The Broncos play the Chiefs twice each season (not counting the possibility of meeting in the postseason), and each time, I think about Matt and Jared. I always imagine them in their house, or maybe over at Zach and Angelo’s, practically giddy as kickoff approaches. And I always feel like there should be a way to share that excitement on Twitter. But how? Matt and Jared have a standing bet (you can read the details in Shotgun), but how does that translate to a game between me and the people on Twitter? If Jared wins, we get pictures of hot cops, and if Matt wins we get… pictures of hot math teachers?
Yesterday, a couple of hours before kickoff, I tossed out a comment that if the Broncos won, I’d post an excerpt from Winter Oranges, and if the Chiefs won… well, I wouldn’t. What followed was one of the most exciting games I’ve seen in years. I’ll spare you the replay (although you can see it here). The short version is, the Broncos were down by seven with less than three minutes on the clock. They then scored two touchdowns in the final minute of the game for the win! Jared and I were ecstatic.
Matt? Well, not so much. He’s a bit surly today, poor guy.
So without further ado, here’s an excerpt from my upcoming Christmas novel, Winter Oranges.
Oh. I guess I do have “further ado” after all. If you have suggestions for future Chiefs/Broncos games (preferably suggestions that do NOT involve me writing short stories), please share them in the comments.
The garage caught Jason’s eye again as he pushed himself to his feet. He glanced up at the guesthouse window and froze, his heart bursting into high speed.
Somebody was there!
It was the same person he’d seen the day before, he was certain—a man, although only barely. Jason guessed him to be only a year or two out of his teens. He had a narrow jaw, high, sculpted cheekbones, and thick black hair over shockingly pale skin. Jason expected him to dart out of sight now that he’d been seen, but he didn’t. On the contrary, he seemed utterly delighted. He bounced up and down in glee, waving excitedly.
A deranged fan? Jason didn’t have many these days, but Hollywood was full of alarming tales involving insane stalkers.
“I’m calling the cops!” Jason yelled, shaking his fist ineffectually toward the window.
The man’s lips moved as he spoke, but Jason couldn’t hear him. Not that he was interested in whatever the lunatic had to say anyway. Jason went inside, slamming the door behind him and locking the dead bolt. He called nine-one-one to report an intruder on his property.
“Somebody from the sheriff’s office will arrive right away,” the dispatcher told him.
“Good.” With any luck, it’d be somebody who’d never heard of Jadon Walker Buttermore.
Jason systematically checked every lock on every door, making sure his unwanted guest couldn’t get in. Not that he needed to bother. When he peeked out the window, the man was still right where Jason had left him, staring hopefully down at Jason’s front door. They stood there—Jason watching the boy, the boy watching the house—until a car from the sheriff’s department rolled up the driveway.
The word “sheriff” wasn’t without its glamour. In Hollywood, a cop could be whip-smart or stereotypically donut-obsessed, but a sheriff? He had machismo. Whether a slimy dirtball, or a charismatic ladies’ man, he’d have a pronounced swagger and a healthy appreciation for the absurd. Jason imagined a burly gentleman with a handlebar mustache and a bit of a paunch hanging over his belt, probably with a toothpick jutting from the corner of his mouth.
He was surprised when a black woman in her early thirties stepped out of the sheriff’s car.
“Well, well, well,” she said, shaking her head as she came toward him. Jason came down from the veranda to meet her, feeling a bit vindicated in his assessment: she definitely had a swagger. “I heard the infamous JayWalk had moved into my jurisdiction, but I didn’t expect to meet you so soon.”
She stopped and rocked back onto her heels, wrinkling her brow in confusion. “I thought your first name was Jadon.”
“The agent my parents hired when I was eight thought Jadon was better. He said it was edgy and hip.”
She stuck her thumbs into her belt in true sheriff style and smiled at him. “My little sister thought you were edgy and hip, all right. She had your face plastered all over her bedroom walls. Told everybody who’d listen she was gonna marry you someday.”
“I assume she’s moved on.”
“Several times. She’s set her sights on Chris Hemsworth now, I think.”
“Can’t blame her for that.” He didn’t want to talk about his career, though. He never did. “You’re the sheriff?”
She held out her hand and he shook it. “Regina Ross.”
“Thanks for coming.” He suddenly realized what else she’d said in her opening statement. “Wait. Somebody told you I’d moved here?”
“Your agent. Natalie something?”
Jason’s heart fell. “Natalie Reuben. She wasn’t supposed to tell anybody.”
“Well, she asked us to keep it quiet, but she said the paparazzi might find you eventually.” She glanced around, quickly assessing the house and the circle of trees around them. “And now here it is, only your second day as a resident of Idaho, and I get a report of an intruder.”
Jason pointed to the window of the guesthouse and the young man who even now stood staring down at them. He waved enthusiastically when Jason’s eyes fell on him again. “He’s up there.”
She followed his finger, holding one hand to the sky to block the sun from her eyes. “Where?”
“In that window.”
“In the garage?”
Was she blind? Jason glowered at his unwanted guest, still waving like the homecoming queen on parade day. “In the guest room,” he said, trying not to be impatient. “Right there!”
“What exactly did you see?”
“Last night, I was . . . well, I was out on that balcony.” He pointed to the place he and Dylan had been. “And I thought I saw somebody, but then he disappeared. But then half an hour ago, I looked up, and there he was.”
“In the window?”
“Yes, in the window!” It was harder to hide his aggravation now, with the boy still standing in plain sight. The sun was bright, shining into their eyes and reflecting off the glass. Still . . . “Can’t you see him?”
She rocked onto the balls of her feet, then dropped both her hand and her gaze. “Mr. Buttermore—”
“Jason. My name is Jason Walker.”
“Mr. Walker, I have to ask you: have you been drinking?”
Her eyes were dark with disbelief. “Didn’t you have some kind of breakdown last year? Smoked some bad weed or something and ended up in the hospital?”
“That’s not what happened. And that has nothing to do with it. I’m telling you—”
She held up her hands. “Look, Mr. Walker. I’m not here to judge you for your lifestyle.”
“What the hell does me being gay have to do with anything?”
He’d spoken too loud. He’d let his anger show, and she reacted. She leveled her eyes at him and squared her shoulders. Her hand snuck toward the heavy stick hanging at her belt. “I’m not talking about you being gay. I’m talking about being famous. I’m talking about Hollywood and Betty Ford and the way you all pass narcotics around like candy. I don’t even know what the latest designer drug is, but I’m sure it isn’t good, and I’m guessing it has mild hallucinogenic properties.”
He took a deep breath and did his best to keep his voice calm and level. “I’m telling you, I’m not on any drugs. There’s a man in my guesthouse.” He didn’t bother to point to the window again. “He’s probably a reporter. If you could just take him off my property, I’d appreciate it.”
“You think there’s a reporter camping out in your garage?”
“You think it hasn’t happened before?”
“No offense, but you aren’t exactly the most sought-after actor in Hollywood.”
She arched her eyebrows expectantly, as if waiting for an explanation. He suspected she was enjoying herself.
“You obviously read the tabloids,” he said, remembering her comment about the bad weed.
“Only the headlines, while I wait in the checkout line.”
“Then you know they don’t bother confining themselves to the A-list.”
She cocked her head, thinking. A grin spread slowly across her face. “They do spend an awful lot of time on John Travolta and Kirstie Alley.”
“Yes, they do.”
“And Lindsay Lohan,” she went on, apparently warming to the subject. “Miley Cyrus.”
“Right. And Jadon Walker Buttermore.”
She rocked back on her heels again, thinking. “Yeah, they do like you too, don’t they?” She glanced toward the garage, although she still gave no sign of seeing the man in the window.
“Just go up there and see for yourself,” Jason said. “Please.”
She shook her head, but her smile remained. “I’ll go check it out. I suppose it’s the least I can do, seeing as how it’s my job and all.”
He realized that meant she’d need the keys, and went to get them for her, relieved that now, at least, she’d see he wasn’t crazy.
She took the keys and turned toward the garage. “You stay here.”
He didn’t need to be told twice. He sat on the veranda steps and imagined her climbing the stairs and unlocking the door at the top. The boy in the window turned away, apparently retreating back into the room. A moment later, the sheriff’s face appeared in that gap between the curtains. Her expression was unreadable. She disappeared too, and Jason waited impatiently for her to come out with the man in tow. He hoped she’d apologize for doubting him, then felt guilty for being petty. But the seconds stretched into minutes. The minutes became a quarter of an hour. Finally, Sheriff Ross emerged.
Jason stood, his stomach tight with dread as she crossed the grass from the garage.
“I searched everywhere. Checked the whole guest room, and the closet. Even under the bed.” He thought he heard a note of apology in her voice. “Searched the garage too, in case he’d snuck down the staircase. I assume you didn’t see him come out?”
“No, I—” Jason glanced up at the window. At the face that had reappeared there. Not waving happily this time, but frowning.
Jason swallowed, reeling. He sank slowly back to the wooden step, which suddenly seemed ice-cold under his backside. The lawn fell into shadow as the sun passed behind a cloud. A breeze rattled through the trees, tossing dried leaves across the grass and sending goose bumps up his arms.
Either Sheriff Ross was lying—and Jason didn’t think that was the case—or she really couldn’t see his intruder. That meant . . .
That meant . . .
He wasn’t ready to think about what that meant quite yet. But he sure as hell wasn’t going to continue acting like an ass in front of her, either. “I don’t know what to say.” His voice didn’t sound right, not even to him. He cleared his throat. Clenched his hands between his knees. “I must have been seeing things.”
But what? A ghost? He didn’t believe in ghosts.
“Maybe he snuck out while you were waiting for me to arrive?”
She was offering him an easy out, and he took it. “Maybe.” Except the young man was still there, watching from the guesthouse as this ridiculous drama played out. Jason cleared his throat. “I’m sorry to have bothered you.”
“It’s not a problem. You can call anytime. But . . .” She hesitated. “Stay off the drugs, okay? It’ll help.”
“Yeah,” he agreed weakly. “I’ll do that.”
And he watched her swagger back to her car. She gave one tiny wave from the driver’s seat before driving away, leaving Jason on his veranda, his world spinning around him.
Just him, his brand-new house, and a ghost Regina Ross couldn’t see.
I am SOOO excited about this book!!
Winter Oranges will be available on November 30th.
PREORDER IT HERE
Twenty percent of the proceeds from this title will be donated to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) National Help Center.