They say desperate times call for desperate measures.
Charley Weatherly is about to realize that it’s true.
Life isn’t working out exactly the way Charley Weatherly imagined it might when she walked away from her steady paycheck as a copywriter to start her own business. But as it turns out, not everyone in town is knocking down the door of her tiny independent bookshop. She has lost money every quarter since she opened.
Now, with her grandmother in need of more care than Charley can provide, some difficult decisions have to be made. The rest of her 401k plus the proceeds from selling the bookstore might keep Nana in Pacifico Manor for about a year. That would give Charley time to figure out her next move.
But when that money is irretrievably lost, Charley is faced with an impossible decision. Being a gestational surrogate for a couple who can’t have a baby on their own will bring in the kind of cash she needs. Can she really follow through?
Between trying to keep her small business afloat and caring for her grandmother, Charley’s personal life has been nonexistent. But when she moves to the city for a few months, she finds she enjoys the freedom of her part-time gig at Bravo Java. She especially enjoys chatting up the handsome local artist who spends his mornings there. Now that her life is taking an unexpected turn, has she finally met the right man at the wrong time?
Artist Ben Campbell has had his fair share of romantic disasters. For the time being, he’s content to follow his self-imposed schedule: gym, coffee, work, repeat.
But the new barista at his favorite coffee shop piques his interest. In fact, if he’s honest with himself, she looks a lot like the elusive redhead who haunts his dreams.
She seems to be attracted to him, too. So why does Charley insist on keeping him at arm’s length?
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In this brand-new, never-before-shared excerpt from THE GIRL IN THE GUESTHOUSE, the desperation to provide care for her ailing grandmother leads Charley to consider an outlandish idea.
“I understand, thank you.” Numbly, Charley ended the call and set her phone on the counter. Using a short, yellow pencil textured with gnaw marks, she drew a line through the last phone number at the bottom of a piece of notepaper. Across the shop, Celeste relaxed in a leather chair and thumbed through a gardening book, unaware of her granddaughter’s growing despair.
The call had been to the final law firm on Charley’s list. Although all of them had been sympathetic to her plight, each would require a hefty up-front retainer to take on the task of getting the money back from the television ministry.
“What are we going to do, Nana?” Charley murmured.
That night, long after Celeste had gone to bed, Charley sat curled up on the sofa in front of the television. As exhausted as she was, she knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep, and she dreaded staring at the ceiling all night. She considered sleeping late the following day, opening the shop late, if at all. It wasn’t like anyone would be knocking down the door, desperate for a copy of Sense and Sensibility.
One late-night talk show faded into another, but she really wasn’t paying attention. Half-buzzed on tequila, she mentally rehearsed what she planned to say when she called a commercial realtor in the morning to discuss selling the bookstore. She needed enough money to pay off her debts and still have some to replace what her grandmother had given away.
But what about when that money ran out? Even assuming she could get what she needed from the sale of the shop and its contents, the money would only go so far. What then?
Knowing it was irrational, Charley worked hard to tamp down the irritation she felt toward her grandmother. Celeste hadn’t intentionally set out to ruin everything. In so many ways, she was like a child.
Why does everything have to be so goddamn hard? Charley wondered miserably.
She picked up her glass and swirled the remaining tequila before taking another swig. On television, a studio audience broke into applause as a famous actress stepped out from behind a blue curtain, took a bow, and crossed to a host who waited on a raised platform. After greeting the actress with a hug, the man gestured to a chair before taking his place behind a large desk.
“How are you? It’s been a while since the last time you were here.”
“I know,” the actress nodded. “I’ve been keeping busy, for sure.”
“I understand life has changed quite a bit recently.” The host leaned forward with a knowing smile.
“It has, it really has.” The actress looked out at the studio audience with a giddy smile. “I’m a mom!”
In the quiet of her darkened living room, Charley smiled. While for her, life might be heading straight into the shitter, it was sort of nice to know that good things still happened for other people. She was just buzzed enough to hope that maybe something might eventually turn around for her and Nana as well.
“Tell us about that,” the host prompted.
“Well,” the actress said, tucking a long leg beneath her, “we’d been trying to have a baby for a long time, but we had one heartbreak after the next. Then someone told us about a surrogacy center called Ohana. We were matched with a wonderful young woman who carried our baby for us.”
Behind the actress, a screen lit up with a photo of a tiny red-faced newborn swaddled in a fluffy white blanket and wearing a soft pink headband, and the audience applauded.
“She is adorable,” the host commented. “What’s her name?”
Beaming, the actress glanced over her shoulder at the image on the screen. “This is Natalie Grace, and she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to us.”
The audience cheered again.
“I know we’re very blessed,” the actress continued. “Not everyone has access to surrogacy services. It’s a costly process. But, I mean, the woman had a baby for us, for God’s sake. She earned every penny. Just look at that little face!”
As the audience applauded, Charley blinked at the television. Surrogacy.
She shook her head. It’s crazy. Crazy to even think about it.
Absently, she chewed the corner of her thumbnail. How much do you suppose…
The talk show went to commercial as Charley typed s-u-r-r-o-g-a-c-y into the search window of her phone. Scrolling through the results, she found the question she had in mind.
How much money do gestational surrogates earn?
Charley clicked the link and waited as the page loaded. When she found the information she was looking for, her eyes widened. Even on the low end of the scale, the money would be enough to keep Nana in Pacifico Manor for a year without having to sell the bookstore. If Charley sold the business, they might be able to stretch it to a year and a half, by which time she would no doubt be out of debt and gainfully employed, with a salary that would solve all their problems.
She resolved to research the Ohana Surrogacy Center in the morning.THE GIRL IN THE GUESTHOUSE by Pandora Spocks