Dancing Naked in Dixie by Lauren Clark is out now!
Travel writer Julia Sullivan lives life in fast-forward. She jet sets to Europe and the Caribbean with barely a moment to blink or sleep. But too many mishaps and missed deadlines have Julia on the verge of being fired. With a stern warning, and unemployment looming, she's offered one last chance to rescue her career. Julia embarks on an unlikely journey to the ‘Heart of Dixie’—Eufaula, Alabama—home to magnificent mansions, sweet tea, and the annual Pilgrimage. Julia arrives, soon charmed by the lovely city and her handsome host, but her stay is marred by a shocking discovery. Can Julia's story save her career, Eufaula, and the annual Pilgrimage?
About the Author:
The Deep South is the perfect setting for Lauren Clark’s novels; contemporary fiction sprinkled with secrets, sunshine, and surprises. Her heroines are real women with real obstacles in their lives; challenges that require strength, sacrifice, and personal growth. And while it’s convenient to have a prince charming on standby, Lauren’s heroines are capable of creating their own happily-ever afters–with brains, not beauty, saving the day.
A former TV anchor, Lauren is a reformed news junkie, non-reformed coffee drinker, and certified library geek. She loves the color pink, her Electra Townie bike, and any place she can see the ocean and stick her toes in the sand. Lauren adores her family, paying it forward, eight hours of sleep a night, homemade macaroni and cheese, and true-blue friends.
I’m a travel writer at Getaways magazine. Paid for the glorious task of gathering up fascinating snippets of culture and piecing them into quirky little stories. Jet-setting to the Riviera, exploring the Great Barrier Reef, basking on Bermuda beaches. It’s as glamorous and exhilarating as I imagined.
Okay, it is a tad lonely, from time to time.
And quite exhausting.
Which is precisely why I have to get organized.
I sink into my chair and try to concentrate. What to tackle first? Think, think.
Third reminder. Uh-oh.
Marietta rolls her eyes and jerks a thumb toward the inevitable. “Guess you better walk the plank,” she teases. “New guy’s waiting. Haven’t met him yet, but I’ve heard he’s the ‘take no prisoners’ sort. Hope you come back alive.”
I grope for something witty and casual to say, but all of a sudden, my head feels light and hollow.
I’ve been dying to find out about the new editor.
Every last gory detail.
“I’m still in another time zone,” I offer up to Marietta with a weak smile. My insides toss from side to side as I slide out of my chair.
Marietta tosses me a wry look. “Nice try. Get going already, sport.”
I tilt my head toward the hallway and pretend to pout. When I look back, Marietta’s already disappeared. Smart girl.
“Fine, fine.” I tug a piece of rebellious auburn hair into place, smooth my wool suit, and begin to march toward the inevitable.
Our new editor.
My neck prickles.
I’m not going to worry. Not much anyway.
My pulse thuds.
Not going to worry about change. Or re-organization. Or pink slips.
“But, I have plans. Every night next week. Tickets to the Met, a fundraiser, a gallery opening, and I have book club on Monday.” I don’t mention the Filene’s trip I’d planned. Or the romantic date I’ve been promising Andrew, my neglected boyfriend of four years.
David waves a hand to dismiss it all. “Marietta can handle the magazine-related responsibilities.” From the top drawer of his desk he produces an airline ticket and a manila folder with my name on it. He sets them on the edge of his desk. Something I can’t decipher plays on his lips.
I keep my voice even. “What about Bali?” I had planned to leave for the South Pacific a week from Friday. “It’s on my calendar. It’s been on there…”
David shakes his head. “Not anymore.”
The words wound me like a thousand bee stings.
“Alabama,” David repeats.
My face grows hot. He’s plucked me off a plum assignment without a thought to my ability and my schedule. My new boss is sending me to God knows where and he looks perfectly content.
“If that’s my next assignment,” I sputter, “I’d rather…I’d rather dance naked!”
The announcement comes out much louder than I intend and reverberates through the room. Dolores probably has her ear pressed to the door, but the phrase bounces off my boss like a cotton ball.
David smothers a chuckle. “Suit yourself.”
The Best Butts in Alabama, the huge billboard above my head brags. A robust pink pig, dressed in blue overalls and a cowboy hat, winks down at me. Next to the hog’s turned up nose, royal blue letters read ‘Phil’s Bar-B-Q.’
Phil certainly knows how to make a first impression. As does Mother Nature.
The sunshine beats down on my shoulder through the window. Is it always this muggy in December? I swipe at my forehead with the back of my hand and do quick surveillance.
Where is the historic, elegant city I was promised in the letter? There is a normal-looking church across the street, a run-of-the-mill real estate business to my right, and a tiny hole-in-the-wall place called The Donut King, which seems to be doing ten times more business than the Winn-Dixie grocery store I just passed.
So far, all I see of Eufaula, Alabama is more in-your-face commercial than traveler chic. Of course, I’m not in the best frame of mind to become one with my surroundings.
After a lousy Thursday morning of sulking and a rushed packing job, I sent an RSVP with regrets for the fundraiser, gave away my tickets to the Met, left a voice mail for Andrew, and changed my ticket to an earlier departure.
Hours later, after fighting through JFK security, surviving the cramped flight to Atlanta, I spent the night in Buckhead, Georgia, picked up my enormous rented SUV this morning (it was either that or a red minivan), and began driving the three-and-a-half hours to reach my pinhole-on-a-map destination.
All to save my job.