The Center of Gravity by Laura McNeill – Sneak Peek

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 After six years behind the anchor desk at two CBS affiliates, Laura
moved to the Alabama Gulf Coast to raise her family. Her accolades in
broadcasting include awards from the Associated Press, including Best
News Anchor and Best Specialized Reporter.

Laura works at Spring Hill College as the school’s web content and
social media manager and​ is active in her community—participating in
fundraisers for the American Cancer Society, Ronald McDonald House, and
Providence Hospital’s Festival of Flowers.

Laura was recently awarded a 2-book deal with Thomas Nelson Publishing, a division of HarperCollins. Her novel, Center of Gravity,
set in Mobile, Ala., will be published in July of 2015. Laura is
represented by Elizabeth Winick Rubenstein, president of McIntosh and
Otis literary agency in New York.​ Her writing awards include those from
William Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Competition, Writer’s Digest,
RWA, and the Eric Hoffer competition.

She holds a master’s degree in journalism from The Ohio State
University and a bachelor’s degree in English from Clarion University of
Pennsylvania. She is currently pursuing a second master’s degree in
interactive technology from the University of Alabama. She is a native
of Upstate New York and currently resides near the Alabama Gulf Coast
with her two children

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The truth could cost her everything. 



Her
whole life, Ava Carson has been sure of one thing: she doesn’t measure
up to her mother’s expectations. So when Mitchell Carson sweeps into her
life with his adorable son, the ready-made family seems like a dream
come true. In the blink of an eye, she’s married, has a new baby, and
life is grand.



Or is it?



When
her picture-perfect marriage begins unraveling at the seams, Ava
convinces herself she can fix it. It’s temporary. It’s the stress. It’s
Mitchell’s tragic history of loss.



If only Ava could believe her own excuses.



Mitchell
is no longer the charming, thoughtful man she married. He grows more
controlling by the day, revealing a violent jealous streak. His behavior
is recklessly erratic, and the unanswered questions about his past now
hint at something far more sinister than Ava can stomach. Before she can
fit the pieces together, Mitchell files for divorce and demands full
custody of their boys.



Fueled
by fierce love for her children and aided by Graham Thomas, a new
attorney in town —Ava takes matters into her own hands, digging deep
into the past. But will finding the truth be enough to beat Mitchell at
his own game? Center of Gravity weaves a chilling tale, revealing the
unfailing and dangerous truth that things—and people—are not always what
they seem.


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Chapter 2
Ava
Wednesday, March 24
Life never quite turns out
the way you plan. Take my first attempt at gourmet cooking. The twelve-week
long class was a wedding gift from my husband, Mitchell. I think he secretly
hoped the instruction would uncover my amazing talent and I’d be the next Giada De Laurentiis.
So armed with a new apron, thick, glossy new cookbooks, and dazzled by my
new home’s professional kitchen—full of gleaming stainless steel utensils—I
bounced fearlessly into the day of instruction.
I proceeded to set both oven mitts on fire, much to the horror of nearby
students. The next week my crème brulee singed into a charcoal volcano. Week
number three, the heady scent of cloves caused a wave of nausea so strong I had
to run outside and gulp fresh air. I turned out to be pregnant, of course. So
much for the Food Network and my budding career as a chef.
Since then we keep a fire extinguisher handy, and I work from a collection
of stand-by, no-fail recipes. We’ve decided that I do excel at comfort food:
chicken salad, tacos, and oatmeal cookies. Tonight’s plan: fresh vegetables and
pasta.
With baby Sam on my hip, I maneuver down the clean, gleaming aisles of Fresh
Market, chatting on the phone with our contractor.
“Heart Pine?” I echo, leaning over to pick up fresh broccoli florets. “Isn’t
that . . . really expensive?” I pause and wince when he tells me the cost.
At Mitchell’s request, our contractor is building us an amazing staircase in
the foyer of our hundred twenty-year-old home. Crafted to mirror late-eighteen
hundreds décor, it will be quite the showpiece. Lovely and very, very
expensive.
 “So the down payment? You’ll need it
this afternoon?” I ask, selecting a ripe, ruby red tomato and holding it up to
the light like a jewel.
The contactor confirms that he will, in fact, need quite a large sum. I
almost drop the fruit, but manage to set it carefully in the buggy. Mitchell
hasn’t left me the cash or a check. To withdraw it from my household account
would take every last penny. The pennies I’ve been saving, in secret, for the
boys’ swing set. The swing set I haven’t told Mitchell about yet. Mama always
says it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, after all. 
I stop wheeling the shopping cart to rub the back of my neck. “And if we
miss you today?”
His answer’s clear. He’ll be gone, out of the country, for a week. We’ll be
behind schedule, and Mitchell will be less than pleased.
“I’ll meet you at the house in thirty minutes.”
Throat tight, I hang up and check the time on my phone. Sam breaks the
tension with a giggle and presses his cheek to my chest. He’s flirting with the
produce clerk, a cute redhead with big blue eyes. Sam’s the most sweet-natured
child, and his blond curls, pink cheeks, and dimples draw a bevy of admirers.
Of course, as his mother, I’m unduly biased. He’s always had my heart.
As I lean to press my lips to his head, my cell buzzes again. It can’t be the contractor again. With a
small sigh, I answer and press the phone to my ear. “Hello?”
Urgent and clipped, the voice on the phone stops my world. A comet screaming
toward Earth, bent on near-destruction.
It’s about Jack. My third-grader. There’s been an accident.
I leave the groceries,
stammering out an apology to whoever can hear me. My shopping cart, filled with
organic chocolate ice cream, soymilk, and Mitchell’s favorite whole grain
bread, sits behind us, forgotten. On my budget, it was wishful thinking anyway.
I dash for the automatic doors which open with a hiss and a jolt. Luckily
the parking lot’s not crazy, and I make it to my Jeep in a matter of steps.
            As
I buckle him in, Sam gurgles and bats at my face, wanting to play. With a
shaking hand, I rub and kiss the top of his sweet head, tuck his very necessary
fuzzy brown bear close, and shut the door. I sprint to the other side of the
Jeep, jump in, and almost lose my shoe.
            My Jeep’s old engine cranks on the
first try. Thank you. I give the
dashboard an affectionate pat. This is no
time to be temperamental.         
The wheels groan and grab gravel, throwing it like confetti as I drive out
of the parking lot. Sam claps his hands at the clatter of stones and pebbles. My
cell phone slides to the floor out of reach. The slip from the drycleaners
falls in between the seats.
Around a curve, the folded pink heart I keep tucked in the visor flutters to
the seat beside me. Jack and Sam’s homemade valentine. Construction paper,
glue, and crayon – more precious than any gift. Two small stick figures, a
taller one in the middle with a hair bow. I press two fingers to the soft paper
and say a prayer.
***

            The
traffic light ahead flashes green to yellow. Intersection’s clear. I push the
accelerator to the floor, glance in the rearview mirror. Air from the open
window catches Sam’s wisps of hair. He smiles, showing off his first few baby
teeth, and reaches a chubby hand at the rays of sunshine streaking by, trying
to catch the light.
Thump. Thump. The Jeep
jerks to the left. I guide the wheel, hold it steady, and take my foot off the
gas. When I pull over and brake, the abrupt stop sends up a dust cloud.
            “Uh-oh,”
Sam says.
            I
unbuckle, jump out, and survey the damage. A glance at the tire confirms it.
Flat. Dead.            
Hands on my hips, I bite my lip.
            Tentatively,
I grab the jack from the back of the Jeep, the weight of it solid and heavy in
my hands. I can fix this. After all, in my former life, as a school counselor
at Mobile Prep, I was the problem-solver, crisis manager, and shoulder to cry
on. I always handled situations. And I didn’t need help.
            Then
my eyes fall on Sam as he babbles and blows bubbles in the back seat. I
hesitate, gripping the metal between my palms. As the sun beats down on us,
heating my skin, my pulse begins to race. Maybe I was fearless because I didn’t
know any better. I wasn’t a mom then. I didn’t have two children depending on
me. Trusting me to do the right thing, be on time, and not screw up.
I catch a whiff of gasoline
and hear the faint rumble of an engine behind me as I open the red Jeep door
and stretch for the cell phone. I dial quickly, hoping that my husband answers.
“You’ve reached Mitchell
Carson . . .”
A heavy footstep crunches on
the pebbled pavement behind me. I hang up and whirl around, nerves already
frayed.
            “Ava?”
            Disbelief
hits me. I take in the broad shoulders and smartly-pressed uniform and erupt
with emotion at the pure, dumb luck of finding Officer Mike Kennedy next to my
broken-down Jeep. Between sobs, I squeeze out an explanation. “Jack . . . the
school . . . accident.”
            Mike
holds up a calloused hand to stop me. He’s rescued me more than once. “Whoa!
Slow down, Ava.” His forehead wrinkles. “He’s at Springhill Medical Center?”
            Throat
tight, I nod, trying to process what to do, what to say. Fingers trembling, I
reach for the pink heart. Something to hold onto. A piece of Jack.
            “I’ll
take you.” Mike opens my door. In no time, he transfers Sam and his baby seat
to the patrol car, straps us in, and gets back on the road.
The scenery whips by, a blur
of trees and signs.
I clutch my phone tight and try Mitchell
again. Voicemail.
“Can’t get through?” Mike
asks.
I drop the phone into my
lap and shake my head.
Mitchell’s job pulls him
in ninety different directions at once. My husband’s a newly-minted college
vice president of advancement and somehow balances all of his responsibilities
with finesse. My heart still stops when I see him. My husband
has the voice, the look, and the irresistible charm of a George Clooney twin.
It’s not all roses, though.
With baby Sam, our marriage is more difficult than I ever expected. Life’s
busier, more exhausting, juggling diapers and soccer games. We’re both getting
less sleep. But that’s normal, right? Our date nights, which used to be weekly,
are non-existent. Making love during stolen lunch hours doesn’t happen anymore.
And instead of talking about the symphony or the latest bestseller, we discuss
schedules.
I push the thoughts away. Everyone
goes through a rough patch. I glance over at Mike instead and study the scar
below his hairline. Ten stitches from a nasty tumble near the creek bank when
we were little kids. He never cried.

            We
pull up to the ER doors. Mike slams the cruiser into park. Police scanner
static fills the air with letters and codes. “Hey, duty calls,” Mike says.
“I’ll get a tow truck over shortly. Go in there and find your boy.”
            I
scoop up Sam, unbuckle his seat.
            Hold
on Jack.




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  • Love the Nerd Girl” name!!!! Thank you so much for including my book preview on your blog! Can’t wait to see who wins the Rafflecopter Prize(s)!

    xx, Laura

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