Sunday, November 26, 2023

First Look: Chapter 1 of Good Girl Gone Bad

Hello lovely readers, I'm truly terrible at updating this space, aren't I? It's a good thing I have Instagram. Ha. Anyway, you're here for the preview of Good Girl Gone Bad, so here it is! 

Good Girl Gone Bad comes out January 2, 2024. 


Fancy Meeting You Here 

I didn’t sign up to spend time outside of school with my frenemy, but that didn’t stop Janice from inviting herself over tonight. The question of how to get rid of her without ending up with weeks of bottom-of-the-barrel writing assignments lingers at the back of my mind. 

“You are begging for trouble, using this thing. It’s so fake. Who sold you this monstrosity?” Janice flips my brand spanking new fake ID card over in her hand a couple of times, her amusement growing. 

“Hey!” Embarrassed, I snatch it from her. I’ve never needed a fake ID, and she’s right. This thing looks like a kindergartener made it for an art project. I barely got a look at the card when it arrived, because my mom was snoozing on the couch when I brought it in from the mailbox. Looking it over more carefully, I snort with amusement. The photo and address aren’t printed on straight, and the colors are just this side of neon. “Good thing it was cheap. Think it’ll work?” 

Janice leans closer to the mirror in my bathroom, applying another layer of Christmas red lip gloss. Scarlet mouth puckered in a perfect pout, she winks at me in the mirror. “I’m no expert, but if it won’t fool me, it won’t fool a bartender either. You know how much crap they catch if they get caught serving minors.” 

“That’s why we’re not going to get caught, Jan.” She points at me in the mirror with one of her shiny, polished fingernails. The glittery red sweater, black fleece-lined leggings, and furry boots she’s wearing are doing her so many favors. My silver sweater and dark wash jeans look pretty cute too. “I’m as ready as I’m going to get.” 

Janice eyes me with a sly smile. “Maybe we should stop by the station on the way so you can twirl around in front of your ex a few times. Make him regret losing you.” 

 Grinning at her, I pop a tube of clear gloss in my crossbody purse. “That ship has sailed, and quickly hit a sandbar.” 

“Pretty sure it was an aqueduct.” 

Our uncomfortable laughter leads us along the hallway. She and I haven’t talked much about all that happened the night I almost died, mostly because after hashing out everything that happened between Gus, Portia, and me with Sheriff McCandles, and my mom, and our lawyer, I was tired of talking about it. Janice doesn’t talk about her incarcerated dad much, either, but I’ll never forget the advice she gave me when I thought my dad had murdered Gracia. Hold on to the good memories. No matter what happens. 

It was good advice, and these days, I live by it. Carefully steering clear of the memories that are more bitter than sweet. 

Not to mention my dad, who I miss so much sometimes my chest physically aches, in spite of his flaws. I’ll be driving through town and a memory of him will spark, a sun flare in my mind that sends me back to when he was still alive. The swingset at the park where he used to push me so high I felt like I was flying. The bowling alley where he’d crow after each strike. The drive-in theater where he snuck me in to see Jaws against my mom’s better judgment. 

 Spiced warmth guides Janice and I into the kitchen. “Mom, we’re going.”

My mom stirs a vat of spiced apple cider. She makes it every year, and we take it down to everyone at the station on Christmas Day. This year, she’s making a smaller batch first, because she can’t wait any longer. The scents of sticky sweet apples and warm cinnamon fill the house.

“That smells incredible. Can we get some cider to go?” Janice peers over my mom’s shoulder at the golden liquid in the pot. 

“Yes, please.” Plucking a cinnamon stick off the counter, I give it a whiff. Heaven.

“Sure. Grab a thermos from that cabinet, there. You’re going to the diner, right? I heard they have a couple of delicious seasonal milkshakes, but haven’t stopped in to try them yet.”

Leaning against the fridge, I’m almost mesmerized by the cyclical motion of her hand as she stirs. “Sykes is addicted to the chocolate orange one. He won’t shut up about it. He and Kelley got into a tiff about chocolate and fruit pairings the other day.” 

Janice prances in excitement as my mom fills a thermos and hands it over. Inhaling deeply, she sighs in pleasure. “This stuff is probably habit-forming.”

I can attest that it is addicting. My dad used to sneak as many glasses of the stuff as he could before Mom and I took it down to the station. Assuming he wasn’t already working. If he was, we would set aside three thermoses of it just for him. Last year, I added cinnamon sticks to each for a little special something. Swallowing against the tightness in my throat, I catch Janice’s eye. “We should get going before all the milkshakes are gone.”

Having Janice in my house is still a little odd. The first time she showed up just to hang out, we got into an argument about what to watch and ended up glaring at each other through three episodes of the newest fantasy show everyone is raving about. By episode five, we had bonded over cheap-looking costumes and poor weapons handling. Mocking fumbling swordsmen and bad wigs with her is a delight. After that night, Mom had come by my bedroom to warn me not to scare her away. Her hope was that our home would be comfortable for Janice when she didn’t want to be in her own. I have no idea how Janice’s home is with just her and her mom. Her dad’s been in jail for almost a year, and from the little she has said it isn’t easy.

Janice hip-checks my mom on the way past, and we go out through the garage to the Corvette. The leather seats are icy-cold, and we squeal and wiggle while we beg the heater to kick in.

Christmas is in three days, and the entire town of Hacienda is draped in multi-colored lights. Red and green and gold glow, making the town festive and cozy. One yard has a tractor parked on the lawn and completely covered in white twinkle lights. Animatronic reindeer pull the reins, and a waving Santa blow-up is perched in the seat. 

“I love Christmas.” Taking a sip of her simmering cider, Janice watches the lights as we drive. A puff of mist gathers on her window. I used to love Christmas, too, but I’m dreading it. My grandparents aren’t coming to visit this year, having promised to spend the holiday with my uncle and his family a few hours away. A billboard showcasing Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer glides past the car window. Without Dad, who is going to suffer through all of the old TV holiday specials with me?

The Corvette coasts past the diner.

Neon orange points the way to our actual first stop. The parking lot at Neil’s Bar is surprisingly full for 8 PM on a Wednesday night, despite the squat, uninspiring building. I park in a dark corner of the lot back from the street. With some luck, no one nosy will spot my car and stop in to cause trouble. 

Destin made me promise I’d keep him up to date on anything I work on for the newspaper, especially if it was risky, so I shoot him a text. I get it. His first girlfriend, Gracia, worked for the paper, and she kept a lot of dark and juicy parts of her life from him. I’m not going to make the same mistake she did by keeping secrets from Des. 

He writes back almost immediately with a thumbs up and an admonishment to be careful. Bert’s happy doggy grin lights up my screen. Janice leans over for a look. I get the feeling based on the unmoved slant to her eyes that she isn’t a dog person, but she doesn’t argue when I assert Bert’s cuteness.

Angling my screen away from her, I send my thousandth apology text to Rock. He hasn’t responded to a single one.

An email notification pops up, so I tap it. My eyes widen to a bulge as I read. One of my favorite true crime podcasters wants to write a book about Gracia Cuoco’s death and my dad’s disappearance. She wants me to co-write it with her since I solved both cases. My input will be invaluable, she writes.

I read the email again, blinking in disbelief. A deluge of emotions hits me. Surprise and grief burn in my chest, followed by a twinge of interest. I cut that right off. I’m not a writer, not really. I could never write a book. Shoving the phone into my purse so I can’t stare at it anymore, I run my hands down my pants.

Taking another drink from her thermos, Janice keeps both hands cupped around its warmth. Warily, she looks at me. “You ready to pop your alcohol cherry?”

Dropping my keyring into my bag, I eye her smirk. “People still say that?”

“Only when I’m trying to push your buttons. And that full body cringe you just did? Worth it.”

 “You’re the worst.” I run my tongue over my teeth to keep from smiling.

“I’m the best! You love me.”

“About that…” I can’t deny that she has become more than a caustic acquaintance since everything went down with Portia and Gus and Leif Agani.

Look at me: only eighteen and I already have a list of enemies.

Bundled up in a winter coat doesn’t make me immune to the freezing cold night, and I shiver as we make for the bar’s dimly lit front entrance. Neil’s Bar better be warmer inside than it looks, because my nose is threatening to form icicles.

Janice veers toward the side of the building, pulling a surprised squawk out of me. “Where are you going?”

“Follow me and find out.”

To one side of the aging edifice is a small square of concrete cordoned off by a barred fence. Inside the enclosure, a door leads from the corral into the bar. The sign over it reads, Smoking Area. No Entrance.

Sucking in a breath, I squeeze through the gate after Janice. Sneaking into bars sounded like a great idea when we planned it a few days ago, but now that I’m standing behind Neil’s Bar watching Janice traipse insouciantly toward the smoking entrance, I hesitate. Maybe I’m not ready to pop my alcohol cherry. My dad drummed it into my head over and over that there were reasons the drinking age was 21. Responsibility, impulse control, blah, blah, blah. 

Besides, if we’re caught… Hoo boy my mom, and the entire department, will be livid. Or even worse, disappointed. Consequences will be levied. Car keys will be confiscated. 

“Come on, Miss Goodie Two-Shoes. You’re about to learn that breaking and entering can be fun.” Janice’s teasing smirk and provoking wave spur me to keep walking.

“Is it though?”


Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t the first time I’ve broken some rules. When I was investigating Gracia’s death and my dad’s disappearance, I basically put a baseball bat through the laws about breaking and entering, tampering with evidence, impeding a police investigation… But that was aimed at solving a murder and a disappearance. Tonight’s excursion, by comparison, is for a newspaper article.

Janice catches my eye, her hand wrapped around the door knob. “Carpe diem, Val. Journalists have been putting themselves on the line since forever. And you tend to land on your feet. You’ll be fine.”

She’s right. And our article idea is excellent. I jog to catch up. By the door, the ash tray overflows with burned orange and white butts. Ashes and used cigarettes litter the ground. My nose wrinkles at the potent stench. Janice opens the door and pulls me inside.

The bar’s interior is gloomy. Red Christmas lights above the bar add a festive touch to the dreary room, but don’t do much to provide actual illumination. Neil’s patrons are looming silhouettes hovering over the pool tables and bar stools like specters. I half expect them to turn and reveal glowing, judgy eyes.

In the middle, a dance floor pulses with indistinguishable, clumsy bodies.

Janice reels me in by the arm so she can whisper in my ear over an old Christmas carol. “Watch and learn.” Taking a quick measure of the room, she skims between tables and plucks a mostly empty beer bottle off an unoccupied high top. She plunks it down in front of the bartender. 

Their conversation is inaudible from where I’m standing, but the sleazy way the guy behind the bar homes in on Janice’s chest is obvious. The creep takes the empty bottle, dropping it into a bin before fetching a fresh one. His eyes return to her chest as he pops the top and hands it over.

Janice sashays to me, and I try not to look impressed by her casual flouting of liquor laws. She did it effortlessly. We settle into an empty table near the back of the room, under the balcony, and she takes a few sips. It smells awful, so I decline when she offers.

“How did you learn to do that? And that?” I gesture toward the smoking exit, the row of empty glasses abandoned on a nearby table, and the bar.

“I had to grow up quick with my dad. Had to know what I was doing, or get good at faking it.”

“You mean you and your parents didn’t sit down to a family dinner every night to talk about the highs and lows of your day?” I used to give my mom such a hard time for insisting we all answer her two favorite questions, but the bleak note in Janice’s explanation gives me pause. Maybe my mom’s cheesy ice-breakers weren’t so embarrassing or awkward, given what family evenings at home could have been instead. It must have been a rough environment for Janice to grow up in if the lessons she learned involved how to spot a fake ID and how to coax drinks from a bartender.

I doubt Mr. Hill talked much about the highs and lows of his days as a high-ranking member of a local gang, the Snakes. If he did, it would probably be nightmare inducing. Clearing my throat, I scoot out of the cold metal chair. “Ready to go?”

Janice drops her almost full beer in the trash, and we leave the same way we came in. “Anyone who sees us will think we’re going out for another smoke break, and they won’t realize I didn’t pay for the beer.”

Plugging the next address into the GPS on my phone, we chat about how Christmas vacation is going by too quickly, projects we’re stressing about doing after the break, and a potential change to our school’s dress code. Janice is all for the expansion of options when it comes to school blouses. 

Our second target of the night is another older, established bar on the opposite edge of town. Sticky floors, darkened booths and alcoves, and pool tables that have seen better days. Janice uses the same trick she used the first time. Scooping up a mostly empty glass, she flirts with the bartender while he prepares a fresh drink for her. Neither he nor the bartender at Neil’s asked for an ID, and now I’m curious what her fake ID looks like. Would it stand up to scrutiny, or would they know it was fake in an instant, if they bothered to look?

Janice takes a sip before dumping the glass’s contents in a fake plant on her way back to where I’m standing near the back door. “Strike two.” She slides into the chair across from me. We sit quietly, watching the dancers for a couple of minutes. People sway with drink in hand. A few couples scoot around the dance floor. One guy who is drunk off his butt sings the wrong lyrics so badly off key Bert would be howling if he was here.

“Have you seen Rock?” I keep my eyes trained on the rockstar wannabe.

My friend traces a seam in the plank table with a fingertip. “Not really. We haven’t talked much since we broke up.”

“That’s the problem I’m having.”


“A couple of months ago, we had a fight. Destin, and … Portia, and me. And they accused me of being self-centered. Basically, they said that after Gracia died, I wasn’t sensitive to their hurts. That I was off in my own world. And honestly? They were right. But in my defense, my dad was missing, and that freaked me the hell out. Anyway, since then I’ve been trying to be more aware, I guess?

“That day when I went out to the prison, I tried to apologize to Rock, but he wasn’t ready to hear me. And he won’t reply to my texts, so I have no idea how he’s doing.”

“Can you blame him? You did get him arrested.”

“Yes and no. Did I handcuff him to a pool ladder? Yes. But did he help Leif dump a body? Also, yes.”

“Was he under duress? Also yes.”

“Point taken.”

Janice runs her hands up her arms and cups the balls of her shoulders. “Give him some time. Maybe he’ll come around.”

That maybe worries me. I didn’t realize how much I missed Rock until we started butting heads over Gracia’s death and Janice’s former cattiness. He helped me sneak into his brother’s apartment. He didn’t rat me out when he caught me the second time. Having Rock in my life again felt right. Like we were supposed to be friends, and we’d circled back to each other after all those years of pretending our history away. Now he’s back to ignoring me, and it hurts. I just got him back and I’ve lost him all over again.

Looking across at Janice, I wonder if I ever had him at all. “Let’s get out of here. Mr. American Idol over there is giving me a migraine.”

Janice eyes me, as if she can see through my flimsy excuse to the real reason I’m suddenly melancholy, but she doesn’t call me out on it. If we wanted to, we could both be well on our way to buzzed, and that really wouldn’t help my mopey mood. If we’d been inclined to guzzle the stuff Janice has gotten from both bartenders she has charmed so far tonight. Which we aren’t.

We’re journalists.

“This is going to make a freaking awesome article.” Janice kicks her feet and rubs her hands together as I drive. She’s right. Since I joined the staff for our school newspaper, the Herald, a few weeks ago, I haven’t written anything super interesting. The first article Janice assigned to me was the paving of a new parking lot behind the football stadium. I thought it was a joke. It was not. But sneaking into bars to see which ones will serve us? It’s making my fingers itch to write about what we did tonight. I brainstorm opening lines in my head, but by the time I pull into the third bar’s parking lot, I’m wondering how ethical it is to include all the details in the article. “You think we should leave our methods vague? Or should we put it all in? If we detail it, are we helping other people get drinks?”

“You think too much.” Taking another long drink from the cider thermos, she swings her door open. Leaning into the cab, she grins at me. “Your turn.”

The third and final bar on our hit list is nicer and newer than the previous two. The building is modern and trendy, with a sleek, black and white color scheme and artfully placed LED lights. We use the same trick to get inside, where the music is bumping and people are much more chaotic than they were at the first two. Dancers fill the floor, their arms waving in time with the techno-remix of a Christmas song.

Ignoring the nervous flutters in my stomach, I finger comb my hair. I left it down instead of putting it in my usual Dutch braid because I hoped it would make me look older. Putting on a confident smile, I march up to the bar and motion for the server with the glass in my hand. A slosh of pink, fruity smelling liquid snags his attention. 

“Help you?” he asks, eyeing me over the glass.

“Can I get another?”

His eyes run over me, and sweat breaks out in my armpits. “Got any ID?”

Oh, crap. “Yeah. Right here.” Snagging the fake out of my purse, I slide it over the bar’s cool surface. Hopefully the bar’s interior is dark enough to cover the multitude of fake ID sins.

The bartender holds it up to his nose, scrutinizing the laminated card. He looks at me. Looks at the card. Looks at me again. And shakes his head. Doesn’t take a genius, or waiting until he opens his mouth to know I’m busted.

“Aren’t you the murdered sheriff’s daughter? The girl who almost drowned in the levy a couple weeks ago?”

My cheeks feel like they’re cracking around the fake smile still plastered to my mouth. “Yep, that’s me. I just turned 21, as you can see on the ID. First time drinking, and this one was so tasty I want another.” Someone needs to come along with one of those giant hooks to pull me away from the bar immediately. 

“What was this, again?” The bartender gives me a knowing look. He could probably smell my inexperience the second I approached his bar.

“A daiquiri?" A quick look over my shoulder reveals I’ve got no backup. Where the freak is Janice? 

The bartender taps the edge of my crappy fake ID on the wooden bartop. “Nice try, Miss Lamb. You know I have to call this in, right?”

My shoulders sag. I am so incredibly busted. Especially if my mom hears this guy’s call over the dispatch. Crawfish on a cracker, I am in deep crap.

The bartender motions for me to sit on the stool at the bar’s end while he makes the call. 

I take another peek behind my back and clock Janice in the corner, waving at me to make a break for it. The fluttering heart in my chest beats loudly as I wait for the bartender to dial. He pivots away from the noisy room, probably so he can hear whoever picks up. It’s the opening I need. Pushing off the stool, I hotfoot it through the crowd. For once, it’s a bonus being short. More cover among the taller drunk people bobbing to a country song techno remix.

The bartender is probably already on the phone with one of the deputies, but leaving will give me a chance to practice my excuses before they catch up to me. It’s for truth! Justice! The American pursuit of unbiased journalism!

Heh. That’s good. Maybe it’ll convince my mom not to ground me and take away the Corvette. 


Janice shoves the back door wide, and we scuttle outside. “Wow, that was close,” she gushes as we jog to the car.

A vaguely familiar motorcycle tears out of the parking lot, engine rumbling into the night. I watch its progress, tracing the figure straddling it. Plain black helmet and jacket, but I can’t shake the feeling I’ve seen the bike before.

We stop in our tracks.

Sheriff McCandles is leaning on my cherry red car, arms crossed. Boots crossed. Lariat necklace dangling over a work-wrinkled khaki uniform. My pit sweat worsens when his steely eyes meet mine. The man’s drawl opens a pit in my stomach. “Valencia Lamb and Janice Hill. Fancy meeting you two here.”

We’re busted. My fake ID is burning a hole in my purse, and my mom is going to blow a gasket.

So much for not getting caught.


1 comment:

  1. looks like a great novel to read. i see it is on amazon kindle, which i don't use. will the novel come out in print as well?