These Hollow Hearts has been in the hands of reviewers for a while now and one thing keeps coming up time and time again. Cheyanne Murphey. She’s a strong personality and people either really like her or really don’t.
As we move ever closer to the release date for These Hollow Hearts we’d like to introduce you to Cheyanne Murphey by sharing the first chapter of the book. Reader, meet Cheyanne…
“Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!“
– Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights)
The stain stared up at me from the pile of whites like a hateful Rorschach blot.
I picked up my fiancée’s crumpled undershirt and held it for a closer look. What the hell?
A shade which, with my orange hair and pale complexion, I’d never be caught dead wearing. The truth of what I was seeing made the room swim and I leaned backwards into the laundry room wall and slid down until I landed hard on my butt.
What does this mean? The question flickered through my synapses, even though I knew exactly what it meant. There was only one thing it could mean.
The stain was smeared along the collar and then again at the hem, as if the lipstick wearer had subtly made her way down his body. It was left in such an obvious way—such a cliché way—that I knew it was meant to be found. A slap in the face from another woman.
A taunt. Check. Your move…
And Brett… He’d have seen the dark red smears before he casually tossed the shirt into the laundry. Did he want me to see them?
I buried my face in the thin cotton shirt and inhaled.
I closed my eyes as I breathed in, filling my nose with the lingering scents of infidelity. What does she smell like? Look like? Is she prettier than me? Why would he do this?
There was no trace of the burgundy-lipped whore. No sweat or sex or woman’s perfume. Only Brett—the man I loved and who I’d believed loved me, too.
Anger welled through me. Not the useful, searing kind of anger—but something damp and soggy. The kind of anger you fed with wine and Netflix. The kind of anger that couldn’t quite believe what it was seeing.
The kind of anger I loathed.
It was seeped through with hurt and, not surprisingly, love. Traitorous love for the man who’d rescued me when I’d gone on a date with a jock in my junior year and wound up stranded when he got drunk off too many ninety-nine cent margaritas and passed out in our booth at Chili’s. Love for the guy who knew about my family—about what my Mama and her many boyfriends put me and my sisters through.
Love for the man who’d helped me track down my father and then didn’t judge me when I decided I didn’t want to meet him after all. Brett was with me just three weeks ago when Granny took her last breaths and held my hand at her funeral. So when I inhaled his smell from that shirt—even though it was stained with another woman’s lipstick—my brain associated his scent with good. My heart still craved him.
Why? Why, after so many years, would he do this now?
I pulled my knees to a steepled point in front of me and studied the blotted shirt as if it held some clue. As if by looking, I could unlock the puzzle and figure out who. Figure out why.
Does she do that thing I won’t? Was that why he cheated?
I swallowed back a sob and ran my fingers over the stain. It was dried into Brett’s shirt—a part of the material now. The thought of a piece of this woman permanently mingled with something that belonged to Brett—my Brett—made things worse. It kindled a fury that I knew, if left unchecked, could burn down the whole house..
But if there was one thing I’d learned from my childhood—one thing I had grown good at—it was swallowing my emotions. I leaned my head backward into the pale lavender sheetrock and took a breath. Then another. And another. Until my heart rate resembled something normal.
Maybe there was an explanation.
Maybe he didn’t cheat. He wouldn’t. He couldn’t.
I pulled this last thought around me like insulation against a reality I didn’t want to be true. Of course there was a reasonable explanation. We were CheyanneAndBrett—New Orleans’ own effing Barbie and Ken.
My face decorated a big billboard out near the interstate and was plastered around the city advertising WKLNT—New Orleans only station for up to the moment weather coverage! I’d won awards, and been voted Orleans Parish’s most perky news personality. I’d brought in the most money ever earned for the children’s hospital at their annual date-a-celebrity auction—and that was saying something in a city filled with musicians, artists, and celebrity chefs. And Brett… well, he was the king of New Orleans real estate. You couldn’t sit on a bus stop bench anywhere in town without leaning back into his hi-lighted coif and perfectly porcelain smile. He was handsome with the kind of face you could trust, and that—coupled with his last name—had served him well.
The buzz of Brett’s electric razor clicked on in the bathroom and jarred me from my thoughts.
My life was falling apart while he was in the other room shaving, unbothered and unconcerned. I sneered and wiped my eyes with the heels of my palms. I was Cheyanne Murphey—a fighter through and through—and I was not going to sit on the floor and sob like some jilted woman from a Lifetime movie of the week while Brett went about his morning footloose and fancy-fucking-free.
I pushed up from the floor, shirt in hand, and marched to the bathroom, swallowing my salty tears and working hard to bury the hurt and anger somewhere deep inside me—in that dark place where I buried all my pain. The place I knew would allow me to believe Brett if he said it was the first time or that he’d never do it again. When he said it.
Because that is all he has to do, I decided, apologize and we will be okay. I may sulk and get in my digs—but Brett was mine. I was not going to end “us” over one little slip up. We meant something. I may even get a bigger diamond out of the ordeal. Not that the one and half carat princess cut that adorned my left hand could be called tiny—but a girl could always trade up.
Brett stood in front of the bathroom mirror with a white towel slung low around his hips. The muscles of his abs and arms were still damp from the shower, and his skin was perfectly bronze from the time he spent at the tanning salon. His highlighted hair was combed straight back from his forehead in a wet pompadour. He glanced at me as I came through the door. “Hey babe.” He turned back to shaving.
The noise of the electric shaver turned from a dull buzz to a roar that filled my head sending my temples pounding and making my mind spin. Try as I might, it was difficult to hang on to my confidence with the t-shirt in my hands. My throat felt as if it were going to close and I clenched the side of the bathroom sink with one hand and swallowed hard. Jeez. What was wrong with me? Get a grip, Cheyanne. I pushed through mutinous emotions that were trying to strangle me, and blinked back the tears in my eyes.
“Brett!” I said his name forceful and loud enough to cut through the mind-numbing buzz of the shaver.
He smiled at me in the mirror. Not his work, found-on-the-back-of-bus-stop-benches smile, but his real one. The one that undid me every single time, that had been un-doing me for years. The one that made me willing to do anything to keep him around.
“Brett, can you cut that thing off?”
He flipped the switch and set the shaver on the edge of the sink. “What’s up, babe?”
I held his shirt in front of me and opened my mouth to speak but shut it again. I didn’t trust my voice. Didn’t trust the anger and hurt churning inside of me. I was at war with myself, my insides ripped clean in two from the emotions that were spinning around each other like a typhoon of oil and water.
Part of me wanted to punch him and scream How could you? Why? The other wanted to collapse and beg him to stay. To make love right then and there make him promise he’d never leave me.
And yet, quietly in the very back of my mind, both halves of it, a still voice whispered, “This all has to be a big misunderstanding, right?”
I flung the garment at him, hitting him square in the chest and he snatched it before it fell. It hung from his fingers as he raised his brows and grinned, the dimple in his left cheek making an appearance. “I guess we ruined this shirt, huh babe?”
He tossed it over my head and into the laundry basket in the corner.
I’d expected pleas of forgiveness, stammering excuses, promises it wouldn’t happen again or reassurances it hadn’t happened at all—anything but this. Brett was calm and cool, unblinking. His smile unfaltering. “Brett, what are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about you getting lipstick all over my shirt.” He put his hands on my shoulders and leaned forward and dropped a kiss on my head. “But don’t look so worried about it. I’m not mad, babe. I am sure we had fun staining it. Amirite?” He started to turn back to the mirror. “Besides, you can get that out with a little bleach.”
Heat climbed my neck and face with sharp pricks like tiny claws.. My knees went slack and my mouth felt as if I were chewing cotton while all that useless, soggy anger expanded in my gut and threatened to boil.
Brett smirked, mistaking my angry flush for embarrassment. “Don’t be bashful. I’m sure we enjoyed ourselves. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go. I have an early showing. This one is big money, babe.” He clicked back on the electric shaver and leaned over the sink, dismissing me. I continued to stare at him for a moment, before turning on my heels and shuffling away.
What had just happened?
Had he really suggested I scrub away his whore’s lipstick?
I parked my ass on the metal bar stool in our kitchen and leaned over my bowl of cheerios. Brett had come through in a whirlwind moments before, wearing his work smile and a navy suit that made his shoulders look even broader and his waist even trimmer than they already were. He’d pressed another kiss onto my forehead, and called goodbye over his shoulder before I’d even managed to open my mouth to tell him to have a nice day. Or to go to hell. I didn’t know which.
I was a mess, all righteous anger and sloppy tears. I wanted him and hated him. I refused to let someone else have him—but didn’t know if I could enjoy his touch ever again. Was it possible to love somebody you hated? Or to hate somebody you loved? Was it possible to want—crave—someone, and yet not trust them? If I am being honest, the craving I was feeling wasn’t for what I had now—it was for what we had been, once upon a time.
Three months ago, Brett’s goodbye kiss wouldn’t have been on my forehead. Three months ago, things were still hot. From the very beginning, our relationship had been equal parts fevered adrenaline, tenderness and rage. Lust and turmoil.
And the sex! Man, the sex.
Three months ago, before he’d proposed, that kiss would have started at my mouth and worked its way down, down, down, until he ended up late for work or rushing out the door with a serious case of blue balls.
Brett hadn’t been my first, not by a long shot, but before him I hadn’t known sex could make me feel like that. Electric. Like lightning pulsed through me, exiting my fingers and toes. Like I could shock someone with my touch. Like I didn’t need oxygen or food or water. Only him.
Over the past few months, our usual explosive monkey-sex had morphed into the kind of pious coupling that wouldn’t make an Amish woman blush… but I’d chalked it up to nerves and Brett being freaked about our engagement and this new direction in our lives. I mean, men get weird about getting married, right?
I was sure the monkey-sex would return after the wedding stress was over.
I’d never considered the turn in our relationship was because Brett was cheating.
And he hadn’t even seemed sorry or at least tried to give me a decent excuse. He’d gone right back to shaving—not even giving me the pleasure of nicking himself out of nervousness.
He’d said it was my lipstick.
No way in hell was it my lipstick. I wore coral. It was my signature shade. I’d been wearing it on air for the past six years and had even been asked about it when I was interviewed by Southern Living for a piece they were doing on weather girls around the South.
Everyone knew I wore coral. Only coral.
Everyone except the one person who should have known me better than anyone.
Brett had dismissed the whole thing so flippantly it had pointed to the truth like a blinking sign. An arrow aimed at his head with electric pink neon spelling out the word CHEATER.
And the problem with knowing something like that is—no matter how much you may want to, how much you may wish—you can’t un-know.
I stirred my spoon through the soggy Cheerios in my bowl. I’d poured the cereal out of habit to give my hands something to do and the thought of forcing down even a single spoonful turned my gills green.
Jesus. Is this happening?
I’d worked my ass off for the future that I’d dreamed of—a future that included Brett and his family’s last name.
I’d clawed my way up from being the oldest daughter of white trash, and I’d dragged my two younger sisters up with me. But while I was one of the highest paid local television personalities, money couldn’t buy a name. It couldn’t buy the open doors that came with being from the “right people.” When Brett had saved me that night at Chili’s, I couldn’t believe my luck. I’d recognized who he was straight away. He’d been with a group of preppy kids, all with expensive haircuts and Lacoste polos. A blonde girl—the kind who probably smelled like soap and designer perfume—hung from his arm like shiny golden tinsel on a Christmas tree, but when our eyes met and Brett realized my situation, he’d pounced on the opportunity to help me, leaving behind his friends and the sparkly, fresh-smelling girl to be my knight in shining armor. Over the course of the following month I’d pulled out every stop to make him mine.
And I had.
What started out as my desperate quest for a secure future had ripened into real love and I’d be damned if I rolled over for the first bitch who looked at him and saw a paycheck. Brett loved me. He’d saved me time and again. He’d always supported me.
Straightening my spine, I used a paper towel to dry my eyes.
Maybe March has some advice. My hippie younger sister and I were opposite in most ways, but she understood the heart in a way that I never did. I grabbed my cell from where it was charging on the granite counter, but before I could press Marchland’s contact, it rang in my hand.
The picture of me, March, and my youngest sister Bradley, from Granny’s birthday party last summer blinked onto the screen. I answered. “That’s weird. I was just about to call you.”
Marchland took a deep breath, exhaling into the phone, and making me want to wipe dampness from my ear. “I’m at Granny’s. Something is going on with the house.” Worry was thick in March’s voice. “We need to find Granny’s book. If we don’t Bradley’s scared the house will rip itself apart. It can’t contain its own grief.”
“I don’t know, March. I don’t know that I feel up to anything today. I’m kind of dealing with my own shit.”
“Please, Cheyanne? We have to find that book. It could be anywhere and you know how this house is… And what if we have to work a spell? Me and Brad can’t do it alone—it takes all three of us.” Marchland’s voice ticked up several octaves on the last word as she repeated the rule Granny had drilled into us our entire lives. The idea of doing magic—real magic, not her skin and ink nonsense—scared her.
My breath whistled from between my teeth. “Are you telling me that you’d really cast a spell? And what about Brad? Is she really going to cast, as scared as she is of the curse?”
“I don’t know. But we can at least find the book and see what it says. Cheyanne, it’s an emergen—”
The book! Of course! An idea formed in my mind, clearing away the cobwebs like a broom. I could forgive Brett if I still had a shot at the future I’d always planned, and the book could give me the guarantee I needed! It would have an answer on how to open Brett’s eyes and make him stay with me.
“Nevermind,” I interrupted. “I will be there in thirty minutes.”
I hung up before my little sister could finish her sentence and dropped my phone to the bar.
If anything could save my relationship—if anything could offer answers—it was the Murphey Clan’s spell book.
The story continues in These Hollow Hearts, coming March 12th!