Big Trouble in Little Hope

Big Trouble in Little Hope by C.J. Barry

Eve Mattison is going to escape her home town of Little Hope and her family’s scandals if it kills her. And it just might when she discovers a surprise her sweet, recently deceased grandmother left behind—an erotica novel under contract that “someone” needs to finish.

“CJ Barry’s Big Trouble in Little Hope is fantastic! Sexy, funny, and charming.” –Lani Diane Rich, NYT and USA Today bestselling author
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Category:

A Novella

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Escaping your home town can be murder

Eve Mattison is going to escape her home town of Little Hope and her family’s scandals if it kills her. And it just might when she discovers a surprise her sweet, recently deceased grandmother left behind—an erotica novel under contract that “someone” needs to finish. That would be Eve.

Her plan has one problem: inspiration.

Enter sexy, unsuspecting Gideon Briggs, a successful architect from New York City. When his Uncle—the only real father he had—lures him back to his old stomping grounds undercover to stop whoever is sabotaging the family construction business, Gideon reluctantly agrees to stay for two weeks. . .tops.

His plan has one problem: Eve.

As Eve and Gideon close in on the suspects, the past, and each other, the secrets begin to unravel. It becomes clear that escaping from Little Hope might be a lot harder than they bargained for.

“La-la-la-la-la-la, not listening,” Liz said, her hands over her ears.

“Stop that,” Eve whispered with a ‘shush’ loud enough to draw stares from the nearby patrons of Spanky’s diner. The place was packed on Saturday morning as usual. She gave the curious locals a placating smile, and then turned back to her younger sister. “If I have to deal with this, so do you. So don’t pull the ‘You’re the oldest, you handle it’ routine. She was your grandmother, too.”

Liz’s blue eyes peered out beneath a curtain of blonde bangs. Ever since she got pregnant, her hair was always in her eyes. A small, turned-up nose and determined mouth completed the visible lower half. She wore a powder blue t-shirt that highlighted her eyes and displayed her growing belly.

Liz squinted. “Do you honestly think that I’m going to believe that that wonderful woman who baked the best chocolate drop cookies in the universe and read us Little Women when we were sick, wrote smut her whole life?”

Eve took a sip of her coffee. “I don’t know if it was her whole life, but it was a good chunk of it. Twenty-one books with her name on the spine.”

Liz pressed back with a puff of the vinyl seat cover, looking pole-axed. Eve knew it for the drama it was. Wouldn’t last long. And it didn’t.

“How do you know it was her? Maybe she found some author with the same name as hers and decided to collect her work?”

Eve pulled a copy out of her handbag and slid it across the red Formica. “See for yourself.”

Liz was a ball of concentration as she glanced around the diner and proceeded to discreetly read the front, back and finally flipped through the pages to the back cover of a book entitled, Pop Goes Peter.

Eve waited for the fallout as Liz gaped at the author photo in disbelief.

“Oh. My. God.”

“Now you know why I had to take a Xanax this morning,” Eve said. And it was only the fear that she might have to take an emergency airplane flight somewhere that had limited her to one.

Liz looked up. “This is your photo. From college.”

“They could have at least airbrushed it. Look at my hair.”

Liz said, “They used you for the author picture? Why?”

Eve set her coffee down. “Maybe the publisher thought a photo of a 73-year old erotica writer would be…”

“Appalling?” Liz finished. “Eve, what if someone in town recognizes you from this book? What are you going to do?”

Eve smiled at her sister’s horror. It would probably be her only bright moment of the day. “Autograph it?”

“Don’t you dare,” Liz hissed. “You deny everything. You don’t know this woman. She doesn’t live anywhere around here.”

Eve cocked an eyebrow. “You better read the bio.”

Liz frowned and started reading. “Harriet Keller is a former school teacher who now enjoys gardening, chess, and lazy walks along the lake. She lives in a small town in lovely upstate NY with her two cats and a bird named Larry—“ Liz’s voice drifted off. “Oh, crap.”

“Not exactly difficult to figure out.”

“She didn’t even use a pen name,” Liz said, shaking her head. She opened to a page and started reading. After a few seconds, she slapped the pages closed and dropped the book on the table. “Oh, dear Lord. This can’t be.” Her fingers caressed her temples.

“Ah, but there’s more. I found manuscript files on her computer.”

Liz froze. “She had a computer?” Her eyes bugged. “And internet access?”

Eve nodded. “Roadrunner High-speed. And don’t even ask me about the Favorites. I haven’t had food yet.”

Liz sighed and said, “Thank God Mom’s dead.”

The guy at the table across from them looked over, and Eve just smiled back. Great. In a small town like Little Hope, murder plots traveled fast.

Liz put her hands around her orange juice glass. “Because this would have killed her.”

“She knew before we did,” Eve told her. Her mother had died two years ago. Eve had no doubt she was still hovering close by. Watching. Judging. As if having her on Earth hadn’t been bad enough. There was nowhere to hide now.

Her sister’s jaw dropped. “You’re right. Maybe that’s why she never wanted us to go to Grandma’s house.”

“Grandma might have corrupted us,” Eve murmured.

Liz chewed on her lip. “What are the chances that they are in the same place now?”

Eve eyed her. “Are you talking Heaven and Hell?”

Her sister looked resigned. “You have no faith, Evie.”

Eve sipped her coffee. “I don’t need to. I have you. That’s enough for both of us.”

“I mean, do you think Grandma went? You know,” she pointed to the floor.

The woman gives away money and love by the bucketful, and Liz was worried about a few words on a page. “You don’t get a one-way ticket to Hell for writing erotica, Liz.”

“But why take the chance?”

Spoken like a woman who went to church every Sunday without fail and had saved herself for marriage. At least Mom got through to one of them.

“I’m far more worried about what I’ll find in Grandma’s closets.”

Liz sucked in a breath. “I don’t want to know. And if you ever tell me, I will withhold niece and nephew rights indefinitely.”

Eve grinned and made her eyes wide. “We could have a garage sale.”

The look on Liz’s face was priceless.

“You ladies ready to order?” A husky voice interrupted the conversation as Trudy, their regular waitress, ambled up to the table. She spoke with a slight lisp, like she still had a cigarette hanging from her lips.

“Yes, please. I’m starved,” Liz said, scanning the menu for the fifth time. “I’ll have the Lumber Jack breakfast. Bacon, sausage, eggs over easy and wheat toast.” She glanced up. “Has Bernie made the pies yet?”

Eve blinked. “How many kids you got growing in there?”

“Just wait till it’s your turn someday,” she said, and stuck out her tongue.

Children. She shuddered. Never happen.

Trudy shifted to her other hip. “What about you, Evie?”

Between the Xanax and the latest family trauma, she wasn’t particularly hungry. “Just a bagel and cream cheese. Thanks, Trudy.”

“Sure thing, hon.”

When Trudy was out of earshot, Eve said, “At least we know where all the charity money came from now. The new entry for the library. The Welcome sign on Route 3. The school playground.”

Liz inhaled a sharp breath. “Wow. Writing smut must be lucrative.”

“Some people call it art,” Eve noted.

“Yeah, right, and Elvis lives.” She tapped her fingernail on the table. “I have to say that hundred grand I got from her savings was a nice surprise. Thought Aunt Grace was going to have a coronary when she found out she wasn’t getting any of it.”

Eve couldn’t resist. “It’s smut money, you know.”

Liz crinkled her nose. “It’s green enough to buy us a new house up on Mortgage Hill and new minivan. And just in time for a growing family,” Liz added, hugging her belly.

Eve felt an unwelcome twinge of envy. She loved her sister more than anything, and the truth was Eve really didn’t want children of her own. Kids needed support and encouragement, not a lifetime of rules and trying to stay out of trouble. Unlike herself, Liz would make a great mother. Somehow, she’d survived their childhood unscathed. Eve had never figured out how.

Liz paused. “Are you sure you don’t need any of the cash? All you got was the old Victorian. She hadn’t put any money into it in years. It’s hardly an even split.”

For the hundredth time, “The house is enough. I wasn’t even expecting that. And I have money in the bank. Besides, is there any left?”

Liz winced. “Not really, no. It all went down on the new house and furniture and baby stuff. Sorry.”

Eve nodded. “Don’t worry about it. I plan to renovate the place by myself.”

“Yeah, but you work construction all week. Do you really want to be doing it on your days off too?”

She almost reminded her sister that it wasn’t like she had a lot else to keep her busy. In fact, when the baby came, Eve was going to lose her best friend. “I’ll be fine.”

Breakfast arrived with a clatter of heavy plates, and Liz pounced immediately.

“How are you likin’ livin’ at your Grandma’s?” Trudy asked Eve.

“It’s nice. The house needs a little of work.”

Trudy gave a rough laugh. “Well, the old gal didn’t get around as well as she used to.” Her face brightened as she looked somewhere into space. “But by God, she was a good woman. An angel. Always donating to everyone.” A kindly smile crossed her wrinkled face. “It’s good to see the lights are still on in her place.”

Eve gave Trudy a big smile because she realized that the book was still out on the table. She moved her hand a fraction to give Peter some modesty.

Too late. Trudy’s eye lit up like she’d just seen a UFO.

“Well, don’t he look yummy.”

Eve met Liz’s mortified gaze mid-chew. A quick sisterly mental exchange occurred, and Eve lost. Being the older sister sucked. With a sigh of resignation, she said, “It was a gift from a friend.”

“Really?” Trudy brushed her hand aside, and picked up the book. “Any good?” She started reading the back blurb, and Eve thought Liz was going to deliver on the spot.

“I don’t know. I haven’t started it yet.”

Trudy opened to the middle of the book and seemed to be lost in a world of her own for a few seconds as she latched onto a passage. Eve held her breath. Don’t look in the back, don’t look in the back.

“Oh, my.” Trudy set the book down on the table, and fanned her flushed face. “You let me know when you’re done with that one. I’ll borrow it from you.” With that, she winked and left.

Eve shoved the book back into her handbag before it drew any more bad karma, and suddenly felt disgusted with herself. Why did she care if anyone saw her photo in the back? Maybe it would be better just to let everyone find out, live with the scandal and move on. It wouldn’t be the first time.

But she knew she wouldn’t. Her training was too engrained.

“See?” Liz hissed over her half-eaten eggs.

She played dumb. “See what?”

“Grandma Keller was an icon in this town. A goddess.”

“So?”

Liz lowered her voice. “So, we can’t let people know that this is her handiwork.”

“It’s my photo in the back, if you hadn’t noticed,” Eve reminded her.

Her sister waved a hand. “It’s old. No one will even recognize it.”

“That’s not what you said five minutes ago.”

“Forget what I said before,” Liz said. “This is serious. No one can find out. We will take this secret to our graves.” She tapped her fork on the table to emphasize the last three words.

“She was an erotica writer, Liz, not a serial killer.”

“In a predominately Catholic town, it’s the same thing. And the last thing this family needs is another scandal. So,” Liz looked around, and then lowered her head. “You clean out her books and files, and we’ll have a bon-fire.”

Her sister had lost her mind. “I’m not burning her books. There’s an amendment against that.”

“It’s for the good of all mankind,” Liz said, her eyes becoming a little glassy with final trimester insanity.

“I hate to break this to you, but these are on Amazon and in probably in every bookstore in the country.”

“Stop right there,” Liz said, holding up a hand. “As long as we find all the ones within a fifty-mile radius of this town, we’ll be fine.”

Eve smiled. This was getting fun. “Don’t you want to tell your kids that grandma was a famous author?”

Liz’s face set. “Don’t even go there, Evie. I swear I’ll make you their senile Aunt who talked to the trees and lived alone with her cats.”

Probably wouldn’t be too far from the truth, but there was no point in sending the pregnant woman into contractions prematurely.

“Look, I’ll box everything up and stick it in the attic. Then when I die and your kids come to clean out my house, they can have a heart attack like I did. Fair enough?”

Liz frowned.

“You’ll probably be dead by then, too,” Eve added for good measure.

That was the deal breaker. “Okay, fine. Books in the attic, secret to the grave. Pact?”

Eve squinted at her. Nothing was more sacred then a pact between two Catholic girls. “We aren’t twelve anymore. I think a simple nod of the head will suffice.”

Liz cocked an eyebrow, which was the high sign for ‘give it up or I’ll drive you crazy until you do.’

“Fine,” Eve said with a sigh and raised her hand like she was being sworn in while Liz did likewise. “Pact. Grandma’s secret goes with us to the grave.”

“Good,” Liz said, visibly relieved. She glanced over Eve’s head. “Where’s Trudy? I want pie.”

“CJ Barry’s Big Trouble in Little Hope is fantastic! Sexy, funny, and charming, with a plot like a swiss watch; it’s everything I love about CJ Barry, but with a fresh romantic comedy twist. Can I recommend it twice?” –Lani Diane Rich, NYT and USA Today bestselling author