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First pages

CHAPTER 1

The sound of discarded love being pureed to a pulp was not much different than that of blending a morning shake. There was nothing unusual about the grinding noise. Nothing ominous or spiteful. Not even happy or blissful. Haley tipped her head, listening as the blender churned, whipping its contents around in a cyclone of red liquid. It could’ve been anything. Strawberries. Apples. Cherries.

Haley turned the speed dial up again and again to finish the job. It was as easy as taking out the trash or washing the dishes. Nothing to it. Oddly, she didn’t feel very excited. Not like Caleb who bounced up and down from sheer pleasure.

He wiped his wet fingers on his Spiderman shirt and gave her a thumbs up. “At least Liam will think twice before he sends you flowers again.”

She turned the blender off and the liquefied roses swirled to a halt—a puddle of red regrets.

“Best science project ever!” Caleb pumped his fist in the air.

“Nice try.” Haley tousled his blond hair. His long shags aged him closer to ten rather than the twelve he’d be turning in a couple of weeks. “Destroying the nonsensical symbol of love doesn’t count. Your grandma asked me to help with your science worksheet.” Haley looked at the paper on the table. “Acids and bases.”

“Okay, okay.” Caleb frowned as he silently read the first task. “I need to describe the taste of something acid.”

Haley motioned to the blender. “My relationship with Liam was acidic. Do you want to try the rose mixture?”

“Ugh. No way. I’ll grab the lemon juice from the fridge.”

Despite Caleb’s bored attitude, Haley noted the eager tone in his voice. Sadly, it had nothing to do with his assignment and everything to do with looking through the fridge. His grandma did the best she could to provide, but Caleb had practically worn a path down the hallway between their apartments asking for afterschool snacks, so Haley didn’t mind letting him peruse a little while he looked for the lemon juice.

While she waited, she picked up her tablet and scanned through the job application on the screen. Everything was filled out. All she needed to do was press submit. The deadline expired in less than twenty minutes, but she still hesitated. Better pay, she reminded herself. This job would be a step up. But upgrading often came with its own set of problems. Proof—Her bogged down, bug-infested laptop with the newest version of Windows.

The clock ticked down the minutes—seventeen. She held her finger above the submit button. The job would be risky, but she could handle it. Maybe. She sat the tablet down next to the mail pile on the counter. As hard as she tried not to look, a gray envelope caught her eye. The health insurance logo grabbed at her like an icy finger jabbing her in the chest. She shoved the letter to the bottom of the stack as though that would keep its prying tendrils from reaching her. How much did they want now? She calculated what was left of her paycheck and felt the emotional weight hanging over her.

“Lunch meat!” Caleb called. Haley sucked back her anxiety as Caleb pulled out a package of Black-Forest ham and licked his lips. “Can I have some? Gran’s going shopping today, but she won’t get off work till late, and I’ll starve by then.”

Out of everything in the fridge he had to pick one of the forbidden items. “There’s bologna there.” She didn’t want to disappoint him, but the high-dollar deli meat belonged to her roommate, and Kim wasn’t good at sharing. She liked total ownership. In fact, practically everything in the apartment belonged to Kim: the IKEA zebra print furniture, the fake designer throw rug, even the metal wall decoration with the crystal accents. Kim owned it all—except for the repurposed cereal boxes that sat under the kitchen sink with tools in them—those were Haley's. And the bologna.

Caleb’s expression tightened as if insulted by the inferior offer. “Does the ham belong to Godzilla?”

“I told you not to call her that. Kim’s not that mean.” Granted, Haley’s roommate had grown snappier over the last year, but that was still tolerable compared to having to find another roommate.

Caleb waved the package in the air. “I bet she won’t even notice.”

“Fine. Eat it.” It was the neighborly thing to do. But then again, Haley would have to take the blame. “You better only take a couple of slices. And make sure you don’t tell—” The front door creaked open. “Kim! You’re home from work early.”

Her roommate walked in and tossed her Louis Vuitton knockoff handbag on the zebra chair. “No, I just fit eight hours of work into seven. I’ve been doing research on my new tourist brochure. Someday, I’ll have it signed, sealed, and delivered.”

Haley inched her way over to Caleb, grabbed the forbidden contraband from him, gave him three slices, and then tossed the package back in the fridge. He promptly stuffed the whole wad into his mouth.

“Don’t choke,” she whispered before sauntering back to the counter where Kim insisted on fingering through the pile of mail. Hopefully, she’d stop before she reached the demon letter at the bottom. “I can’t believe you're running with that tourist brochure idea.”

“This will be the first time we use our natural resources to draw people in. It’s brilliant.”

Caleb swallowed the last of the meat. “What natural resources?”

Kim’s shifted to look at him. “Coal, of course. Carbon County is bursting at the seams with it, and it can be tapped for so much more than an energy source.”

Haley struggled to contain her eye roll. “Being Director of Tourism has finally gone to your head, Kim. Coal mining and tourism don’t belong in the same sentence. Believe me—there is nothing about that industry to attract sightseers.” Caleb nodded in agreement and gave Haley a knowing look, expecting her to say more. But she couldn’t. Her expertise was limited. Currently, she worked on the surface of a mine, in the warehouse. She wasn’t an actual miner—yet. She glanced at her tablet. Twelve minutes.

She gave a small, almost imperceptible, shake of her head, warning Caleb to stay quiet. He took the hint and turned back to the fridge.

“I admit, it’s a hard angle to work.” Kim pulled the newspaper out from under her designer purse and pointed to the article on the front page. “Especially when the mines are getting bad publicity like this.”

Haley read the headline. “‘Safety Inspectors Wage War Against Price Canyon Mine.’” The blood drained from her face, and the hair on the back of her neck stood up. Out of all the mines in Carbon County, P.C. had to be the one being attacked on the front page.

Kim didn’t seem to care. She put the paper down and drew in a long, deep breath. “What’s that smell?”

Haley darted a glance at Caleb—the source of the distinctive ham odor. He must’ve grabbed another piece of meat from the fridge because he was trying to force down another mouthful.

Kim walked around the counter, her petite nose sniffing. Haley stepped in front of her, but she pushed past. “I don’t believe it.” She rounded on Haley. “I smell . . . roses.”

“Oh, that.” Haley sighed. “It’s nothing. Liam sent me a dozen.”

“He's trying to make up with you—” Kim froze as her eyes fell upon the long green stems. She picked one up. “Where are the buds?”

“Um . . . I kind of—” Haley broke off and pointed to the blender full of fragrant, red liquid.

“You didn't!”

“It was a science experiment,” Caleb cut in.

“Do your homework.” Haley grabbed a box of baking soda and set it next to his science worksheet. No one paid her to help Caleb, but she liked him and related to his dysfunctional family life which had left him being raised by his grandma. Likable or not, she didn’t need Caleb rationalizing her pulpified perennials.

“Science experiment?” Kim pointed a slender, ring-clad finger at Haley. “It was an insignificant argument in the Walmart parking lot, and you turned Liam’s apology into a smoothie. Why do you hate men so much?”

“I don’t.” Considering who Haley’s father was, it would’ve been perfectly normal for her to hate men, but she didn’t—not really. She just hadn’t found one she could have a serious relationship with.

“You’re twenty-four and you’ve dated one guy in your whole life. One.” Kim looked Haley up and down as if she were appraising her. She didn’t frown, so Haley’s slender frame and light brown hair must’ve been passable. “I don’t know what it is about you.” Kim’s voice rose in pitch. “But as far as being normal goes—socially—you’re broken.”

Haley groaned. “Not dating doesn’t mean I’m broken. It means I’m modern.”

“She doesn’t hate men,” Caleb said. “She likes me.”

“No offense, but you’re not a man.” Kim gestured toward him, her silver bracelet jangling down her wrist. “What are you . . . ten?”

“Almost twelve,” Haley and Caleb answered in unison.

“Whatever.” Kim leveled her gaze on Haley. “I understand why you’ve avoided the dating scene, considering how you were raised, but you’ve come so far. You should think twice before breaking it off with Liam.”

“I did think twice. That’s why this is my second attempt at breaking up with him.” Haley wasn’t good with relationships, but apparently, she was even worse at ending them.

Caleb nodded as if he were sympathizing. “If the breakup doesn’t work this time, third time's the charm. Right?”

Kim put her hands on her hips, turning her petite 5'1” frame into something more intimidating. If she could add eight more inches to her height, she would reach model status. Her meticulously plucked eyebrows drew together to a point, and her dark eyes flared. “You shouldn’t take dating advice from a ten-year-old.”

“Almost twelve.” Haley stacked the rose stems into a neat pile. “And the text message I sent to Liam was civil. I didn’t even accuse him of being pushy—which he is.”

Kim looked up from the decapitated flowers. “I’m pushy and we get along just fine.”

True. They had grown up as next-door neighbors, which morphed into rooming together after graduating high school, and it seemed to work despite their differences. Haley—whose only goal consisted of moving beyond her past and earning an adequate living—had selected their cheap rental in the apartment building near the tracks, and Kim tolerated it. But not very well. Price, Utah, was too rural for her.

“I know Liam has a few quirks,” Kim continued as she thumbed through the mail pile. “His environmentalist views are a bit liberal for this area, but he’s nice.”

“I think he’s a jerk,” Caleb said. His mouth puckered as he squirted a stream of lemon juice into his mouth.

Haley nodded. “Trust me, I know from experience what an unhealthy relationship looks like.” It was enough said. Her parents were like Beauty and the Beast without the fairytale ending. Her dad’s domestic affairs were the kind that ended up on the evening news, and with that background, she didn’t have high hopes for herself. But being single wasn’t that bad.

Kim appeared to have given up on the argument. She turned her attention to the envelope at the bottom of the pile and handed it to Haley. “Another claim denial?”

Haley took the letter, its icy logo leering at her. “Probably. My mom used up her allotted therapy sessions for the year, and the insurance won't pay for more.”

“But they were helping, weren’t they?”

“Yes. I'll just pay for them out of pocket now.”

Kim’s brow pinched together as if she didn’t believe Haley could do it.

“I’ll handle it.” Haley opened the letter, pretending like the paper didn’t sting her fingers, like the dollar signs didn’t burn her eyes. That much? She looked at the total again. “It’s not that bad,” she lied. “Besides, I’m thinking of applying for a better job at the mine, so I’ll be getting a pay raise.”

“What do you mean—a better job?”

Haley touched her tablet. Five minutes. She didn’t want to explain. Her career choice wasn’t exactly mainstream, and Kim would see it as more evidence of being socially broken. Unfortunately, Caleb was quick to sell her out.

“She’s going to be a real coal miner.”

Kim’s eyes widened and her mouth went slack. “It’s OK to get a job around men, in fact, it might help acclimate you. But get a job in an office building, not a coal mine.”

“I'm not cut out for a desk job.” Haley tossed her hands in the air. “I want something I can move around in—something active. There are four openings on the belt line, and the pay is double what I get in the warehouse.”

Kim made a disgusted face. “I never did like you handing out tools all day to dirty coal miners, but that’s preferable compared to going underground. Mining is dangerous, especially at P.C. That place is prone to roof falls.” She pointed to the ominous headline on the newspaper again. Safety Inspectors Wage War Against Price Canyon Mine.

Admittedly, P.C. had the worst safety record of all the mines, but Haley worked there, and if nothing else, forty hours a week for two years had at least earned some of her loyalty. “Statistically, the risk isn’t that bad.” She turned the newspaper face down.

“Don’t try to hide it. Besides, I heard that—” Kim paused and took a deep breath. “P.C. Mine might be closing down. They’re thinking about selling out.”

Haley leaned against the table, spilling the baking soda. “Closing? Are you sure?” Coming up with money to pay for her mother’s therapy was one thing, but if she lost her job, she would have to forget the therapy altogether. In fact, she’d probably have to move her mother to a cheaper facility.

Kim’s face softened and she stepped closer to Haley. “It’s true.”

Haley touched the screen on her tablet, waking it up. The job application appeared before her. The submit button lit up, bright and green. Two minutes. Apart from the safety issue, and the awkward fact that she’d be the only woman on the crew, Haley actually liked the idea of mining. “I could do it,” she said. “It would be exciting—like an adventure.”

“Um, no.” Kim brought a finger down on the counter to make her point. “There’s a reason women don’t take those jobs. In fact, only about one percent of miners are women. I’m pretty sure it’s even less here in Carbon County.”

True, there weren’t a lot of female miners, but they did exist. “Lila Canyon Mine has a lady working underground, and I hear she does just fine.”

“And you’re at a completely different mine. You’ll be alone, and you hate men.” Kim pointed at the liquid rose mixture in the blender. “Liam's the only guy you've ever given the time of day to, and you can’t even stand to be around him. Now you want to get a job where you’ll be suffocated by testosterone?” Her eyes narrowed. “Think back to when I had a crush on Derik in high school, and we followed him to the locker room after his wrestling match. Do you remember the things we overheard?”

Haley darted a glance in Caleb’s direction reminding Kim of the young ears listening. Caleb dropped his eyes to his worksheet, but leaned forward, eager for more.

Kim lowered her voice. “It was . . . eww.” She shivered. “I can’t even repeat it. And working in a coal mine would be like working in a men’s locker room. It’s a horrible environment. One you don’t want to be in, especially if they’re going to close down.”

Haley took the gray envelope with its fateful logo and crumpled it in her hand. “That’s exactly why I have to do it. A month or two of underground pay would be better than nothing. It would at least cover a few therapy sessions.” She let out a long breath. “And a few more sessions might be enough for my mom to regain her memory.” Haley leaned over her tablet. With less than one minute left, she brought her finger down on the submit button. “There. It’s done. I should know in a day or two if I get the job.”

Kim dropped her head back. “Fine. You want to be socially broken—go right ahead.” She walked out of the kitchen and headed to her room.

Haley sagged against the counter. “Don’t worry,” Caleb said. He licked the baking soda off his finger and made a bitter face. “If you’re broke, that means you can be fixed.”

“There’s an idea.” Haley ruffled his hair. “Who should I call? A plumber? No. I think it’s more of an electrical problem. I’m just wired wrong. A supposed man-hater going to work in a coal mine—I’m going to need a lot of fix-her-up tools.”


CHAPTER 2

“It’s dark in here, Brooke. Are you going to turn the lights on?”

Haley shifted in her seat, ignoring the fact that her mother called her the wrong name. “The lights are on, Mother.” She blanketed her voice with a calm, soothing tone as though it could mask the care center’s environment. Her mother, only forty-eight, was too young for hospital beds, plastic tiled floors, and roll-away serving carts.

“Are you sure?” Her mother squinted. “It seems so dark.”

Haley looked up at the bright fluorescent bulbs. The doctor had reassured her that her mother's sight was near perfect, so it unnerved her whenever her mother talked about the encroaching darkness.

“Come along, be a good girl, Brooke, and turn on the lights.”

“It's me, Mother. Haley. Brooke's not here, she's in Houston.” Haley looked into confused, dull eyes, hoping for some recognition. Please. She had to be somewhere in there—tucked away in that infected mind.

Nothing.

Haley sighed and moved to the window, parting the curtains to allow more light into the small room. The worry lines on her mother’s face dissolved, calm and placid.

“I've got to go to work, Mom. I'll see you tomorrow.” Haley embraced her, but her mother sat unmoving in the pink vinyl chair. Six years and seven months, she calculated the passage of time, yet refused to let the images of that horrific day creep from the recesses of her memory. She kept those thoughts locked away, but the nightmare was never far, especially when her daily visits were a blinding reminder of the past horrors.

Haley had reached the front foyer of Parkdale Care Center when Mrs. Sandra Frackle walked into the building.

The woman waved, her hand flapping like a flag in the wind. “Miss Haley Carter—just the person I wanted to see!” She fumbled through a stack of documents in a file folder. Three loose papers floated to the floor before she came up with the one she wanted. “We achieved a milestone with your mother during our last session.” Mrs. Frackle leaned forward, a glint of excitement in her eyes. “Your mother actually discussed Christmas.” She looked down, scanning her hand-scrawled notes. “Christmas of . . . well . . . we didn't actually get a date, but it was definitely before the accident.” A triumphant smile spread across her face.

Haley liked how everyone referred to it as an accident. She did too—sometimes. She hoped it had been an accident—that her father hadn’t meant to do it. “Are you sure it was a Christmas before the accident? Did she mention me?”

“Well, not you specifically. But she mentioned your sister, Brooke, and your brother, Noah.” She shook her head as if dismissing that part. “Your mother is suppressing memories of that night, and since you were the only one who witnessed it . . . she’s blocking you out along with it.” She lowered her voice. “I hate to bring this up, but we’ve used up our allotted sessions for the year. What would you like to do?”

“We're going to continue. Whatever you’re doing is working, at least mom is talking more. We can’t quit. I know you require payment at the time of service, so I'll call your office and make the arrangements.”

Mrs. Frackle nodded, her expression still glum. Maybe she suspected Haley didn’t have the money. But that would change soon. It had to.

They grew silent as an elderly gentleman shuffled past in worn-out, mismatched slippers. He made his way to the door, leaned against it to push it open, and walked outside. Haley worried about the man going out by himself, but Mrs. Frackle drew her attention back. “I apologize, but our billing department notified me that your mother's insurance won’t pay for the new medication either. And I know you’ve had a hard time getting her to qualify for Medicaid, but we’ll help where we can. How about a payment schedule—”

“I'll handle it.”

Despite Mrs. Frackle’s nod of the head, a shadow of disbelief crossed her face. She regrouped her papers without another word and walked away.

Haley calculated the upcoming expenses as she walked outside. The bills were piling up, and she needed money. She needed the underground job at the mine.

“Haley!”

Cindy, one of the nurses, ran toward her. They’d become friends since her mother moved to the care center. Kim would’ve labeled it as an acquaintance, and if Haley started gauging her relationships by the depth of her interactions, it might fall into that classification. The accident had done that—kept her from getting too close to people.

“Did you see Mr. Pruett come out here?”

“Mismatched slippers?” Haley asked.

“That'd be him.”

“He walked outside a minute before I did.” Haley looked around. “But I don't know where he went.”

Cindy stuffed her hands into the pockets of her hot pink smock. Her outfit matched the fluorescent stripe in her hair perfectly. “He takes a daily stroll around the building,” she said. “I’m sure he’ll turn up in a minute. He always does.” She nodded toward Haley’s car, a yellow rusted Bug in the nearest parking slot. “I saw you drive up in that thing. What happened to your Ford?”

“Sold it. I needed something more . . . um . . . economical.” Translation: She couldn’t afford a truck payment.

Cindy frowned. “I overheard your conversation with Mrs. Frackle. It’s too bad the insurance won’t cover more therapy sessions.”

“Well, I applied for another job, and it will cover the cost.”

“That’s great.” Cindy bounced her words like a peppy cheerleader. “I bet you’re excited to get out of that mine warehouse.”

Haley’s muscles tightened. Why did everyone assume she didn’t like working at the mine? She wanted to wear a sign that said All women aren’t the same. “I actually like where I’m at, but other positions pay better. I’m looking forward to a miner’s paycheck.”

Cindy’s gaze slipped out of focus. “You mean you applied for a job underground? Like a coal miner?”

“Yeah. I’m working my way up from a basic laborer position.”

Cindy’s voice lacked enthusiasm, a dreary, monotone preacher replacing the cheerleader. “Are you sure you want to do that? A woman in the mine could cause problems. I know from experience.”

“You worked underground?” Haley tried not to sound too surprised.

“Before I went into nursing, I worked with an engineering crew in college, and we did a job in one of the mines. Those men harassed me every day until I quit. You have no idea how awful and obscene they are. It’s a good ol’ boys network down there, and they don’t like girls coming into their club.”

Haley understood. Maybe she didn’t see so much of it on the surface, but she still knew. Men became more abrasive in the rough, secluded work environment. It was probably no different than the man-camps in the oil fields or in other extreme occupations like logging. “I know how they get,” she said. “And I've thought about it—a lot—but I need the money, and I can handle it.”

Cindy opened her mouth, ready to launch into another argument, but the mismatched-slipper gentleman came shuffling across the lawn. “Mr. Pruett! You need to take your medication.” Cindy put a hand on Haley’s arm. “If you go underground, I want you to be careful. It could be trouble.”

Haley almost said something but then froze. Speaking of trouble—across the parking lot, Jake Hunt climbed out of his red Tacoma truck and headed directly toward them. Haley turned around, hoping he would walk by without notice.

Cindy caught the evading movement. “You know Jake?”

“He works at the mine.”

Haley didn’t mention they’d attended high school together, or that, besides Liam, he was the only guy she had considered dating. Not that Jake would ask her out. Not after she had turned him down flat in high school. It was silly to avoid him now; she saw him every day at the mine, even waited on him countless times in the warehouse, but seeing him outside of work was different—more personal.

She looked over her shoulder. Jake was closer now, his narrow figure moving quickly, his dark hair tossed like the wind had caught it, only there wasn’t even a breeze. He looked like a mad scientist, which fit perfectly with his techy side. But tragically, he didn’t smile. She really couldn't call that particular expression a smile. For Jake, it was more like a nuclear reaction.

Haley wiped the palms of her hands on her pants like a timid school girl. She’d seen Jake in public before and it hadn’t made her this uncomfortable. A couple of weeks ago they crossed paths in the grocery store. Technically it was a glance across the canned food aisle, but it still counted. They never spoke beyond the obligatory greeting, so why was she so nervous?

Because her mother was here, and this part of her life was too private. She didn’t want anyone to remember what happened to her family. She could share it with strangers—Mrs. Frackle, Cindy, the other nurses. They viewed it as simply business. They didn’t know what her family was like before the accident. They hadn’t watched her go through that terrible time. But Jake—he knew her, and she knew him—the computer nerd who warmed the benches during every basketball game but excelled at winning academic awards and received a scholarship for his science fair project. He was smart. So smart he had earned the nickname Einstein at the mine.

“Hey, Cindy.” Jake’s baritone voice sounded right behind them. Cindy greeted him, then excused herself and walked across the lawn to Mr. Pruitt, oblivious to the mental spit wads Haley was shooting at her for leaving her alone.

Haley turned and smiled. She couldn’t be completely rude, after all. “Hi, Jake.” She stumbled over her words, looked into his dark-lashed eyes, then waited for the standard response.

“You here to see your mom?”

She clamped her teeth together. What happened to the normal one-word greeting? This was the reason she had distanced herself from all of her high school classmates except for Kim, her one and only support. Haley didn’t need anyone else. She kept her answer short. “Yes.”

He nodded toward the brick building, his dark hair even more tousled by the movement. “My grandma’s here, recovering from surgery.”

Haley didn’t know how to respond, so she didn’t.

The look in Jake’s dark eyes intensified as if he were unwilling to give up on the conversation so easily. “I don’t think you’ve ever met my Grandma Hunt.”

“I don’t think so. Is she all right?”

“She’s doing pretty well. She should be home in a week or two.”

Haley studied his face. He didn’t appear optimistic. Not that he had indicated anything to the contrary, but the grin that often played on the corner of his lips was still M.I.A.

“I hope she gets better soon.” She almost turned to go then stopped herself. “Jake, have you heard any rumors about P.C. Mine closing down?” She thought about telling him that she had applied for an underground position, but that pushed beyond her comfort zone. Maybe Kim was right about her being socially broken.

Jake’s brow lowered in a thoughtful expression. “No. Have you heard something?”

She shook her head. She didn’t want him to worry about something hearsay. “Rumors. You know how they are.”

“Yeah, there’s always talk floating around, but I’ll keep my ears open.” He motioned to the care center again. “I’ve got to get going. I guess I’ll see you at work.”

Cindy directed Mr. Pruitt onto the sidewalk as Jake disappeared through the door. “Something seems different about Jake today. Like he’s a little off.”

“It’s the smile,” Haley said. “He didn’t smile.”

“Maybe.” Cindy shrugged. “Too bad he’s a miner. Ever since I did that job in college, it’s ruined my good opinion of people in that profession.” She gave Haley a sympathetic look. “I’d reconsider that job choice if I were you.”

Haley’s jaw tightened. The warning only made her more determined to go through with it. And she could. At least she hoped so.

CHAPTER 3

Haley walked out of her bedroom and tossed her purse—not a designer knockoff—onto the zebra-striped chair. She didn’t match her accessories with her work outfit like Kim did. She wore an old pair of Levi’s, her steel-toed boots, and a company-issued long-sleeved shirt with the P.C. Mine logo over the breast pocket—all standard wear for someone working in the warehouse. She sat her hard hat on the counter, which was the only place Kim allowed it. Anything dirty was exiled to a certain section of the counter.

“Before you go”—Kim walked into the room and eyed the hat—“I’m going to add Mitch’s number to your contacts.” She picked up Haley’s purse and sat down in the zebra chair.

“Mitch? You mean the bum in the apartment at the end of the hallway?”

“He’s not a bum. He drinks a little, but he’s always around and always answers his phone. Which is why I’m putting him in as your emergency contact.” She pressed a few buttons without looking up. “Everyone should have someone listed under emergency. Especially someone trying to get an underground job.”

Giving Kim the passcode to her phone had been a bad idea. But on the other hand, Haley knew all of Kim’s passwords. It wasn’t hard—she used the same one for all of her accounts. #1SignedSealed&Delivered.

“Fine. I get it,” Haley said. “But if you insist on listing someone under emergency, then it should be your number, not Mitch’s.”

Kim raised a perfectly manicured eyebrow. “My number is the only one listed in your favorites, so they’ll try me first. But I don’t always answer, so this is the backup plan.”

“But there’s got to be someone besides Mitch.”

“Who? I told you, you have social problems, the lack of friends being one of them.”

“I have friends. A hundred and eighty-four of them—”

“Don’t ever mention the number of social media friends you have. It’s sad. Very, very sad. Besides, spending an hour looking through other people’s posts doesn’t qualify them as a friend. Name someone that you actually have a conversation with on a regular basis.”

“There’s Caleb,” Haley said.

“Ten-year-olds don’t count.”

“Almost twelve.” Haley dropped her head back and gave an exasperated glare at the ceiling. Great. If Kim was on one of her emergency preparedness kicks, this argument wasn’t going anywhere. “Fine, but Mitch? I can’t imagine the gutter king, who can’t even stay on the sober wagon, as emergency contact material. Besides, we barely know him.”

“I know him pretty well. I even gave him a spare key to our apartment . . . just in case.”

Haley smacked her hand to her forehead. “Just in case what? He needs an easy way to break in? Why didn’t you give the key to Caleb’s grandma or that nice lady that lives in the corner apartment downstairs?”

“Caleb’s grandma is never home. And Tammy—in the corner apartment—would lose the key. Remember when she lost her daughter last month? The cops found the girl wandering along Main Street with nothing but her diaper on.”

“And you think Mitch is any better?”

Kim crossed her legs and smiled. “Of course. He never wanders Main Street in a diaper.”

“Ha, ha,” Haley said flatly. “But I can’t have the neighborhood drunk as my backup emergency contact.”

Kim straightened her posture. “Look. It was either Mitch or your brother. He’s still listed in your phone contacts.”

Haley groaned. “It definitely can’t be my Noah. He’s . . . well, you know . . . he’s Noah, so we can’t.”

Kim nodded. “That’s what I thought. And you haven’t talked to your sister in over a year, so that’s out too. I can put Liam in—”

“No way!” Haley’s stomach began to tighten.

“It’s not like you have other options. Besides, I’ve put a lot of thought into this. Who—over the age of ten—knows where you live without having to look up your address?”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Jennifer K. Clark is a full-time author, a hobby artist, and a Halloween enthusiast. She lives in central Utah where she spends her time writing books and hiding the skeletons in her closet. (Yes, she’s one of those people.) She likes to add a touch of romance to her novels along with a healthy dose of adventure. In her spare time, she loves to be creative and has done everything from building a secret passage in her home to making handmade books. She makes every day an adventure.

Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
I’m always sharing little tidbits about myself. My face is always booking, I’m a tweeting twitter, and I’m linked in. If you want a sneak peek into what I’m like and what I’m doing, you can check out my website: jenniferkclark.com (It’s like a backstage pass!)
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
Research! I’ve only been in a coal mine once, so I relied on talking with several miners to get the details right. I bugged those poor men (and women) night and day, showed up on their doorsteps at unexpected hours, and even bribed them with cookies. Chocolate chip seemed to be their favorite!
Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A.
I never planned on becoming a writer, but I was always great at daydreaming and making up stories. When my sister insisted I write one down, I conned her into being a co-author (chocolate chip cookie bribe). Together we wrote our first novel, Mark of Royalty, and I’ve been writing ever since.

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