh, geez. A bed and breakfast. Riley imagined one of those creepy Victorian houses full of cats and flowered linens.

“That banana is rotting in your hands, darling. I’m sorry I was mean. I’m secretly a Grumpy Cat this morning, too. I was up at half-past three so I could be here to shake your cute little booty out of bed. Dante yelled at me for waking him up. I hate starting the morning being yelled at.” He pouted and looked sidelong at Riley.

She felt a little guilty that she had also yelled at him. “I’m sorry, Trev. I do wish you’d have told me to expect you so early, but I’m sorry I yelled.”

“And used bad language.”

“And used bad language.”

Apparently satisfied, Trevor got up off his stool and sidled over to give her a squeeze and a Hollywood kiss, his cheek to her cheek. “Good. Now let’s asana your ass till it cries! And then—kiwi and honeydew smoothies for breakfast!”

~oOo~

After a grueling two-hour workout, Trevor made the advertised kiwi and honeydew smoothies, and they took them out on the terrace. Riley sat, a towel draped over her neck, and let the cool morning air dry the sweat from her body. It was one of her favorite things, to just sit out here after a workout and let the breeze and the view ease her body and spirit.

She loved this house, tucked into the Hollywood Hills. By celebrity standards, it was small, but it had a spectacular view of the city, and a gorgeous terraced lawn with a cozy terrazzo patio and a small pool. Wide windows and doors in the kitchen, living room, and master suite opened onto this view. When she was feeling neck deep in vapid Hollywood bullshit, she need only come out in the morning or evening, when the sky was banded with color, and be restored.

This particular moment was not as restorative as she would like, because Trevor was detailing the menu he’d prepared for her sojourn in the country. Left to her own devices, Riley tended a bit toward plump. Well, not plump, really, not by any standards away from Southern California, anyway, but her thighs got a bit heavy, and her belly pooched. So she was on a strict diet. The part of Desdemona was something of an action role, so she had to be strong, too. She couldn’t just eat grapefruit, or do a juice cleanse, or any of the other strange trends that had made the rounds. Trevor, with a degree in nutrition, worked hard, she knew, to make sure her vexingly liquid diet was truly healthy as well as calorie-conscious.

He’d just gone over the meals he’d arranged for ten days of travel. She should be home before then, but he wanted to make sure she wasn’t stranded without a meal plan. A lot of fruits and nuts and seeds, as usual. Riley missed hamburgers. Ooh—and chili cheese fries. With sour cream.

She sighed.

Trevor stopped and looked up, his brown eyes sharp. “You’re being quite the pouty puss about food today. What’s gotten into you? I’d know if you needed medicinal chocolate. Wouldn’t I?”

The one thing Trevor gave total gustatory carte blanche for was heartbreak. His philosophy about that was the heart wants what the heart wants, and when it can’t have that, it should get anything else it wants. And it should bring a friend. Over the course of their friendship, the two of them had several times destroyed whole pizzas, pints of Cherry Garcia ice cream, bricks of chocolate, over her broken heart or his—while watching the tear-jerkiest of films in recorded history. But Riley’s heart wasn’t broken—or, at least, it wasn’t a new break. It was on the mend. She didn’t have any idea why all of a sudden she was waxing nostalgic about chili cheese fries, which she hadn’t eaten since she was a teenager.

She shrugged. “Yeah, it’s not that. I don’t know. Just feeling out of sorts today. Not looking forward to this trip.”

“A whole week surrounded by country boys and bikers? Girl, you need to change your perspective! All that leather! And ink! And oh, do you think they wear Stetsons? And go shirtless? If they do, you better get snaps!” Trevor sighed dreamily.

“Okay, okay. I’ll try to send you clandestine beefcake snaps of shirtless cowboys and bikers. Are we done with the menu?”

“We are, ducks. I sent this to the manager at the hotel, and she’s going to make sure that the kitchen has everything you need. As long as you behave yourself, you should be fine. I know I can trust you. No use having to work two months to undo a week of slip, right? We’ve learned that lesson, now, haven’t we?”

Hades High had finished shooting for the season just more than a week ago. For the first couple of years of the show, Riley had taken some time off right after shooting ended—which meant that she’d stopped working out, stopped watching what she ate quite so closely, stopped setting her alarm, and just had a couple of weeks of whatever she wanted. But it had always been difficult to undo that damage and get back in the groove. So last year and this year, she kept on her schedule, her only change setting her alarm to two hours later in the morning.

“I’ll behave.” At that moment, her phone began playing a pop tune. Recognizing the assigned ring tone, Trevor rolled his eyes, picked up their empty smoothie glasses, and sauntered inside before Riley accepted the call.

“Hi, Mother.”

Her mother jumped in with her usual chirpy gusto. “Morning, muffin! Did Trevor come this morning? I asked him to come early, so you’d be sure to get a good workout in before your trip.”

Of course her mother had set that up, and of course she hadn’t said anything to her. Riley had been working since she was four years old, and Eleanor Piedmont, her mother, had been her manager from the very first audition for a canned spaghetti commercial. Eleanor kept twenty-six-year-old Riley in the loop about as much as she’d kept four-year-old Riley there.

As a child, she’d modeled, too, but when she stopped growing at just shy of an inch over five feet, the fashion industry stopped calling. Now, as a celebrity, she modeled a bit again, for makeup and hair product lines. She hated that a lot. The money was really great for not very much work, but there was no quicker way to understand that no one cared what was going on inside her head than to spend a day doing an ad for hair color.

“Yes, Trevor was here. Yes, he worked me out before sunrise. It would have been really awesome if somebody would have given me a hint about that plan, so maybe I would have gotten to bed before two o’clock.”

“Well, goodness! What were you doing up so late when you knew you were traveling today?”

She didn’t want to say. It wasn’t anybody’s business. But that argument never worked with Eleanor. “Reading, Mother. It was a good book, and I didn’t want to stop.”

“Ooh! Have a rec for me, then?”

She hadn’t actually been reading, so she almost stumbled over that dilemma, but she was a trained thespian, after all. “It was a murder mystery.”

“Ugh. I don’t know why you like those. With the guns and the crime and all that nonsense. Okay, well, I was calling to say that I changed the arrangement for the driver, and he’ll be there at nine-thirty instead of ten. I don’t know why you had Pru schedule for ten. That’s cutting it much too close.”

Riley sighed. She didn’t like getting to LAX too early, because she felt vulnerable and exposed at the airport, even in the first class lounge. She should have driven herself. But she didn’t want to leave her car in long term parking.

“Fine, Mother. I need to go. I need to shower and get ready, especially since I’ve just lost half an hour of prep time.”

“Okay, sweetie. I’ll talk to you in a bit. Remember—the weather changes a lot in the Midwest. Make sure Pru’s packed layers for you! And for her, too! Kisses!”

~oOo~

Once she’d gotten Trevor out of the house, with a full complement of hugs and kisses and fretting, Riley went in search of Pru. She hadn’t heard her come in or seen her lurking about, but her Prius was out front, her bags were in the foyer, and Riley had a good idea where she’d find her.

As expected, Pru was in the office, sitting at the glass desk with her Mac open in front of her. “Hey, Prudie. You snuck in this morning.”

Prudence Piedmont was two years younger than Riley and, in Riley’s estimation, just as pretty. She had glossy brown hair that she always wore doubled up in a messy ponytail, and she shared Riley’s light grey-green eyes. She was a few inches taller and, without Trevor kicking her ass regularly (not that she couldn’t join them if she wished), about twenty pounds heavier. On her right cheek, she had a small, light brown birthmark that looked quite a lot like a maple leaf. Riley had always thought that was the coolest thing about Pru’s looks. Pru hated it, though.

Their mothers had been sisters. Pru’s mother, Riley’s Aunt Blythe, had died when Pru was eleven. From then on, Pru and Riley had been raised as sisters. Except for the fact that Riley’s mom had big plans for her and not so much for Pru.

Pru closed the Mac and pushed her glasses up onto the bridge of her nose. “I did. I saw you outside with Trevor doing things with your body that looked unpleasant. So I just got to work. The prep packet the studio sent mentioned that internet and cell coverage was unpredictable in Signal Bend, so I wanted to try to get a jump on as much as I could, in case we end up radio silent.” She came around the desk. “I’ve set stuff aside, but I haven’t started packing yet, in case you wanted in on that. But we need to get moving. Your mother changed the pickup.”

“I know. Eleanor always knows better. Yeah, I want to pack my own clothes. Let’s get to it.”

~oOo~

Riley and Pru packed, and then Riley showered, dressed, and primped. She’d have loved to travel in comfy clothes—she envied the women who traveled in yoga pants and t-shirts—but she lived in fear of being the subject of one of those awful paparazzi shots, looking like a slob and wearing no makeup. So she never, ever left the house undone. Ever. Maybe if her house ever caught fire. But only then.

So to travel to the middle of the country in fall, she wore her softest pair of skinny jeans, a sheer, slub-knit tunic tee with a black camisole underneath, a funky scarf looped around her neck, and her favorite suede coat. She almost wore her matching suede boots, but they had 4-inch heels, as most of her shoes did (got to get height somewhere). She was heading to the country, and who knew what kind of terrain she’d have to walk on—did they even have paved sidewalks? So she instead grabbed a pair of cowboy boots she’d worn for Halloween a couple of years back.

Marisol knocked on the open door as Pru and Riley were closing up the bags. “Miss Riley, the car is here.”

“Thanks, Marisol. We’ll be down in a few minutes.” The housekeeper nodded and picked up two of the bags that were closest to the door.

When Riley and Pru lugged the rest of the bags down and out to the front, a black limo was parked outside, and Joe, her favorite driver, was leaning against the rear fender, waiting.

He smiled and opened the rear door, the trunk of the limo coming up at the same time. “Hello, lovely ladies.”

“Joe! Glad it’s you!” But as Riley approached the door he’d opened, she saw that the limo already had a passenger. Her mother. She cast a betrayed eye at Joe, who’d been around long enough to know very well that Riley treasured her moments free from her mother’s keep. He shrugged, abashed, but said nothing. She understood. Nobody said no to Eleanor. Not for long.

“Mother. Why are you in my ride?” The thought that Eleanor had somehow finagled her way onto this trip had Riley feeling suddenly panicked. She slid in and sat at the side. Pru followed her and sat next to Eleanor. Riley gave her cousin a good, hard look and decided that her mother had surprised them both. Good. At least they weren’t all in cahoots against her.

“Don’t worry, muffin. I’m just along for the ride to the airport. I wanted to make absolutely certain everything was in order, and I wanted to give you a proper goodbye. I can’t remember the last time we’ve been apart so long.”

Because it hadn’t happened before. Eleanor always came everywhere. It had caused a substantial amount of drama when it became clear that there would be no convenient accommodations for an entourage larger than one, and Riley had worked her best persuasive magic to make Eleanor think that it was her idea to have Pru go instead of her. “Mother, I am capable of packing and getting myself to the airport. Especially since I have Pru with me.”

“Oh, please. I know. I just want to go over what the studio is expecting and what I’ve set up with the people in that town. Sign Post or whatever it’s called. The manager of the bed and breakfast you’re staying in will be your main contact point. Shannon Ryan is her name. She will liaise with the motorcycle people and with the woman you’re playing—Lilli. Who owns that bed and breakfast, by the way. Everything seems very tangled together in that place. I double checked, and Shannon has your menu. There’s not a gym anywhere around, but the motorcycle people have a workout room at their…clubhouse, I think she called it. I don’t much like the sound of that, but if you have your yoga mat, maybe you can just do some yoga in your room.”

Riley had been trying to block her mother’s chatter out, but she couldn’t. She was tired. She had it handled. She wasn’t going to Siberia or something, and she was sick of listening to all the ways everybody had her life worked out for her. “Mother! Enough! Everything’s arranged. I’m going to be gone a week. I’m sure I’ll manage any hardships that arise. I’m not exactly roughing it.”

Eleanor laughed at that. “Oh, sweetheart. Wait until you see. It’s not the Marmont, that’s for sure. And I don’t know how in touch we’ll be able to be while you’re gone. I keep hearing that cell reception is a bit spotty in most places out there.”

That was the best part, as far as Riley was concerned. She might just turn her phone off. If she could convince Pru to do so as well, it might be an okay week.

Finally, they arrived at LAX, checked their bags with a skycap, and sent Joe and Eleanor away with a wave.

Riley gave her long, blonde hair a flip and hooked arms with Pru. “Okay. Onward to the heartland.”

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9 thoughts on “TEASER: Alone on Earth, Book Four of the Signal Bend Series

  1. I know that 6 weeks is practically no time to wait for the next book in a series, but I’ll still be counting down the hours. I’m so excited!

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