Cash Braddock thought everything was great. Her drug business sold for a nice chunk. She’s opening an art gallery. And she’s finally free of the Sacramento Police Department.
But then the mother she hasn’t seen in twenty-three years knocks on her door, and Laurel Kallen, the ex-girlfriend who broke her heart, rolls into town. Oh, and Laurel has a message: Cash’s former business partner is back and wants to kill them both. Which is a real bummer.
Cash is no stranger to the consequences of her poor decisions, but this time everyone and everything she loves might pay the price.

 

Journey to Cash by Ashley Bartlett Book Chapter One

 

It was an unremarkable Friday in June when I opened the door to an unremarkable woman. She was in her late forties, maybe. Her sweater set and khakis were nice in an understated way. She looked like a process server, which, considering the year I’d had, wouldn’t have been surprising.

“Cash Braddock?”

“Yes.”

“I’m Marjorie Braddock.” She hesitated, waiting for a response before continuing. Suddenly, the fifteen missed calls I had from Clive made sense. “Your mother.”

“Oh. Umm, hi.” That was how I greeted my mother after twenty-three years. “Come in?” I stepped back. I didn’t know how to act so I reverted to bland politeness.

“Thank you.” She stepped inside.

I led her into the living room. I hesitated before sitting in my usual armchair. Would she think I didn’t want to share the couch with her? Did I want to share the couch with her? I had no idea how to occupy space with a woman who had carried me in her womb, which wasn’t entirely surprising. She had abandoned me, after all.

“Would you like something to drink?” I pushed myself up out of the chair. “I can make coffee.” Did she drink coffee?

“I’m good, thank you.” She twisted her hands and stared intently at me. “You’re probably wondering what I’m doing here.” Her eyes were bright and earnest.

“A little. Clive called me a bunch yesterday and today. I’m guessing he knows you’re here?”

She nodded. “I’m staying with him.”

“Cool.”

“I think he wanted to warn you I was coming. He asked me not to come yet, but I didn’t want to wait any longer. I needed to see you. I know I have no right, but I’d like to get to know you a bit. Sorry, I’m rambling.” She started to pick at her thumbnail. “If you’re open to it, I’d like to stick around for a while.”

“Cool.” Apparently, my vocabulary had been reduced to one word. I gave myself a mental head shake. “Where do you live now?”

“Del Mar. It’s a little town above San Diego,” she said. I nodded. That had been the extent of my polite questions. The silence stretched. “I moved there when I got married.”

“You’re married?”

She smiled. “For almost ten years.” Faint lines appeared in the creamy softness of her skin. I wondered if I would show those same wrinkles in twenty years.

“Any kids?” It hadn’t occurred to me that I might have siblings until I asked the question. Then again, it hadn’t occurred to me that my mother was alive and clean.

“No. Just you.”

My phone rang and I had never been so fucking happy for my phone to ring in my life. “Sorry.” I dug the phone out of my pocket. It was Kyra. “I have to take this.” Marjorie nodded. “Hello?”

“Hey, Van got stuck at school so he can’t meet the art movers. Any chance you can meet them at the gallery?”

“Aren’t they due at three?” I glanced at the time. That only gave me twenty minutes.

“Yeah.” There was a pause. I assumed Kyra was also looking at the time. “Shit. Never mind. I’ll just ask them to push back the delivery an hour or so.”

“If you do that, we won’t have time to get the final pieces hung.” Those three pieces weren’t the end of the world or anything, but we wanted the opening to be perfect. My mother caught my eye. Whoa. My mother. That was weird. I suddenly needed to get the fuck out of there. “It’s fine. I can get there by three.”

“It’s okay. I didn’t realize what time it was. We’ll just have to work with a later drop-off,” Kyra said.

“Great. I’ll be there in fifteen.” Hopefully, Marjorie couldn’t hear Kyra’s side of the conversation.

“Cash,” Kyra said.

“Yep. See you then.” I hung up.

“You have to leave?” Marjorie asked.

“Sorry.” I stood to highlight the speed at which I needed to leave. “My friend and I are opening an art gallery. Tonight is the opening of our first show.”

“Wow. An art gallery. That’s impressive.” She stood. “Well, I uh, suppose I should let you go. It’s been—You look—Thank you for seeing me. Can I give you my phone number?”

“Sure.” I dug my phone back out and opened my contacts. I handed it to her.

She carefully typed in her name and number before handing it back. “I hope you’ll call so we can actually sit down together.”

“Right. Yes. I’ll do that.” I didn’t know if we were planning a business meeting or a family reunion. I walked her to the door and held it for her.

She paused and turned before walking out. “I’m sure this is a lot. I’ve had time to think about it, but you haven’t.” She shook her head. “Anyway. I won’t bother you again. It’ll be entirely up to you.” Her hand came up. For a panicked moment I thought she wanted to hug me. Instead she touched my cheek briefly with the tips of her fingers like she was afraid any more would do damage. She smiled a brittle smile and let her hand drop. “Good-bye.”

I nodded, torn between acknowledging the weight of the moment and wanting to sprint away. Marjorie walked to a sedan at the curb and climbed in. I closed the door and had to brace myself against it. My heart was racing and my hands trembled. I wished I had answered Clive’s calls or listened to his voice mails. Maybe it was good I hadn’t because I never would have answered the door.

My phone rang. I pulled it out and looked at the screen. Kyra again. “Yeah?” I slid down the wall and sat on the floor. Everything felt shaky, precarious.

“What was that?”

I took a deep breath and prepared to explain how my world had just shifted. But then I didn’t. I couldn’t deal with it. Saying it was far too much acknowledgment.

“Cash?”

“Nothing. It was nothing. There was someone at my door and I needed an excuse.” I knew she wouldn’t be satisfied with that, but hopefully she could let it simmer untouched like I was planning to do. “I’ll be there in fifteen.”

“You sure?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

Ten minutes later, I parked in one of our two spots behind the gallery. I made sure to keep the other space clear enough for the truck. The building backed up to an alley. The west side of the building was accessible for vehicles. The east side had a narrow strip of garden. It was mostly overgrown planters spilling flowers. There was also room for a small table and two rickety chairs.

I left the gate open for the delivery guys and let myself into the small office that overlooked the garden. Kyra had clearly been the last to leave the night before because the surface of the desk was tidy. She’d left detailed instructions for Van, which was great because I needed just as much guidance as her boyfriend did, but I rarely admitted as much.

At five after, the rumble of a large truck carried down the alley. The art movers came in through the gate. I gave them Kyra’s instructions and watched them carefully place each piece in the appropriate locations. I’d wanted to hire an assistant to handle that sort of day to day task, but Kyra insisted we should handle it ourselves and use the money for better wine. I didn’t know shit about wine and was generally too lazy to be so present, but when the movers handed me the invoice and shook my hand, it felt real and valid. Like I’d earned my name on the door.

Van arrived not long after and I helped him hang the last pieces. The main gallery space had been finalized two days before the opening. Kyra had overseen that. My ego was quite comfortable with her having done so. The final pieces were split between the smaller room that branched off the main floor space and the narrow loft upstairs. Per Kyra’s instructions, the loft pieces needed plenty of breathing room. After much discussion Van and I decided that meant they needed lots of space because they were big. Too bad she hadn’t left detailed instructions about that part. Hanging them made me very aware that Van had muscles and I did not. But I could use a level with the best of them. We were doing a final check of the lighting when Kyra arrived.

Van wolf whistled. “I mean that in the most respectful way. Like, you look real successful and empowered. Not like you look bangable.”

“So I don’t look bangable?” Kyra looked down at the tight cocktail dress she was wearing. Her undercut was freshly buzzed, and the curls piled on her head had a glossy sheen.

“I didn’t say that. You look more than bangable. Like bangable and also audacious,” Van said.

I climbed down the ladder. “Smooth, dude.”

“Thanks. I know.”

“Neither of you are dressed for tonight,” Kyra said.

Van and I looked at each other. She was correct. “And?” Van asked.

“You guys aren’t planning on wearing shorts and T-shirts tonight.” Her tone suggested it would be extremely unacceptable to make that choice.

“You are really good at this state the obvious game we’re playing,” I said.

Kyra rolled her eyes and huffed. “When were you planning on changing?”

“I have my bag in the office.” Van nodded at the back of the building.

“I wasn’t entirely prepared when I came over. I need to run home,” I said.

“Yeah, what was that about earlier?” Kyra asked.

I kicked around the words in my head but couldn’t bring myself to say my mother had shown up on my doorstep. I really tried. Honest. “It’s a long story. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow though.”

Kyra stared at me like she was pulling apart my syntax to find a lie. After a moment, she nodded. “Okay. Get out of here. Hurry back.”

“Will do.” I sketched a quick wave and left through the office.

It took me thirty minutes to change clothes and style my hair and give myself a pep talk that this whole idea wasn’t bananas. Clothes and hair took about ten. Removing cat hair from my outfit was three. The rest was pep talk. Spending the majority of my savings on a business with a questionable survival rate was responsible and not a bad idea. It was all going to be fine.

When I got back to the gallery in my pale pink blazer and indigo jeans, I couldn’t decide if I was a massive douche or the pinnacle of cool. But then I walked in and Van let out a long low whistle.

“So I’m bangable?” I asked.

“Totally, bro.”

I looked over Van’s teal chinos and linen shirt. The shirt was unbuttoned about halfway down his chest. “You’re looking pretty great yourself.”

“When you’re done fawning over each other, there are cases of wine and beer in my car that need to be moved inside,” Kyra said.

“But we’ve barely fawned.” I did my best to look sad and confused.

“Cash, people will start arriving literally any minute. If you don’t get those cases out of my car before that happens, I will throat punch you.” Kyra propped her fists on her hips and gave me a look that suggested she would not hesitate to throat punch me just to prove her point.

The door opened and a couple in their early sixties came in. They were almost immediately followed by a group of Van’s grad students. I grinned at Kyra and backed away. In the time it took me to move six cases of booze inside, the gallery filled to about a third of its capacity.

Kyra introduced me to a million people. I retained exactly zero of their names or faces. People continued to arrive. The sun dropped enough to fill the room with warm light. Van had been right about using it to our advantage. I glimpsed Nate and Robin and Andy but couldn’t manage to actually speak with any of them. I watched Andy acting very sophisticated with a champagne glass filled with sparkling water and hitting on a woman in her early twenties. Robin intervened. Andy pouted.