Phoenix Entertainment and Development

Phoenix Entertainment and Development

Friday, June 19, 2015

Center of Gravity By Laura McNeill

 After six years behind the anchor desk at two CBS affiliates, Laura moved to the Alabama Gulf Coast to raise her family. Her accolades in broadcasting include awards from the Associated Press, including Best News Anchor and Best Specialized Reporter.
Laura works at Spring Hill College as the school’s web content and social media manager and is active in her community—participating in fundraisers for the American Cancer Society, Ronald McDonald House, and Providence Hospital’s Festival of Flowers.
Laura was recently awarded a 2-book deal with Thomas Nelson Publishing, a division of HarperCollins. Her novel, Center of Gravity, set in Mobile, Ala., will be published in July of 2015. Laura is represented by Elizabeth Winick Rubenstein, president of McIntosh and Otis literary agency in New York. Her writing awards include those from William Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Competition, Writer’s Digest, RWA, and the Eric Hoffer competition.
She holds a master’s degree in journalism from The Ohio State University and a bachelor’s degree in English from Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She is currently pursuing a second master’s degree in interactive technology from the University of Alabama. She is a native of Upstate New York and currently resides near the Alabama Gulf Coast with her two children

The truth could cost her everything. 

Her whole life, Ava Carson has been sure of one thing: she doesn’t measure up to her mother’s expectations. So when Mitchell Carson sweeps into her life with his adorable son, the ready-made family seems like a dream come true. In the blink of an eye, she’s married, has a new baby, and life is grand.

Or is it?

When her picture-perfect marriage begins unraveling at the seams, Ava convinces herself she can fix it. It's temporary. It’s the stress. It’s Mitchell’s tragic history of loss.

If only Ava could believe her own excuses.

Mitchell is no longer the charming, thoughtful man she married. He grows more controlling by the day, revealing a violent jealous streak. His behavior is recklessly erratic, and the unanswered questions about his past now hint at something far more sinister than Ava can stomach. Before she can fit the pieces together, Mitchell files for divorce and demands full custody of their boys.

Fueled by fierce love for her children and aided by Graham Thomas, a new attorney in town —Ava takes matters into her own hands, digging deep into the past. But will finding the truth be enough to beat Mitchell at his own game? Center of Gravity weaves a chilling tale, revealing the unfailing and dangerous truth that things—and people—are not always what they seem.

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Chapter 5
Wednesday, March 24

At exactly six o'clock, my husband walks in the door, smiling and apologetic. Somehow, after a full day at the office, Mitchell still manages to look close to perfect. Suit unwrinkled, every hair in place, devastatingly handsome.
“Sorry I missed your calls, sweetheart,” Mitchell says, arching his brow. He closes the door and loosens his tie. “Can you believe my cell was in my briefcase? The ER folks finally called the office.”
When Mitchell strides over and takes me in his arms, I melt. His hands find the small of my back and pull me close. My fingers trace his muscled back
“Hey stranger,” I murmur and kiss his lips. He smells delicious and earthy. “Dinner’s almost ready.”
Mitchell turns to examine Jack’s bandaged chin. “Hey, big guy, let me look at that war wound.” My husband draws his head back in mock horror. We all laugh.
I gaze at the two of them. Jack is, without a doubt, Mitchell’s mirror image: coal-black hair, same strong jaw, eyes deep and dark as the night sky.
Mitchell crosses his arms. “No more superhero stuff, you hear me?” he says. “Save it for the game tomorrow. Gotta win, right?”
“Yes sir,” Jack grins and grabs an oatmeal raisin cookie off the cooling rack.
Mitchell bends down and tugs a lock of Sam’s hair. The baby babbles in delight, then utters a confused cry as his father abruptly turns his back and walks away.
I grip the counter, blinking after my husband.
Next to my feet, Sam whimpers, a sure sign he’s about to launch into a full-out melt down unless I intervene.
I squat down, pick up Sam, and smile brightly before I press him to my chest. “It’s okay, love,” I murmur as I nuzzle his soft skin. Sam settles down as I rock him back and forth.
When I look up, Mitchell’s watching me, forehead creased. When our eyes meet, he grins and resumes a jovial tone. “So an exciting day all around,” he teases.
My stomach knots, but I fight the anxiety. We need a nice, quiet evening.
“A little too much excitement,” I say, adjusting Sam onto my hip so that I can pour the sweet tea. “Frantic phone calls and an ER visit aren’t my idea of fun.” I set the salad on the table and wink at Jack. “No more of those, young man.”
Jack smiles through a mouthful of cookie.
“This kid’s been full speed since the day he could walk,” Mitchell says. “We’ve always been rough and tumble, haven’t we, son?” He grins at Jack. “When I helped coach peewee soccer, you were a terror on the field. Those were some good times!”
I slide Sam into his highchair, then glance at Jack, who’s not saying a word. He’s staring off into space, chewing the last bite.
“Jack?” I prompt.
 “Good times,” he echoes, slides into his seat, and gives me a tired smile. Jack provides instant replay to Mitchell on Emma’s big rescue from the oak tree, and his second trip to the ER this year. He downplays the chin gash, and rattles off a dozen reasons why he should be allowed to play goalie in his last soccer game.
Before I get a chance to motion for him to stop, Jack tells his father the story about my flat tire and Officer Mike helping us out.
Mitchell’s face darkens.
            A chill snakes up my back. “It was nothing,” I say lightly. “Let’s eat.”
            We dig in to dinner, and for the first time today, everyone around me is completely quiet, save for the clinking of silverware. In a matter of minutes, the tender pork chops, fluffy cornbread, and bowl of buttery black-eyed peas have all but disappeared. Jack pushes back from the table, stands up, and stretches.
“Homework?” I ask.
“Yes, ma’am.” Jack starts heading for the bedroom. “And I need to find some pictures for a school project,” he calls from down the hall. “Could you help me later?”
“Sure,” I reply. “It’s not for tomorrow, is it?” I hold my breath and smile at Mitchell.
“No, ma’am,” he yells back. “Next week.” Jack closes his bedroom door.
“Whew!” I press my hand to my forehead.
As I get up from the table, Mitchell stands and pulls me close. He presses his lips to my forehead, murmurs into my hair, and slides a hand down my back. “My sweet Ava. Poor thing.”
            “Wish you could have been there today.”
            “I know,” Mitchell answers, his voice gruff.  “But, see, it’s better that you stay at home. One of us is always available.”
“I know. I’m thankful.” I untangle myself, and pick up Sam to wipe his face. “But I do miss the kids at the school. The day-to-day. The adult conversation. You know they said I could come back whenever I wanted.”
Mitchell frowns and leans into the door frame. “It’s not really a good time, Ava.”
“I know.” I purse my lips and carry Sam to the bathtub, start running the water.
When we first began dating, Mitchell spent every spare moment with me. We’d drive to Dauphin Island and walk on the beach, spend an afternoon poking around in shops downtown, or spend a Friday evening visiting art galleries in Fairhope. We talked about children and the future. We discussed politics and religion, the state of education in Alabama. Where we saw ourselves, personally and professionally, in five and ten years.
Mitchell wanted to know everything about me. My hopes, fears, and dreams. What frightened me, what I loved. The attention was overwhelming and wonderful; his concern for me was mesmerizing. Mitchell wanted nothing more than to take care of me.
Looking back, I realize that I was the one doing most of the talking and sharing. If I asked a tough question, Mitchell would change the subject. If I pressed him about his mother or father, he'd pretend he hadn't heard me.
After the wedding, I was certain he'd relax and settle in to our relationship. I just knew that Mitchell would open up and share his secrets. But fast-forward, and nothing's changed. Two years later, there's so little I really know about my husband.
Mitchell follows me to the bathroom, taps his fingers on the wooden door frame. “What happened with the contractor?”
I feel the heat of my husband’s stare, but concentrate on lowering Sam into the bathwater. “I couldn’t meet him. There wasn’t time,” I add. “With Jack, and the tire on the Jeep…”
My husband exhales. There’s a beat of silence. And another.
“You need to sell the Jeep. It’s ten years old, for God’s sake. Get something practical. An SUV. A minivan. A Mercedes.”
“I like my Jeep,” I protest.

Mitchell exhales. “Mike Kennedy had to give you a ride to the hospital.”
I lather Sam’s slippery body and swallow. “Mitchell, he was just helping out.”
“Oh, right. Officer Mike, always to the rescue.” He rolls his eyes.
“Please, don’t be like that,” I whisper and glance down at Sam, who’s splashing happily. “He helped your family today. Give him a chance. We’ve turned down, what, three dinner invitations from Mike and Marley?”
My husband's shoulders relax and his frown disappears. “I just love you so much, Ava. I want you all to myself, sweetheart.”
I can't help but smile. “I love you too. And you have me all to yourself. See? Wish fulfilled.”
Mitchell lowers his voice. “I don’t trust many people,” he reminds me. “It’s just my nature to look out for you and protect my family. You're so important to me. You’re my everything. Just remember that, okay?”
“Okay.” I echo and smile brightly to reassure him.

Mitchell softens at my affirmation. He nods and steps out. “I’ll be in the library.”
I wrap Sam in a towel and dry him off. Mitchell’s just stressed. The more pressure he’s under, the more quickly he flashes to anger. It’s been worse lately, because of the sports complex project. But the capital campaign is almost finished. One more donor to go.

Sam yawns. I slip him into his fuzzy pajamas in his bedroom and cuddle him on my lap. After Goodnight Moon, then Runaway Bunny, he drifts off to sleep. Gently, carefully, I lay him on his back in his crib. Good night, sweet baby.
Jack tiptoes in, throws his arms around my waist. “G’night,” he yawns and turns to leave, then trips over something hard.
“Whoa!” I catch him mid-fall.
He leans over, picks up a book, and screws up his face. Jack holds it out and stares intently, like it’s a book on Jack the Ripper. Not even close. The story is about a mouse.
“What is it?” I whisper.
            Jack shakes his head, his eyes tearing. “Nothing.” He tucks the book under his arm, leaves without a backward look, closing his bedroom door behind him.
In Sam’s room, I stand still, completely bewildered. When Jack doesn’t reappear, I steal into the library, grab a pillow, and hug it to my chest before sinking into the love seat next to Mitchell. “They’re finally in bed.”
For a moment, I let my eyes wander along the wall. My collection of pregnancy books, baby manuals, and volumes of child-rearing advice take up two shelves. There are photos of Sam, Jack, Mitchell, and me. Candid shots, Christmas morning, the beach, soccer games.
My husband looks up. “Something the matter?”
“It’s just strange.” I sigh. “Jack stopped by Sam’s room. This book I bought was lying on the floor. When he saw it, he got really upset, took it, and shut himself in his room.”
            Mitchell raises an eyebrow. “What book?”
            “Just something I picked up the other day. Great illustrations. Beach Mouse Magic, I think it’s called. Not like it was Goosebumps or pop-up vampires.”
            Mitchell readjusts on the seat to look at me squarely. “Do you remember me telling you his mother was an artist?”
A bitter taste fills my mouth, the sting of grapefruit. “Of course.”
His gaze drops. “Well . . . if it’s the same series I’m thinking of, Karen did the illustrations.”
“Oh, no.” I bite my lip and want to cry. Tears sting at the corners of my eyes.
“Karen used to read those books to Jack every night. Before she left.”
Wiping at my cheeks, I hesitate for a moment, then tuck myself under his arm. We sit, breathing in sync, lost in our thoughts.
            “It wasn’t on purpose,” I finally say. My mind tumbles end over end. First Mitchell and his jealousy about Mike. Now Jack’s upset too.
            “I know.”
            “I never would have—”
            “Shh,” Mitchell stops me. “Don’t worry. He’ll be fine.”
            I put my head on his chest. “I’d never hurt him like that,” I murmur. “Never.”

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