Before anyone assumes anything, I should probably make it absolutely clear that there was a lot of research that went into this book (I've never been a high school principal or a telephone actress, for example). And though the lovely Sharen Popov, principal of my kids' high school, helped a lot with brainstorming the scenarios Kat gets herself into, of course Sharen herself would never find herself in the hilarious predicaments we put Kat in. And the person who was my resource for all things to do with being a telephone actress, well, she shall remain unnamed though deeply appreciated. And I'm sure there's a real town named Craigmont, but mine is fictional. Also, no trees were harmed during the writing of this book (admittedly, some will be harmed for the sake of the print edition). There. That should keep everyone in real life out of trouble, yes? Needless to say, Over the Edge was loads of fun to write. I hope you like it, too! :)
Over the Edge, a romantic comedy from 5 Prince Publishing.
"Susan Lohrer is a bright new talent who is going places."
—London Times best-selling author Katie Fforde
"Susan is so funny, she had me howling."
—best-selling author MaryLu Tyndall
Excerpt of Over the Edge
Kat shifted her wrists in the steel handcuffs. Rough, ancient bark pressed against her cheek, and the damp air intensified the resinous tang of the virgin forest. She’d been here since dawn—long enough to be on a first-name basis with Harvey, the Douglas fir. Which, if she let herself consider for more than a minute at a time, was kind of a weird development for a grown woman who had a respectable career. She’d consider it in more depth later. Right now she had enough on her mind.
A gust of coastal wind snatched her hat, and chilly rain plastered her hair to her scalp and trickled down her neck, making her teeth chatter. Nearby, a group of men wielded wrenches on a logging machine that refused to start. One of her students, the school board superintendent’s son, retrieved the hat and plopped it back on Kat’s head.
“Don’t worry,” he whispered, “they’re not going to get that machine going anytime soon.”
Alarm nibbled the back of her mind like a classroom gerbil gnawing a toilet paper tube. “There’d better not be a reason you know that.”
He laughed. “I’m just saying.” Then, calling to his friends, he trotted off.
Kat wondered whether she’d still have her job at the end of the day.
The superintendent had made it clear she’d lose it in a blink if the kids did anything more than show up, and Kat had made them promise not to chain themselves to any trees. So far, all they’d done was text the protest’s breaking news to their friends… unless they’d messed with the equipment before she got here this morning. The thought made her stomach feel like she’d eaten fir needles for lunch. She stared up into the dense boughs radiating from Harvey’s trunk high above her.
“You don’t think the kids wrecked that machine, do you, Harv? I mean, they know my career is at stake here.” Harvey only sighed in the wind, branches waving toward the broken-down machine. Yeah, it had Kat a little worried, too.
She flexed her shoulders, stiff from the hours she’d spent shackled to the tree. She wasn’t against logging; she lived in a wood-frame house and used reams of paper. What school principal didn’t? And the logging industry in Mills Creek fed a lot of families.
In the last few hours, she’d had a chance to reevaluate her reasons for chaining herself to this tree. This was about so much more than the environment. It was about standing up for someone who couldn’t stand up for herself. Or in Harvey’s case, himself. It was about choices that had been taken away from her. It was about the fact that sometimes, no matter how wrong you were, you couldn’t undo what you’d done.
Her goal wasn’t to stop the logging, this community’s lifeblood. It was to protect something beautiful and precious. If she could win this one small battle, do this one small good deed, save just this one tree, maybe it would somehow make amends in her heart for what she’d let happen to her family.
A Jeep rattled up the steep gravel road and pulled off on the landing, followed a few seconds later by a police car. The sun chose that moment to peek through the saturated clouds scudding across the sky as though to mock Kat, and she clenched her jaw.
A man exited the passenger door of the Jeep. His footsteps scuffed on the dirt road. Craning her neck, she peered through slanting late-afternoon shadows, making out only his easy gait and the set of his broad shoulders. Had they brought in a negotiator? He leaned into the police car for a minute, then stood, head down, hands on his hips, like a man bearing a heavy burden.
She almost felt sorry for the guy. She might look like a waterlogged rat at the moment, but he had no idea what he was up against. A tiny smirk crept over her mouth.
Now that this block of forest had been opened up to clear-cut logging, Harvey would have to watch while his family was torn away, one by one. She knew how he felt because the same thing had happened to her, until she had just one family member left. And she and Lacey weren’t even on speaking terms at the moment.
She dug her fingers into Harvey’s sturdy bark. “What am I doing talking to trees instead of making things right between Lacey and me?”
Soft footfalls on the carpet of needles behind her.
She straightened as much as she could. The chain connecting the two sets of handcuffs slipped and pulled her down with it until she had to slump against the tree trunk.
“Kat, what are you doing?” He sounded as exhausted as she felt. Sounded… disturbingly familiar.
That voice. Evan. Here? Memories grabbed her heart and sliced through it like the blade of the nearby feller buncher waiting to chop the young trees from their roots—if the loggers could get it running again. She strained her eyes to the left, looking without turning her head.
Evan was watching her, jaw clenched, rainwater slicking his blond hair.
She blinked the water from her eyes.
He was still there.
Not a gorgeous hallucination. A gorgeous reality. Her pulse whumped in her ears.
What was she doing? That was easy—she was running away from her failure to keep her family together. But what was Evan doing?
“If you can’t figure out what I’m doing, I’m not going to tell you.” She stared straight at Harvey’s unforgiving bark. Nice. Even the tree had given up on her.
The chain slipped downward again, pulling her into an awkward crouch.
Evan laid his hand on her shoulder. His fingers brushed her cheek, heat rushed through her, and she shivered. This was why she hadn’t dated since they broke up the second time. No other guy even came close to making her feel the way Evan did, and when it came to relationships, she couldn’t settle. Too bad Evan was too pigheaded to try to make it work when the going got tough.
“Peg asked me to come talk to you.”
She shot up and hit the end of the chain, jolting her shoulders just about out of their sockets, and plopped to the ground. The spongy earth soaked the knees of her jeans.
“Why? What happened?” There was only one reason Peg Kelly would send Evan five hundred kilometers north to the remote town of Mills Creek, to find her on a cut block another twenty kilometers up a treacherous logging road. “Is Lacey okay?”
She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead on Harvey’s trunk, her heart aching for her kid sister. She never should have sold their house and moved so far away. But when the job came up, she couldn’t rationalize staying in Craigmont. Staying was something a mother might do, but Kat was Lacey’s sister.
Please, let her be okay.
Evan made a sound like he was grinding his molars. “I don’t know.”
He didn’t know or he wasn’t telling her? Her temples throbbed, and the wind crept up the sleeves of the thick flannel jacket under her raincoat until she shuddered with the cold and the wet.
“C’mon, Ms. Cherish, hang in there,” called the superintendent’s son, who might have sabotaged the feller buncher and cost Kat her job. Though, when it came right down to it, Kat was responsible for the actions of her students simply because she hadn’t forbidden them to come.
This had gone too far. It started with the pregnancy and ended with Kat losing her sister and the man she loved. And all Kat’s running away from the truth had gotten her was being handcuffed to a tree and risking her career. She had to stop running from her mistakes.
Besides, her bladder threatened to burst if she didn’t visit a washroom soon.
She closed her eyes and took a shaky breath. Opened them and made eye contact with Billy, the head of the logging crew.
“I’m ready to negotiate.”
A collective moan rose from her students.
Billy hitched up his pants and sauntered over.
“What can I do ya for, Kat?” He grinned, showing off his new false teeth.
She gave him a thin smile. “Leave fifty percent of the trees in the block, and I’ll walk away without another word.”
“Haw, haw.” He shook his head. “We got the stumpage rights to the whole mountain. You can’t win this one. Why don’t you just take your pretty little head back to the school and teach those kids to read and write, and let me do my job. You know we put in more new trees than we harvest.”
Her teeth chattered. “Because these trees aren’t just a bunch of unprocessed lumber. Animals live here, for one thing.” He snorted, and she narrowed her eyes to silence him. “And you know what happened after they logged above the Harrison Creek watershed.”
He opened and closed his mouth. One point for Kat. An entire community lost its sole water supply in that fiasco, and the residents ended up taking a government emergency fund to move their homes and businesses to another location an hour away. The way Billy’s jaw was working, she knew he didn’t want a Harrison Creek incident on his hands.
“I can’t leave half the trees.” He jutted out his lip.
“Twenty-five percent, then.” She glanced at Evan to gauge his mood. He had his hands shoved practically elbow deep into his pockets, and a little muscle beside his mouth twitched. On a scale of one to ten, he was at a seven. Something was definitely up with Lacey, something bad. She had to move this along.
“What do you say, Billy?”
“Twenty percent.” No hesitation.
“Including Har—this tree?” She arched a brow toward Harvey.
Billy spluttered. “You know how many board feet are in that tree?”
She was sure he’d tell her. And she was just as sure she’d take his next offer so she could get back home to her sister. She never should have left.
“Twenty-five hundred. I like you, Kat. Everybody does. But you can’t go interfering with the livelihood of half the families in Mills Creek. No can do.”
“Ten percent, and you leave this one.” She pointed. The gesture fell flat when the chain pulled taut after half an inch. She angled her head to indicate the majestic height of the Douglas fir.
Hand to his bristly chin, Billy paced back and forth. She saw his daughter among the group of students. Watching him, waiting with Kat, hoping he’d make a fair choice. Billy’s daughter clasped her hands in front of her heart and stared for all she was worth at her father. He stopped, and his head swung over to where the kids were. The moment he saw his little girl, Kat’s battle was won.
“Ah, hell. We’ll leave ten percent of the trees”—he tugged off his hat and flung it to the ground—“and that one.”
The kids roared and herded around Kat and Billy, and he grumbled and scowled in an effort not to grin as his daughter ran to him and hugged him.
Finally, he recovered his wits enough to ask about the key to the handcuffs.
It was safe, tucked way down in the front pocket of her jeans. Heat rushed up her neck. No way was she asking Billy or any of the kids to go fishing in her pants, no matter how many trees were at stake.
Evan bent his head next to hers. His breath caressed her neck. His unique scent, sawdust with a hint of masculinity, tried to weave its old spell around her. “Where’s the key?”
“Jeans pocket.” Her voice croaked. “Right front.”
“Want some help?” He slid his hand to the front opening of her rain slicker, and his touch, even after so long, made her stomach wrench into a two-stranded knot of awareness and the urge to run.
She couldn’t exactly run, and twenty or so pairs of eyes had homed in on every movement like the sharp gazes of adolescent hawks. She closed her eyes.
“Just get it over with.”
Evan’s breath hissed in, and he pulled back. With minimal contact, he stuck two fingers into her pocket and extracted the key. Then, as the kids began wandering off, somehow having sensed the excitement had passed, he unlocked the left cuff. It sprang open, and the chain clanked to the ground, tugging on her right wrist. He slapped the key into her free hand, sketched a salute to Billy, and marched off to the Jeep.
“Wait.” Kat fumbled with the key, but her cold fingers might as well be sticks. The Jeep engine started. “Wait, would you?”
She finally got the lock open and tossed the second set of cuffs down as she whirled to catch Evan before he could drive all the way back to Craigmont without telling her what had happened to her sister.
As she turned, a grade-A head rush slammed into her. She stumbled. Her foot hit something hard, and she threw out her hands and managed not to fall facedown in the mud.
The idle of the Jeep’s engine sped up as though Evan intended to leave her here not knowing what he’d driven all this way to say.
She bolted upright, swiping her dirty hands on her coat as she sprinted for the Jeep. As she reached it, she banged her fist on the driver’s-side window. Evan rolled it down. “I have to go. You gonna be okay?”
Sure, she’d be okay. She was perfectly capable of saying good-bye to the man she’d loved but couldn’t be with, getting into her car, and driving back to her house to call Lacey.
But that would mean running away from yet another piece of her past. And she realized she didn’t want to run anymore.
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*Print edition will be released at the end of August 2013.
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