New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis’s latest novel, The Lemon Sisters, doesn’t hit shelves until June 18, 2019, but luckily, we have a few things to keep you busy while you wait. In addition to the adorable, colorful cover for the book, above, we have an exclusive excerpt from Shalvis’s first chapter.
To give you some background, the book follows the titular Lemon sisters, Brooke and Mindy. When the latter shows up on her little sister’s doorstep with her three kids, Brooke instantly realizes that Mindy is on the verge of a total breakdown. As a straight-A student with a 4.0 GPA and the title of the Lemon family’s golden child, Mindy has always been put together, which only continued once she married a doctor and had three children. But now she needs some time to get her life in order, which means she needs free spirit Brooke to take her kids back to their hometown, Wildstone, on her own so that Mindy can crash at Brooke’s apartment and figure out what she’s going to do.
Of course, once Brooke arrives back in Wildstone, she comes face to face with her past, namely a tall, dark, and handsome mistake named Garrett. Secrets begin bubbling up all around the sisters, which make them wonder if the taunts of their childhood were true after all: Are they lemons in life, as well as in name? Find out for yourself by reading the first chapter of The Lemon Sisters, below.
“I get that life sucks right now, but that’s never a reason to wear granny panties.”
Without warning, the helicopter dipped sharply and Brooke Lemon’s stomach went along with it. Suddenly her view of a pretty sky shifted and she was staring out at a craggily mountain peak, seemingly close enough to touch.
Too close, and worse, they were nearly sideways. Fighting the vertigo, she swallowed hard at the jagged cliffs, shooting up thousands of feet into the air, vanishing in the clouds.
There was nowhere to land.
Compounding the terror, the previously benign sky had given way to a sudden cloud pack, dark and turbulent, and Brooke’s heart pounded in tune to the thump, thump, thump of the rotors. The chopper shuddered, straining to right itself. Her palms went slick, and she regretted that extra sleeve of cookies she’d inhaled at lunch, which seemed a lifetime ago now.
“Shh.” Afraid to so much as blink, she leaned forward, unable to tear her gaze away.
“You’re green, Brooke. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. In fact, you’ve been at this for ten straight hours, take a nap.”
“I can’t nap! I have to stay awake for the crash!”
“There’s no crash this time, I promise.”
Pulling off her headphones, she leaned back in her chair and gulped in a deep breath. The video was paused, the lights came up, and then a few words rolled across the screen. Brooke Lemon, producer extraordinaire . . .
“Funny,” she said.
“And true.” Cole stood and studied her for a long beat. “You miss being out there. Being the one shooting the footage instead of putting it all together.”
“No.” This was a big, fat lie. Of course she missed it. She missed it like she’d miss air. She still hadn’t taken her eyes off the screen. The word ‘producer’ mocked her. Sure it was safer on this side of the camera, but hell yeah she still yearned for the good old days. Not that she was about to admit it to her boss. Not only would Cole pity her, he’d want to talk about it.
And she never talked about it. What was the point? The only way to fix this was to face her past. Her mistakes. And she couldn’t do that. Okay, that was a lie. She could. She just hadn’t figure out how. Avoiding his knowing eyes, she rose grabbed her backpack just as Tommy poked his head into the editing room. “Hey sweetness, how about some dinner?” His smile faded at whatever he saw on her face, and he exchanged a long look with Cole, who gave a slight head shake.
Tommy held out a hand for Brooke. “Come on, chica, I’ll buy.”
She knew when she was being managed. The three of them worked on a Travel Network show called Around The World, which followed adventure seekers documentary style as they took on different goals such as climbing “unclimbable” mountains, rafting “unraftable” rivers … basically anything high danger and high adrenaline.
Once upon a time, Brooke had been the principal photographer, but these days she worked solely from the studio, editing the footage and writing up the scripts for the supposed “reality” show, living a very different life from the one she’d imagined herself living. But it worked for her. It was all good.
Or so she told herself in the deep, dark of the night.
Cole was their showrunner and director. He was also a friend, and, when it suited them, also Brooke’s lover. It’d been month this time, though because the funding had been cut, leaving them on a tight budget and an even tighter deadline, which meant they’d been at each other’s throats much more than at each other’s bodies. Lust tended to take a back seat to murderous urges, at least for Brooke. Men didn’t seem to have a problem separating the two.
Tommy was the show’s makeup and hair stylist and Brooke’s bff. They’d never been lovers. Mostly because Tommy preferred relationships with more than one person at a time, and she wasn’t wired that way.
Since both guys knew her way too well, she avoided eye contact by going through her backpack to make sure she had her keys and wallet. Which she already knew she did because she was a teeny tiny bit compulsive about such things. Still, she touched each briefly and then zipped her pack. And then because she liked things in even numbers, she unzipped and re-zipped it a second time.
Tommy turned to Cole in accusation. “Why is she upset? Did that new publicist cancel on her for that concert last night?”
“You actually went out with that guy?” Cole asked. “I told you that I’d take you.”
“I cancelled the date.” Brooke shrugged. “He wears too much cologne.”
“I don’t,” Cole muttered.
Tommy was still eyes narrowed on Brooke. “The guy before that you said had a crazy mother.”
“He did.” But that hadn’t been the problem. Before the waiter had even brought them drink menus, he’d told her he wanted to get married this year. Preferably in the fall, as that was his mother’s favorite season. And also, the woman wanted a big wedding with all the trimmings. “Why are we even talking about this?” she asked, running the pads of her thumbs over the tips of her fingers, back and forth, back and forth. It was an old habit and a self soothing mechanism. Not that it ever worked.
Tommy watched her movements with worry. “Because you’re upset at something.”
She shoved her hands in her pockets.
“She had a flashback,” Cole said. “She always gets especially testy after one of those.” He met Brooke’s gaze, his own warm and full of concern. “Come home with me tonight, I’ll make you feel better.”
Though she knew he could do just that, she wasn’t up for his special brand of ‘feel better’. “I’m fine,” she said and slung her backpack over her shoulder. To keep either of them from following her, she went up on tiptoes and brushed a kiss to Tommy’s scruffy jaw, and then Cole’s shaved one.
“I’m fine,” she repeated. “I’m also out. Saving you some overtime,” she told Cole.
“You’re on salary.”
“Yeah, which reminds me, I’m due for a raise.” She shut the door before he could respond and exited the studio into the LA heat. It was seven p.m. in late May and ninety-eight degrees. The humidity was high enough to turn her ponytail into something resembling a squirrel’s tail.
Not that it mattered. She had no one to impress, nor the will to change that. Twenty-eight years old and she was a complete burnout on men.
And possibly on life.
She drove home, which was a rented bottom floor condo in North Hollywood only eight miles from the studio, and thirty minutes in gridlock traffic — like tonight. So she added Los Angeles to the list of things she was burned out on. She missed wide open spaces. She missed fresh air and being outdoors. She missed thrill and adventure.
Parking in her one-car garage, she headed through her interior door to her kitchen, mindlessly counting her steps, doing a little shuffle at the end to make sure she ended on an even number. Another self soothing gesture. Some days required more self-soothing than others.
Inside, she took a deep breath and tried to let go of the stress ball in her gut. The flashback had been the first in a long time and she’d nearly forgotten the taste of bone-deep terror that most people would never experience.
She looked around. Her place was clean, her plants were alive – well, semi alive anyway. Everything was great.
She was working on believing that when a knock came at her door. And actually, it was more of a pounding, loud and startling in the calm silence of her living room. Not Tommy, he would’ve knocked while yelling her name. Cole would’ve texted her before getting out of his car.
No stranger to danger, Brooke grabbed her trusty baseball bat on the way to the door. She hadn’t traveled the planet over and back more times than she could count without learning how to protect herself.
Just as she leaned in to look out the peephole, there came another round of pounding, accompanied by a female voice. “Brooke! Oh God, what if you’re not home? Please be home!”
Brooke went still as stone. She knew that voice, though it’d been awhile. A long while. It belonged to her older sister Mindy. Mindy had her shit together. She wore a body armor of calm like other women wore earrings, didn’t have to count in her head, and never lost her way or screwed up her entire life.
But she kept up the frantic knocking and something else that sounded suspiciously like sobs.
Brooke yanked the front door open and Mindy fell into her arms. They hadn’t seen each other in over a year and hadn’t spoken in months, and the last time they had, they’d hung up on each other.
“What the hell?” Brooke asked, trying to extract herself.
They weren’t a demonstrative family. Hugs were saved for weddings and funerals, or the very occasional family gathering where there was alcohol, copious amounts of it. Emotions were kept tight to the vest. But Mindy was demonstrating boat loads of emotion at high volume, clinging like Saran Wrap while crying and talking at the same time in a pitch not meant for humans.
“Min, you gotta slow down,” Brooke said. “Only dogs can hear you right now.”
Mindy sucked in a breath and lifted her head. Her mascara was smudged so badly that it was possibly yesterday’s mascara that just hadn’t been removed. She wore no other makeup. She was at least fifteen pounds heavier than Brooke had ever seen her. Her clothes were wrinkled and there was a suspicious looking dark stain on her t-shirt, which was odd because Mindy didn’t wear tees. Her honey colored shoulder length hair was the same color as Brooke’s, but Mindy’s hair always behaved. Not today. It was outdoing Brooke’s in the squirrel tail impersonation and looked like it was a week past needing a shampoo. She hiccupped, but thankfully stopped the sobbing.
Brooke nodded gratefully, but braced herself because she had a very bad feeling. “Who’s dead?”
Mindy choked on a low laugh and swiped beneath her eyes, succeeding only in making things worse. “No one’s dead. Unless you count my personal life.”
This made no sense. Mindy had been born with a plan in hand. At any given moment of any day, she could flip open her fancy binder and tell you exactly where she was in that plan. “You’ve got something in your hair.” Brooke gingerly picked it out. It was a Cheerio.
“It’s Maddox’s. He was chucking them in the car.” Mindy’s eyes were misting again. “You don’t know how lucky you are that you don’t have kids!”
It used to be, a sentence like that would send a hot poker of fire through Brooke’s chest, but now it was more like a dull ache. Mostly. She took a step back and crossed her arms. “Why are you falling apart? You never fall apart.” And why are you coming to me?
Mindy shook her head. “Meet the new me. Remember when we were little and poor because dad had put all his money into the first POP Smoothie shop and everyone called us the Lemon Sisters?”
“We are the Lemon sisters,” Brooke said.
“Yes, but they made it a play on words, like we were lemons. As in bad lemons. As in worthless. I’m a bad Lemon!”
“First of all, you were the one who told me back then to ignore it because we weren’t worthless,” Brooke said, “so I’ll tell you now – we’re still not. And second, you’ve got a great life, a life you planned out in great detail, I might add. You married a doctor. You now run and manage the Wildstone Pop Smoothie shop. You bake like no other. People flock to the shop on the days you bring in your fresh stuff to sell alongside the smoothies. You’ve got three kids. You live in a house with a real white picket fence, for God’s sake.”
Mindy sniffed. “I know! And I get that on paper it looks like I’m the together sister, but I’m not!”
That shouldn’t hurt, but it did. Mindy didn’t have the first clue about Brooke’s life these days. Which was another problem entirely. “Min, what’s really going on here? We don’t do this, we’re not … close.”
“Well whose fault is that?” Mindy’s eyes filled. “I burnt the school cupcakes and the firefighters had to come, and now the whole block knows I’m losing my shit. Dad wants to sell off some of the POP Smoothie shops, including the Wildstone one, so he can retire—” She put retire in air quotes, because the man was already pretty much hands off the business –”which puts me out of work. Linc says I should buy it, and I love that store, you know how much I love working that store, but I can’t so much as potty train Maddox, even though he’s thirty-two-point-five months old.” She drew in a shuddery breath. “And I think Linc’s having an affair with Brittney, our nanny. “
Whoa. Brooke stopped trying to do the math to figure out how old thirty-two-point-five months was in years and stared at her sister. “What?”
“Look, I know you hate me, but when it all started to fall apart in the car on the way home from mom and dad’s in Palm Springs, I looked you up. Google Maps said you were right on the way home to Wildstone.”
Wildstone. Their hometown on the central coast of California amongst wineries and ranches and gorgeous rolling hills dotted with oaks. Just the thought of home conjured up a sense of longing so painful it almost buckled her knees. “I don’t hate you,” Brooke said. Much. “But do you really think your husband, cutie pie Dr. Linc Tenant, the guy you’ve been in love with since the second grade and who worships the ground you walk on is having an affair with the nanny? And since when do you have a nanny?”
“Since I went back to work at the shop right after Maddox was born.” Mindy sighed. “She’s only part time, but yes, I really think he’s cheating on me. Which means I’m going to be single soon. Oh my God, I can’t go back to being single! I mean how do you know which way to swipe, left or right?”
“Okay first off … breathe.” Brooke waited until Mindy gulped in air. “Good. Second, why do you think Linc’s having an affair?”
“Because Cosmo says that married couples our age are supposed to have sex two to three times a week, and we don’t. I’m not sure we managed to have sex this whole month!” She tossed up her hands. “It used to be every day. Every day, Brooke, and we used to role play too, like sexy bad cop and sassy perp, or naughty nurse and —”
Brooke covered her ears. “Oh my God. Please stop talking.”
“We have a chest full of costumes and props that we never even use anymore.”
“Seriously,” Brooke said on a heartfelt grimace. “I can still hear you.”
“I just miss it. I mean I really miss it. I need a man-made orgasm or I’m going to have to buy more batteries.”
“Okay, I get it, you miss sex! Jeez! Let’s move on! So you’ve got the problems with Linc, the nanny, and your, uh, lack of new batteries … but instead of fixing any of these problems, you, what, ran away from Wildstone six hours south to mom’s and dad’s in Palm Springs?”
“I don’t know what I was thinking. And now Mom thinks Millie needs therapy because she’ll only answer to Princess Millie, and that Maddox should be talking more than barking. And dad says Mason shouldn’t wear pink shirts – but it was salmon not pink. He picks out his own clothes and dresses himself, and I don’t want to squash that. Also, Dad thinks that my ass is getting fat.”
“Dad did not say that,” Brooke said. The man was a quiet, thoughtful introvert. He might think it, but he’d never say it.
“No he didn’t,” Mindy admitted. “But it’s true and that’s probably why Linc won’t sleep with me!” She started crying again.
At the little kid voice, Brooke and Mindy both froze and turned. In the doorway stood Mindy’s Mini-Me, eight year old Millie, outfitted in a yellow dress with black elephants and giraffes on it. Her hair was held off her face by a headband that matched the dress. But it was her eyes that got to Brooke. They were the same jade green Mindy’s. And her own, she supposed. “Millie,” Brooke said. “Wow, you’re all grown up.”
“Hi, Aunt Brooke,” Millie said politely before turning back to her mom. “Momma, Mad Dog peed on Mason again.” She held up her hands like a surgeon waiting to have her gloves put on. She ran the pads of her thumbs across the tips of her fingers four times in a row. “I’ve got to wash my hands. Can I wash my hands?”
“Down the hall,” Brooke said, heart tugging for the kid. “First door on the right’s the bathroom.”
Millie ran down the hall. They heard the bathroom door shut and then the lock clicked into place. And out of place. And back into place. Four times.
Brooke’s heart pinched. Maybe Millie was more Brooke’s Mini-Me than Mindy’s… She didn’t know much about kids, and she was certainly in no position to tell her sister how to live her life, but things did seem out of control – something Mindy had never been a day in her life.
Her sister’s car was parked in the short driveway in front of the condo, the doors open. Two little boys were rolling around on the grass. One was naked.
Mindy was staring at them like one might stare at an impending train wreck.
“Yours, I presume,” Brooke said.
“Yeah. Want one?”