Start reading the excerpt for Chapter 1 of Her Perfect Strom right now!
Isa Grayson swiped a fresh line of blue paint across the canvas before peeking at the reflection in the mirror. Her sapphire eyes were several shades darker than the hue she had chosen for her self-portrait. She paused, taking a closer look at herself. At some point she’d swept her brown hair up in a messy bun with two paintbrushes—she had forgotten where she’d put them. Her olive skin had a few dark freckles and smudges of paint. She was a mess. She shifted her gaze to the painting; it was in no better condition than her.
An artistic slump was what her teacher had called it. Depression, her doctor had said. Isa hated labels. She lived her life in the present and relied on no one except herself.
Isa’s thoughts were interrupted by her phone ringing. She glanced at the caller ID. Harper’s name illuminated.
“Good morning,” Isa answered.
“I think you mean afternoon,” Harper corrected, teasing.
“I’m sorry. Some of us like to sleep in.”
“I wish Mila did. These early mornings are killing me.” Harper sighed.
“Hey! I got up with her this morning,” Jax, Harper’s husband, replied.
“That’s right, he did. Is it still considered a full night’s sleep when it’s so broken? I think I’m woken about every three hours. It’s more like perpetual naptime,” Harper said.
“Just one more reason I’ll leave the mothering to you, my dear,” Isa joked.
“I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Harper said, all dreamy-like.
Times had sure changed. Her best friend had once been her partner in crime, globe-trotting and partying all night in Ibiza or Paris. Now her world revolved around a new love.
“Anyways, I just called to let you know we’ll be there in about ten minutes,” Harper said.
“I’ll be ready. Send that muscular, tattooed husband of yours in to carry my bags when you get here.” Isa smiled.
Jax and Harper laughed. “Will do,” Harper agreed.
“Bye, love,” Isa said.
“See you soon,” Harper said excitedly before ending the call.
Isa took one more look at her canvas and then slid off the stool to cover her paints. She would let the maid, Greta, finish the job so she could wash up and change before Harper arrived.
Twenty minutes later, Isa was ready. Jax had already packed her bags in their SUV. Harper was sitting in the back of the car, nursing baby Mila, when she opened the door.
“Sorry, I was covered in paint and needed a quick shower,” Isa said.
Harper smiled and winked. “I know time is never your friend. We left a little early so we could accommodate Isa time.”
Isa rolled her eyes. “How is Miss Mila?”
The baby’s head was covered in small dark curls and her skin was already several shades darker than her mama’s. Mila’s little chin quivered as she made suckling noises. Her long dark eyelashes kissed the tops of her chubby cheeks. She was sound asleep snuggled in her mother’s arms.
“Sleeping with a full belly, and ready for the trip,” Harper said, carefully placing the baby into the car seat and buckling her. “Do you want to sit up front?”
“And miss staring at this perfection? No way.”
Harper smiled and kissed the top of Mila’s head before switching places with Isa.
“Good. Now I can have both hands free,” Harper said, sliding into the passenger seat next to Jax. He leaned over and kissed her.
“Hey, now. There’s a minor in the car. Keep it PG,” Isa said, feeling both envious and disgusted by her friend’s display of affection.
“The baby is sleeping. We gotta get it in while we can,” Jax joked.
“Don’t you think that’s what got you into this predicament in the first place . . . getting it in?” Isa couldn’t resist the tease.
Jax smirked and Harper laughed as he pulled onto the road, heading towards The Orchard Inn.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a wedding,” Harper said. “I think after one glass of champagne, I’ll be on the floor.”
“Can you believe your mommy used to hold her liquor better than Aunty Isa?” Isa cooed to Mila.
“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of my girl.” Jax squeezed Harper’s knee.
The small gesture brought Isa a pang of hurt mixed with envy. Conflicting emotions bubbled up in her throat. Happiness that her friend had found such a sacred true love and equal partnership, and jealousy that she would never have it.
“Remember I talked about Jax and River’s friend, Ethan?” Harper asked, turning her face towards the window so Isa could see her reflection in the mirror.
“Yeeeesss,” Isa said, drawing out the word suspiciously. “The one who couldn’t make it to your wedding because he was in Africa for his grandmother’s funeral?”
“Yeah. Well, it turns out he will be able to attend River’s wedding,” Harper said, trying to act sly. But Isa knew better.
“Not going to happen, Harps, so don’t even think about it.”
“Whatever do you mean?” Harper asked, coyly.
“I’m happy you and River found your soul mates, but please leave my romantic life to me.”
“Jax, tell her what an awesome guy Ethan is.” Harper turned to her husband.
“I’m staying out of this,” he said.
Isa smiled. “I knew I liked you, Jax.”
“Fine.” Harper gave in.
“Fine,” Isa repeated.
The rest of the almost four-hour drive went by easily enough. Mila miraculously slept the whole way, waking just as they pulled into the driveway. A large sign out front of the gorgeous stone building read Welcome to The Orchard Inn.
Isa grabbed two bags from the car, while Harper took Mila inside, and Jax got the rest. They walked into the lobby where River sat with his beautiful tattooed fiancée on his lap.
“Hey, guys!” Ella said, standing and coming over. Isa had met her a couple of times before and she’d noticed Ella liked to keep a physical distance from people; except for River, of course. Isa shook her hand.
River wrapped Harper in for a hug with Mila. “Hey, sister. God, she has grown so big since I saw her at your wedding.”
Harper beamed. “She’s eating a lot more too.”
Mila looked around the room, wide-eyed at all the faces staring back at her.
Jax set down the bags he’d been carrying before he and River locked hands and pulled each other into a big hug.
“You still treating my sister like a queen?” River asked Jax.
“Like a goddess,” he said, smiling and locking his gaze with Harper’s. They were so in love it was almost sickening. Almost.
River came over to Isa next and gave her a hug. “Hey, sista from another mista. Glad you could come. Ethan’s in the kitchen, sampling Maggie’s dinner.
River hesitated. “Our friend Ethan. Harper said you wanted to meet him.”
Isa narrowed her eyes at Harper who was studying the grey wood floors of the inn, effectively avoiding contact with her. “Excuse me for a moment, River, while I have a chat with your sister.”
Isa walked over and grabbed Harper’s hand, leading her towards the couches and fireplace in the lobby. “I get that you are madly in love, and you want me to be happy. But I don’t like being set up, Harper. You know that. My family is always trying to do this to me. I don’t need it from you too.”
Harper smiled. “I know. This is different though. I have a feeling.”
“Oh, God. Can we not? Just leave me alone. Enjoy this vacation and your brother’s wedding. I’ll do what I came here for and spend time with you and help with the wedding.”
“You want me to stay in my lane?” Harper asked.
“Yes. We can’t all end up with a devastatingly gorgeous Black man.”
Both women laughed.
“I’ll try,” Harper agreed.
“Good. Now give me that baby.”
Harper chuckled and handed Mila to her before joining the group of friends. Isa couldn’t resist resting her nose on the bed of soft wispy curls that smelled like chamomile. Baby smell.
Isa glanced up to see the two couples talking and laughing with each other. Not for the first time, she couldn’t help but crave what they had. It didn’t matter though. Men, with the exception of these two, only ever wanted three things from Isa: sex, money, and status. She had been more than happy to give the first for far longer than she liked to admit.
“Dinner’s ready,” a pretty blond woman said as she held open the door to the kitchen.
They filed through, with Isa entering last.
“I’m Maggie. You must be Isa,” the blonde said.
“Nice to finally meet you.” Maggie nodded.
“You too.” Isa walked into the large bright room. The kitchen was big, with stainless steel appliances and white cupboards. A large granite island surrounded by several dark barstools was the focal point of the room.
Harper ducked out the back through a screen door. Isa followed outside where they had a large table set up for everyone.
A little girl came bounding over to Isa. “Is this the baby? I love babies! Can I hold her?”
Maggie bent down and scooped the little girl into her arms. “This is Avery, my daughter. Avery, this is Isa.”
“Hi, Isa. I like that name.”
“I like your name too.” Isa smiled.
“My wife, Julie, is somewhere around here.” Maggie searched the space.
Isa nodded and smiled as she tried to remember everyone’s names.
“Isa?” Harper called.
Isa walked over to where Harper sat next to Jax.
“I’m sure she is going to be hungry soon,” Harper said.
“I don’t mind holding her until she gets fussy for mama’s milk.” Isa nuzzled her nose against the soft flesh of Mila’s chubby cheek. Mila cooed and reached out to grab her face. Isa’s heart nearly exploded at the tender moment. How could something be so beautiful, yet so sad at the same time? She would never have this.
Everyone was seated at the table—a diverse group of friends. There were a few more faces she didn’t know yet. A tan man with dark eyes had his arm around a gorgeous blond woman; more of Ella’s friends. Finally, her eyes landed on the man sitting next to Jax and River. Of course, the only empty seat left was by his side.
He was handsome. Okay, maybe handsome was too light of a word. The man was attractive with an athletic build, brown eyes, and dressed casually in a T-shirt and jeans. He glanced her way after saying something to River. Isa took a deep breath and decided to get it over with. She sat down with Mila holding on to one of the loose waves of hair that had escaped her messy bun.
“Hey. I’m Ethan,” he said with a thick African accent.
“Wow, a mini Jax.” He reaching his finger out to Mila. Mila took it, immediately chewing and drooling all over him. Isa was intrigued to see how he would react. Instead of pulling away disgusted, he chuckled seemingly completely at ease. Ethan smiled and picked up the pacifier that was clipped on Mila’s shirt, before replacing his finger with it.
Hot and good with babies. That just made him even more dangerous.
“You’re from Boston?” he asked.
“Where is your accent from?” she asked.
“Ghana, West Africa,” he answered.
“I’ve never been.”
“Well, you should definitely put it on your bucket list. It’s a very beautiful country.”
She smiled and focused back on Mila.
A moment of silence passed. Everyone was sharing the food around.
Ethan grabbed the plate full of herbed mashed potatoes with fresh chives sprinkled on top. “May I?” he offered to serve her some.
“Yes, please,” she said, grateful for his help.
After adding one scoop, he asked, “More?”
“That’s plenty.” She smiled as something foreign fluttered inside her.
As each dish passed, he slowly filled her plate with helpings of flavorful morsels that their hosts had provided. Isa glanced across the table. Harper was studying them with raised eyebrows.
Isa shook her head. The last thing her best friend needed was encouragement in the fixing-up department. She balanced a fork in one hand and took a bite of roasted chicken.
“I guess we’re supposed to get married next.” Ethan’s deep voice sent a shockwave of panic through her.
Isa choked on the food she was chewing. She reached for her water glass, wishing it was something stronger.
What the fuck did he just say?
That’s it for this romance novel excerpt.
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